By John Cizik
Legendary saxophonists Al Cohn and “Zoot” Sims are the targets of this tribute album by a pair of fine New York tenor men, longtime friends Lew Del Gatto and Bob Keller. Five compositions here are from Cohn, thanks in part to cooperation the leaders received from the Al Cohn Memorial Collection at East Stroudsburg (PA) University. Sims shares writing credit on one cut, the rest form a terrific mixture of standards and more obscure tunes. “Doodle Oodle” starts us off, a boppy smoker that gives us a preview of what’s to come. Keller handles the lead on the melody, and Del Gatto takes the first fiery solo. Pianist Jesse Green solos too, as does Tony Martino on bass. Even drummer Tom Whaley gets a turn. Letting off on the throttle, Gary McFarland’s “Blue Hodge” follows. Keller’s tuneful tenor plays the pretty melody, then the two tenors join in pleasing harmony until Del Gatto handles the first solo. Again the piano and bass take the improve spotlight, with Marino churning out a particularly impressive stand-up solo. The first Cohn tune on the CD is “Halley’s Comet,” an interesting, upbeat tune on which Del Gatto plays the lead line over a slightly dissonant harmony by Keller. The two tenor players have a very similar sound, which works to great effect on this entire collection. It’s likely why they tell you in the liner notes who is playing what melody, and which solo! Jesse Green starts Dave Frishberg’s “Saratoga Hunch” with some nice piano work and continues it, filling while the horns take the melody. His bluesy solo is equally impressive, ranging from single note runs to well-constructed chords. It’s a fun song to listen to. While this CD is a tribute to tenor players, the rhythm section is never neglected – they get to strut their stuff on almost every cut. A quartet of Cohn compositions begins with the hard bop “The Wailing Boat.” Del Gatto is the lead tenor, Keller the first solo tenor. Drummer Whaley trades fours with Keller for a while on this toe-tapper. Lew Del Gatto has played with musicians from Sinatra to Clapton in his long career, and takes the first chorus on the swinging “P-Town.” In Bob Keller’s 50-year career, the Manhattan School of Music grad has – among other things – backed up Buddy Rich, and played in Broadway pits for Annie and The Lion King. He’s the first soloist on a hot arrangement of “Mama Flosie.” The breezy “Morning Fun” is the last Cohn chart on the CD, and again everyone has a chance to take a solo spin. Green sets up “Ballad Medley” with some thick chords, joined by Keller’s Lush tenor on the classic “The Nearness of You.” The low end of the tenor is absolutely beautiful on this piece – breathy and light. Green’s piano adds just the right mix of chords and fills to complete the experience. As the medley segues into “I Got It Bad,” Del Gatto’s tenor takes over. He cuts through with a little more high end, and the tone is also buttery smooth – check out the short cadenza near the end. The Gerry Mulligan/Zoot Sims song “Red Door” follows, a searing bop piece with Keller playing the lead, and Del Gatto soloing first. The bow on the package is an upbeat rendering of the Hammerstein/Romberg standard “Lover Come Back to Me.” According to the notes, “Bob plays the melody on A sections…Lew plays melody on bridges…Lew solos first…shout on last chorus is compilation of Al and Zoot’s 4’s from recording ‘Live at the Half Note.’” This liner note roadmap to melodies and solos is a helpful guide when listening to the CD – a great idea! Once again the rhythm players air it out with solos. The love of music Lew Del Gatto and Bob Keller share is evident from note one on To Al & Zoot With Love. So is their admiration for the two great players they honor here. They’ve chosen a fine and varied play-list to honor the arrangements and sounds of their inspirations – hopefully it will inspire you, too.
