September-30th-2012, 07:10 PM
Eddie Bert - R.I.P.
Eddie Bert, a jazz trombonist whose virtuosity and versatility allowed him to fit comfortably in a wide range of musical contexts, from the infectious swing of Benny Goodman to the wild experimentation of Charles Mingus, died on Thursday at his home in Danbury, Conn. He was 90.
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His death was announced by his daughter Laura Csatay.
Mr. Bert was in the pit orchestras of “Bye Bye Birdie,” “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” “Ain’t Misbehavin’ ” and other hit Broadway musicals of the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. He played on countless radio and television commercials and was a member of the house band on Dick Cavett’s television show from 1968 to 1972.
But he was first and foremost a jazzman, and his peers in the jazz world recognized him as one of the masters of his instrument.
So did the critics. Reviewing a 1989 performance by a quintet led by Mr. Bert, Jon Pareles of The New York Times praised his solos as “unfailingly lucid, fully formed melodies grounded in the blues and strolling with an unhurried swagger.”
If his reviews were almost invariably positive, they were also infrequent. Although Mr. Bert recorded more than a dozen albums as a leader, he was best known as a dependable and adaptable team player. The list of ensembles to which he made important contributions is extensive.
He worked with the big bands of Stan Kenton, Woody Herman and many others, and with singers including Lena Horne and Bobby Short. He was a member of the 10-piece bands led by the pianist and composer Thelonious Monk at Town Hall in New York in 1959 — the first time Monk’s notoriously tricky compositions had been arranged for a large ensemble — and at Philharmonic Hall (now Avery Fisher Hall) in 1963. He spent several years with the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, whose Monday-night residency at the Village Vanguard revitalized the big-band tradition in the late 1960s. He worked with the New York Jazz Repertory Company in the ’70s and the American Jazz Orchestra in the ’80s and ’90s, two of the first bands whose repertories encompassed the full spectrum of jazz history.
He continued performing until last year. Eddie Bert was born Edward Joseph Bertolatus in Yonkers on May 16, 1922, to Edward Bertolatus, a phone company engineer, and the former Elizabeth Futica. Interested in music from an early age, he studied informally with Benny Morton of the Count Basie band as a teenager and began his professional career shortly after that; his first high-profile job was a long engagement with the xylophonist and vibraphonist Red Norvo in 1942. During World War II Mr. Bert played in a United States Army band led by the arranger Bill Finegan.
He received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Manhattan School of Music in the late 1950s.
Mr. Bert’s wife of 70 years, the former Mollie Petrillo, died last year. In addition to Ms. Csatay, he is survived by two other daughters, Sharon Johnson and Jane Banza; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.