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Henry W. “Boots” Mussulli (1915-1924) was a passionate and fervent alto saxophonist. He playedwith renowned orchestras such asMal Hallet and Teddy Powell before forming his own band, which lasted for about 7 or 8 years. DuringWorldWar II, he joined Gene Krupa’s band. In 1944, he became a member of Stan Kenton’s band, where his explosive and energetic solos became a signature and won the hearts of Kenton fans.Mussulli’s style underwent a transformation when he worked with Charlie Ventura in 1950, absorbing the influence of Charlie Parker.
The following years, Boots, the ‘LittleMan’ as he was also known, continued to thrive as a solo artist, captivating audiences with his emotionally charged performances at venues such as Boston’s Storyville. His vibrant and compelling tone has established him as a prominent figure in Boston’s jazz scene, alongside baritonist Serge Chaloff and trumpeter Herb Pomeroy, playing a vital role in the evolution ofmodern jazz in the city. Reflecting on his musical journey in 1954, Boots expressed, “I’ve never felt like I made a definite switch-over. Times change, and I like to evolvewith them. I strive to stay musically young and express my best ideas at every stage.”
In his 1954 recordings, Boots showcased original compositions and standards with a relaxed and effortless swing. His skill extended beyond the alto saxophone, as he also delivered pleasingly guttural tones on the baritone sax. These sessions featured the accomplished pianist Ray Santisi, accompanied by talented young musicians from Boston: bassist Jack Carter and drummer Peter Littman, who had been performing as a trio at the Stables. In a subsequent New York session, Santisi was joined by experienced musicians Max Bennett on bass and Shelly Manne on drums.
During the July 1956 recording with pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi, she praised Boots, saying, “He played so beautifully on the session.” Boots maintained an unwavering drive throughout, with bassist Wyatt Reuther and drummer Edmund Thigpen contributing as integral parts of the proceedings. The result was a captivating and emotionally resonant experience that left the listener deeply moved.
"An alto sax during the heyday of the swing era, Boots Mussulli was a star with Stan Kenton’s band before getting bit by the Charlie Parker bug and adding bop to his chops. This album collects his nifty work, and he also plays a bit of hip baritone on a handful of tracks.
The 1954 session has Boots with Ray Santisi/p, John Carter/b and Peter Litman, with his bright alto shining on his own “ Little Man” and “Rubber Boots” while his baritone gives gravitas to “Blues In The Night”. The same year with Shelly Manne/dr, Max Bennett/b and Santisi, his alto is moody on his own “El Morocco” and the big horn is a gas on a wild ride of “Tico Tico” and bouncy on “You Stepped Out Of A Dream”. In 1956, he’s with a Bud Powell-inspired Toshiko Akiyoshi/p, Wyatt Ruther/b and Ed Thigpen/p staying with the alto for a take of the pianist’s charming “Salute To Shorty” and a lyrical “All The Things You Are.”
In a day with most alto saxists lost in space, Mussulli serves as a pleasant reminder how a horn can actually sing bel canto and still drive through a wall."
—George W. Harris (September 4, 2023)