Bob Corwin and Don Elliott

An East Coast pairing in 1956 that seemed close to the West Coast’s Chet Baker and Russ Freeman was Don Elliott on trumpet and Bob Corwin on piano.

Playing together, Elliott and Corwin were breezy, delicate and highly melodic. They could swing with ease, and both had an extraordinary ear for harmony. If you’re familiar with Elliott, then you know he was a master of many instruments. On The Bob Corwin Quartet: Featuring the Trumpet of Don Elliott (1956) for Riverside, Elliott and Corwin were backed by Ernie Furtado on bass and Jimmy Campbell on drums.

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The Riverside album was Corwin’s first leadership date and Elliott’s initial album as a trumpet soloist. Corwin had been gigging with Elliott in New York since mid-1955 and recorded with him in early 1956 as a sideman on The Voice of Marty Bell (Riverside) and Janet Brace’s Special Delivery (ABC Paramount).

There is no Wikipedia page for Corwin nor an official bio, so here’s what I could piece together with a little research: Born in 1933 in Hollis, N.Y., Corwin began playing piano early but viewed the instrument merely as a way to make a few bucks in college while taking pre-dental courses. When Elliott heard Corwin at a club, he asked him to join a quartet he was forming. Corwin agreed to take the job, but just for a week so he could pull down enough money for rent. But after two weeks, Corwin realized that he wanted to spend his life playing piano, not caring for teeth.

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After recording this album with Elliott, it seems Corwin married singer Arlene Nover and played local gigs in New York. At some point in the late 1950s, he divorced his first wife and in 1960 married Mandy Mercer, Johnny Mercer’s daughter. Said Mandy in Gene Lees’ Portrait of Johnny: The Life of John Herndon Mercer, “I admired Bob….I loved running around with him and not being Johnny Mercer’s daughter. I was his wife. We’d go and hang out with all these jazz musicians like Phil Woods. He worked with these guys, and I liked hanging around with him. I knew Bill Evans. I knew Daddy’s friends and then I got to know Bobby’s friends.”

In 1957, Corwin continued to record with Elliott on his Pal Joey album and on The Voices of Don Elliott. Corwin also recorded on Phil Woods’s quartet album with Gene Quill called Phil Talks With Quill as well as on Woods’s Warm Woods album. He’s also on Herbie Mann’s African Suite in 1959. Interestingly, he recorded on Chet Baker Plays the Best of Lerner and Lowe in 1959 (I’m going to give this one a re-listen) and accompanied Anita O’Day in Tokyo in 1963 and on Peggy Lee’s Mink Jazz that same year. Also In the 1960s, Corwin accompanied Carmen McRae and was the intermission pianist at New York’s Condon’s and played at the Playboy Club. At some point Corwin relocated with his wife, Mandy, to the West Coast.

What’s especially beautiful about Corwin’s playing here is his impeccable time, his chord voicings and the influence of pianists Bud Powell and Dodo Marmarosa on his approach. He also reminds me of Pete Jolly. I only wish we had a dozen albums like this led by Corwin. He was, as they used to say, right on time.

Bob Corwin is still with us today and hopefully someone he knows will help him create an all-important Wikipedia page.

As for Concord Records, which owns the Riverside catalog today, hopefully someone there will see this post and the will re-issue this one, at least as a digital download. It’s an extremely important album.

JazzWax tracks: The Bob Corwin Quartet: Featuring the Trumpet of Don Elliott appears to be available only on vinyl and is extremely rare.

JazzWax clips: Here’s I Remember You….

I Remember You

Here’s Gone With the Wind (dig Corwin’s Russ Freeman-like hook at the opening and close)…

Gone With the Wind

Here’s Corwin’s gorgeous piano behind Anita O’Day singing Night and Day in Tokyo in 1963…

And here’s Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered

A special thanks to Doug Paterson.

by Marc Myers via