Photo by Dennis Matthews
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Conte Candoli

Pete actually started playing pretty young, at the age of 13—in fact he was the youngest musician in the AFM: his father signed him in before he was 14.

He quickly gravitated into being a lead trumpet player. To him it was all playing the trumpet—it didn't matter whether he was playing lead or not, he just enjoyed the opportunities it gave him to be with the different styles of bands, and to add his own things to them. For a while he worked in the studios, and did nothing else—Billy May, Nelson Riddle, Don Costa, Gordon Jenkins, and Axel Stordahl, who wrote for Sinatra before any of them. He did all this type of thing, and then he got a lot of picture calls, especially films scored by Henry Mancini.

Pete’s very first band was Sonny Dunham, 1940 to '41. That came about when he had a gig for the summer with the college band. They were making seven dollars a week, with rooms and meals thrown in. It was near Toledo, Ohio, by a big quarry, and he doubled as a lifeguard. The big bands would come in on weekends, for one night or two nights, like Charlie Spivak, Jimmy Lunceford, Sonny Dunham, and that happened for the whole three months. That's where he first met Carlos Gastel, who handled Nat Cole and Peggy Lee, among others, and he also managed Sonny Dunham's band. He said: "Hey. kid, d'you wanna join the band?" Pete guessed they were needing a trumpet player, so he said: "Well, yeah, I’d like to do that." So instead of going back to school, sure enough, he went with Sonny Dunham at Frank Daley's Meadowbrook, where all the bands came in from time to time.

That was the beginning, and from there he got a call from Will Bradley and Ray McKinley. He sat in that night, and played the book. Later when we were on the bus. Ray McKinley had his back to him, and he heard him say: "You know, when that kid Candoli gets a little experience, he's gonna be great". Pete was offended when he heard that. What did he mean—when I get some experience? Because he could play everything—he could do everything But the pay-off was: when he’d played with a bunch of bands—once he’d played with twenty–seven or twenty–eight name bands, from Charlie Barnet on—he knew what Ray had meant exactly.  Although it was one band after another, each one taught him something else—the arrangers, the concepts—it was invaluable. You couldn’t learn that anywhere else. It became a part of his career, and how he developed.

He took Ziggy Elman's place with the Tommy Dorsey band when Ziggy went in the service, around 194l. Pete had  been with Freddie Slack and different bands around L.A., but this happened all in a row—very quick. With Dorsey they were at the Palladium in Hollywood off and on for six months; this was during the war, and a bunch of sailors were in there. It was the Swing Era. Every night was like New Year's Eve—it was unbelievable. Curfew was 3.30 on Saturday nights; they had the main band and a relief band, and they did two airshots a night. It was quite something. They did three pictures, and the band was always in the picture—like in Girl Crazy with Judy Garland and Dubarry Was A Lady.

In  1944 Pete joined the Teddy Powell band, just prior to starting work with Woody Herman. The big booker Joe Glaser booked the band—he also handled Louis Armstrong and other people. It was a great band. Teddy Powell was a nice guy and a good frontman, and he had the Rob Pronk, Bob and Chuck Findley, Pete Candolisame type of band that Woody had—only they got the exposure with Woody—that happened all of a sudden, about a year-and-a-half later. But with Teddy they had the same type of thing. Excellent players like Buddy De Franco, Milt Bernhart, Boots Mussulli were on that band. They were playing the same way—but Woody broke through.

Then he recruited Conte into Woody's band. It was the summer vacation and one of the guys in the trumpet section wasn't around, and Pete said: "Get my brother Conte". He was 16 and he just came on the band for the summer holidays from high school, and it was amazing. On one of the stage shows in Chicago Woody pointed to him on Woodchoppers' Ball and kept signaling "One more time". Conte took three choruses and he knocked everybody out. He sounded just like Roy Eldridge; he played everything Roy could play, like After You've Gone—he was this type of player. Roy was Conte’s favourite trumpet player.

The writing for the brass particularly on that band was pretty impressive—things like Wild Root and Apple Honey. They were head arrangements. Neal Hefti was on the band—he got credit for them, but he didn't write it all. A typical head arrangement was Goosey Gander. Woody was very wise—he was a wonderful guy and a great frontman. He let the band play. He'd say: "Let's start something in E flat; let's work up a little line, play some riffs and so on", and they became standard tunes in the band. Then at times, the band was so flexible that Ralph Burns would just write a skeleton arrangement and say: "Do this in the trumpets, and saxes, hold these notes and go there" and the players would fill in the rest—and they had a chart. Ralph used to write wonderful written scores as well.

