Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Jazz Romance

Talk about hipsters – here's Toots Thielemans sharing a good word with a couple of jazz footnotes, aka Mr. and Mrs. Joe Marsala. Mrs. Marsala was, of course, better know as Adele Girard, a true jazz pioneer. Her ax was an unlikely one for the raucous, traditional Chicago-style jazz she and Joe played together. They're standing under the awning of one of 52nd Street's better-known venues, circa 1948. Is that Toots' guitar in the case – or maybe a huge harmonica? Photo by William Gottlieb

Yesterday I was poking around a Salvation Army up in Binghamton, NY, and I came across a curiosity. It was a Joe Marsala record on another of those budget, semi-legit here-and-gone labels. Now, normally I don't pay much attention to product of that sort, and Marsala's Dixie-oriented stuff never did much for me, but this record had two redeeming facets. One was the presence of ex-Ellington cornetist Rex Stewart. The other was harpist Adele Girard. Harp on a traditional jazz record? This I had to hear.

Rex Stewart
It occurred to me as I was standing in line waiting to purchase my find that Adele Girard might be in some way connected to Joe Marsala. I knew her name from somewhere, probably from a few obscure jazz sides in the stacks back home, but that was about all. After I made it back to my country pad, I found that Adele was indeed connected to Joe – via matrimony. And she and Mr. Marsala had made numerous records together over a long joint career. Gotta love the Internet! I even found a few more of their recordings in my collection.

The Marsala record that I bought appears in no discography that I can find. Bruyninckx has an entry for it on another label but no date or personnel. And the players listed on the LP are augmented by another trumpeter and a couple of reeds in places. But Rex is clearly there, and so is Adele. And because I knew you'd all be fascinated to hear this pioneer of jazz string harp, here's a cut from the record. It's "Mandy," with Rex on cornet, a mystery second trumpeter (brother Marty Marsala, perhaps?), Joe playing clarinet, pianist Dick Cary, Carmen Mastren on guitar, Pat Merola on bass, drummer Johnny Blowers, and Ms. Girard soloing on harp.

Here's a charming history of the Marsalas written by Adele herself (dictated only a few months before her death in 1993):

And here's a Soundie jukebox clip of Adele Girard, made around the time of the photo above, doing "Harp Boogie" with an unknown bassist and guitarist. As you can see, Adele was easy to look at and swings mightily. The dancer hasn't got very good rhythm, but I guess that wasn't what the boozy jukebox customers were interested in anyway.


  1. Mandy is one of eight songs recorded for Stereo-O-Craft - released on RTN102 - Also on Hi-Life HLP65 - both releases titled Chicago Jazz. Musicians as you have listed but a bass player is not listed or the other trumpeter.

  2. Thanks for the discographical info, Baron. My version comes from the Hi-Life issue. Merola is listed as bass player, but aural evidence indicates the personnel varied from tune to tune. That second trumpet player is also there on one or two other titles from the album. Do you have a date for the session(s)?

  3. The Jazz Discography (Tom Lord) has the date as c1957 New York.
    About the other trumpeter - I think it may be Dick Cary. Cary could play trumpet too. The piano has dropped out during the trumpet duet so it could be him. Baron

  4. 1957 sounds right, and your deduction regarding Mr. Cary also has the ring of verisimilitude. I wasn't aware that he doubled on trumpet. Like Bob Brookmeyer, only in the reverse direction.