Theydon Jazz Club
Enrico Tomasso
Ray's Jazz Profile No :41 :
Enrico Tomasso
"The Great Tomasso"

In each newsletter I present a portrait of one of the remarkable musicians who make our weekly sessions so enjoyable- to sketch a little of the background to their artistry.

He stands there commanding his audience like an Italian tenor of the old school, ‘The Great Caruso’ perhaps, and delivers a stream of glorious tone from his trumpet: jazz bel canto at its most magnificent. Among the most complete of contemporary jazz musicians, it is not surprising that Enrico Tomasso has won the British Jazz Award for best trumpeter three times, the last in 2013, and has not been outside the top two since.

But “Rico”, despite the name, is Yorkshire born and bred, as was his father. “It was my great-grandfather who first came over from Cassino in the 1870s, an orphan who would busk with a concertina and then played a ‘tingalary’ or street piano. My grandfather was also musical, but it was my clarinettist father Ernie and trumpeter uncle Freddy who were the first professional musicians in the family. They played together during the war then both joined Harry Gold’s band. I arrived in 1961, and began piano lessons at the age of four. When I was five I heard Louis Armstrong play ‘Basin Street Blues’ and I told my father I wanted to play the trumpet. He was very encouraging and took me to hear many of the top American jazz stars—including Louis Armstrong. I met and played for him during his 1968 tour (and he remained a friend until his death in 1971)”.

“I had a very good teacher in Dick Hawdon, who’d worked with Terry Lightfoot and John Dankworth, so could teach me both Louis’ hot breaks and the styles of Clark Terry and Clifford Brown. And my dad would write out Bunny Berigan solos that I would have to learn before I could go out and play football. So at eight I could play ‘I Can’t Get Started’”.

“I more or less grew up on stage because, with my parents (my wholly English mother sang and played accordion), brother Peter and sister Sharon, ‘The Tomasso Family’ played the Northern clubs. And as a teenager I loved to listen to Humphrey Lyttelton’s programmes. He was wonderful because he played everything, from ODJB to fusion”.

After graduating in Leeds, Rico went to London to study at the Guildhall. At the time he was working with the Ken Mackintosh Band—his first summer season at the age of 18—before joining the Pasadena Roof Orchestra for 12 years. “I managed to slot in straightaway to their English Dance Band style (a great tradition), and learnt a load. I also travelled a lot, and going all round Europe and the world in my 20s was a great gig”. By contrast Rico then spent several years with Ray Gelato’s exuberant Giants. “That was R&B, jive and Louis Prima-style material. I’d play Louis to a shuffle beat. It was great. Eventually Ray went to the States, and I was able to fulfil my aim of playing freelance—although for about ten years I still had a weekly date with the knockout Acker Bilk band”.

Keith Nichols was (and is) another important figure is Rico’s career, including several recording projects since 1999’s Cotton Club Stomp. “Keith is of course one of jazz’ real gurus, and I always get carried away by his terrific enthusiasm: ‘Just try out this fantastic Red Allen solo I’ve transcribed’”.

Rico would not be pushed into expressing a preference for one style of jazz. “No. I love Louis of course, the Hot Five and big band style. I love it, but then there’s Berigan’s swing style, and Miles Davis’ jazz as an art form. What I enjoy is playing different gigs with different styles. It keeps me fresh, and I consider it a privilege to be able to express myself as an artist and create something new”. And he actually also does a show called ‘Trumpet Greats’ in which he replicates the styles of his trumpet heroes of the past.

After such a distinguished career, are there any unfulfilled ambitions? “Oh yes, plenty, but the main one is simply to keep developing and improving. And to complete more recordings. I did a mainstream quartet album in 2013, ‘Al Dente’ (Dave Gelly in The Observer said: “It’s a beauty”), and Lake have just issued ‘When Louis Met Bix’ with me as Louis and Andy Schumm as Bix.”

Rico has visited our club with the bands of Keith Nichols, Graham Hughes, Richard Exall and Simon Picton; but, whoever he’s with, and in whatever style, we’re always delighted to welcome the great Tomasso.

Ray Crick (May 2016)
(Top photo by RC: Enrico Tomasso at Theydon Jazz Club, 13th April 2015)

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Copyright ©May 2016 Ray Crick