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Subject: Dodo Marmarosa, early Bebop pianist

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Date Posted: September 27, 2002 1:43:12 EDT

Dodo Marmarosa, a jazz pianist who became known as an early master of bebop's harmonic complexity and then vanished from the scene, died on Sept. 17 at a hospital in Pittsburgh. He was 76 and lived in Pittsburgh.

The cause appeared to be a heart attack, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

Mr. Marmarosa's career began early and ended abruptly. He was a featured soloist with some of the leading big bands while still a teenager. A few years later he was working with some of the most celebrated musicians in jazz, notably the saxophonists Charlie Parker and Lester Young. But by the mid-1950's he had dropped out of the big time. After a comeback that began in 1960 and ended two years later, he never again performed outside the Pittsburgh area.

Mr. Marmarosa did not publicly explain his retreat. But by many accounts he was a sensitive soul who had trouble handling the pressures of the jazz life.

"He was gentle and fragile," Artie Shaw, one of his former employers, told The Post-Gazette in 1998. "He never learned to deal with the world of a musician."

Another employer, Charlie Barnet, said that Mr. Marmarosa once pushed a small piano off a third-floor balcony "to hear what chord it would make when it hit the ground."

Some jazz historians attributed Mr. Marmarosa's fragility to an incident in 1943, when as a member of Gene Krupa's big band he went into a coma after being beaten by a group of sailors in Philadelphia. He was also hospitalized for emotional problems while serving in the Army a decade later.

Mr. Marmarosa's recorded legacy was enough to secure him, as the critic Leonard Feather put it, "a small but significant place" in jazz history.

Michael Marmarosa was born in Pittsburgh on Dec. 12, 1925. He is said to have received the nickname Dodo because he was short and had an unusually large head.

A dedicated piano student beginning at age 9, he began playing professionally at 15. From 1942 to 1945 he worked with Gene Krupa, Charlie Barnet, Tommy Dorsey and with Artie Shaw, who called him "the greatest pianist I ever had in my band." In 1945 he moved to Los Angeles, where he became the house pianist for the Atomic Records label.

Among the Atomic sessions on which he played was "Slim's Jam," a legendary novelty recording led by the singer, guitarist and comedian Slim Gaillard, which also featured the alto saxophonist Charlie Parker and the trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie.

With his knowledge of harmony and his skill at improvising long, complex lines, Mr. Marmarosa had an immediate affinity for the emerging bebop style. He was soon working with Parker and became known as a talented bebop pianist.

Not long after his name had become familiar to jazz fans, Mr. Marmarosa was back in Pittsburgh and no longer recording or touring. He made an album for the Argo label in 1961, and he and the tenor saxophonist Gene Ammons led a 1962 recording session that went unreleased for a decade.

Mr. Marmarosa is survived by two sisters, Doris Shepherd and Audrey Radinovic, both of Glenshaw, Pa.

He played piano at a restaurant in Mount Lebanon, Pa., from 1968 until he developed diabetes a few years later. Even the resurgence of interest in bebop in the 1970's and 80's did not bring him back to national attention.

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