Monday, March 14, 2011


Believe or not, as jazz fans we have Jascha Heifitz to thank for Joe Morello.

Cut to Boston, MA, 1943. A promising 15 year old violinist is in a small room, waiting for the chance of a lifetime - a meeting with his idol, who many consider to be the greatest violinist of all time. 9 years before, because of a birth defect that left him with poor vision and a life spent mostly indoors, the youngster discovered music, which he absorbed with a prodigious appetite. At age 9 he was featured violin soloist with The Boston Symphony Orchestra, (performing Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto) after playing the instrument for only 3 years. He would play with The BSO again 3 years later. Now the young man is attracting international attention among the classical music elite.

After waiting for what must have seemed like an eternity for the young prodigy, Joseph Morello meets his 42 year old violin hero Jascha Heifitz. Profoundly moved by the experience, Morello decides on a course that would change the world - he'd give up violin and switch to percussion, feeling he would never be able to "equal" Heifitz's precision and distinctive sound. Although Morello had hoped to continue as a classical musician, his instructor, legendary percussionist and percussion theorist George Lawrence Stone, became the prophetic conduit of miraculous intervention, convincing Morello the younger that his future lay in jazz.

Of course, Stone's prescient suggestion planted a seed that would grow into a life full of extraordinary accomplishment and innovation that ended with Joe Morello's death at home in Irvington, NJ on March 12. He was 82. The miracle that was Morello can be verified time and time again with his presence in The Dave Brubeck Quartet and it's groundbreaking recordings and performances. Morello's tenure with Brubeck began in 1955 when he was asked to be a last-minute replacement for a two-month temp gig; it ended in 1968, when DBQ finally disbanded. So, every time you hear one of the Brubeck Quartet classics like Take Five or Pick Up Sticks, remember Joe Morello and Jascha Heifitz.


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