P 72 & 74 June 2009 • Jazz Improv® NY • www.jazzimprov.com
All Music Guide
A 30-year veteran of the NYC jazz and studio scene, this is unbelievably Del Gatto's debut recording as a leader. You know him (and Lou Marini) as the prime sax soloists for the Saturday Night Live Band. Old friend Randy Brecker on trumpet, pianist/organist Ron Feuer, guitarist Joe Cohn, bassist Chip Jackson, and drummer Victor Lewis comprise this stellar ensemble, with SNL bandmate Steve Turre on trombone occasionally. Del Gatto is one of the warmest, most mature, original sounding tenor saxophonists you will ever hear. He's cliche free, cool, extraordinarily literate, and tuneful. He is also an intriguing modern mainstream composer as evidenced on half of the ten tracks. They include two truly outstanding cuts: the great swing groove with guitar/tenor unison and organ backing on the title cut, and the stealth, bitter shuffle "Long Divorce Blues" with a hefty tenor/guitar lead and "Sidewinder"-type two-chord organ accents. Perhaps an Arnold Becker theme song? "Ain't Too Hip (To Hip Hop)" is a simple, contemporary guitar/organ-oriented groove biscuit supporting three horns. Del Gatto adapts two famous standards, one, an extrapolated line on "Our Delight" called "Barbados Delight," edits the original Tadd Dameron line with three horns, a patented Turre solo and "Ornithology"-type solo from Cohn. The version of "Just Friends" as "And Friends" has Brecker and the leader jumping in and out of the melody, utilizing double stops, and a rambling, hard charging attitude. Standards include the "Seven Comes Eleven" bass line informing the hard swinging, three-horn "Caravan" with Lewis' always compelling drum solo, the well swung "I Thought About You," and 12-plus minute, modally vamped, improv stretched "My One & Only Love." Del Gatto is also a prime ballad purveyor as proven in his solid, lustrous interpretation of the interesting choice "Autumn Nocturne" and the piano/tenor only ice melter "You Don't Know What Love Is." Make no mistake that this is a wonderful document of Del Gatto's musical powers, using an attractive combination of instruments and great compositions. Del Gatto's definitely got it, and this is a strong candidate for jazz CD of 2000.
- Michael G. Nastos, All Music Guide (4 1/2 stars)
The Jazz Report
Nice tunes, nice playing are at the heart of tenor saxophonist Lew Del Gatto's Naxos disc Katewalk. Del Gatto keeps the groove in place without to (sic) many frills allowing the soloist to glide along unencumbered. This is basically a high end blowing session with excellent charts. featuring some tasty B-3 organ from Ron Fuer, spirited trumpet playing from Randy Brecker, trombonist Steve Turre, guitarist Joe Cohn, with the impeccable Victor Lewis on drums.
- The Jazz Report
The BBC Music Magazine
"Since its launch in 1997, the jazz branch of the cut-price Naxos project has released dozens of albums, mainly documenting the playing of up-and-coming or unjustly neglected musicians. Although stylistically varied, embracing everything from Finnish big-band music to Australian fusion to most points in between, the quality of the label's music is commendably consistent, so that the Naxos name alone is now a pretty reliable guarantee of the highest standards of production and musicianship. This release, a debut album by American tenorman Lew Del Gatto, in many ways typifies the label's approach: like many others on Naxos, Del Gatto is a highly experienced and well-respected player in his immediate milieu, and this album gives him a welcome chance to display his talents to a worldwide audience. Immediately noticeable is the richness and confidence of his tone: whether he's warbling throatily through his bluesy originals, employing an attractively sinewy bustle for flagwavers, or infusing the occasional ballad with the warm, hushed intimacy forever associated with the late Stan Getz, Del Gatto is a highly accomplished tenor player, and his leadership qualities are demonstrated not only by the relaxed discipline of his stellar band, but also by the superbly balanced set he has chosen for it to play. Victor Lewis, his drummer, is justly celebrated for his subtle propulsiveness with the aforementioned Stan Getz; here, his deft but vigorous approach is a the heart of a consistently attractive, airy group sound, ensuring that Del Gatto's declared aim of producing 'warm, vibrant, swinging' music is achieved throughout a wholly enjoyable, thoroughly unpretentious album."
