Sal Mosca (solo piano)
Reference: FSRCD 5067
Bar code: 8427328650670
During my seven-year archival project transferring all of Sal's personal recordings to the Institute of Jazz Studies (Rutgers Univ., Newark, New Jersey), I uncovered this reel-to-reel audio tape in Sal's Mt. Vernon, New York, studio, tucked away in a drawer in his corner desk separate from all of his other tapes. It was tied closed with a thick string from top to bottom as well as from side to side. On the back of the cardboard box, written in Sal's exquisite penmanship, were the words, “Solo Tape for Lennie Tristano, February 2, 1970.” I was so excited that this tape (if it was still playable) would have some really great early Sal Mosca piano playing. I had to wait a few weeks until I was able to locate a high-end tape player before I could listen.
In the interim, I wondered whether this was the source file. Sal's studio burnt in the mid-1970s, and he'd lost everything, including his piano. It was surprising to find anything like this from 1970 in this new studio. Did Lennie own this tape and return it? Or did Sal get it back after Lennie's death? From what I've been told, Lennie probably labelled it in Braille on the back cover. When I found this tape, I had already archived a few hundred hours of Sal's music. The recordings started as early as 1950. But I realized that this was the first complete recording of solo piano by Sal. It was more than five years earlier than Sal's first solo release, Sal Mosca Music, on Interplay Records. Finally, after hearing the first tune, You Go to My Head, I knew this was a special recording, and when I finished listening to both sides of the tape, I understood why Sal would have wanted to give this to Lennie or to record it specifically for him. It's one great pianist paying homage to another great pianist who happened to be his teacher, close friend, and one of his major influences; however, Sal, even with some obvious Lennie influence, remained true to himself throughout; he was able to pay and play tribute to Lennie without ever copying Lennie, yet on a feeling level, the influence is undeniable. But Sal was doing something new, especially with his sense of time, his unique sound, his melodic creativity, and his unmistakable multilined, two-handed approach to improvising. His love of Tatum, as a piano stylist, is also there.
As a result of this archiving project, the Mosca family and I had already released seven CDs on two separate albums for Sunnyside and Cadence Jazz. Whether to release this album or any of the previous posthumous albums carried a significant responsibility for me. I had to answer: “Does this add to Sal's legacy?” If this was the only recording someone heard of Sal, would it represent him? Is this music more than just historical? My feeling was and still is a resounding “yes!” It is historical as it is the earliest recording available of Sal's solo piano playing, but mainly it is thrilling to hear Sal's intense and electric improvising. It reveals where his solo piano playing was going, and how he might approach the standard tunes that he loved, the lines he wrote and played in the years to come. And if Sal felt that this was good enough to give to Lennie (and that is something impressive), then it is quite good to share with the rest of us.
Before I approached the Moscas with the idea of releasing this music, I needed further affirmation. It was just too important. Even though I knew Sal's music really well (we became very close friends during his last 10 years and played sessions and some gigs together for 7 years), I needed to consult with a few players who I thought also knew his playing intimately. I went to Larry Bluth, Connie Crothers, Jimmy Halperin, and Peter Prisco, all really wonderful jazz musicians, who either studied with Lennie or Sal. They agreed that this should be released. I also included two additional solo piano arrangements from 1997 that he was proud of. He played these two pieces, “In A Mist” and “Stella By Starlight,” on a WCKR-FM radio show in 1998 dedicated to his music.
Tenor saxophonist Jimmy Halperin, a student of both Lennie and Sal, is someone that I think will be forever linked with Sal's music and Sal’s teaching. Jimmy is an original improviser. Sal said of Jimmy, in a Cadence Magazine interview from 2001, “Jimmy is the most prepared student I ever had and the most professional student I ever played with.” It's so fitting that we were able to interview Jimmy regarding Sal, Lennie, and this album. I consider myself so very fortunate to have played with both Jimmy and Sal, as well as for being able to hear Sal perform solo or with Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh. The last time I played with Sal was on New Year's Day 2007 at Bird- land, NYC. He died in July, though he was able to perform in Europe for a series of concerts and workshops in January 2007. Sal was 80. I'm certain that you will enjoy this music and be thrilled and awed by it as I have been, perhaps as Lennie was too.
—Don Messina, July 2021
"Back in 2020, bassist and long-time e-pal Don Messina emailed me about a couple of tapes in his possession that hadn't been released. One was by the Larry Bluth Trio from 2001. The other was a collection of solo recordings by Sal Mosca in 1970 and 1997. My ears went up upon hearing about both tapes. What the two had in common was Lennie Tristano.
