TOMMASO WITH ARMSTRONG On Daily Express, 1968.
(photo credit: COURTESY OF THE LOUIS ARMSTRONG ARCHIVES)
Enrico Tomasso had a dream start to his musical path. Ask any soccer mad youngster who they want to emulate, and the chances are they would probably go for Barcelona’s wizard Lionel Messi or Christiano Ronaldo, now of Juventus. Backtrack half a century or so, and then young soccer fans might have idolized the likes of Pele or George Best. But, in 1968, the seven-year-old Tomasso got to meet his own idol from a very different walk of professional life – legendary jazz trumpeter Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong.
That fateful boyhood encounter did not take place at Armstrong’s home in New York, or in the cradle of the art form New Orleans, rather in the somewhat less glamorous surroundings of Leeds Airport in northwest England. Armstrong had just landed ahead of a two week stint at the Batley Variety Club, not far from the youngster’s birthplace of Leeds. Tomasso will bring some of Satchmo’s musical ambiance and trademark joie de vivre to the proceedings next week, when the 57-year-old British horn player performs as one of the star turns of the forthcoming New Orleans in Tel Aviv-Yaffo Festival at Tel Aviv Museum from June 20-22.
All told there will be over 90 musicians doing their bit over the three days, including 26 from abroad, with swing style jazz and the blues very much front and center.
ENRICO TOMASSO may not sound particularly British, let alone like someone who hails from “God’s own country” – the northeastern English county of Yorkshire – but, in fact, Tomasso is a third generation Tyke. “My great-grandparents emigrated from Italy when they were teenaged orphans,” he explains. It seems the musical genes have been embedded in the Tomasso line for some time. “They came in a music group and busked on the streets, on their way to England.”
That same antecedent played the concertina and learned how to build barrel pianos, but it took another couple of generations before the Tomassos really got into the thick of musical action, with Tomasso’s dad and uncle – who played clarinet and trumpet respectively – the first family members to turn professional. In fact, Enrico’s dad had worked with Armstrong which, naturally, facilitated the youngster’s entry to the musical fold, and that momentous confluence with Armstrong on the airport tarmac.
Tomasso first wrapped his infant ears around New Orleans vibes a couple of years before he met the great man. “I fell in love with jazz when I heard a record of Louis Armstrong when I was five years old, and I told my dad I wanted to play the trumpet,” he recalls. Tomasso Sr. was only too glad to help make that happen. “My father said okay and he got me a trumpet and a teacher.” The latter was acclaimed Leeds-born musician and educator Dick Hawdon, and the budding horn player’s musical die was well and truly cast.
Following Satchmo’s fortnight at Batley, with Tomasso there almost every evening, and being regularly admitted to Armstrong’s dressing room, he made great strides, eventually following in his father’s and uncle’s footsteps by joining the London-based Pieces of Eight big band led by Harry Gold. He also enjoyed a stint with an ensemble led by Ray Gelato – who performed here earlier this year – and played with popular English clarinetist-vocalist Acker Bilk.
Tomasso says he led a charmed early musical life. “I couldn’t have had a better start, because I met Louis Armstrong,” he notes. And the imprint of the iconic American performer will become immediately apparent when the Yorkshireman takes the stage at the Museum on June 21. Along with American trombonist Ronald Wilkins, Tomasso will beef up the roster of some the veterans of the local jazz scene, including reedman Albert Piamenta, drummer Areleh Kaminsky and bassist Eli Magen, in a salute to pianist Danny Gottfried who turns 80 this year. “Louis often sang just like he played,” says Tomasso. “The trumpet was just an extension of his voice.”
Anyone who has caught a video clip of Armstrong doing his thing will, no doubt, have been captivated as much by the man’s joyous persona as his musical delivery. That is central to Tomasso’s act too. “I call it the Armstrong magic,” he says, adding that Armstrong’s comrades in onstage entertainment also got that. “If you watch a You Tube video of Armstrong doing a feature with famous people, like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin or Bing Crosby – every time they do a number together with Armstrong, you can see the joy affecting the other person. There is always a moment when these big stars are absolutely transformed by Louis’s magic.”
That certainly goes for Satchmo’s ensuring effect on Tomasso, and the Tel Aviv Museum audience should get that too. Sadly, Armstrong is long gone, but his spirit and sound will be there next week in full exuberant glory.
For tickets and more information: (03) 573-3—1 and www.hotjazz.co.il
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