Dodo Marmarosa

Jazz piano giant of the big bands and bebop pioneer. 

Jazz pianist Dodo Marmarosa was a child prodigy who toured with the big bands as a teenager in the early 1940s and became a pioneering Bebop master in late 1940’s   He was one of the most sought after pianists in jazz history touring and recording with the elite bands of Johnny Davis. Gene Krupa, Tommy Dorsey, Charlie Barnet, and Artie Shaw.  Band leaders paid him well for his talent.  He made $150 a week with Gene Krupa, Tommy Dorsey raised his salary to $250 a week with a percentage of recording profiles, and Artie Shaw paid him $400 a week.  Becoming a studio pianist in Los Angeles Marmarosa recorded with Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Howard McGee, Thelonious Monk, Benny Carter, Mel Torme, Roy Eldridge, Wardell Grey, Slim Gaillard, and Sonny Criss    His recordings with Charlie Parker: “Charlie Parker Septet" (1946) and “Charlie Parker's New Stars” (1947) are considered by some critics as among the greatest jazz records ever made.  Dodo’s piano is heard on the all time classic tunes’ Ornithology” and “Night in Tunisia”. His discography covers appearances on 100 recordings.  In 1947 Marmarosa won the New Star award for piano in Esquire Magazine’s reader’s poll.  Esquire magazine published its fourth annual jazz poll in which the critics chose musicians who would dominate the jazz scene for the next 30 years: Miles Davis, Sonny Stitt, Milt Jackson, Sarah Vaughn, Pittsburgh bassist Ray Brown and the "new star" on piano, 21-year-old Dodo Marmarosa.  Tragically illness cut Marmarosa’s promising career short.  He withdrew from the national jazz scene in 1954, resurfaced to make three recordings in the early 1960s, and performed locally in Pittsburgh until his last public appearance in 1968.

"The best white modern jazz pianist of his time" - Artie Shaw

“One of the finest pianists of the bop era,” - All

"He was truly one of the legendary bebop players" - Tony Mowod, WDUQ radio host and founder of the Pittsburgh Jazz Society

 “Unlike most Beboppers, Marmarosa kept to the rhythmic drive of swing, but was most notable for the beautiful feel for melodic improvisation which made him and Al Haig men apart..” - Steve Voce of The Independent 2002.

Michael “Dodo” Marmarosa was born on December 6, 1925 in Pittsburgh and grew up on Paulson Avenue in the East Liberty neighborhood.  He acquired the nickname of Dodo due to his unusually large head and short thin stature.  Growing up in the 1930’s swing era he was influenced by pianists Art Tatum and Teddy Wilson.  According to his father Joseph, Michael  taught himself to play piano before he began taking formal piano lessons at age 8.  He practiced many hours every day until his left hand grew as fast and flexible as his right hand.  With only a few months of practice he was able to fluently play difficult Bach pieces. He traded licks and tricks with his neighborhood friend future piano superstar pianist Erroll Garner.  Marmaroso began playing in the clubs of Pittsburgh in his early teens while attending Peabody High School.  In 1941 the Johnny "Scat" Davis Orchestra came to Pittsburgh with an opening for a piano player. Several Pittsburgh musicians recommended Marmaroso to Johnny David.  Davis hired Dodo and took him on the road at just age 15.

The Johnny “Scat” Davis Orchestra broke up after a few months on tour.  Mamarosa and several of his band mates joined Gene Krupa's band in 1942.  While in Philadelphia with the Krupa band in 1943 Marmarosa and his friend clarinetist Buddy DeFranco were severely beaten by a gang of sailors who accused them of being draft-dodgers.  The sailors dropped Marmarosa on his head onto a railway line.  Hospitalized he was in a coma for 24 hours and suffered a permanent change in his personality.  But he was still able to continue his exceptional performances.

When the Krupa band disbanded in 1943 Marmaroso went on the road with Charlie Barnet’s big band.  Mamarosa performed on his first recordings on the Barnet band’s hits “The Moose" and "Strollin”.  Barnet said of Mamaroso, "Dodo was a tremendous player, but very mixed up."   I remember once he pushed a small piano off a third-floor balcony to hear what chord it would make when it hit the ground."

Only 18 Marmarosa left Barnet's band in early 1944 to join Tommy Dorsey’s band.  He also performed in the Dorsey quartet that included Buddy De Franco, Sidney Block and superstar drummer Buddy Rich.  In November of 1944, Marmarosa left Dorsey to join one the best big bands the Artie Shaw band.  Marmorsa also played in Shaw’s small side combo, the Grammercy-Five that included legendary Pittsburgh trumpeter Roy Eldridge and guitarist Barney Kessel.  His improvisational solos where captured on several popular Grammery-Five recordings.  One night in 1945 at a Midwest club the crowd kept requesting Shaw’s arrangement of "Frenesi". The band played the song twice during the first set and repeated it again opening the second set. Dodo angrily told Shaw he would leave if they played that song again.  Shaw called for "Frenesi" one more time. Marmarosa walked out the door and drove home to Pittsburgh.

After staying a few weeks in Pittsburgh, Marmarosa moved to Los Angeles in 1946 for freelance studio work.  He worked as the "house" pianist for Lyle Griffin's Atomic record label.  Dodo recorded with Charlie Parker and was a member of the Charlie Parker Trio.  He also recorded in surrealist guitarist Slim Gaillard’s band along with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.  Working with Parker and Dizzie he became an influential leader in the Bebop movement. He continued to record and perform in LA until 1950.  Marmaroso went on the road again in 1950 to do a a few dates with Artie Shaw.  When he encountered health problems he left the national jazz scene and returned home to Pittsburgh.

Marmarosa was drafted into the Army in 1954. He suffered emotional problems in the army, was given electric shock treatments, was hospitalized for several months and was discharged in poor psychological health.  He kept a low profile and remained in Pittsburgh for the rest of his life.

In 1958 he appeared at the Midway Lounge in Downtown Pittsburgh with his close friend Danny Conn.  They made a live recording of their appeared and released the album :Pittsburgh" in 1958.”  The 18 track recording feature 12 live cuts.   Marmarosa performed a two week engagement at Chicago’s Pink Poodle in 1960. He made three recordings in the early 1960’s: the solo album “Dodo’s Back,” (’61), a  duo album with tenor saxophonist Gene Ammons,“Jug and Dodo” in 1962, and  made a trio record for the local Argo label in 1962,

In the late '60s, he went to work playing piano at the Colony Restaurant in Mt. Lebanon and worked with the Jimmy Spaniel combo.  He performed at the Colony for several years until diabetes forced him into retirement.  Dodo Marmarosa 'slast public performance was at the Colony restaurant in Pittsburgh in 1968.  He lived with his family for several years.   In 1992 two English newspapers published his obituary.  When a reporter kept calling for an interview, Marmarosa told the reporter that Mr. Marmarosa had passed away.  Dodo’s sister called the newspapers to report that her brother was very much alive.  Marmaroso eventually become a resident at the Highland Drive Veterans Hospital in Pittsburgh.  He played piano and organ occasionally for the residents and guests.  On September 17, 2002 Dodo played an informal organ concert at the VA hospital for the residents.  He returned to his room saying he was unwell and passed away at age 76.

Moody Blues from 1962
Marmarosa with the Grammercy Five
Pittsburgh Album 1958
Marmarosa Trio 1962