Monday, February 7, 2011

R.I.P.: Emanuel Vardi, Creed Taylor's top choice for the viola section on CTI albums

(born Jerusalem on April 21, 1915 in Jerusalem;
died on January 29, 2011, in North Bend, Wash., USA)

I used to call him "the Paganini of the viola," for his virtuosity in the instrument, easy to be noted in his outstanding classical recordings. But I also referred to Mr. Vardi as "the Harry Lookofsky of the viola," referring to his ability to crossover all genres of music in countless studio sessions. Below, you'll find a good obituary printed today in the NY Times, but they simply ignored his tremendous body of work in the jazz and pop fields.

From Billie Holiday to B.B. King, from Louis Armstrong (on Satchmo's biggest pop hit, "What A Wonderful World") to Tony Bennett's "Snowfall." From Cleo Laine to Judy Collins, from Jan Akkerman to Moondog to hundreds of movie and Broadway soundtracks, Emanuel "Manny" Vardi was the viola man. Not to mention Janis Ian, Herbie Mann, Jaco Pastorius (on his eponymous solo debut), David Sanborn, Shirley Bassey, Don McLean...The list goes on and on. He can be seen playing Marty Paich's arrangements to Carly Simon's 1990 "My Romance" LaserDisc.

Vardi also became Creed Taylor's top choice for the viola section everytime he needed to assemble a string section for a recording session. Rudy Van Gelder loved him too. Vardi's association with both Creed & Rudy began in 1967 on Wes Montgomery's "A Day in the Life," a turning point on the guitarist's career, starting his contract with CTI, then the "jazz division" of Herb Alpert/Jerry Moss' A&M Records. Since then, Vardi appeared in over 50 albums produced by Creed Taylor for CTI. One of the most interestings, in terms of orchestration, is Wes' "Down Here on the Ground," because the session arrangers Don Sebesky and Eumir Deodato, instead of using a large string section, opted for a chamber-like string quartet consisting of Vardi on viola, George Ricci on cello, and Gene Orloff & Raoul Poliakin on violins. The effect of this quartet melting with the rhythm section (Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Grady Tate, Ray Barretto) is simply stunning.

Other great CTI projects on which he took part include the Grammy winning album "First Light" (Freddie Hubbard) and the Grammy winning track "Also Sprach Zarathustra" (from Deodato's groundbreaking "Prelude"), which peaked at #2 in the Billboard Pop Singles chart. Vardi's CTI/Kudu session also includes Wes Montgomery's final album "Road Song," George Benson's "Other Side of Abbey Road," Stanley Turrentine's "Don't Mess with Mr. T," Grover Washington, Jr.'s "All the King's Horses," "Feels So Good" and "Soul Box," Hank Crawford's "Help Me Make It Through the Night," Eumir Deodato's "Deodato 2," Esther Phillips' "Capricorn Princess," Bob James' "Two," Jackie & Roy's "Time & Love," Eric Gale's "Forecast," Nina Simone's "Baltimore" (his last session for Creed) and many others.

Besides the above mentioned Deodato, Vardi recorded with other notable Brazilian acts: Tamba 4 ("Samba Blim") and Milton Nascimento ("Courage," Milton's debut LP in the U.S.), both during the CTI/A&M days in the late 60s, as well as on two albums by genius guitarist/composer Luiz Bonfá, "The New Face of Bonfá" (RCA) and the masterpiece "Jacarandá" (Ranwood).