- Chris Parker, BBC Music Magazine, Nov 2000
Tenor saxophonist Del Gatto gives lie to the belief that the instrument is basically a mellow implement, suited to soft deep passages. Sure he finds plenty of places for the familiar voicings, however he is also capable of scathing solos. With a band that defines all star, Del Gatto with Randy Brecker on trumpet and flugelhorn, guitarist Joe Cohn, bassist Chip Jackson, drummer Victor Lewis Steve Turre on trombone and Ron Feuer on keyboards, Del Gatto equally mixes original compositions with the classics. The sound is absolutely alive. The recording was done direct to 2-track, and the engineering is as good as the playing. Solos abound. The project is built around Lewis's drums, Jackson's bass and Joe Cohn's absolutely stellar guitar work. The horns whether in solo or ensemble performance are magnificent. "You Don't Know What Love Is" is a relatively compact, but lush piece. It is a great relaxer for the closer, "My One and Only Love." This piece alone is worth the price of the collections. Cohn moves in and out against Del Gatto, while Feuer ebbs and flows on the organ with a veritable ocean of sounds. Lewis has his drums tuned in a manner suggestive of the fifties and sixties. Big and open, his solo on Duke Ellington's "Caravan" borders on historic. Seeming to live in the tom toms, he will occasionally reach into the cymbals to throw some lightning among the thunder. Brecker who is decidedly under utilized in this project, is loosed on Caravan. Cohn shows an abundance of chops and speed while never compromising his tone. Turre sets up Del Gatto for a second round with a run of staccato notes. Again here are more solos worth the price of the disc. Needless to say this disc is highly recommended. This is his first venture as a leader. It should be the first of many..
- Joe Grandwilliams, Good Times (New York), Aug 2000
All About Jazz Website
"Del Gatto, a veteran of the Saturday Night Live band, takes a straight-ahead approach to his jazz. He employs Randy Brecker, Victor Lewis, and SNL bandmate Steve Turre in his refined mix of chittlin' circuit blues and sophisticated standards. Katewalk is a funky collection of standards and originals that are inherently toe-tapping. The bluesly convolution of the title cut sets a sturdy tone for the rest of the disc. "Caravan", "You don't Know what Love Is", and "My One and Only Love" hold up well under Del Gatto's funnky attitude (even in the ballads) Randy Brecker and Steve Turre smoke whenever they pass wind through their respective instruments. The super treats of this record are the greasy organ-tenor combos ("Katewalk", "Long Divorce Blues", and "Ain't too Hip"). This is well thought out music."
- C. Michael Bailey, allaboutjazz.com
IAJRC Journal- March 2009 p.82
Lew Del Gatto / Heroes – Vol. 1
First off, I sure hope there is a Volume Two. Lew Del Gatto pays homage to a group of sax players who influenced him and in some cases, people he had worked with at least casually over the years. Lew, if you had read the review of To Al and Zoot with Love, would know that this man has paid his dues. I will not go into his background anymore than a personal observation. My first exposure to Lew Del Gatto was at the COTA Jazz Festival at the Delaware Water Gap, at least a dozen years ago. He worked in some big bands, notably those put together by Phil Woods. In fact, when Phil took this band on an overseas tour a few years back, Lew was a featured soloist. He and George Young would often do a two-tenor set and just bring the people to their feet. So George is one of the “heroes” in this CD, and he is rightly represented by his own tune, "Omelette". In recent years the two have infrequently crossed paths as George moved to the West Coast.
Other heroes here are Charlie Parker with the initial tune and the Lester Young with the next one. As far as I know, "Fin De L’Affaire" has only been recorded one time, by its composer Hank Mobley for Blue Note in the 1950s. Go dig out your Blue Note recording and get reacquainted with this tune as I did. Lew really did some research before he began this project. "Did You Call Her Today?" is a Ben Webster composition written for Frank Wess. More on Mr. Wess later. "People Time" is a double tribute: first to Benny Carter, the writer of the tune and also to Stan Getz who made a wonderful recording of it. Again, go dig out the Stan Getz recording. Stan recorded the tune several times but I suggest the 1991 session with Kenny Baron, on the Verve label. Next is Stanley Turrentine’s offering, "Stanley’s Time". The next is a gasser, "Blues Up and Down" and who can forget Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt attacking that one. "Land’s End" is a tip of the hat to Harold Land and "Mr. George" is a nod to Al Cohn. "Last Train from Overbrook" pulls our coats to James Moody and the disc ends with Mr. Del Gatto’s number one hero (and I may add many others as well), Sonny Rollins.