The stratospheric passages, where the trumpets all went up into the high register at speed, didn’t take too much rehearsing. On a thing like Caldonia—everyone could play, and after a few nights they kept adding and adding and adding. They'd add little riffs here and there behind different jazz soloists. It was just the pattern of the band. It was amazing, because everyone was very creative at the time—Sonny Berman, Bill Harris, Flip Phillips. And Chubby Jackson was a real go-go on the bass; he was inspiring the band all the time. Davey Tough—soaking wet about 97 pounds—he had those big drumsticks he played with and it was like a freight train coming at you! That's how powerful he played—same with Don Lamond, his replacement later.

It transpired that a lot of musicians, already in the services, suddenly kept hearing Woody Herman on the air, and said: "God, what happened back home? Big bands have changed. I'll never be playing any more—not like this!" That's what went through their minds, because it was so different than what was there before.

After leaving Woody Pete joined yet another band with a trail-blazing kind of sound—that of Boyd Raeburn. That was a real experimental band, with a backer by the name of Stillman Pond. A lot of good players, like Buddy De Franco and Boots Mussulli, were on that band; Irv Kluger was the drummer. They had four rhythm plus a mallet man, a harpist, seven woodwinds which included two bassoons, a tuba, French horn, four trombones and four trumpets. Bernie Glow and Marky Markowitz were there with him in the trumpet section.

Boyd's arrangers included George Handy and Eddie Finkel, but Johnny Richards wrote the whole book for that engagement, and it was magnificent. It was quite an orchestra—in a progressive sense it predated Kenton. The music was really elaborate. That's why Johnny Richards later wrote things for Kenton, because Stan heard all that, and wanted it. Stan always put his money right back into the kind of band he believed in.

When Pete played with Stan Kenton later on he was alongside his brother Conte again, at least part of the time. Pete Rugolo was writing for the band then and it was very nice. When the Kenton band had recordings they sometimes called Pete in to play. Buddy Childers would take off on trips from time to time, and did a lot of record dates at Capitol, off and on.

By the 'fifties Pete was dividing his time between big band jazz jobs and studio work, then he’d go out of town sometimes. First he was with Peggy Lee and after that with Frank Sinatra for quite a while. He’d finish a Smothers Brothers show at about eight o'clock at night, then go to Burbank Airport and there was a jet waiting for him to take him for a ten o'clock downbeat with Frank—wherever it was—he’d be there.

One of Pete’s favourite albums ever of Peggy Lee is her Black Coffee, recorded in 1956, which, she informed him, was also her favourite. Pete’s playing on there was just beautiful, and that always seemed to him to have been a session that came off on the spot superbly. Pete was the only horn, with Jimmy Rowles on piano and Joe Mondragon on bass. Ed Shaughnessy went in on drums when they played a New York club called La Vie En Rose. They were supposed to go in for three weeks, and wound up staying there six weeks. That's when they recorded the Black Coffee album for Decca. Those were Jimmy’s charts. He was so creative; Pete says he was something else, both as a person and as a player. He knew every verse to all the standards—the correct keys, everything. He was a genius, with all that knowledge, and the perfect touch he had behind vocalists. He was a walking encyclopedia of songs and a very nice man.

Peggy made so many fine records, but none better than that, by virtue of the way she performed such material as Love Me Or Leave Me and I've Got You Under My Skin, combined with the marvellous accompaniment she received. It complemented everything else. Because it was happening musically, it was inspirational to play that way. They went into the Decca studio and just cut the album.

Pete appeared on the record sleeve as Cootie Chesterfield. He was under contract to Capitol Records, and they wouldn't let him use his name—they said "You're a Capitol artist" and so on, because he did Hey, Bellboy with Gloria Wood and things like that—he made three or four different singles. So...on the road he was always a ham actor, and every theatre we played, he’d imitate the comic on the last show, and do his routine up and down the bus. Then the guys started calling him Cootie, because he liked Cootie Williams a lot. And he said to 'em: "Just put down Cootie Chesterfield on the album—that's real dignified!" What's the difference? He knew it was him, and so did people that knew him.

