Joe Morello (1928-2011)

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Jazz drumming legend dies, aged 82

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Joe Morello, the jazz drummer who rose to worldwide fame as a member of the Dave Brubeck Quartet, died on 12 March at home in New Jersey.

Joining the Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1956 Morello was for over 12 years a key player in one of the best-known jazz groups of the 20th century.

Along with pianist Dave Brubeck, alto saxophonist Paul Desmond and bassist Eugene Wright, he performed on the iconic 1959 album Time Out, with its innovative use of time signatures, which included one of jazz’s biggest hits of all time, the 5/4 piece ‘Take Five’. That piece reached the Top 10 in the UK’s pop charts and the album itself became the first instrumental jazz album to sell over one million copies.

Morello was born in Massachusetts and initially learned violin, but after hearing violinist Jascha Heifitz play live and believing he could never achieve that level of playing he switched to drums when he was 15. Moving to New York in 1950 he immersed himself in the jazz scene, playing with bandleader Stan Kenton, before joining a trio led by pianist Marian McPartland.

After his stint with Brubeck, he became an influential jazz drumming educationalist and notably returned to perform a 25th anniversary reunion with his former Quartet members in 1976. Quartet leader Dave Brubeck said: ‘Many people consider the rhythm section of Eugene Wright and Joe Morello in my quartet as being one of the most consistent, swinging rhythm sections in jazz’.

Neil McKim