On March 12, 2011, Joe Morello passed away. One of the all-time great jazz drummers, Joe redefined modern jazz drumming. His articulate sticking, fluency in odd-time signatures and musical solos elevated the role of drumming in jazz to new heights. It was little wonder that he appeared on over 120 records, 60 alone with the Dave Brubeck Quartet.
Born July 17, 1928 in Springfield, MA, Joe actually began his musical studies on the violin. Impressively, at the age of 9 he was featured with the Boston Symphony Orchestra as soloist in the Mendelsohn Violin Concerto, and by the age of 12 he had made his second solo appearance with the Orchestra. It wasn’t until he was 15 years old that Joe changed course and began to study the drums.
Studying with Springfield area pit drummer Joe Sefcik, Morello soon gained recognition as the best drummer in Springfield and the rudimental champion of New England. This only caused Joe to study harder-and-harder and play more-and-more, and he soon found himself on the road with a number of acts, most notably Hank Garland and Whitey Bernard. It was with Bernard that Joe finally left Springfield for New York City. It turned out to be a good move.
In New York, Morello played with an impressive cast of musicians: Gil Melle, Johnny Smith, Tal Farlow, Jimmy Raney, Stan Kenton and Marian McPartland, to name but a few. He even turned down offers from both Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey. But when the offer came to play a two-month tour with the Dave Brubeck Quartet, Joe accepted. The rest is jazz history – the two years became twelve-and-a half years, 60 records, and multiple awards.
In 1968 the Dave Brubeck Quartet disbanded, and Joe turned his attention to education, most notably a very active private teaching practice and a significant contribution to drum education – not to mention the entire field of jazz – through clinics, lectures and guest solo appearances. In later years, Joe also performed often with his own band in New York City.
Joe’s astonishing career has too many highlights to mention here. He appeared on over 120 albums, 60 alone with the Dave Brubeck Quartet. He won the Downbeat magazine award for Best Drummer five years in a row, the Playboy award seven years in a row, and is the only drummer to win every music poll for five consecutive years, including polls in Japan, England, Europe, Australia and South America. Revered by fans and musicians alike, Joe is considered to be one of the finest – and one of the most celebrated – drummers in the history of jazz.
Joe's impact on the world of music and the lives of those he touched will live forever. He will remain a legend among legends.
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