Farewell, Al Porcino

Porcino 1Al Porcino, a powerful lead trumpeter for several big bands, died on New Years Eve. He was 88. His wife said that he succumbed to complications following a fall in his house in Munich. Porcino had lived in Germany since the late 1970s, frequently augmenting American bands touring in Europe, as well as leading his own large ensemble.

After debuting in 1943 with Louis Prima when he was 18, Porcino played with swing bands led by Tommy Dorsey, Georgie Auld and Gene Krupa. He made the transition into the bebop era with Woody Herman’s First Herd and went on to work with Stan Kenton and Chubby Jackson. Porcino rejoined Herman and Kenton in the 1950s. Following his move to Los Angeles in 1957, he co-led a band with Med Flory and played lead withPorcino 3 Terry Gibbs. He was frequently employed for the sound tracks of motion pictures and toured with singers including Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Mel Tormé and Judy Garland. He also recorded with the Bill Holman band and with Count Basie.

In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Porcino had extensive stints with Thad Jones and Mel Lewis. From Danish television, we see and hear him playing lead in Jones’s “Central Park North.” Solos are by Jones, flugelhorn; Snooky Young, trumpet; Jerome Richardson, soprano sax; Lewis, drums.

porcino 2Porcino’s fame was primarily as a commanding lead player who teamed with the drummer to drive a band. He occasionally improvised on recordings, including with Charlie Parker, but according to The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz, his own favorite recorded solo was from early in his career, 16 bars in this 1946 Gene Krupa recording of Sibelius’s “Valse Triste”.

Finally, here’s Al Porcino reuniting with Med Flory and leading their reconstituted big band at a Los Angeles Jazz Institute concert in 2008. Flory has the alto saxophone solo. The sound is of less than prime digital quality, but Porcino’s piquant personality comes through loud and clear

Well, maybe piquant wasn’t the right adjective. Al was rather mild in that clip. If you want the full-bore Porcino, listen to this interview with Don Manning of KBOO-FM in Portland, Oregon. It was probably in the early 1990s. Warning: Before you play the interview, be sure that children and other impressionable people are out of the room. “Strong language” doesn’t begin to cover it.

Al Porcino, 1925-2013
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  1. Jack Greenberg says

    My personal favorite lead player of all time. Sound, power, time, swing—it was all there. I got to meet him once and it was a real thrill just to be talking to someone of his caliber.

  2. says

    I don’t know the exact number, but the German State Radio and Television owns and operates numerous full time big bands—I would guess at least a dozen, but I’m not sure. The musicians have permanent jobs with full benefits and retirement. I doubt that there has been a full time, permanent big band in the States outside the military in some decades. (In the military bands you are a soldier first and a musician second.) I doubt that the members of the Lincoln Center jazz band have full time, permanent jobs.

    Some Americans were lucky enough to get jobs in Germany working with these bands. Another is the trombonist Jiggs Whigam who spent at least a couple decades leading German State Radio Big Bands.

    There seems to be a correlation with how European support helped keep small ensemble jazz active through the especially lean years of the 60s through the 80s, and still plays an important role.

    Jazz is America’s greatest contribution to music. It’s too bad our society doesn’t better support it. Those later bands like Herman and Kenton were fabulous. What a loss the tradition did not continue with that same level of activity.

  3. says

    In January 1950 Buzzy Bridgeford and I moved from Seattle to New York City via Greyhound bus. We changed buses frequently, and in Chicago, boarding a new bus that would take us on to the Apple, Buzzy saw a handsome, dark-haired guy in a Burberry overcoat in the line ahead of us. “That’s Al Porcino!” he said, and ran up to greet him. That was my first meeting with a famous big-band jazzman, and I was very impressed. Al was charming, funny, and became a good friend around New York. I only played with him on a couple of rehearsal bands, but we hung out together at the union, in Charlie’s Tavern, and at jazz clubs, listening to music. When he was with Woody, I never missed hearing the band when it was in town. I was sorry when he moved to Germany. It was always good to hang out with him, and hear his stories. His lead playing style had a great positive influence on many bands.

  4. says

    I knew Al around the late 1960s and early 70s through Gerry La Furn, who Al said was the best section trumpet ever. And he was right. We three played some of his Al Cohn charts and a rehearsal, I think at Chas Colin Studies and then in the Catskills. This was an absolutely great section but never recorded or even mentioned. Will always remember him saying, Hhooww aarree yyoouu ddooiinngg bboobb. If you knew Al, you know the way he talked.

  5. John Bolger says

    Goodness me, the great jazz cats are passing on at an alarming rate.

    My first exposure to Al Porcino was the album, Al Cohn meets Al Porcino. Recorded in March 1987 during a visit by Cohn to Karlsruhe, Germany the album liner notes stated that Porcino’s group relied heavily on the charts of Gerry Mulligan, Med Flory, Bill Holman and ultimately Cohn himself. The 16 tracks include 8 chartered by Cohn.

