Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Lee Castle: Trumpet King of the Castle

The Big Band era produced many outstanding instrumental and jazz soloists. Many of the star sidemen became household names, themselves and many went on to be succesful bandleaders in their own right.

Such was the case with trumpeter Lee Castle (1915-90). Lee was an outstanding trumpeter comfortable in swing and dixieland settings and heavily influenced by Louis Armstrong. (what trumpeter of the era wasn't?) He worked for most of the major Big Band leaders (Shaw, Dorsey, Goodman, Miller, etc.) and is best known for his long stint as leader of the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra. Lee was also a fine jazzman with a pure tone and driving approach to jazz. He knew his Louis and even wrote an exellent transcription of Louis' solos. This post will celebrate his illustrious career and landmark recordings.

Lee Aniello Castaldo was born in the Bronx and was inspired to study trumpet after hearing a Louis Armstrong record. Sound familiar? His brother, Charlie, also became a professional trombonist. By his teens he was working with local bands, the earlist being Paul Tremaine and Paul Bartell. In July of 1936 Lee made his first recordings with the Joe Haymes Orchestra. Haymes was an outstanding arranger and this band was made up of young, promising swing stars. On Haymes' adventurous chart of St. Louis Blues, Lee takes a nice middle register solo with a quote from Louis' Savoy Blues (the Pops influence was already present). On That's a Plenty, Lee takes a solid chorus and leads the dixieland ensemble. These short solos show an already mature jazz trumpeter.

After a short stint with saxophonist Dick Stabile, Lee joined Artie Shaw's band in the summer of 1936. This first edition of the Shaw band featured 2 trumpets, trombone, Artie's clarinet, Tony Pastor on tenor and a string quartet. It was a very musical band but didn't take off. Lee can be heard playing lead on Sugar Foot Stomp and Sobbin' Blues along with a nice open horn spot on Let's Call a Heart a Heart. Lee stayed with Shaw until July, 1937 then went with Red Norvo for a few months (no recordings).

In September of 1937, Lee began his long association with Tommy Dorsey.He would be with Dorsey on and off until early 1939 (and back for a short stint from Dec. 1939- Feb. 1940). He even spent a few months at the Dorsey farm in Pennsylvania studying with Tommy's dad, a respected brass teacher. Lee played mostly section work with Dorsey (Pee Wee Erwin and Yank Lawson were the primary jazz soloists during his stint) , although he took a respectable jazz chorus Dorsey's recording of I Never Knew in 1938. After a brief stint with Glenn Miller in early '39 (no recordings but some broadcasts may exist) , Lee joined Jack Teagarden's new swing band from April to December of 1939.

Jack had just finished a five year contract with Paul Whiteman and was eager to join the ranks of swing band leaders. Jack's big band never caught on with the public but this early edition was the finest Teagarden band. Trumpeter Charlie Spivak was a partner in the band and played lead. Lee handled the jazz solos ( young trumpeter Karl Garvin also played a few). Lee's Louis/Berigan like horn can be heard on Red Wing (a Bob Crosby styled chart), Wolverine Blues ,Beale St. Blues and Muddy River Blues to name a few. While with Jack, Lee took part in a memorable recording session that showcased his jazz abilities.

On June 26, 1939 Lee sat in with organist Glenn Hardman's Hammond Five. Hardman was a popular organist whose attempts at jazz are a bit muddy, however he brought along some of Count Basie's best men. Lester Young played tenor and added his lovely clarinet work along with rhythm men Freddie Green on guitar and Jo Jones on drums. Lee was a last minute replacement for Buck Clayton who had a strange mishap during a tryst with a married lady!
Whoever thought of Lee is not known, but he acquits himself admirarily and gives us inspired lead work and solos.
On China Boy, Lee's straight mute lead is strong and he gets in a fleet solo. The band does a walk-off retard for nice effect. Exactly like You has nice cup mute lead by Lee and a strong out chorus. Sunny Side of the Street has more Louis-ish open lead. Upright Organ Blues (how they got that one by the recording execs is amazing!) has a great 2 chorus spot by Lee with some Louis phrases right out of the Hot 5 and a classic rideout. Who has more cup mute and some nice playing with the time(another Louis device) plus a hot rideout. The old Bix classic, Jazz Me Blues gets a Scottish intro by Hardman and pretty lead by Lee, on the 2nd chorus he gets in some neat breaks. Hardman closes with a Turkey-in-the Straw quote. Lester of course is a tower of strength on tenor and his wispy, poetic clarinet is a delight. A very musical and fun session.

