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Joe Puma was a proficient and respected jazz guitarist, but among space age pop fans, he will be best remembered for his 1961 collaboration with producer Eddie Hall and arranger/composer/organist Dick Hyman, Like Tweet. Like Tweet started with not much more than a collection of bird calls and Hall's idea that they might be turned into the basis of a series of jazz tunes. Hall and Hyman took each call, picked out a melody or motif from it, then built a whole combo arrangement around it, featuring Puma's guitar as the centerpiece and chief special effects generator.
Like Tweet looks like a gimmick on the surface, but Hyman created some solidly grooving tunes, and led by Puma, the combo makes the most of the material. "Noah's Ark," for example, is far better than just a novelty item, revealing a rocking side that Hyman let show on later occasions such as his classic "The Liquidator" from The Man from O.R.G.A.N.. And Puma's light and versatile guitar-playing never lefts the novelty become unbearable, as is usually the case about 3 cuts into gimmicky albums.
Puma's father played both guitar and lute, and Puma taught himself to play guitar at an early age. After serving in the Army Air Corps in World War Two, Puma focused on perfecting his skills and surviving as a freelance musician. He played with Artie Shaw in Shaw's last incarnation of the Grammercy Five, and with other groups more sedate (Sammy Kaye) and more frenetic (Lee Konitz and Herbie Mann). n 1957 he won the New Star Award for Guitar from Metronome Magazine.
Puma recorded only infrequently under his own name, beginning with a 1954 album for Bethlehem, never staying on a label more than one release. He teamed up with fellow guitarist Chuck Wayne for a well-received duo, in the 1970s. Puma also performed on countless recording sessions, including with such vocalists as Peggy Lee, Billie Holiday, Carmen McRae, Chris Connor, Mark Murphy, Morgana King, Helen Merrill, and others.
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