Bluth was a long-time student of Sal Mosca, a student of Tristano, a blind New York pianist who, in the late 1940s, invented a new approach to jazz improvisation built on motifs, polyrhythms, strict time and chromaticism. All fancy words, but to the naked ear, Tristano's approach sounded like Art Tatum and bebop played backward. All of this led to one of the first so-called free-jazz recordings in 1949 by Tristano and his quintet. Deeply influenced by Tristano's "cool" approach were Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, Arnold Fishkind, Billy Bauer, Peter Ind, Charles Mingus, Joe Shulman, Jeff Morton, Connie Crothers and many others.
Don, along with drummer Bill Chattin, were members of the Larry Bluth Trio, a terrific group I last posted about here in 2020. Don also is close with Kathy Mosca and the Sal Mosca estate. In 2020, I asked Don to send along the recordings so I could give a listen. When he did, I flipped. The music on both tapes was exceptional and needed to be heard. I asked Don what he planned to do with the tapes. Don said he wanted to put them out but it would be a time-consuming struggle. I proposed an easier way to do just that. Don said he was open, so I alerted Jordi Pujol at Fresh Sound Records in Spain. Jordi gave a listen and he, too, flipped. So I put Don together with Jordi.
Now the glorious music I heard in 2020 is out on two Fresh Sound releases—Never More Here by the Larry Bluth Trio and Sal Mosca for Lennie Tristano: Solo Piano, 1970 and 1997. For those of you unfamiliar with Fresh Sound, Jordi is a jazz hero who has rescued lost and unissued jazz albums and released them on his label. He has single-handedly revived hundreds of albums that never would have been available if not for his passion and determination.
As you'll hear, the Larry Bluth Trio was a terrific, firmly unified group deep into Tristano's fascinating approach. The tracks are Charlie Parker's Klactoveedsedstene; Miles Davis's Sippin' at Bells; the standards Sweet and Lovely, A Ghost of a Chance, Yesterdays and These Foolish Things; the Bluth Trio's Riverdale, Bluth's Larry's Line and Lee Konitz's Sound-Lee.
Bluth's piano is absolutely gorgeous, adding flecks of Thelonious Monk to his Tristano attack. Don's bass unleashes ribbons of counterpoint to Bluth's piano while Chattin's drums toss in patterns as if throwing dice. The conversational quality of these three musicians playing together is breathtaking.
As for the Sal Mosca album, let me have Don tell it from his liner notes:
During my seven-year archival project transferring all of Sal's personal recordings to the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University, I uncovered this reel-to-reel audio tape in Sal's Mt. Vernon, N.Y. studio, tucked away in a drawer in his corner desk separate from all of his other tapes. It was tied closed with string from top to bottom as well as from side to side. On the back of the cardboard box, written in Sal's exquisite penmanship, were the words, "Solo Tape for Lennie Tristano, February 2, 1970." I was so excited that this tape (if it was still playable) would have some really great early Sal Mosca piano playing. I had to wait a few weeks until I was able to locate a high-end tape player before I could listen.
The tape, Don said, was a gift from student to teacher and labeled by Tristano in braille. How the tape managed to make it back to Mosca is unknown. Most likely, it was returned to him after Tristano's passing. The key question Don had to ask himself was whether the material on the tape was important enough to release or was it just more of the same. Everyone he asked told him that the tape's solo work advanced our impression of Mosca, especially given that the playing on most of the tape was recorded exclusively for Tristano to hear. What Tristano's reaction was is unknown. Don knew the works were recorded five years before Mosca's first solo album, which made the tape worthy as his earliest singular effort. The fact that the music was glorious meant he had to find a way to release it. Enter Jordi.
Now you can hear what I heard that day in 2020. The liner notes to both albums are by Don, and his Mosca musings include a superb interview he conducted with saxophonist Jimmy Halperin, a student of both Tristano and Mosca. I'm sure you'll feel as I did and do that the music on both CDs is exceptional. I, for one, am grateful it's out for the world to enjoy. Hats off to Don, Kathy Mosca and Jordi.
Lennie Tristano died in 1978, Sal Mosca died in 2007 and Larry Bluth died in 2020."
