“Hittin’ and missin’.”
That’s how trumpeter Lee Katzman, whose resume lists 1950s and ‘60s tenures with the big bands of Stan Kenton, Tommy Dorsey and Bill Holman and with small groups led by Shelly Manne, Sonny Stitt and Pepper Adams, describes his on-again, off-again career in the jazz trade.
It looks as if Katzman, who names Dizzy Gillespie as his chief influence, is definitely in an “on” phase. The ex-Southern California resident, who has lived in New York since the mid-'70s, has been working a bit in Manhattan and is playing with a quintet tonight at the Cafe Lido in Newport Beach.
“It’s a start,” he said of his first Southern California date in 15 years in a recent phone interview from Hollywood, where he was staying with Holman. “But there’ll be more.”
The trumpeter said he’s been mostly inactive in the last decade. He briefly co-led a band with baritone sax great Adams--whom he had helped get on Kenton’s band in 1956 and with whom he recorded “Critic’s Choice” for the Los Angeles-based Pacific Jazz record label in 1957--until Adams died in 1981. “That threw the band right out of the window,” Katzman said. Still, he continued to perform intermittently.
Soon Katzman had put down his horn and had taken a “day gig,” as musicians call any non-performance employment, working as a representative for composers, selling their musical ideas to advertising agencies. In the three years he plied this field, he did quite well, lining his writers up for jingles for such major league firms as Coca-Cola, American Airlines and Glidden Paint.
“We made quite a bit of bucks,” Katzman joked, “enough so that after a few years, I really didn’t have to work, so I didn’t.” He subsequently returned to his trumpet.
During his adventure with advertising, Katzman married for the second time. He and his wife, Judith, a successful graphic designer, had a child (Katzman also has three grown children from his first marriage). His desire to be with his new son stopped Katzman from trying to get work outside New York, he said.
Eventually he decided he needed more outlets for his music, and, with his wife’s blessing, he began to travel west. On previous trips, the trumpeter has made guest appearances with the quintet of Med Flory, with whom he also worked and recorded in Los Angeles in his salad days, and Lanny Morgan at Jax in Glendale. In tonight’s appearance at the Lido he’ll be joined by Jimmy Zito, a former big-band trumpeter who now plays valve trombone, pianist Tom Ranier, bassist Dave Carpenter and drummer Dave Libman.
“The band has rehearsed a few times and it feels very comfortable. Jimmy and I play so well together,” Katzman said. And while an album project hasn’t yet surfaced, the trumpeter certainly has plans to record.
Katzman, 64, was born in Chicago and started playing trumpet at age 13. By his late teens and early 20s, he was playing with big bands led by Claude Thornhill, Buddy Rich, and Dorsey.
Though first a devotee of the superb swing-era trumpet stylist Roy Eldridge, Katzman became a Dizzy Gillespie convert when he heard the latter’s solo on “Disorder at the Border,” a mid-'40s recording by tenor sax giant Coleman Hawkins. “When I heard Diz, my life changed,” Katzman said. “I went directly to Dizzy. I drove my father crazy by playing that solo over and over.”
Gillespie’s mark on the trumpeter is revealed in a few recordings, specifically “Royal Blue,” a Holman original that Katzman recorded with Kenton’s band in 1958, featured on “Stan Kenton: The Complete Capitol Recordings of the Holman and Russo Charts” (available by mail order only from Mosaic Records, 35 Melrose Place, Stamford, Ct. 06902).
In the ‘60s, Katzman played for a few years with Julius Wechter’s Baja Marimba Band, which the trumpeter jokingly described as playing “inside-out Dixieland.” After a performance with that band in Las Vegas, he was approached by Duke Ellington and Duke’s son, Mercer, and received what he calls the compliment of a lifetime. “ ‘Tell Lee,’ ” Katzman recalled the elder Ellington saying to his scion, “ ‘that any time he wants to join the band, just call.’ ”