Now, while this is a tribute album, it is far from having a copy cat approach. The tunes are easily recognizable but it is all Lew Del Gatto and on four of them, also Frank Wess. They work together so beautifully. I love two tenor recordings and this one, on these selections, is up there with the best of them. That is not to say that when it is strictly a quartet (minus Frank Wess) that it is not exciting. A mention should also be said of the fine rhythm section. I am sure they are all well known to you. Each and every player gets solo space but it is finally the group together that just grabs me. They are in a groove. I opened this review stating that I hope there is a Volume Two and I sure would not make that statement if I didn’t fall in love with this one.
I have no mailing address but you can find the CD on Lew’s website or www.cdbaby.com.
- Herb Young
IAJRC Journal- December 2008 p.105
Lew Del Gatto and Bob Keller / To Al and Zoot, with Love
This recording is the sleeper of the year, believe me.
None of these names are well known. to most of our readers except those who have hung around the Pocono Mountain area of Pennsylvania or at some of the spots in New York City so, Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to introduce the band.
Lew Del Gatto has been doing business in the Big Apple for well over fifty years and for a long period was the contractor for the music on the NBC's long-running Saturday Night Live. In the past he had also teamed up with George Young, another sax player of great talent. Next we have Bob Keller. A native New Yorker and talented player who has done all sorts of things, also in the big city, including teaching at Manhattan School of Music. He is now retired and living in the Poconos, still playing jazz whenever the opportunity arises. Lew, by the way, retired to Florida. Next we have Jesse Green, who grew up in the Pocono area. He first took up trombone, in the steps of his famous father, but then switched to piano, on which he excels. Jesse has a couple of CD's under his belt, on the Chiaroscuro Label. This talented young man also works frequently in New York as well as the Poconos. He runs a jam session at the legendary Deer Head Inn a couple times a month. Tony Marino is just about first call bass player and has worked with many famous people and he and the steady, professional and personable drummer, Tom Whaley have worked together more times then they want to remember. In summary, you have one fine, tight band here. They know each other well and it shows.
The music is all out of Al and Zoot. Every tune on this CD was performed and recorded by those two tenor giants. All of the arrangements are housed in the Al Cohn Memorial Jazz Collection at East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. Bob worked closely with the curator of that collection, Bob Bush. What resulted is a fine mixture of tunes. They really get inside the music. It is a great tribute done with feeling and love. I shall not go into detail of the various selections. The proof is in the listening and 'this is exactly what each fan of Al and Zoot needs to do. Kent Heckman, of Red Rock Recording, is a real professional and the result is sparkling. Ira Gitler wrote some of the notes in this very attractive booklet.
Get it from Bob himself: www.bobkeller.net
- Herb Young
Lew Del Gatto & Bob Keller, "To Al and Zoot, With Love"
Two of New York's finest veteran saxophonist collaborate in a riveting tribute to the legendary saxophone duo of Al Cohn and John Haley "Zoot" Sims, who teamed up in the 1950s and '60s and played with a quintet, the favorite of New York's fabled "Half Note" club. Friends for fifty years, Lew Del Gatto and Bob Keller often played the music of the famed duo and in the sixties, Del Gatto would catch At & Zoot night after night at the club and Keller worked with Cohn in the National Jazz Ensemble. "To Al and Zoot" was a natural evolution for these two tenorist to come together and record a very special tribute.
To capture the essence of the Al & Zoot quintet, Del Gatto and Keller assembled their own stellar group of musicians which include pianist Jesse Green, drummer Tom Whaley and bassist Tony Marino, creating their own formidable quintet that altogether shine every bit as good as the Cohn and Sims quintet. The album presents eleven jazz standards including five compositions from Cohn, known as a premier arranger and composer, and one chart from Sims.