Long before, however, he fall in love with Brazilian music. Besides the many brilliant albums of classical music he recorded throughout his career (some of them mentioned in the NY Times article below, and some others not mentioned but equally superb and still available on CD), Vardi recorded for the Decca label, in the late 50s, an intriguing "pop" album credited to "Emanuel Vardi and his orchestra". It's titled "Love Dances of Brazil" (DL 78764), including such songs as Luiz Bonfá's "De Cigarro em Cigarro," Ary Barroso's "Brazil" (aka "Aquarela do Brasil") and Zequinha de Abreu's "Tico Tico no Bufá." A much sought-after collectors' item.
Here's a selected Vardi "pop & jazz" discography, including some compilations and reissues I had the honor to produce:
1963 "Boss of the Blues" - Charles Brown
1967 "A Day in the Life" - Wes Montgomery
1967 "Impressions of the Middle East" - Herbie Mann
1968 "Down Here on the Ground" - Wes Montgomery
1968 "Road Song" - Wes Montgomery
1968 "Samba Blim" - Tamba 4
1968 "Snowfall: The Tony Bennett Christmas Album" - Tony Bennett
1969 "Courage" - Milton Nascimento
1970 "The New Face of Bonfá" - Luiz Bonfá (reissue produced by Arnaldo DeSouteiro)
1970 "The Other Side of Abbey Road" - George Benson
1970 "What a Wonderful World" - Louis Armstrong
1971 "First Light" - Freddie Hubbard
1972 "All the King's Horses" - Grover Washington, Jr.
1972 "Prelude" - Deodato (reissue annotated by Arnaldo DeSouteiro)
1972 "Help Me Make It Through the Night" - Hank Crawford (reissue produced by Arnaldo DeSouteiro)
1972 "Time & Love" Jackie Cain & Roy Kral (reissue supervised by Arnaldo DeSouteiro)
1973 "Coffy" - Roy Ayers
1973 "Deodato 2" - Deodato
1973 "Live at Carnegie Hall" - Shirley Bassey
1973 "Soul Box" - Grover Washington, Jr.
1973 "Don't Mess with Mister T." - Stanley Turrentine
1973 "Black-Eyed Blues" - Esther Phillips
1973 "Jacarandá" - Luiz Bonfá (reissue produced by Arnaldo DeSouteiro)
1974 "Homeless Brother" - Don McLean
1974 "In the Cut" - Ray Bryant
1974 "Tabernakel" - Jan Akkerman
1974 "In the Beginning" - Hubert Laws
1975 "Forecast" - Eric Gale (reissue supervised by Arnaldo DeSouteiro)
1975 "Judith" - Judy Collins
1975 "On the Town" - Webster Lewis
1975 "Aftertones" - Janis Ian
1975 "Between the Lines" - Janis Ian
1975 "Feels So Good" - Grover Washington, Jr.
1975 "Taking Off" - David Sanborn
1975 "The Baddest Hubbard" - Freddie Hubbard
1975 "The Baddest Turrentine" - Stanley Turrentine
1976 "Capricorn Princess" - Esther Phillips
1976 "Primal Scream" - Maynard Ferguson
1976 "Romeo & Juliet" - Hubert Laws
1976 "Surprises" - Herbie Mann
1976 "Then There Was Light, Vol. 1" - Hubert Laws
1976 "Very Together" - Deodato
1976 "Windjammer" - Freddie Hubbard
1976 "Tico Rico" - Hank Crawford
1976 "Jaco Pastorius" - Jaco Pastorius
1977 "After the Dance" - Harold Vick
1977 "Baker's Wife" (S.Schwartz) - Original Cast Recording
1977 "BJ 4" - Bob James
1977 "Ginseng Woman" - Eric Gale
1977 "Rhythm Machine" - Fania All-Stars
1977 "Conquistador" - Maynard Ferguson
1977 "New Vintage" - Maynard Ferguson
1977 "Never Letting Go" - Phoebe Snow
1978 "Angie" - Angela Bofill
1978 "Joe Brooks Group" - Joe Brooks
1978 "Spanish Fever" - Fania All-Stars
1978 "Spinozza" - David Spinozza
1978 "Touchdown" - Bob James
1978 "Baltimore" - Nina Simone
1978 "Wiz" - Original Soundrack
1979 "Days Like These" - Jay Hoggard
1979 "One on One" - Bob James
1979 "Tiger in the Rain" - Michael Franks
1979 "City Connection" - Terumasa Hino
1979 "Angel of the Night" - Angela Bofill
