Dodo Marmarosa

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Dodo Marmarosa
Birth name Michael Marmarosa
Born (1925-12-12)December 12, 1925
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Died September 17, 2002(2002-09-17) (aged 76)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Genres Jazz, bebop
Occupation(s) Musician, composer, arranger
Instruments Piano
Years active Early 1940s–1950, 1961–68

Michael "Dodo" Marmarosa (December 12, 1925 – September 17, 2002) was an American jazz pianist, composer, and arranger.

Early life[edit]

Marmarosa was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on December 12, 1925.[1] He had "Italian working-class parents"[2] – Joseph[3] and Carmella.[4] He was the middle of three children,[2] between sisters Doris and Audrey,[5] and grew up in the East Liberty neighborhood of Pittsburgh.[2] Marmarosa attended Peabody High School.[3] He received the uncomplimentary nickname "Dodo" as a child because of his large head, short body, and bird-like nose.[2][5]

Marmarosa started playing the piano at the age of 9.[5] He studied classical music, but was influenced by the jazz playing of Art Tatum and Teddy Wilson[1] after fellow pianist Erroll Garner, a school friend,[6] introduced him to their music.[7] Marmarosa practiced a lot, until left and right hands were equally strong.[6]

Later life and career[edit]


Marmarosa began his professional career in 1941, joining the Johnny "Scat" Davis Orchestra at the age of 15 or 16.[7][8] After touring, the orchestra broke up, so Marmarosa and others then joined Gene Krupa's band;[8] the pianist stayed from 1942 to mid-1943.[1] After one 1943 performance in Philadelphia, Marmarosa was beaten into a coma by sailors who accused him of draft dodging.[6][9] According to clarinetist Buddy DeFranco, who was also attacked by the men, "Dodo was always a little off but he seemed different after that beating. The head injury didn't affect his playing, but I think it created psychological problems for him."[9]

Marmarosa played in Ted Fio Rito's band for at least a month in the summer of 1943.[7] He then moved to Charlie Barnet's big band (October 1943 – March 1944),[7] where he first met and jammed with the leaders of the new bebop movement, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.[10] Marmarosa's recording debut was with Barnet[6] in 1943; they recorded "The Moose", a track described by Gunther Schuller as "a veritable masterpiece" on which the 17-year-old pianist played "a bright new stylistic amalgam of incipient bop and basic Basie-isms".[11] Marmarosa recorded three tracks with Krupa and DeFranco in 1944.[9] From April to October of that year he was with Tommy Dorsey,[7] before playing with clarinetist Artie Shaw from late 1944 to the fall of 1945,[1] as part of a big band and Shaw's small band,[8] the Gramercy Five.[9] DeFranco recounted that Marmarosa "had probably the most astute musical mind that I had ever run across [...] He was always searching, always into new things".[2]

Marmarosa recorded as a sideman in 1945, including with Corky Corcoran, Lem Davis and Lester Young.[1] Around 20 sides were made with Slim Gaillard in December of that year.[7] Marmarosa became increasingly attracted to bebop.[6]

In 1945 or 1946 Marmarosa moved to Los Angeles.[1][5] As house pianist for Atomic Records there, he played on albums led by Barney Kessel and Slim Gaillard, the band of the latter included Gillespie and Parker.[1] He was pianist in March 1946 for Parker's first recordings for Dial.[12] Two of the tracks recorded, "Ornithology" and "Yardbird Suite", have been included in the Grammy Hall of Fame.[13] He continued performing with Parker's band until the saxophonist was admitted to hospital with drug addiction in the summer, at which point Marmarosa joined bebop trumpeter Howard McGhee's band.[10] He was also a member of Boyd Raeburn's orchestra at the same time; this was a progressive group that used "modern arrangements seeking to bridge the gap between bop and advanced European music".[14]

Marmarosa also made his first trio recordings in 1946.[14] He recorded with many others during 1946–47, including Wardell Gray, Lionel Hampton, Willie Smith, and Lucky Thompson.[1] Marmarosa also featured in Gene Norman's Just Jazz concerts. In 1947 he won Esquire magazine's New Star (piano) award.[2] In the same year, he recorded a trio session for Dial with Harry Babasin on cello and Jackie Mills on drums;[15] these were the first pizzicato jazz cello recordings.[16]

"He became a fixture among West Coast beboppers, jamming in L.A. clubs and playing concerts with musicians like Woody Herman, Benny Carter and Wardell Gray".[2] According to drummer Jackie Mills, his housemate in 1946–47, "Dodo was the most dedicated of players. He practiced an incredible amount of hours, often all day long. He wouldn't stop to eat. He would eat at the piano with one hand and keep playing with the other. He had no other interests that I was aware of. He could play forever."[14] At this time, Marmarosa did not drink or take hard drugs, but his behavior was often eccentric.[14] Mills reported that "Dodo was just a big kid [...] He never really grew up because he never allowed anything but the piano to be important to him. The piano was his life. He heard things in his head that he wasn't able to play and it frustrated him. Once, he got mad at the old upright piano we had and chopped it up with an axe."[14]

