Chet Baker might have made all the headlines with his drug busts, but his contemporary, Conte Candoli, was arguably the finest trumpet player to emerge from Los Angeles in the '40s and '50s. Born in 1927 in Mishawaka, Indiana, Candoli was a member of Woody Herman's band as a teenager, recording his first solo on Herman's "Put That Ring on My Finger" in 1945. He played in one of the greatest of all jazz trumpet sections with Herman, including Sonny Berman and his older brother Pete "Superman" Candoli, a respected high-note player. In the late '40s, Conte gigged and recorded with Chuggy Jackson and Charlie Ventura. Already, he was a brilliant, Dizzy Gillespie-influenced soloist, who swung his tail off, had a full, warm tone and an excellent range. In the early '50s, Candoli had another high-profile gig -- with Stan Kenton, in another outstanding trumpet section. From the mid-'50s on, Candoli has been a freelancer, appearing on numerous records. From 1967-'92, he held down a steady job as a member of Doc Severinson's Tonight Show band.
Good as he was during the '40s, when his playing was loaded with youthful enthusiasm, Candoli really came of age in the '50s, when his playing became more original and he conquered his tendency to play repetitively. He retained his power and range, but improvised in a more staccato, controlled manner. He's at his best on Stan Levey's Bethlehem album This Time the Drum's on Me, on which he plays in the front line with tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon. In the '70s, Candoli gained attention with his solo work for Supersax, a group that featured transcribed sax section arrangements of Charlie Parker solos. Candoli will be serving as a professor in Tri-C's summer jazz camp and will perform at Nighttown with Cleveland-based percussionist Val Kent and two Tri-C faculty members, pianist Joe Hunter and bassist Marion Hayden. Candoli's ubiquity and his association with now out-of-fashion West Coast jazzmen has caused him to be taken for granted in some quarters. But if you have any doubt about his ability, check out his work with the Birdland All-Stars on Victor, on which he holds his own against Kenny Dorham, who's universally recognized among the outstanding post-bop trumpet players.