Lee was back with Tommy Dorsey briefly from Dec. '39- Feb. 1940, then he made the first of several trys with his own big band. Lee's fine playing, good looks and excellent musicianship made him a fine leader, but his bands of the 40s never caught on despite good reviews. (probably too much competition from Louis, Harry James, Charlie Spivak and Randy Brooks). In early 1941 he joined the excellent band of Will Bradley (co-led with Ray McKinley). Lee didn't get too many recorded solos but is very prominent on a dixieland combo called the 6 Texas Hot Dogs playing Basin St. Boogie. (Will and clarinetist Mahlon Clark are also featured). Lee gets in a gutty muted solo with quotes from Louis' Mahogany Hall Stomp. Lee also has a short solo on the full band version of When You and I were Young,Maggie.
In the summer of 1941, Lee re-joined Artie Shaw who had put together another exciting band. Hot Lips Page was the primary jazz soloist in the band, but Lee and Max Kaminsky got their share of blowing on live dates. Lee stayed with Shaw until March of 1942. After a short stint with Charlie Spivak he led his own band again. This Castle band made a few sides for Musicraft and V Disc(available on Youtube), but are hard to find. The Youtube track of Uptown Express(a majot to minor riff) shows what a swinging band Lee fronted. He gets a real Harry James feel here and also spots good tenor and clarinet solos. Lee even joins his drummer for a Sing,Sing-like duet-hopefully more sides will surface.In late 1942, Lee joined Benny Goodman for a year. The recording ban was on at this time, but Lee can be seen and heard with Benny in the film Stage Door Canteen and takes a hot solo on Bugle Call Rag. Lee was also with Benny in the film, The Gang's All Here.
This edition of the Goodman band also included Lee's brother Charlie on trombone, Jess Stacy, Louis Bellson, Miff Mole and Joe Rushton (bass sax). There are some broadcasts by the band , mostly on old lps.

During the rest of the 40s, Lee led his own bands and did some studio work. He also did some dixieland work. (he was a fine player in the traditional style). In 1950 he was back with Artie Shaw for a short stint. He was on some of Shaw's Decca sides of the time, including a Gramercy 5 session (not available for review). In 1953 Lee rejoined Tommy Dorsey who would soon be joined by brother Jimmy to revive the Dorsey Bros, band-it was actually billed as Tommy Dorsey and his Orch. featuring Jimmy Dorsey. Lee was a key player as trumpeter and assistant conductor. (he was very adept at conducting a band). The Dorsey band recorded several albums for Bell and Columbia at this time, along with many broadcasts from the Cafe Rouge and Statler Hotel. Charlie Shavers took most of the jazz solos, however Lee was always called upon for dixieland passages and occasional jazz solos. When the brothers started their Stage Show TV series(a replacement show for Jackie Gleason), Lee was very evident. Some clips have surfaced over the years. On Let's Have a Party, vocalists Lynn Roberts and Tommy Mercer are featured along with a swinging dixie chorus by Lee and the brothers. While Tommy and Jimmy talk to the audience Lee can be seen wearing headphones and conducting the band. (some of these clips are on Youtube).In 1954 Lee made a dixieland lp for the Jay Dee label (obviously sponsored by Jimmy with Lou McGarity, Peanuts Hucko, Dick Cary, Bob Haggart and George Wettling. (not available for review).

In 1955, Lee made a great session with Ray McKinley for the Grand Award label. Also present were Peanuts Hicko (clarinet and tenor), Deane Kincaide (baritone and tenor), Mickey Crane (piano), Trigger Alpert(bass) and Ray on drums and vocals. There are some nice arranged intros and interludes probably by Kincaide, an ace arranger. Ray's vocalizing is featured on Scrub me Mama (from the Will Bradley days), Hard Hearted Hannah ( a big hit for his own band), Cow Cow Boogie and Jeepers Creepers with a nice scat intro by Ray in tribute to Louis. The band also plays Royal Garden Blues and Sugar Foot Stomp. Lee's playing thruout is hot and driving. He handles the traditional King Oliver solo on Sugar Foot and also does some nice blowing behind Ray's vocals. Kincaide's baritone is also very strong and he trades some tenor fours with Hucko on Jeepers. A nice session- unfortunately long out of print.

Lee continued with the Dorseys, Tommy passed on in Nov. 1956 and Jimmy, ill with cancer tried to carry on with Lee's help. Jimmy had a surprise hit with So Rare in 1957. He had recorded three other titles for Fraternity Records ,but by the time an album was planned had passed on in June 1957. Lee finished the sessions in June with the Dorsey band. His old boss Dick Stabile was brought in to play four alto features ( he sounded a lot like Jimmy). Another old boss, Will Bradley sat in on the sessions and was featured on Speak Low. Many of the charts were from the last book of the Dorseys. Just Swingin', an Ernie Wilkins chart and Jay Dee's Boogie (a slightly altered version of Tommy's version) are highlights. Lee has some solo spots on Maria Elena, Amapola and Speak Low. The album was eventually released on Dot records. Lee also made some more dixieland sides for the small Joe Davis label in Jan. 1957. (long out of print).

Lee also played on four titles of a Miff Mole session for Steffany Records in 1958 (later reissued on Jazzology). Miff was still playing fine trombone and had old Memphis 5 colleagues ,Jimmy Lytell(clarinet), Frank Signorelli(piano) and Chauncey Morehouse (drums) aboard, along with Jack Lesberg on bass. A later session had Jack Palmer (trumpet) and Joe Dixon (clarinet). The tunes are For Me and My Gal, Exactly like You, Original Dixieland One-Step and a nice Mole original Dreaming by the River(recorded by several New Orleans bands). Lee's work thruout is crisp and driving with plenty of the Louis influence. There are some clever arranged passages and at times Lee sounds a bit like his old Dorsey buddy, PeeWee Erwin.

