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
"Pianist and teacher Sal Mosca (1927-2007) was a devoted disciple and student of the cerebral and reclusive Lennie Tristano (1919-1978). Unlike his mentor, Mosca never became a jazz household name, because he rarely (from choice) recorded. He did, however, record with Lee Konitz (Inside Hi Fi, 1957) and Warne Marsh (Sam Mosca/Warne Marsh Quartet, 1981). He also played with Bird, Miles and Billie Holiday.
These recently discovered tapes, found by Don Messina in Mosca’s Mt. Vernon, New York studio, somehow survived a fire which destroyed it in the mid 1970s. The two performances, in surprisingly good sound, are separated by a gap of 27 years. They are of historic as well as artistic value. As Messina comments, they reveal “one great pianist paying homage to another great pianist who happened to be his teacher [1947-1955], close friend and one of his major influences.”
Like Art Tatum (another influence), Mosca favoured popular standards and once modestly said “Under all that complex improvising, there is always the simple melody as your guide.” He was always unique – not simply a Tristano clone.
The opening medley has an exploratory and appealingly hesitant rendition of You Go To My Head, conjoined with a fast (but also barely recognizable) Sweet Georgia Brown. It’s The Talk Of The Town is a gem, followed by a discursive meditation on and deconstruction (at over eight minutes) of the standard All The Things You Are. The Ellington/Mills Gordon famous Prelude To A Kiss is (literally) hammered by Sal into an impressive shape. The second medley consists of a romantically textured Night And Day, followed by a short but authoritative Foolish Things and a longer, explorative Old Feeling. On the two 1997 recordings, an always inventive Mosca puts his imprimatur on Beiderbecke’s beautiful composition In A Mist, and a very short Stella By Starlight.
The informative accompanying booklet includes an interview with tenor saxophonist Jimmy Halperin, a long-time friend of Mosca, who related: “Sal loved Lennie. Period! Sal’s life was his studio. That was where he had his world, first and foremost, his piano, his solitude.” He added that when offered a recording contract by producer Orrin Keepnews, Mosca declined and later explained: ”I never wanted to be caught in the web of commercial success.”
From beginning to end, these belatedly discovered solo sessions are totally absorbing and rewarding. They rate favourable comparison with (so far as I’m aware), Mosca’s only other recorded solo performances – before a wildly enthusiastic audience – the aptly titled Sal Mosca: A Concert (Jazz Records, 1979)."
—John White (September 28, 2022)
"I haven’t thought of Lennie Tristano on a long time, so when I got this CD I got out an old Tristano compilation to listen to so I could hear how Mosca pays tribute. Of course I don’t expect him to play like Tristano but I still needed that comparison. Tristano played both standards and original compositions. Here Mosca just plays standards.
For me the point is to listen to this CD on two levels: One, as a solo piano record on its own, and two as a tribute record. If the recording is truly successful it will work on both levels. Tristano was both a very lyrical player and a good two-fisted player.
As I listen I can happily say that this recording is successful on both levels. On the first level, Mosca is an excellent player. I am finding the recording very enjoyable as a solo piano concert. And does manage to capture Tristano’s style, while being himself. Mosca can be very lyrical as well as what I call two-fisted.
For me the highlight of the CD is the second medley. By segueing into different tunes Mosca shows both his ability to play as his own person as well as to capture aspects of Tristano’s style. The one aspect of Tristano’s playing that is not present here is his blues playing. Tristano could play a mean blues. But this is a minor point.
Highly recommended both to fans of Tristano and for people who love good solo piano playing."
—Bernie Koenig (July, 2022)
"While transferring his late friend's personal recordings to Rutgers' Institute of Jazz Studies, Don Messina found a reel-to-reel tape with the note 'Solo Tape for Lennie Tristano, February 2, 1970'. It was a real find – the first album-length recording of solo piano by Mosca, over five years before Sal Mosca Music on Interplay – that we finally hear.
Mosca's searching improvisations graced some of the most important Tristano School recordings, but his multi-lined, two-handed style developed independently of his teacher's, especially in later years.Interviewing him some time before his death in 2007, I got the impression of a self-sufficient, totally dedicated artist. He focuses on standards, he said, 'Because they're the best songs… they speak of the people...of Broadway...of love and they're by some of the greatest composers'.
From its very free introduction, Mosca creates an eventful kaleidoscope from the materials of 'You Go To My Head'. 'It's The Talk Of The Town' has a straighter groove and more direct style. 'All The Things You Are' begins in media res, theme-less, and sustains its taut, concentrated improvising for eight minutes. The song was a Tristano School favourite, and this rigorous exploration equals any. Some tracks aredone as medleys. The album concludes with two tracks from 1997, a beautiful version of the rarely performed Bix Beiderbecke composition 'In A Mist', and a piquant short arrangement of 'Stella By Starlight'. A superb testament to the intensely swinging work of a great improviser."
—Andy Hamilton (May, 2022)
"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
"It was a special sensation: a unique piano recital that took place in June 1981, within cycling distance of my house, and at noon. The American pianist Salvatore 'Sal' Mosca (1927-2007) gave a lunchtime concert in the Masters of the Clavier series. You could closely follow the man's creative process from a few meters away. I often had to think about that, especially when I put this CD on.
As the title suggests, the pianist comes from the so-called Lennie Tristano school. He's a bopper by nature -right runs, left erratic punches- but in the end you can judge the man on his own merits. And the music gives every reason for that. It's all about following someone who plays whatever prompts them to do at the time.
Sometimes he finds a few motifs or a series of chords and develops them further, but he can also set them aside as unusable. With a busy rumble in the basses you wonder how he can get out of this. It could transition into a walking left hand, as we know from Dave McKenna, for example. He doesn't worry about the form: he doesn't really work towards a conclusion, to say the least. If he's tired of a song, he simply stops or starts another. That then becomes a medley and it is then up to the listener whether he has noticed the transition in time. Because don't think that he 'just' plays those well-known songs first! Only here and there a fragment of the melody seeps up. There is hardly any question of a fixed beat - isn't Art Tatum just around the corner? -but rhythmically everything is going on.
To this as-yet-unreleased 1970 session, his first as a solo pianist, the last two songs, taken from a radio broadcast, have been added. In A Mist (by Bix Beiderbecke) he already heard when he was fifteen. It is a character piece, with which there is little to start with and he just leaves it that way. With the short-lived Stella By Starlight (1'19"), he seems to have put his signature to the program.
Listening to Sal Mosca means: on an adventure!"
—Jan J. Mulder (June, 2022)
Doctor Jazz Magazine