—Marc Myers (April 19, 2022)
"After decades of being ignored, pianist/teacher Lennie Tristano is finally getting some recognition. Mosaic Records recently unearthed solo to small group home recordings in an essential multi boxed set, and now Fresh Sounds is reissuing Sal Mosca’s tribute to the neobop master. Mosca has the perfect touch to capture Tristano’s essence, giving rich elliptical L handed chords on the medley of “You Go To My Head/Sweet Georgia Brown” creating rich digital patters on “It’s The Talk Of THE Town”. There’s a Debussyesque touch to “In A Mist” and the ivories are radient as the glisten on “Sweet and Lovely”. The key to Tristano’s world is his bold south paw, and Mosca’s deliberate delivery works well on the explorative “All The Things You Are” and “Night And Day”. To paraphrase what GK Chesterton wrote about Christianity, “its not that Tristano was tried and found wanting, but it was found impossible and not tried”. Here’s a great intro to a rarely explored world."
—George W. Harris (April 28, 2022)
"Explicit in its title, For Lennie Tristano is a platonic love letter from student to teacher. Sal Mosca was one of the elder pianist’s most diligent and devoted students. He carried that dedication into a teaching tenure in his own right, one that ran parallel to a lengthy career as a leader and sideman. Unfortunately, a discography commensurate with that longevity wasn’t meant to be and Mosca’s name only appeared on a handful of albums during his lifetime.
The paucity improved posthumously with the release of material from Mosca’s personal archive, most notably a five-disc collection of concerts culled from a European tour in the summer of 1981 and released on the Cadence Jazz label in early 2016. This welcome and revealing single disc artifact comes from the same trove and presents two intimately rendered performances separated by the span of twenty-seven-years.
A majority of the forty-nine-minute program comes from a 1970 recording made by Mosca in his home studio. That studio tragically burned down later in the decade, making the discovery of the tape even more unexpected. Producer Don Messina recounts its probable provenance in an accompanying essay, conjecturing that it may have passed hands from Mosca to Tristano and back again in the years prior to the latter’s death in 1978.
Two medleys frame three standards with a playful “Sweet and Lovely” serving as a piquant sign-off. Sound is surprisingly clear and dynamic given the age of the source tape. Mosca’s imagination is in vivid focus, as is his dazzling digital dexterity in interpolating deft two-handed improvisations into the familiar tune structures. An additionally palpable antecedent in this balance of complexity and emotional feeling is Art Tatum, another of Mosca’s heroes.
“You Go to My Head” and “Sweet Georgia Brown” commence in successive tandem with Mosca conjoining them seamlessly. “It’s the Talk of the Town” is another expert’s class in the alignment of interlocking figures assembled into a mesmerizing four-and-a-half-minute meditation. “All the Things You Are” builds similarly from a confluence of ironclad logic and impeccable execution.
“In a Mist” and “Stella By Starlight” date from a 1997 studio recording. Mosca sounds equally engaged, even if there’s a bit more echo invasive to the piano. Both ballads are beautifully suited to his sensibilities, although “Stella” is regrettably little more than a fragment. Personalized aspects of Tatum surface subtly in each. Mosca’s catalog is still slight in comparison to his import and influence, but this disc marks an important addition that’s also an unmitigated pleasure to absorb."
—Derek Taylor (April, 2022)
"Pianist Sal Mosca, one of Lennie Tristano’s top students, had an on and off recording career. He first recorded in 1949 on a Lee Konitz session and had other opportunities with Konitz in the 1950s (including one date that had Miles Davis as a sideman) but did not lead his first recording until 1959. While he recorded three albums of material during that era on obscure sessions that included duets with bassist Peter Ind and a quartet date with trombonist Eddie Bert, Mosca was completely off records during 1961-69, 1972-75 and 1982-90, making his final recordings in 2005.
The previously unreleased solo session from 1970 that constitutes the bulk of For Lennie Tristano broke a nine year period of silence on records. They come from a private tape that Mosca sent to Tristano that was discovered in more recent times by Don Messina. Mosca had evolved and grown since the 1950s and his playing is freer while still paying tribute to the melodies that he interprets. His improvising is mostly pretty thoughtful and sometimes out of tempo. Among the more memorable pieces on this CD are his versions of “It’s The Talk Of The Town,” “All The Things You Are,” and “Sweet And Lovely,” each of which he takes in unexpected and fresh directions. Rounding out the CD are two numbers (Bix Beiderbecke’s “In A Mist” and a brief “Stella By Starlight”) that were performed on a radio show in 1997. Throughout this program, despite his affection for Lennie Tristano, Mosca sounds very much like himself.
This intriguing and historic set, which contains Sal Mosca’s first session of unaccompanied piano solos, grows in interest with each listen."
—Scott Yanow (May, 2022)
Los Angeles Jazz Scene