In 1948 he returned to Pittsburgh because of illness.[1] Marmarosa toured again with "Scat" Davis (April – July 1949) and Shaw (November 1949).[1] He left Shaw's band for the final time after they had twice played Shaw's hit, 'Frenesí', at one venue, Marmarosa had threatened to leave if Shaw called for it again, and Shaw had done so when the audience requested it again.[17] Shaw reported that "He was gentle and fragile, [...and] never learned to deal with the world of a musician."[5] Marmarosa signed "a term contract" with Savoy Records in 1950,[18] and recorded a 78-rpm single for them on July 21, 1950.[19] The recording featured Marmarosa's trio, with Thomas Mandrus on bass and Joe "Jazz" Wallace on drums.

Marmarosa returned to Pittsburgh in 1950,[2] and, for around a decade, he was inactive as a musician.[1] Shaw and DeFranco raised the idea of psychiatric treatment, but the former was rebuffed by Marmarosa himself, and the latter by the pianist's parents: "They were not reconciled to his needing professional help. They were from the old school, they saw it as a stigma. I got into a big argument about it with his father. He really blew up."[14]


Marmarosa married and moved to California again.[14] The couple had two daughters, but the marriage was short-lived, and Marmarosa again moved back to his parents' home in Pittsburgh.[14] His ex-wife remarried and asked him to allow her to change the children's names in exchange for not having to pay her any more money; following the advice of his parents, he signed the documents.[14] A friend of his later stated that never seeing his children again "was the great blight of his life. It tore him apart".[20] Another friend commented more generally that, "After the marriage broke up, he seemed to lose the spark, the drive he once had".[20]

In the mid-1950s Marmarosa was drafted into the army.[20] This exacerbated his problems: several months in a Veteran Administration hospital preceded his discharge.[20] He then returned to Pittsburgh, where he played locally, but continued to be erratic, sometimes disappearing for weeks at a time, and giving his money away: "It was like he was on the road to self-destruction", commented trumpeter Danny Conn.[20] He was mentioned in local press as playing in 1957[21] and 1958.[22]


Marmarosa departed for California by car in 1960, but problems with the vehicle halted him in Chicago.[20] Promoter Joe Segal organized an Argo Records session for him, but Marmarosa departed suddenly and the recording was delayed until the following year.[20] The resultant trio music from two days in May was released as Dodo's Back! later in 1961.[23] Leonard Feather described it as "required listening for anyone with a serious interest in the history of modern jazz piano".[20] He played at the University of Chicago [1] and made his final studio recordings in 1962.[20] One album, Jug & Dodo, contained some trio tracks and some quartet ones, with saxophonist Gene Ammons; it was released on Prestige more than a decade later.[20][24] The other, in a quartet with trumpeter Bill Hardman, was released in 1988.[20] Segal commented that Marmarosa "didn't talk much, was very mild-mannered. He just drank an awful lot, shot and a beer all day long. It would've put nine out of ten people under the table, but he was still walking around."[20] The pianist soon returned to Pittsburgh.[25]

Marmarosa continued to perform in Pittsburgh, albeit irregularly. Around 1963 DeFranco dropped by: "He would play brilliantly for half a tune, then just stop and walk away. He didn't even know who I was", recalled the clarinetist.[25] A CD containing amateur recordings of his performances has been issued by Uptown Records. He played briefly at the Colony Restaurant in Pittsburgh in the late 1960s.[26] His last performance in public has been dated variously as occurring in 1968[26] or the early 1970s.[7] "Even the resurgence of interest in bebop in the 1970s and 80s did not bring him back to national attention", reported The New York Times.[5] Some of Marmarosa's friends blamed his family for keeping him in their home because of shame about his mental problems, while suggesting that his family blamed musicians and music for his instability.[25] Marmarosa himself did not explain his withdrawal from performing.[5]

Irritated by telephone calls from a fan seeking an interview in 1992, Marmarosa passed on the news that he had died; this led to premature obituaries being published in two British newspapers.[27] In 2002 it was reported that, for the previous 25 years, "Marmarosa lived as a virtual recluse at Pittsburgh, at first with his family and latterly at the V A Medical Center, where he occasionally played for the residents and guests."[6] His mother died in 1995, after his father.[4] Marmarosa died on September 17, 2002, in a hospital in Pittsburgh.[5] He was survived by his sister, Audrey.[8]

Playing style[edit]

