Charlie Mariano

Charlie Mariano

The altoist was born Carmine Ugo Mariano in Boston on November 12, 1923. The son of Italian immigrants, Giovanni and Maria (DiGironimo) Mariano, Charlie Mariano heard the sounds of light opera and Neapolitan songs around his home, supplemented by jazz on the radio. He received a saxophone from his sister Colina at age seventeen. After three years in the military, he began studies at Schillinger House (which later became Berklee), where he later taught. Early in his career, he performed with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Erroll Garner. From 1953-55 he played in the big band of Stan Kenton, although he later expressed a lack of enthusiasm for this setting. He later founded his own band together with his then wife Toshiko Akiyoshi, whom he met while teaching at Berklee. (He taught at the school in 1957, 1965 and 1969.)

Mariano played with Charles Mingus during a productive stage in the bassist’s career, and participated on seminal projects such as 1963’s The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady and ’64’s Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus, and was enlisted by Elvin Jones to participate on the drummer’s Impulse tribute session dedicated to John Coltrane which resulted in 1965’s Dear John C. album.

Following this period, he went to Japan, where he came in contact with Asian music for the first time, and studied the flute; he would be one of the leading exponents of jazz fusion with Asian elements. He also worked in the jazz-rock fusion idiom, and according to music journalist and historian Walter Kolosky, “had it not been for a mailing snafu, Charlie Mariano’s Helen 12 Trees [from 1976] may have been one of the most renowned fusion albums of its day.” The promotional copies for this release were lost, and the oversight not realized until two decades had elapsed.

After 1971, Mariano resided in Europe where played with leading musicians, such as Italian drummer Aldo Romano, Belgian guitarist Philippe Catherine, and Dutch keyboardist Jasper van’t Hof. In 1975 he participated with Jasper van’t Hof and Philip Catherine in the formation of “Pork Pie,” a short-lived by much admired fusion supergroup. (Its name is a tribute to Lester Young.) From 1977-98, Mariano was involved with United Rock & Jazz Ensemble. At the beginning of the 70s, when he was often in India for his studies, Charlie played the Indian instrument nagaswaram.

He recorded and went on tour with the Argentinean bandoneon player Dino Saluzzi and the songwriter Konstantin Wecker. He released many LPs under his name, as well as with the Mariano/Dodgion Sextet, Stan Kenton, Shelly Manne, Bill Holman, Frank Rosolino, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Charles Mingus, Elvin Jones, McCoy Tyner, Ebehard Weber, Mal Waldron, United Rock & Jazz Ensemble, Jasper van’t Hof, Philip Catherine, Stu Goldberg, Don Alias, Gene Perla and others. Starting 1996 he played as a guest at the European Jazz Ensemble.

Mariano died on June 16, 2009 in Cologne, Germany after a long battle with cancer. He was 85 years old.
(courtesy Cynthia Mariano)

Published On: December 28, 2012