Joe Ciavardone: ‘A witness to so much jazz history’

Volume 112, No. 5May, 2012

Paul Combs

I met Joe Ciavardone (1928-2012) for the first time in the late 1990’s through a couple of mutual friends. I was working on my biography of Tadd Dameron and Joe had something he wanted to share with me. He had some contact with Tadd back in the 60’s, while working for Emil Charlap. Joe and I hit it off immediately. Professionally I am a saxophonist, but I started on trombone and have continued to play it a bit and teach beginners on the instrument. We talked about teaching the trombone to youngsters as well as many other things.

Over the years we would meet when he came to Boston, mostly at the restaurant where our friends introduced us, and we would correspond and talk on the phone. A few years ago, Joe started to express an interest in writing his memoirs. At first I thought to try to connect him with a grad student interested in the field of jazz history, but this seemed to be difficult to do from a distance, so a couple of years ago I agreed to help Joe. Sadly, we did not get very far.

Joe was a witness to so much jazz history in the post-World War II era. At one time or another he played with almost all of the major big bands working then. He was with Stan Kenton for the tour with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and with Ralph Marterie on a tour with Nat Cole and Sarah Vaughn. He was with the Herb Pomeroy Band when they played the Apollo Theatre, and when they recorded with Irene Kral for Capitol. And more.

Joe was also active in on the recording studio and theatre scene in New York. He was present on sessions with Tony Bennett, Shirley Bassey and Arthur Prysock, among others. He played in the orchestra for the Broadway shows “Sweet Charity,” “Nobody Knows,” “Here’s Love,” “Funny Girl,” and “Stop the World.” Joe was also active in Atlantic City.

Joe was a man with a joyful and generous spirit, always ready to share his knowledge and experience with others. In his later years he taught younger musicians, kids in school and young adults interested in playing jazz. When I visited him at the end of 2010, we had a chance to jam together. His playing was as strong as ever, and his improvisations made me wish that he had recorded as a soloist as well as a section player. He was modest about his skill, perhaps because he had sat next to so many brilliant soloists in the bands, but it was a real pleasure trading solos with him. I feel honored and fortunate to have been his friend.

We hope to be able to salvage as much as possible from what he left us to be available for researchers. If you worked with Joe and would be willing to be interviewed, please contact me at

Saxophonist Paul Combs is a member of AFM Local 9-535 (Boston).