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A Versatile and Imaginative PianistCopyright © 2000The Scotsman, 2000
Arnold Ross was an inventive and versatile jazz pianist who will be remembered above all for his contribution to a famous live recording in the Jazz at the Philharmonic series with Charlie Parker and Lester Young. Ross recorded that session in 1946, and went on to a lengthy if often interrupted career in jazz.
He was born Arnold Rosenberg. He learned several instruments as a child, but settled on piano, and became a professional musician at the age of 16. He worked on cruise ships, then played Hammond organ with Frank Dailey during 1938-39, and piano with band leaders Jack Jenney in 1939, and Vaughan Monroe in 1940-42.
He was drafted in 1942, and played trumpet in an army band under the leadership of Glenn Miller, but his unruly sense of humour ensured he would not be invited to join Millers Army Air Force Band when the trombonist departed on his ill-fated tour of duty in Europe in 1944.
Ross moved to Los Angeles and joined trumpeter Harry Jamess swing band, but was also a regular participant in the after hours jam sessions which helped develop bebop on the west coast. His style fitted particularly well in the interstices between swing and bop, where his subtle harmonic prompting and fertile invention were given free rein.
It was during this period that he took part in the JATP session with Charlie Parker, during which he delivers a fine solo chorus on Lady, Be Good, just before Bird takes his own even more famous outing He appeared with James in the screen musical Do You Love Me? (1946), in which he also dubbed the piano playing for Maureen OHara.
He became addicted to heroin in 1947, but continued to work in a variety of settings throughout the 1950s, including prolonged periods as pianist and musical director for singer Lena Horne. He led his own trio, and worked as pianist and arranger for a number of eminent leaders, notably singer Billy Eckstine and arranger Nelson Riddle (including sessions with Frank Sinatra), and on television shows with Bob Crosby (1954-56) and Spike Jones (1957-58).
He checked into the drug rehabilitation centre at Synanon in Southern California, a self-help community which numbered many musicians among its clients. He maintained his connection with the centre after his cure, and took part in a film about its activities, Synanon - Get Off My Back!, in 1965.
He worked mainly in the studios, usually with Nelson Riddle, until the mid-1970s, then led his own trio in California, and performed in the Beverly Hills Unlisted Jazz Band, a Dixieland group led by trombonist Conrad Janis. One of his last performances was in a Millennium Eve concert with a reformed version of the Harry James Band at the end of 1999.
He recorded very little under his own name, but he appeared on numerous recordings with artists like Benny Carter, Charlie Ventura, Howard McGhee, Dizzy Gillespie, Harry Sweets Edison, Barney Kessel, Joe Pass, and singers Doris Day, Ella Fitzgerald, and Anita O'Day.