After Jimmy's death, Lee continued to lead The Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra. (Warren Covington had taken over Tommy's band). Lee spent the rest of his career as leader of Jimmy's band. He did a first rate job and played many of Jimmy's big hits along with some of Tommy's and his own book. The band was a working unit for many years until it became neccesary for Lee to use capable pick-up musicians along with a few key men. He did some recording with the band, but all of the lps are out of print. Included were several for Epic in 1960 and two Pickwick albums in the late 60s playing the music of Burt Baacharach and the Beatles. The last lp by Lee and the band was in 1987 on Atlantic-Dorsey Then and Now with vocalist Carole Taran.(some of these lps are available on Ebay).In 1984 Lee and the band filmed a concert at Disneyland for the Big Bands at Disneyland series. It gives an exellent example of Lee's programs with the J. D. Orch.

After the opening Contrasts played by Lee and lead alto Tino Esno we go into a big band chart of That's a Plenty. Lee's lead and solo work are excellent. He was approaching 70 years of age, but still had good chops-there are a few bad notes here and there,but many great moments.
The band appears to be California pick-up men (we spotted big band veteran Zeke Zarchy in the trumpet section), however they play the charts quite well. An instrumental version of Maria Elena follows (Lee has a nice spot) and there's more fine Castle horn on a more modern chart of Indian Summer (probably from Lee's own book).
Special guest Helen Forrest has two solo sets and Lee conducts her charts. One can see his talent as a conductor here and why he was a key man to the Dorseys. Next up is a Dorseyland Jazz Band version of Indiana (Jimmy had such a dixie group in the late 40s). Lee and a dixieland contingent get in a lively version. Lee's solid chorus has a nice quote from Isham Jones' What's the Use? This is followed by a Hits medley of both Dorseys-Lee had a right to feature Tommy's tunes,also.

Lee is interviewed by host Peter Marshall and he comes across as a personable, humorous gentleman. He talks about his history with the Dorseys,his real name and being taken for sweet bandleader Art Kassell along with using his own library to offset the Dorsey book.
What's New? is a nice showcase for his horn and another more modern chart. Jimmy's big hit So Rare is played well by Esno and we get a pleasant Sinatra-like vocal from Lee himself on All of Me. The show closes with a rousing J.D.'s Boogie featuring several crowd pleasing encores.
This is an exellent concert and perfect example of Lee's talents as a bandleader, trumpeter and host. The Disneyland series was available for a time on VHS, hopefully it will surface soon on DVD.

Much of Lee's Big Band work is available on CD , such as the Joe Haymes, Artie Shaw,Jack Teagarden, Will Bradley and Dorsey sides. The Miff Mole session is still on Jazzology Records. As always ,Amazon and Worlds Records are a good source for this material.
The two Goodman films are available , unfortunately many of the studio and broadcast lps we covered are long out of print. As we find them we will include an Addendum to this post.

Lee continued leading the Jimmy Dorsey Orch. until his health deteriated in the late 80s. He passed on from a heart attack in 1990 in Hollywood, Florida. Lee was survived by his wife, Virginia, 2 sisters and 3 brothers.For a time the band continued with other leaders including clarinetist Henry Cuesta, but has been inactive for some time.
Lee was a very talented musician and bandleader, equally home with traditional jazz and big band swing. We hope this post will bring him more of the regonition he so deserves.

Till next time- Keep Swinging.

Addendum- Since this post, I had a chance to enjoy a re-broadcast of Ray Smith's Jazz Decades radio show. Lee Castle was the subject of the hour and produced these new finds.-
From a 1943 V Disc session with Goodman a driving version of Henderson Stomp with fiery blowing by Lee. A 1950s studio date at RCA produced a lovely ballad feature for Lee's horn on Ellington's Morning Glory. The album and group name was not identified. Finally, a 1956 Dorsey Bros. broadcast from the Statler had Lee blowing great dixieland and a hot rideout on Panama.
More to come.

Recently purchased the 1987 CD of "Dorsey Then and Now" featuring Lee,the Band and British vocalist Carole Taran.(Atlantic Records).
It's a nicely produced and good sounding Big Band album,save for two awful selections.
There's a nice Dorsey Daze medley of Jimmy's hits and several old standards including Star Eyes and I'm Glad there is You featuring Miss Taron's nice vocals and tasty trumpet by Lee.
Several contemporary ballads are played tastefully,but Evil Ways and Dorsey Rap are just terrible.
How Lee got talked into doing the "Rap" tribute to Jimmy.I'll never know! (I can see Jimmy rolling over in his Grave!!!).
Still a nice album for $4 on ebay-just stop at track 8. And it's a nice final testament to Lee's great trumpeting.