Al 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 with 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’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.