Sal Mosca: For Lennie Tristano – Solo Piano 1970 & 1997

Pianist Mosca was a Lennie Tristano disciple but didn't become a clone. These recently discovered tapes evince a unique voice


Pianist and teacher Sal Mosca (1927-2007) was a devoted disciple and student of the cerebral and reclusive Lennie Tristano (1919-1978). Unlike his mentor, Mosca never became a jazz household name, because he rarely (from choice) recorded. He did, however, record with Lee Konitz (Inside Hi Fi, 1957) and Warne Marsh (Sam Mosca/Warne Marsh Quartet, 1981). He also played with Bird, Miles and Billie Holiday.

These recently discovered tapes, found by Don Messina in Mosca’s Mt. Vernon, New York studio, somehow survived a fire which destroyed it in the mid 1970s. The two performances, in surprisingly good sound, are separated by a gap of 27 years. They are of historic as well as artistic value. As Messina comments, they reveal “one great pianist paying homage to another great pianist who happened to be his teacher [1947-1955], close friend and one of his major influences.”

Like Art Tatum (another influence), Mosca favoured popular standards and once modestly said “Under all that complex improvising, there is always the simple melody as your guide.” He was always unique – not simply a Tristano clone.

The opening medley has an exploratory and appealingly hesitant rendition of You Go To My Head, conjoined with a fast (but also barely recognizable) Sweet Georgia Brown. It’s The Talk Of The Town is a gem, followed by a discursive meditation on and deconstruction (at over eight minutes) of the standard All The Things You Are. The Ellington/Mills Gordon famous Prelude To A Kiss is (literally) hammered by Sal into an impressive shape. The second medley consists of a romantically textured Night And Day, followed by a short but authoritative Foolish Things and a longer, explorative Old Feeling. On the two 1997 recordings, an always inventive Mosca puts his imprimatur on Beiderbecke’s beautiful composition In A Mist, and a very short Stella By Starlight.

The informative accompanying booklet includes an interview with tenor saxophonist Jimmy Halperin, a long-time friend of Mosca, who related: “Sal loved Lennie. Period! Sal’s life was his studio. That was where he had his world, first and foremost, his piano, his solitude.” He added that when offered a recording contract by producer Orrin Keepnews, Mosca declined and later explained: ”I never wanted to be caught in the web of commercial success.”

From beginning to end, these belatedly discovered solo sessions are totally absorbing and rewarding. They rate favourable comparison with (so far as I’m aware), Mosca’s only other recorded solo performances – before a wildly enthusiastic audience – the aptly titled Sal Mosca: A Concert (Jazz Records, 1979).

(1) Medley 1: You Go To My Head; Sweet Georgia Brown; It’s The Talk Of The Town; All The Things You Are; Prelude To A Kiss; Medley 2: Night And Day; These Foolish Things; That Old Feeling; Sweet And Lovely; (2) In A Mist; Stella By Starlight (49.03)
(1) Mosca (p). Mt. Vernon, NY, 2 February 1970. (2) as (1) Mt. Vernon, NY, 1997.
Fresh Sound Records FSA CD-5067