Pianist Dick Katz wrote that, "In the opinion of many, Dodo Marmarosa was the most gifted of all the pianists who figured in the bebop saga. Blessed with a beautiful legato touch and a fluid technique, he developed an original style, which, while not conventionally Powell-type bebop, blended perfectly with the bop idiom, as well as with earlier styles. He combined advanced chordal and scalar elements with graceful rhythmic phrasing."[28]

"Although Marmarosa generally followed the normal practice of bop pianists in playing single-line solos and sparse left-hand accompaniments, he infused his work with a rhythmic approach rooted in swing and a remarkable melodic inventiveness, which established him as one of the most imaginative ensemble pianists of his day."[1] "He was particularly admired for the crispness of his articulation and the firm lightness of his accompanying style",[6] which were probably residues of his early training in classical music.[7] The Penguin Guide to Jazz commented that Marmarosa's playing with Parker "has a bright, sharp-edged angularity which suits Parker perfectly".[29] Brian Priestley wrote that "What was so distinctive about Dodo's work was partly his harmonic sense and knowledge of the additional notes that Parker and Gillespie used. Many pianists were trying to find ways to voice these satisfactorily in full chording, but none did so as pleasingly or as fluently as Marmarosa. Partly it was also the way he alternated between employing his hands together and in opposition to each other, and allied to this was his unusual time feeling."[14] On his 1960s playing, "He continued to use block chords and dissonant notes, but these parts are weaved into a more satisfying whole. His sound is fuller and more relaxed."[20]

Jazz critic Marc Myers commented that Marmarosa was "Less ferocious than [Bud] Powell and more eloquent and knottier than [Al] Haig", and that he "had a punctuating, full-keyboard approach, developing ideas in the middle and widening out to express them."[30] "By the early 1960s, Marmarosa had developed a lush, relaxed bop approach".[31]


Pianist Cecil Taylor commented in 1961 that "The first modern pianist who made any impression on me was Dodo Marmarosa, with Charlie Barnet."[32]


An asterisk (*) after the year indicates that it is the year of release.

Albums as leader/co-leader[edit]

Year recorded Title Label Notes
1946–47 Up in Dodo's Room With Miles Davis, Lucky Thompson, Howard McGhee, Teddy Edwards, Charlie Parker, Harry Babasin (cello), Jackie Mills (drums)
The Dial Masters
1958–62 Pitsburgh 1958 Uptown Most tracks trio, with Danny Mastri and Johnny Vance (bass; separately), Henry Sciullo and Chuck Spatafore (drums; separately); some tracks quintet, with Danny Conn (trumpet), Carlo Galluzzo (tenor sax), Jimmy DeJulio (bass), Spatafore (drums); all in concert; some tracks quintet, with Conn (trumpet), Buzzy Renn (alto sax), DeJulio (bass), Spatafore (drums); released 1997
1961 Dodo's Back! Argo Trio, with Richard Evans (bass), Marshall Thompson (drums)
1962 Jug & Dodo Argo Most tracks quartet, with Gene Ammons (tenor sax), Sam Jones (bass), Marshall Thompson (drums); some tracks trio, without Ammons

Singles as leader/co-leader[edit]

Year recorded Title Label Notes
1946* "Mellow Mood"/"How High the Moon" Atomic "Mellow Mood": trio, with Ray Brown (bass), Jackie Mills (drums); "How High the Moon": quartet, with Lucky Thompson (tenor sax) added[33]
1946* "I Surrender Dear"/"Dodo's Blues" Atomic
1948* "Lover"/"Dary Departs"; "Trade Winds"/"Bopmatism"
1950* "My Foolish Heart"/"Why Was I Born?" Savoy

Singles as sideman[edit]

Year recorded Leader Title Label
1944 Krupa, GeneGene Krupa "Hodge Podge" and two others V-Disc
1945 Young, LesterLester Young "D.B. Blues", "Lester Blows Again", "These Foolish Things", "Jumpin' at Mesner's" Aladdin
1945 Shaw, ArtieArtie Shaw "The Grabtown Grapple", "The Sad Sack", "Scuttlebutt", "The Gentle Grifter", "Mysterioso", "Hop, Skip and Jump"
1946 Shaw, ArtieArtie Shaw "It's the Same Old Dream", "I Believe", "When You're Around", "Changing My Tune", "For You, for Me, for Evermore"
1946 Tormé, MelMel Tormé "It's Dreamtime", "You're Driving Me Crazy!", "Who Cares What People Say", "I'm Yours"
1946 McGhee, HowardHoward McGhee "Midnight at Minton's", "Dialated Pupils", "High Wind in Hollywood", Up in Dodo's Room"
1947 Parker, CharlieCharlie Parker "A Night in Tunisia"/"Ornithology" Dial

