Boots Mussulli: Little Man

Saxophonist best known for his alto work proves equally adept on baritone in this reissue of his 1954 set for the Stan Kenton Presents series


Boots Mussulli had the jazz alto chair with Stan Kenton from 1944 to 1947. Titles like Concerto To End All Concertos, The Man I Love, Southern Scandal, Intermission Riff and Two Moose In A Caboose (which also featured his good friend Vido Musso) are all fine examples of his work with what became known as Kenton’s “Artistry In Rhythm” period.

In 1949 he was part of Charlie Ventura’s popular Bop For The People nine-piece group on alto and baritone. They broke attendance records at the Royal Roost and came top in the small combo sections in Downbeat and Metronome magazines. 

The first 11 titles on this reissue come from the Stan Kenton Presents series which featured alumni from his band like Bill Holman, Sal Salvador, Bob Cooper and Frank Rosolino. Lullaby In Rhythm is a polished arrangement in which a clever paraphrase of the original melody is used. Diga Diga Doo, which had been introduced by Duke Ellington back in 1928, storms along creatively at 70 bpm. The flawless chromaticism in the coda is particularly impressive at this tempo.

Mussulli’s elegant alto approach reflected his earlier Jimmy Dorsey and Benny Carter influences, brought up to date here with the more modern concept (for the period) of Lennie Niehaus. He plays baritone on four titles (Mutt And Jeff, You Stepped Out Of A Dream, Blues In The Night and Tico Tico) and he is a revelation on the larger horn, creating a powerful Leo Parker-like presence. Having played baritone with Ventura and Kenton (where he occasionally deputised for Bob Gioga) he achieved a full, rich sound quite beyond the average doubler. On the classic Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer Blues In The Night he ignores the 16-bar bridge, preferring to construct his variations on the 12-bar sequence.

(1) Little Man; Lullaby In Rhythm; Blues In The Night; Diga Diga Doo; Rubber Boots; (2) Le Secret; Four Girls; El Morocco; Mutt And Jeff; You Stepped Out Of A Dream; Tico Tico; (3) Kelo; Salute To Shorty; I’ll Remember April; Taking A Chance On Love; All The Things You Are (56.26)
Mussulli (as, bar) with:
(1) Ray Santisi (p); John Carter (b); Peter Littman (d). Boston, 14 June 1954.
(2) as (1) omit Carter, Littman; add Max Bennett (b); Shelly Manne (d). NYC, 7 November 1954.
(3) Toshiko Akiyoshi (p); Wyatt Ruther (b); Ed Thigpen (d).
Fresh Sound Records FSR-CD 1133