1980 "Late Night Guitar" - Earl Klugh
1981 "George Benson Collection" - George Benson
1982 "Hands Down" - Bob James
1982 "Love Me Tender" - B.B. King
1982 "Times of Our Lives" - Judy Collins
1982 "Nine" - Original Broadway Cast
1983 "In Your Eyes" - George Benson
1983 "Super Fusion 1900: Deodato" - Deodato
1983 "Maiden Voyage" - Art Farmer
1984 "Rendezvous" - Sadao Watanabe
1987 "Cleo Laine Sings Sondheim" - Cleo Laine
1987 "Misérables" -Original Broadway Cast
1990 "Acoustic Christmas" - Various Artists
1990 "Best of Cris Williamson" - Cris Williamson
1990 "Help a Good Girl Go Bad" - Ruth Brown
1990 "My Romance" - Carly Simon
1990 "The Best of Hubert Laws" - Hubert Laws
1991 "Ginseng Woman/Multiplication" - Eric Gale
1992 "After the Dance" - Various Artists
1993 "Close as Pages in a Book" - Barbara Cook
1993 "Phantom: The American Musical" - Original Cast Recording
1994 "Eartha Quake" - Eartha Kitt
1994 "Verve Jazz Masters 39" - Cal Tjader
1995 "Evolution: The Polydor Anthology" - Roy Ayers
1996 "Je N'Aime Pas le Jazz: Mais Ça J'Aime Bien!" - Various Artists
1996 "Masters of Jazz, Vol. 7: Jazz Hit Singles" - Various Artists
1996 "The Best of Grover Washington, Jr." - Grover Washington, Jr.
1996 "This Is Jazz, Vol. 16" - Maynard Ferguson
1997 "The Best of Roy Ayers: Love Fantasy" - Roy Ayers
1997 "RCA Victor 80th Anniversary, Vol. 6: 1970-1979" - Various Artists
1998 "A Trip to Brazil: 40 Years of Bossa Nova" - Various Artists (compilation produced by Arnaldo DeSouteiro)
1999 "Talkin' Verve" - Lalo Schifrin
1999 "Here's That Rainy Day" - Ruth Brown
2001 "Preludes & Rhapsodies" - Deodato
2001 "Our Mann Flute/Impressions of the Middle East" - Herbie Mann
2001 "Waterbed/Surprises" - Herbie Mann
2002 "Essential Collection: 24 Smooth Jazz Classics" - Bob James
2002 "RCA Victor Gold Series: Is Jazz!" - Various Artists
2002 "The Best of the Atlantic Years" - Herbie Mann
2002 "Que Pasa?: The Best of Fania All-Stars" - Fania All-Stars
2002 "Moondog / Moondog 2" - Moondog
2002 "Louis Armstrong and His Friends" - Louis Armstrong
2002 "Rawhide" - Frankie Laine
2003 "Highlights from Les Misérables" - Original Broadway Cast
2003 "One, Two, Three & BJ4: The Legendary Albums" - Bob James
2003 "Michael Franks Anthology: The Art of Love" - Michael Franks
2004 "CTI Master Collection, Vol. 2" - Various Artists
2004 "Bossa Nova: Gentle Rain" - Various Artists
2004 "Louis Armstrong and Friends [Cloud 9]" - Louis Armstrong
2004 "Guitar & Bass" - Ron Carter
2005 "Cast of Characters: The Rupert Holmes Songbook" - Rupert Holmes
2005 "Essential Cris Williamson" - Cris Williamson
2006 "Bossa Nova Lounge: Rio Collection" - Various Artists
2006 "Some of the Things We Do" - Neil Rosengarden
2006 "Introducing Herbie Mann" - Herbie Mann
2006 "A Day in the Life/Down Here on the Ground" - Wes Montgomery
2006 "CTI Timeless Collection: Deodato" - Deodato
2007 "The Essential Maynard Ferguson" - Maynard Ferguson
2007 "Just Like a Woman: Sings Classic Songs of the 1960s" - Nina Simone
2007 "The Essential Jaco Pastorius" - Jaco Pastorius
2007 "Do It Again: The Fantastic Jazz-Funk of Eumir Deodato" - Deodato (compilation produced by Arnaldo DeSouteiro)
2008 "To Be Free" - Nina Simone
2009 "George A. Romero's Knightriders [Soundtrack]" - Donald Rubinstein
2010 "Original Album Series" - David Sanborn
2010 "Hometown Frolics/Terry Cashman" - Terry Cashman
2010 "CTI Records: The Cool Revolution" - Various Artists
Emanuel Vardi, a Champion of the Viola, Dies at 95
By MARGALIT FOX = The New York Times
Published: February 7, 2011

