Obituary: Daniel 'Danny Conn' Constable / Versatile jazz trumpeter
June 13, 1928 - Nov. 2, 2006
Friday, November 03, 2006
By Nate Guidry, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Danny Conn, a lyrical and versatile trumpeter whose self-effacing style provided the perfect accompaniment to everyone from 1950s burlesque dancers to Frank Sinatra, died yesterday from complications related to thyroid cancer. He was 78.
"He was such a strong player," said guitarist Joe Negri, who had known the performer since the mid-1950s. "He was probably the best jazz player I ever played with. He was such a beautiful person."
"He was my mentor," said drummer Chuck Spatafore. "He played as [well] as the best."
Mr. Conn, of Wilkins, was the quintessential sideman who could play it all -- from jazz and blues to doo-wop and country to classical and circus music.
"He stood alone in Pittsburgh," said vocalist Sandy Staley, who with Mr. Conn was inducted in 2002 to the Pittsburgh Jazz Society's Jazz Hall of Fame. "There was no generation gap musically with Danny. He was in tune with all styles. He was a jazz warrior."
For more than 60 years, Mr. Conn toted his trumpet, equally capable of ripping through the changes of Charlie Parker's "Groovin' High" as he was backing up Tempest Storm, a popular strip dancer at the old Casino Theater, Downtown.
Mr. Conn also was a genuine humanitarian.
A case in point was Michael "Dodo" Marmarosa, a piano wunderkind who disappeared from the national scene nearly 40 years ago but whose work continued to resonate in the annals of jazz. Mr. Conn made a habit of visiting him weekly before his death in 2002, boosting his spirits and reliving glorious days long since tucked away in memories.
In 1998, after the death of Howard E. "Hud" Davies, a local drummer who played with Benny Goodman, Mr. Conn went to the gravesite after everyone had gone and played taps and Mr. Goodman's theme song, "Goodbye."
"He was such a beautiful person, and that came through in his playing," said drummer Spider Rondinelli. "His trumpet style could be as cool as Chet Baker or as heavy as Lee Morgan. He always told me that he admired me and I would say, 'I got it from you, babe.'"
Born Daniel Constabile, later changed to Constable, Mr. Conn grew up in East Liberty and began playing trumpet at 12.
His grandfather, who played cornet, taught him the rudiments before helping him to secure his first job in an Italian marching band. For three years, the group performed for St. Anthony's and St. Rocco's Day celebrations.
Later, he performed in Rome with a 45-piece Italian band for the pope.
Still, Mr. Conn didn't take the instrument all that seriously until he became a member of the famed Westinghouse High School Kadets, a swing band that played music ranging from "String of Pearls" to Coleman Hawkins' "Body and Soul."
The band was directed by the late Carl McVickers and featured saxophonist "Buzz" Renn and his brother, trombonist Jack Renn, Ahmad Jamal, Grover Mitchell, Pete Henderson, Albert Aarons, Dakota Staton and Adam Wade. After school, Mr. Conn listened to records -- mostly trumpet players -- and sometimes copied solos, including Bunny Berrigan's "I Can't Get Started" and Theodore "Fats" Navarro's "Fat Boy."
Soon, he began to perform locally, playing mostly honky-tonk music at a club in Homewood called the Everbest, which later became the Too Sweet Lounge.
In 1950, Mr. Conn left Pittsburgh to join Burt Massengale's band in Hattiesburg, Miss. The eight-piece group played many songs associated with singer Phil Harris, like "The Preacher and the Bear" and "Benny's From Heaven."
When the Korean War began, Mr. Conn left Mr. Massengale to take a $12-a-week gig with Clyde McCoy and the Sugar Blues Kings.
Still later, Mr. Conn performed in bands led by Claude Thornhill, Al Boleto, Hal McIntyre and others.
Life on the road was great, but no matter where he was, he was always home with his wife, Carmella, and their eight children during Christmas.
In the early 1960s, Mr. Conn performed more than 50 concerts with Stevie Wonder and the Supremes. Later, at Atlantic City's 500 Club, he backed up Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.
For the next 20 years, when he wasn't working locally with Mr. Negri, Mr. Spatafore and others, he and trombonist Joe Dallas served as co-music directors for the Hamid-Morton Circus (now Hamid Circus Royale). They chased down trapeze acts from Tulsa, Okla., to La Crosse, Wis., with songs like "La Fiesta" and Miles Davis' "Milestone."
In addition to his wife, Mr. Conn is survived by three daughters, Cheryl Sligar of Las Vegas, Lisa Quinn of Ohio Township and Lea Vezio of Robinson; five sons, Donte, Michael and Vince of Las Vegas, David of Wilkins and Jay of Forest Hills; one sister, Jean Creo of Aspinwall; 23 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Visitation is tomorrow from 7 to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. at Wolfe Memorial Inc., Forest Hills Chapel, 3604 Greensburg Pike.
A funeral service is at 11 a.m. Monday at Wolfe Memorial.
First published on November 3, 2006 at 12:00 am
Nate Guidry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-3865.
Post to the Guestbook - by Michael A. Constable
I’ve lost count of how many times I started to write this and couldn’t get through it.
I met my father many years ago, when I was very young.
There is this mass of co-joined memories of Dad and his friends and how he always seemed to include me in them. Playing on the beach with him in Atlantic City, fishing off a dock in Conneaut or having Saturday morning breakfast with him on Shetland Ave. (at 2:00 PM!) Picnics at the Farm House or hanging out at Carnegie Lake. Dad always had the coolest friends too; I remember guys coming over the house late at night and going into the cellar to play music or just hang out. I remember Spider letting me sit on his lap while he played one night, Carlo teaching me about Art and Philosophy (at 9 years old). Lloyd would swing into town and stop by and enlighten us with some wonderful poetry or a quick drive in a fast car. Chuck Spadafore being so big, yet so gentle. Joe Dallas with his great sense of humor and …………………………………timing; All wonderful artists in their own right. Dad was blessed to have so many talented and gifted buddies because I can see that, more than anyone I’ve ever known, he was a combination of ALL of them. (except I don’t think he ever had a fast car.) He would quote Shakespeare, Berra and Prof. Irwin Corey in the same evening sometimes!
As I grew into a Teen and the natural strains on our relationship developed at home, I found that the one place we still seemed comfortable with each other was in the woods. It truly was a pleasure spending a lot of time with Dad in the woods and it quickly became my favorite place to be with him. It was while hunting, I got to see him as more of a man and a teacher than “just dumb ‘ol Dad.”; he really seemed smart to me out there! I learned as many lessons from him in Delmont or on the State Game Lands as I did on Greensburg Pike. Also, he was different in the woods than at home or at work; He was calm, relaxed and quiet there; I think he may have been more content in a treestand than on a stage. (I remember a few years ago, before he got sick, we were talking about him eventually dying and he mentioned how he didn’t want to wind up in a Hospital with all these tubes sticking in him and I half jokingly told him that if it ever came down to that I would come get him and drive him out to the woods somewhere and we could find a big Oak tree with Squirrels all around and a Big Sponge Mushroom at the bottom and I would just hold him under that tree and we could both go together. He didn’t say a word; he just looked at me with those beautiful hazel eyes, gave me a little hug and chuckled)
Every time I get a chuckle out of one of my kids or give them or my wife a hug, a vision of him doing just that flashes through my mind and a flood of appreciation hits me. For that I thank both him and my Mother.
It took until I myself became a father to truly appreciate what a loving man you are and that in passing these qualities down through me to my children and them to theirs, you have become an Immortal to us all.