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Superman Soars Off: Pete Candoli, 1923-2008

Pete Candoli, a trumpeter whose Superman-caped solos with the Woody Herman orchestra captured the exuberance of the swing era, has passed away at the age of 84.

Photograph of Pete Candoli used with permission of all rights reserved.

Pete CandoliPete Candoli, a big-band and West Coast trumpeter whose Superman-caped solos with the mid-1940s Woody Herman orchestra captured the exuberance of the swing era, has passed away at the age of 84. Though the Superman image proved indelible, as well as appropriate for the blasts of aural fire that Candoli frequently added to Herman concert performances and recordings (pianist and arranger Ralph Burns wrote, “We called Pete Candoli ‘Superman’ because of all those high notes he’d play way above the band–he could really make that trumpet wail”), the trumpeter’s musical legacy and interests went beyond his early pyrotechnics. (An admirer of Stravinsky, he was assigned the trumpet solo in the composer’s famous 1946 contribution to the Herman band, “Ebony Concerto.”) You can hear him in artful, still-intense form with brother Conte on such 1950s albums as 2 For the Money and Jazz Horizons; he’s also showcased on “Clarke Street” from Elmer Bernstein’s score for The Man With the Golden Arm. And jazz critic Larry Kart recommends this late-period, 1980s Candoli Brothers performance with a Chicago rhythm section.

To hear some Man-of-Steel moments with the Herman Herd, check out “Superman With a Horn” on At Carnegie Hall, 1946 and at the end of “Apple Honey” on Blowin’ Up a Storm (which also includes the “Ebony Concerto” recording). So long to Pete Candoli, who was a fellow native Hoosier (born, like Conte, in Mishawaka)…you may have gone on, but down here your solos are still soaring.

UPDATE: the Los Angeles Times has now published an obituary. There’s now also a New York Times obituary as well.

  • Jon Foley

    And don’t forget his excellent playing on Peggy Lee’s classic album, “Black Coffee.”

  • Bill Forbes

    Pete’s account of his onstage antics in Superman costume makes great reading:
    “I had a belt with a hook on it, and a cable flexed out, and it went clear across the stage. At that point, I would jump off a big, six-foot carpenter’s horse, and I would slide down the cable a bit, and go back to the middle, and unhook myself. Meanwhile, the band is playing and I would flex my muscles and hit my chest several times with each hand, and as I did it, Don Lamond on the timpani would go boom-ba-boom-ba-boom. The audience was screaming, it was such a hilarious thing. And then Mickey Folus in the saxophone section would stand up and hand me my horn like a bellboy, wearing a bellman’s hat, and I’d play a big cadenza, and we would take “Apple Honey” out with me screaming above the band.
    Well, one time the cable didn’t sag back to the middle of the stage, and I went straight across to the other side of the wall as I was flexing and looking at the audience. Right through the air! And I went smack with my head into the wall where the cable was hooked, and saw stars. And finally I came to a bit and I went through the rest of the routine while half of the band was playing and half of the band was laughing!”

    Clearly, jazz gigs aren’t today what they once were!

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