Jazz trumpeter played with leading big bands

Times Staff Writer

Pete Candoli, one of the top high-note lead trumpeters in jazz who performed with some of the leading figures of the big-band era, has died. He was 84.

Candoli, whose brother Conte was also an acclaimed trumpeter, died Friday of prostate cancer at his home in Studio City, according to Sheryl Deauville, his life partner of 22 years.

From a childhood in Mishawaka, Ind., Candoli forged a six-decade career and was featured in bands led by Tommy Dorsey, Woody Herman, Stan Kenton, Tex Beneke and Les Brown.

While with Herman’s First Herd during World War II, Candoli became known for his high-register work and even wore a Superman costume while performing the specialty number “Superman With a Horn.”

He moved to the West Coast in the early 1950s and established himself as an excellent studio musician. He can be heard on two of Henry Mancini’s “Peter Gunn” albums and was sometimes seen playing in the background on the television show.


According to his website, Pete Candoli also arranged and conducted for Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald and Peggy Lee. Frank Sinatra would often fly him to Las Vegas for gigs.

When they weren’t working in the studio or with “The Tonight Show” band for Johnny Carson, the Candoli brothers were a popular attraction at Southern California clubs, concert halls and festivals, often leading their own band.

A gifted showman, Pete Candoli perfected an impression of Louis Armstrong that became near-legendary. “The first time I did my version of Louis was when I was touring in Japan with Benny Carter and a bunch of all-stars,” Candoli told jazz writer Don Heckman some years ago.

“At that time the biggest thing in Japan other than the national anthem was [Armstrong’s recording of] ‘When You’re Smiling.’ So when somebody found out I could sing like Louis -- that was it, I had to do it at every concert.”

Candoli was born June 28, 1923. He and his brother, who was four years younger, were encouraged to take up music by their factory-worker father, who wanted a better life for his sons. Their father performed in an Italian marching band in Mishawaka, which is adjacent to South Bend, and the boys grew up in a house full of instruments, including the trombone and saxophone.

A prodigy, Pete was mostly self-taught on the trumpet. He got his union card before he was a teenager and was playing gigs, including Polish weddings, around his hometown, Deauville said.

He began playing with Sonny Dunham’s orchestra in 1941 and went on to work with a long string of other name bands, including Herman’s First Herd. While with that group, he recommended his brother Conte for a job, and Herman ended up hiring him.

In the 1970s, Candoli established a nightclub act with his wife, singer Edie Adams. He sang, danced, played trumpet and directed the orchestra.

His marriage to Adams and an earlier marriage to singer-actress Betty Hutton ended in divorce. Conte died in 2001 at the age of 74.

In addition to Deauville, Candoli is survived by daughters Tara Clair and Carolyn, two grandchildren and a sister, Gloria Henke of Mishawaka.

The funeral is scheduled for 3 p.m. Tuesday at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, 6300 Forest Lawn Drive, Los Angeles.