He belonged to a theatre group in New York, along with people like Arthur Kennedy, because he loved acting. In relation to composition, he wanted to know about character development, thematically speaking. It gave him a lot of insight, to understand a person's part and the relationships of different characters and actors on different plays—such as who complements who, and how much, especially in motion pictures—is it a strong character part or is it just a walk-through? To understand these things gave him the necessary knowledge of the approach and technique of complementing musically what was happening.

In 1957 Pete and Conte first worked together as the Candoli Brothers band. They were with Dot records at that time. Tom Mack, who Pete knew when he was with Decca, was A & R for Dot. Sonny Burke was a vice-president—a good musician—just a wonderful guy, who loved musicians. He wrote Midnight Sun and Black Coffee. That's when Nelson Riddle came into the picture too.

Pete’s musical association with Frank Sinatra bridged the period of him reaching the end of his time with Columbia and his rebirth, as it were, with Capitol. That was an exciting era to be part of.

In fact: Pete had worked earlier with Gordon Jenkins—and Axel Stordahl, the original writer for Frank. Pete was on his TV show, and he was married to Ava Gardner at that time. The Columbia A & R was Jo Stafford's husband, Paul Weston—a good music man. He had to talk to Frank, who wasn't signed, but was due revenue for about five years of recording; so they paid him off and released him, because they couldn't do business any more. But after that, things started happening. He did the picture, signed with Capitol, and that was it. He always sang great, but then he got better—unbelievable.

Frank was a great guy to travel with, and he always respected everybody in the group. Bill Miller—he called him Shadow all the time, because of his pale complexion, you know. He'd turn around and make gags like: "If you were alive, you'd be a very sick man!" He carried about five players. Irv Cottier on drums always travelled with him. He laid it down, because Frank loved that "Chuck" sound—so did Judy Garland, especially—it's kinda like stripper background music.

From about 1972 Pete had his own nightclub act, together with his wife, the singer Edie Adams.

He was married to Betty Hutton first—she had a lot of big hits at Capitol from her motion pictures. That was first, there was a girl vocalist in between, and then Edie. They developed an act and were married about 12 years. Edie was a very fine singer. In fact, Leonard Bernstein said: "You should do musical comedy. Don't worry about the opera". They could do three or four shows and not repeat material. They had costumes; everything was planned. They sang, danced and did the whole showmanship bit.

They did six Summer-stock plays. In Broadway shows Pete tap-danced, and with a line of twelve dancers with him—so he didn't just shuffle his feet back and forth. He always had good time, so he enjoyed that for about eight months. And he played Eland Oakley in the musical Anything Goes, with Jack Gilford in the part of Moon. Then he toured the Summer-stock theatres, and did very well. As a performer Pete was really an all-rounder.

He conducted for many people too. He worked on the first Broadway run of Gypsy, just as a conductor. On first trumpet he must have done over five or six hundred movies—that was a big part of his life. On Bell, Book And Candle Pete and Conte played nine tunes, and he co-scored that film with George Duning. On all the small group things they did in the picture—they were on screen in that. Then they went and made an album called Bell, Book And Candoli!

Later on, in 1981, at the Aurex Jazz Festival in Tokyo, Pete started an association with Lionel Hampton. He travelled with Lionel for a time and for six years he played at the Blue Note with him every year, with a group of individual soloists. There were James Moody and Frank Foster on two tenors, Al Grey, Sweets Edison and Pete, with different great rhythm men. This was besides doing outside concerts, or a trip on a ship. Pete loves Lionel.

Lionel has a school of music at the University of Idaho—this'll be his 33rd year. Conte and Pete did it sometimes. They are both on the board of that particular school as musical advisers. Pete wants to expand, and keep creating student fellowships. That's been a big part of the last few years for him.

He talked to Sweets Edison the night before he passed away. He had moved to Columbus to be near his daughter, who was graduating from Ohio State; he was in a wheelchair at the time. Sweets was marvellous—he had that whole creative thing of his own going. Pete used to talk to him on the phone, and that night he called him up. He said, "Hey. Sweetey", and Sweets said, "Hey—Petey. How you doing?" They talked a while, and he died the next morning at ten.

Some parts of this tribute have been adapted from a Les Tomkins interview published in Jazz Rag

Copyright © 2001, Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved

Photo: Rob Pronk, Bob and Chuck Findley, Pete Candoli, courtesy of Rene Laanen