One boppish session of jazz, the group kicks off with a blistering rendition of Billy Byers' "Doodle Oodle" and settles down on the more mellow "Blue Hodge," featuring robust play from both sax men. There are many highlights on this recording but three pieces in particular seem to define the magic of Al & Zoot, and they are the vibrant and swinging Cohn score "Wailing Boat," the immortal Gerry Mulligan/ Sims composition, "Red Door" and the lush "Ballad Medley" of "The Nearness of You" and "I Got It Bad." With Del Gatto often playing lead, Keller is heard performing the first solos on many of the tunes.
Other notable tunes include Dave Frishberg's "Saratoga Hunch," the lively and perky Cohn number, "P-Town," and the oft played standard "Lover Come Back To Me." Lew Del Gatto and Bob Keller playa tenor tandem on this tribute album that beckon favorable comparisons to the legendary saxophonists they so brilliantly imitate on "To Al and Zoot, With Love." Somewhere in that ever expanding jazz orchestra in heaven, Al Cohn and Zoot Sims must be smiling down on Del Gatto and Keller blowing a few celestial notes of thanks for one hell of an album.
- Edward Blanco
Lew Del Gatto / Heroes – Vol. 1
From his days as a stalwart in the original Saturday Night Live television band through his major role with the Phil Woods Jazz Orchestra and numerous New York City sessions, Lew Del Gatto has produced far too few albums as a leader. His excellent 2000 Naxos release Katewalk and this effort in tribute to the saxophonists and performers he admires have come far between each other, but the results are satisfying nonetheless. His tenor sax playing is close to flawless (check out his perfect tone on "Stanley's Time," for Stanley Turrentine), exhibiting the finest core values of his predecessors while choosing material that challenges most standard interpreters' notions of stock repertoire. With the still extraordinary, quite capable veteran pianist Don Friedman, acoustic (not electric for this date) bassist Bob Cranshaw, and stalwart drummer Mickey Roker, Del Gatto has a most professional ensemble of seasoned bopsters to swing with until the night is done and gone. There are four tracks where Del Gatto teams up with Frank Wess, reflecting the best blow-by-blow tenor saxophone battles from days of old, and they are all a sheer delight. "Tickle Toe" sounds like a twin dose of Lester Young personified, while "Did You Call Her Today?" is a simple, easy swinger naturally in the Count Basie mode but also echoing mellow tones of Duke Ellington. The Gene Ammons-Sonny Stitt flag-waving tandem is perfectly represented on the get-down jam "Blues Up & Down," while the original "Mr. George" has the symmetry and joyous blues-chasing attitude exemplified by its initial makers, Al Cohn and Zoot Sims. Needless to say, Del Gatto and Wess are happily and firmly in their element. The lengthiest quartet track is a nearly ten-minute "Sonny Medley" of "Doxy," "St. Thomas," and "Airegin" that is not so much seamless as it is precious, with Friedman only joining in on the last number. George Young's "Omelette" is the coolest of blues as penned by Del Gatto's longtime SNL teammate, sporting a marvelous bass solo by Cranshaw, while "Fin de l'Affaire" is Hank Mobley's revered but obscure ballad, revived in deep beauty by the tenor man. Harold Land's "Lands End" is for connoisseurs of the soulful West Coast saxophonist from his days with Clifford Brown, and "People Time" is the classic contemporary theme of solemn, stoic proportions, written by Benny Carter and popularized by Stan Getz. For "Last Train from Overbrook," Del Gatto not so much mimics its author, James Moody, as he embellishes the humor and jovial nature of the composer's well-defined personality through Del Gatto's eyes and ears. The leader has promised a second volume of works from more jazz icons, but this recording will be known not so much for who was left off as for the brilliant musicians Lew Del Gatto has followed in definitive giant footsteps.
Review by Michael G. Nastos - www.allmusic.com