BOHP_2007-06-18 - Charlie Mariano - 1
FB: Berklee Oral History Project, Volume 23. Here we are at Charlie Mariano's beach house in Salisbury, our first remote shoot, and we're really fortunate to be here in the august presence of Mr. Mariano, one of the all-time great alto players and all-around world musicians to come out of the little Beantown. CM: Hahaha... yeah! FB: Charlie, thanks for inviting us up. We're really thrilled. CM: Wow, thank you very much. FB: You're boston roots go way back to the forties, and, I mean musically... CM: Well, yeah, that's right. I started playing in 1941 professionally. That's when I started playing saxophone, and my first big influence and the reason why I chose saxophone was because I heard Lester Young, and I said, 'Ooh, that's what I wanna do.' And so, yeah, I've been with it ever since. FB: The first gig that I know about or was recorded was that you were playing at Izzy Orts? CM: Izzy Orts! That's right. Yeah, I started in Izzy Orts I think, maybe, like 1942, and I was there part of 1943. And I started first, like, upstairs, with a band that was led by a Hungarian piano player, a refugee... FB: Peter Albrecht? CM: Yeah, his name was Peter Albrecht. He came from Hungary, and uh, he had a band that, uh, Izzy Orts had a downstairs and an upstairs, with a band on both floors. Upstairs was like, uh, well actually, they did the same thing. The band upstairs, like, played for dancing and two shows a night, I think, and downstairs, also. Downstairs was a black band, and upstairs was like, a white band. FB: Did they have a white audience dancing and a black audience dancing? CM: Yeah, I mean, in those days it didn't matter too much. There were blacks, like, coming in, and, you know. And, so I started upstairs, like, with Peter Albrecht, and he took me under his wing and taught me a lot about like, chord changes and theory, and so on. You know, it was great. It was great. So he would like write out for me every night maybe like three or four standards with chord changes, and so on like that. And, in those days, this was like unusual because most horn players didn't know anything about chord changes. We played mostly by ear, and we had to learn like, for instance I was playing alto, so I had to learn the melody of course, and the second voice down. FB: Okay, yeah. CM: Because usually it was a trumpet playing the melody, and I had to learn the second voice down. FB: So figure out counterlines, and improvise with the lead horn. CM: Yeah, I mean. You know, there was not a heck of a lot of improvisation, but a little. A little, but it was mostly just playing like the popular music of the day, and so you had to play the melody and you know, and the particular harmony line. FB: So there was swing tunes, some tin pan alley, and the shows, and Hollywood musicals... CM: Yeah. FB: And not so much the black big band charts like Duke and Count Basie, and that stuff... CM: Oh, well we did some of those stuff, too. FB: You did. Okay. CM: Yeah, sure. Yeah. And uh, anyhow, so I was upstairs, and then eventually downstairs, the alto player that was in the group, he got drafted. So, they invited me to come down. I was playing in a black band for, until I got drafted myself. FB: That was a different kind of a book, and a different learning experience for you. CM: Yeah, yeah. But it was a great experience because both upstairs and downstairs they had like, in the house they had like, about maybe fifteen singers or so. Women singers, and they would like, you know, like... FB: Rotate. CM: Be upstairs and do fifteen minutes and then come downstairs, you know, fifteen minutes (chuckles), and it went like that the whole night. Plus, we played for dancing and shows, and two shows. FB: That's a fine old tradition that a guy like Al Vega, who's your age, is still carrying on in Boston. The singer showcases, it's sorta like, Boston Idol, you know what I mean? CM: Yeah, yeah. FB: Everybody wants to be a star, everybody wants to do a couple of tunes, and they bring their family, and they drink a lot of booze, so it's great for the club! CM: Yeah, yeah. Al Vega, I played with Al. FB: I'll bet you did. CM: Yeah, ???, I don't remember what the band was, but yeah, we played together. FB: Al's still on the scene. CM: Yeah. FB: He's still, he was my first interview in this series. CM: Yeah. FB: We oughta catch him, you know. CM: Yeah, great. Say hello for me. FB: I will certainly do that, and I will do that. He's still coaching baseball... CM: That's good! Good! FB: (laughs) Anyway, um, so that was '41, then you got drafted... CM: That was... no, I started to play in '41. So, '42 and part of '43 I was at Izzy Orts. And incidentally, like, around that time is when I met Ruby Braff, okay. He was a couple years younger than me, so I was like maybe eighteen. He was sixteen, already playing good. FB: Yeah... CM: Most of the young Jewish guys at that time were playing Dixieland, so he stayed with that. And there were a few other like really good players around... FB: Sammy Margolis. CM: Yeah, that's it! Sammy. Sam Margolis. Exactly, yeah. FB: I got records that they made in the sixties for Storyville, for George Wein's label. CM: Yeah, yeah. Fantastic. Yeah, so anyhow, then I went into the army for four years. When I came out, this was like I guess early 1946? And, uh, I went to Albuquerque 'cause one of the guys I was stationed in the army with who was in a band, was living in Albuquerque, so I went there for half a year. And then I moved back to Boston and eventually hooked up to Schillinger House, which was like the original Berklee. FB: Sure. Larry Berk was there. CM: Larry Berk... FB: And who else was on the faculty? CM: And a lot of the guys were there, like Joe Viola was already there, Bob Scher, uh, I don't remember. But anyhow, Schillinger House, sure. I started to go there because I got money from the government... FB: The GI Bill thing, huh? CM: The GI Bill, for schooling, and they paid a little bit for my living expenses 'cause I already had a kid, and uh, yeah, it was great! It was great. FB: Just a couple of quick backup questions... CM: Yeah. FB: Izzy Orts... Was that a guy's name? CM: Yeah. FB: Was he the owner? CM: Izzy Ort, yeah. FB: What was he like? CM: Um, probably a gangster (laughs). FB: But a Jewish gangster. CM: He was a little short guy, very tough. But he was fine to us, you know...yeah. FB: Okay, and were there any good musical experiences while you were in the army? Were you playing in the army bands? CM: Well, I mean, it was the usual thing. I hadn't been playing that long so I was still learning a lot. I wasn't playing any lead at all 'cause I had like, uh, it wasn't until I started to go to Schillinger House that when I started to Joe Viola, he worked on my sound, you know. Otherwise, before that, I could improvise maybe okay for that time, but my sound wasn't fantastic, and Joe really worked on that and opened up my sound. FB: Somebody told me that when Joe sat down with a horn player he met you halfway. He didn't make you fit into any kind of a box. CM: That's right. FB: But would hear what you had to go with and then enhanced it. CM: That's it. Absolutely. When I started at the Schillinger House, I was already into bebop very strongly. That's what I wanted to do. And I wanted to sound like Charlie Parker and so on. You know, so I was copying a lot of his solos down, and Joe always encouraged that. He didn't say 'Oh, you have to do this, you have to do that,' no, he just helped me with my sound... FB: So he neither encouraged you nor discouraged you for copying Charlie Parker. He said 'go ahead and do it'? CM: Yeah, he didn't like, you know, I was never a terribly good reader. Of course he tried to get me to read better, and I was reading okay, but I've never been a fantastic reader. What I was always good at was like, uh, being able to look at a piece of music and interpret it better than, you know, just actually reading it. FB: Mmhmm. Right, you'd give a little bit more of a color or gloss. You'd get the essence of it, but you wouldn't be following it note for note. CM: Yeah. I mean, you know, to this day I'm not a fantastic reader. It's okay, I can read. FB: But Joe enhanced... he brought out the best in you, you think? CM: He brought out, yeah, absolutely, especially he helped me with my sound. And that was, I think, terribly important. FB: Is that a matter of breath control or embouchure adjustments? CM: Well, yeah, like one of the main things that he tried to stress was the position of the tongue in the mouth, because we're all different and so we all have a different configuration there. He'd have me drop my tongue in the mouth to get a bigger sound. And, yeah, that's how it started. FB: You had a big sound early on. I could hear that in those '51 recordings. Plenty of oomph. CM: That was Joe. Thanks, Joe. And Joe was a sweetheart. Jesus, what a nice man. Besides being a terrific musician. FB: That's what everyone said about him. Even Jane Ira Bloom in the seventies. She loved him, like a grandfather. CM: Joe like, you know, he helped lots and lots of people.