    This album highlights the many talents of Al Porcino which led me to exploring much more of his music.

  6. Charlton Price says

    The Thad-Mel Band ‘s masterpiece put me back in my favorite seat at the Vanguard,behind a post, squinched in just to the left of Pepper Adams, several evenings in the late 1960s. There’s Snooky Young with his powerful growls—he came up with Lunceford in 1939! There’s the compelling soprano sax of Jerome Richardson! There’s Thad’s explicitly sculpted conducting and soulful flugel! Quick looks at rock-solid Jimmy Knepper’s trombone and Cliff Heather on bass trombone, and of Roland Hanna on incandescent piano. And the most vivid video I’ve seen anywhere of Mel Lewis’ percussion, demonstrating what I believe was a fresh and explosive freedom compared with his earlier, elegantly precise style in the West Coast years, when he was nicknamed The Tailor. Throughout, of course, the panache and power of Porcino. As you say, Doug, Mel and Al undergird and drive this juggernaut.

    All these giants of the music are gone now, but they live again for me in this video. Thank you.

  7. Ned Corman says

    Al spent a bit of time in Rochester, NY. He played lead on Chuck Mangione’s Friends and Love. Al also played lead in a ten-piece Rochester band that Chuck led and wrote for. Joe Romano played tenor; Gerry Neiwood, alto; I played bari, as on Friends. Vinnie Ruggerio was the ten-piece band drummer. Also playing on Chuck’s Friends performance and recording were; Steve Gadd, drums; Tony Levin, bass; Bill Reichenbach, trombone; Vince Di Martino, trumpet; Chris Vadala, saxophone. Al, I’ve long thought, with the exception of Dizzy, certainly in those years, is the best jazz-playing lead trumpet player to be found. Close, was Sam Noto, also a Buffalo guy. Sam made lots of music with Mangione.

    There is bountiful beautiful music on the Friends and Love recording. For me, the most beautiful is the bridge of the ballad sung by Don Potter, Chuck’s “She’s Gone”. Playing that bridge is another Buffaloian, Larry Cavelli. Larry, lots of times would be late coming from Buffalo for gigs with Chuck. Saluting the Peter O’Toole movie from a decade earlier, Larry earned the moniker “Lawrence of Batavia.” Batavia is a town between Buffalo and Rochester with a horse track. Larry loved to play the ponies – as did Chuck and, I’ll bet, Al, too.

  8. says

    R.I.P. Al Porcino … He said once that Munich wouldn’t “schwing” anymore. I would extend this to all Germany since I made a big, bloody mistake yesterday: I watched one of our most popular Schlagerstars, a certain Andrea Berg, you all don’t wanna know, be sure!

    I laughed out loudly when I heard her sing a duet with Lionel Richie who really can *sing*.

    And Al could *blow*! — Man, what a biting sound when he was around. He could infect a whole trumpet section with his tone.

    There are some great videos with Al Porcino here, featuring his big band at one of Germany’s most famous jazz joints, the “Unterfahrt” in Munich.

    And here’s a much better sounding “Valse Triste.” Sometimes I really do think that a bunch of those jazz YouTubers are very far out of their minds when they are posting crap like that “video.”

    We will miss your spirit and your humor, Al—but we know that you will have a great time with all those cats up there in lead trumpeter heaven: Snooky Young, Maynard Ferguson, Cat Anderson, Benny Bailey, Conrad Gozzo and Al Kilian, to name a just few of your peers.

    But please (referring to that interview Doug linked to): Do not discuss mouthpieces, OK?

  9. Michael Jenner says

    One of my favorites is the Al Porcino Big Band In Oblivion on Jazz Mark from 1986. All Al Cohn arrangements and featuring Al and Mel Lewis. Definitely worth checking out if you can find it. RIP.

  10. dick vartanian says

    I remember Al Porcino well and had deep regard for his playing. But does anyone remember a equally great countryman of his named Conrad Gozzo?

    • Jack Greenberg says

      Everyone who is my age (70 years old) and plays trumpet remembers Conrad Gozzo. As the most sought after lead trumpet player in Hollywood up until his death in 1964, his recorded output is enormous, especially when one considers that he only lived to the age of 42.

  11. Jeff Stevens says

    While I respect Al Porcino as a lead trumpet player, after listening to his radio interview I’ve lost all respect for him. He is a sick, rambling racist who is out of touch with the realities of today’s world. I’m sorry but using the phrase “nigger lover” is not acceptable under any conditions. I’d like to say rest in peace Al, but I don’t mourn the loss of you to this planet.

    • Doug Ramsey says

      Translating from the Swedish, as best I can:

      “Sleep Well, Al Porcino. Thank you for your wonderful playing.”