Emanuel Vardi, an American violist who was an ambassador for the instrument in an era when it had few public champions, died on Jan. 29 at his home in North Bend, Wash. He was 95. His wife, Lenore Vardi, confirmed the death.

With his recital debut in 1941, Mr. Vardi established himself as one of the world’s leading viola soloists, a group that included the Englishman Lionel Tertis; the Scotsman William Primrose; the German-born Walter Trampler; and few others.

Over half a century, Mr. Vardi performed on storied stages, including Carnegie and Town Halls in New York and Wigmore Hall in London, as well as at the White House, for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He recorded widely and was heard often as a chamber musician.

Critics praised Mr. Vardi’s virtuosic technique, masterly control of color and tone, and willingness to perform music by 20th-century composers, a circumstance born partly of necessity, as the viola has suffered historically from a dearth of solo repertory.

In the public imagination, as Mr. Vardi was painfully aware, the viola was considered merely a humble alto cog in the vast orchestral machine. As a solo instrument it was long overshadowed by its soprano sibling, the violin, with its glittering trove of repertory, and more recently by its tenor one, the cello, with its dark brown, floor-shaking sonorities.

For a violist even contemplating a solo career, the paucity of literature was a perennial stumbling block. When Mr. Vardi began his work the very idea of a solo viola recital was unorthodox: finding enough worthwhile material to fill two hours seemed practically impossible.

To this problem Mr. Vardi brought a four-pronged approach. First, he adapted violin and cello literature for his instrument, a time-honored strategy by which violists have added arrows to their quivers.

An especially noteworthy achievement was his recording in the 1960s of Paganini’s 24 caprices for solo violin. On the violin, they are merely demonically difficult. On the viola, where the distance between notes is larger and the response time of the strings slower, they are harder still.

Second, he haunted archives in search of forgotten compositions — unearthing, for instance, a sonata by Alessandro Rolla (1757-1841), Paganini’s teacher and a composer of many works for viola.

Third, he solicited new music from contemporary composers, giving premieres of pieces by Henry Brant, Michael Colgrass, Alan Hovhaness, Alan Shulman and others.

Finally, he composed solo viola works, among them “Fantasy Variations on a Theme of Paganini.”

Partly through Mr. Vardi’s efforts, the viola emerged from the shadows, with solo recitals now a routine feature of classical concert programming.

Emanuel Vardi, familiarly known as Manny, was born in Jerusalem on April 21, 1915. His father was a violinist and painter, his mother a pianist.

As a small child, Emanuel studied the piano and violin. When he was about 4, the family settled in New York; at 6 ½ he made his recital debut on the piano at Aeolian Hall, on West 42nd Street in Manhattan. The New York Evening Mail called him a young pianist to watch.

He entered the Institute of Musical Art, a forerunner of the Juilliard School, as a violin student at 12, and studied there until he was about 20. Around that time he heard a recording by Primrose, had a conversion experience and took up the viola.

As a young violist, Mr. Vardi was a member of the NBC Symphony Orchestra under Arturo Toscanini; he made his solo recital debut in February 1941 at Town Hall to glowing notices. During World War II he was a soloist with the United States Navy Symphony Orchestra.

Mr. Vardi’s first marriage, to Margaret Bernhard, ended in divorce, as did his second, to Greta Mayer. In addition to his wife, the former Lenore Weinstock, a violinist and violist whom he married in 1984, he is survived by two daughters from his second marriage, Andrea Smith and Pauline Normand.

In 1993, after suffering a broken wrist and torn rotator cuff, Mr. Vardi retired from playing. He turned full time to painting, an art he had begun in boyhood, studied in Italy after the war and pursued throughout his musical career.

Over the years Mr. Vardi’s vivid canvases of musicians and cityscapes have been exhibited in galleries in New York City and elsewhere. Critics routinely praised his masterly control of color and tone.

A version of this article appeared in print on February 7, 2011, on page D9 of the New York edition.

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