Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Carmen Leggio - Young Man With A Horn, RIP

Writes Fred Cicetti on Sax on the Web in 1999:

Carmen Leggio's been playing tenor sax for about six decades and it shows. His small frame is stooped over and his head is bent down a bit. The man was made to play music, so it's fitting that his body has conformed to his gift.

Leggio blows tenor the way Willie Mays ran down a flyball. They both let you know from the get-go that you'll never be able to do it their way.

"I have thousands of songs memorized," Leggio explains with childlike joy and not an eighth note of boasting. "I can hear a song once and know how to play it. In my whole life, I've never bought a piece of sheet music. Saved a lot of money."

Leggio (incredibly, it means "music stand" in Italian) taught himself how to play at the age of nine. He began on clarinet, imitating Artie Shaw on the radio. He still performs "Stardust," "Nightmare" and "Begin the Beguine" on an old King metal clarinet. At 14, he switched to tenor sax and began playing in clubs in his hometown of Tarrytown, a suburb just north of New York City.

"I quit high school, because I knew I was meant to be a musician," he said. "But my father was so angry that he didn't speak to me for years. On his deathbed, he admitted I was right to leave school."

That admission came after Leggio had played with Benny Goodman, Maynard Ferguson, Gene Krupa, Woody Herman, Buddy Rich, Dizzy Gillespie and Doc Severinson. There have also been television shows, movies, the Newport Jazz Festival, Birdland and, yes, Carnegie Hall.

On April 17, 2009, Carmen Leggio suffered a heart attack in front of his home in Tarrytown, NY and died later that day at the age of 81.

What a loss to the saxophone community and jazz.

Writes Tim Price in his blog now:
Carmen Leggio bristled with individuality, whether soaring over a legendary big band like Woody Herman or Maynard or cutting a new path through a standard song like " Smile" his ruggedly magisterial horn made a personal statement the jazz world will never forget.

This player, developed a way to express a wide and subtle range of emotions through a unique and highly evolved level of musicianship, that is never cluttered or forced. One of the masters of original melodic improvisation that melted in your heart like an emotional choclate ball. When he played a ballad you might think he's whispering the greatest story of un-requited love ever told,directly down your spinal column.

Back in the70's I bought the record " Tarrytown Tenor". I got in New York City at King Karol records. At the time, I was wondering why a player like this was not touring the world, recording more and playing every jazz club in NYC and Europe. I played that record everyday, playing along with it and studying the art of Mr. Leggio’s saxophone. I saw him at the Vanguard with That and Mel playing some of the best lead alto I ever heard- just amazing phrasing and soul.

He sure will be missed, and a loss to the world.

RIP Carmen, I'm sure Prez, Sal, Romano and Hawk are waiting in that jam session above for you.

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Anonymous said...

Rest in peace and rise in glory.

RennyBA said...

I must admit I had not heard about him so thanks for your contribution - a interesting read.

Harri Rautiainen said...


as Tim Price writes above: "...I was wondering why a player like this was not touring the world, recording more and playing every jazz club in NYC and Europe."Carmen and his tenor sax were well-kept secrets in the industry.

Anonymous said...

Great post. I was going to write something similar. Will check this blog more often I think.

Anonymous said...

Very Interesting!
Thank You!