Main sources:[7][29][34][35]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Doerschuk, Robert L.; Kernfeld, Barry "Marmarosa, Dodo". The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz (2nd ed.). Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved July 8, 2015. Subscription required.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Eleff 1993, p. 20.
  3. ^ a b Kohler, Roy (March 6, 1960) "Pittsburgh's Jazz Pianists". The Pittsburgh Press. p. 8.
  4. ^ a b "Obituaries – M. Carmella Marmarosa". News Record. September 10, 1995. p. B2. Retrieved July 18, 2015 – via  open access publication - free to read
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Keepnews, Peter (September 27, 2002) "Dodo Marmarosa, 76, an Early Bebop Pianist, Is Dead". The New York Times.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g "Dodo Marmarosa" (September 24, 2002). The Daily Telegraph.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i Salemann, Dieter; Grob, Fabian (2009) Flights of the Vout Bug: A Guide to the Recorded Music of Michael "Dodo" Marmarosa. BearManor Media. ISBN 978-1-59393-337-1.
  8. ^ a b c d Guidry, Nate (September 20, 2002) "Obituary: Michael "Dodo" Marmarosa / Legendary Jazz Pianist". Post-Gazette.
  9. ^ a b c d Myers, Marc (July 8, 2009) "Interview: Buddy De Franco, '43".
  10. ^ a b Eleff 1993, p. 21.
  11. ^ Schuller, Gunther (1989) The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz, 1930–1945. Oxford University Press. pp. 718–19. ISBN 978-0-19-507140-5.
  12. ^ Komara, Edward M. (1998) The Dial Recordings of Charlie Parker: A Discography. Greenwood. pp. 3, 65. ISBN 978-0-313-29168-5.
  13. ^ "Grammy Hall of Fame". Retrieved July 18, 2015.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Eleff 1993, p. 22.
  15. ^ Panken, Ted (February 2015) "Dial Tones". Down Beat. p. 76.
  16. ^ Jinbashian, Ishkhan (August 4, 2007) "Rediscovering the Miracle of West Coast Jazz". Armenian Reporter. pp. C3–7.
  17. ^ Giddins, Gary (1998) Visions of Jazz: The First Century. Oxford University Press. p. 206. ISBN 978-0-19-513241-0.
  18. ^ "Music – As Written". (June 29, 1950) Billboard. p. 16.
  19. ^ Lord, Tom comp. (1999), The Jazz Discography, vol. 13. West Vancouver, B.C.: Lord Music Reference.
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Eleff 1993, p. 23.
  21. ^ "Dodo Marmarosa at Midway Lounge" (October 14, 1957). Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. p. 23.
  22. ^ "Tiny Irvin Holds at Midway Lounge" (January 13, 1958). Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. p. 23.
  23. ^ "Dodo Marmarosa – Dodo's Back!". AllMusic. Retrieved July 9, 2015.
  24. ^ Yanow, Scott "Gene Ammons – Jug & Dodo". AllMusic. Retrieved July 18, 2015.
  25. ^ a b c Eleff 1993, p. 24.
  26. ^ a b Feather, Leonard & Gitler, Ira (2007) The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz. Oxford University Press.
  27. ^ Cook, Richard; Morton, Brian (2010). The Penguin Jazz Guide: The History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums. Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-104831-4. 
  28. ^ Kirchner, Bill (ed.) (2005) The Oxford Companion to Jazz. Oxford University Press. pp. 364–65. ISBN 978-0-19-518359-7.
  29. ^ a b Cook, Richard; Morton, Brian (2008). The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings (9th ed.). Penguin. pp. 945–46. ISBN 978-0-14-103401-0. 
  30. ^ Myers, Marc (April 20, 2008) "Sunday Wax Bits".
  31. ^ Myers, Marc (July 1, 2008) "Top 10 Replays (Vol. 2)".
  32. ^ Coss, Bill (October 26, 1961) "Cecil Taylor's Struggle for Existence". Reproduced in "The Archives". Down Beat (July 2009). p. 119.
  33. ^ "Dodo Marmarosa Trio" (March 23, 1946). The Billboard. p. 130.
  34. ^ Bogdanov, Vladimir; Woodstra, Chris; Erlewine, Stephen Thomas, eds. (2002). The All Music Guide to Jazz (4th ed.). Backbeat Books. pp. 805–06. ISBN 978-0-87930-717-2. 
  35. ^ Hulme, George (2008) Mel Tormé: A Chronicle of His Recordings, Books and Films. McFarland. pp. 19, 21–22. ISBN 978-0-7864-3743-6.
  • Eleff, Bob (September–October 1993). "The Mystery of Dodo Marmarosa". Coda (251). 

Further reading[edit]