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Conte Candoli and his brother Pete had a corner on the trumpet session business in Hollywood for over forty years. Pete gave Conte his first break, convincing Woody Herman to bring him into the Thundering Herd band while Conte was still a junior in high school. Although Conte warned Herman that he coldn't read music, Herman assured him that with the band's intense performance schedule, "you'll learn how to read in a few weeks." It was a brief gig and Conte soon returned home, but upon graduation from high school, Conte rejoined the band, sitting right next to Pete. This time was equally short, thanks to a draft notice from the US Army. Finally, in 1946, Candoli joined the Herd for a long-term stint.
For the next ten years, Conte was a die-hard road musician, wailing night after night with Herman, Benny Goodman, Tex Beneke, and finally, Stan Kenton. Candoli also worked with Dizzy Gillespie, and was one of the many links between bebop and West Coast jazz that some critics suggest never existed.
He quit Kenton's band in 1954 to form his own combo, along with Kenton vet Frank Rosolino and Herman alumnus Chubby Jackson, but he found the allure of touring had faded, and he settled into the same double life many fellow West Coast jazz cats led: taking studio session jobs during the day, playing serious jazz in smoky clubs at night. For almost four years, he was one of bassist Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All Stars, appearing regularly at Rumsey's famous Lighthouse club in Hermosa Beach.
Around 1960, Conte switched combos and clubs, joining drummer Shelly Manne at his Hollywood club, the Manne-Hole. Together they recorded a number of albums, including a two of Mancini's music for the private eye show (and movie), "Peter Gunn".
As a session musician, Candoli shared "first call" status with his brother Pete. He can be heard on over 700 albums and singles, backing artists ranging from Frank Sinatra and Sarah Vaughn to John Lennon, Chicago, and the Beach Boys. He can be heard on over 100 film soundtracks, and even appears on a couple. He and Pete form a combo with Jack Lemmon on bongos in "Bell, Book, and Candle" (score by George Duning, and he can be seen briefly on David Lynch's film, "Mulholland Drive."
In 1968, he took a job playing with Doc Severinsen's band when "The Tonight Show" began making regular trips to Los Angeles. He joined the band full time when Johnny Carson moved the show permanently to NBC's Burbank studio. For the next 25 years, Candoli led the trumpet section. Although the audience might have thought he took a back seat to Severinsen, among his fellow musicians, who called him "The Count," Conte was recognized as a master. He remained with the show until Carson retired in 1992. He always appreciated both the financial security and artistic quality of work with the "Tonight Show" band, telling an interviewer once, "It made me comfortable, so when I go out and play jazz, I'm in a good frame of mind. It gives me a sense of security, and that feels good. It certainly never dampened my desire to play."
He remained a dedicated jazz musician at all times. He played with almost every LA big band "supergroup" of the last 40 years, from Kenton's Neophonic Orchestra and Terry Gibbs' Dream Band to Supersax and Frankie Capp's Juggernaut. He appeared at numerous jazz labs, encouraging a strong academic jazz band movement at such unhip places as Denton, Texas and Wichita, Kansas. One of his best later recordings, Sweet Simon (1992), features the last performance by another veteran West Coast jazz/session man, Monte Budwig. The album and title tune were dedicated to one of Conte's cats, Simon, who lived to the ripe old age of 24.
For more information about Conte Candoli, check out www.candoli.com.
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