Cover of Boots Mussulli LP

Kenton Presents Boots Mussulli, Capitol T6506

Alto and baritone saxophonist Boots Mussulli recorded Kenton Presents Boots Mussulli, his only album as a leader, for  Capitol Records (Capitol T6506), in June 1954.

Henry “Boots” Mussulli, the saxophonist, composer, and arranger from Milford, Mass., had certainly put in his time on the road with the big bands, beginning with Mal Hallett in the mid-thirties and later including Mel Powell, Stan Kenton, Vido Musso, and Gene Krupa. His playing with Kenton made him well-known in jazz circles, but it changed after he heard Charlie Parker.

By the early 1950s, he was back in Milford, teaching and leading a small group. He toured with Kenton in 1952 and afterwards found himself drawn to the percolating Boston scene, getting involved at the Jazz Workshop in 1953. Mussulli was always known as a steady, reliable guy, and in March 1954, George Wein paired him with the erratic baritone saxophonist Serge Chaloff on a Storyville Records date. The result was the LP Serge and Boots.

In 1954 Mussulli formed a small group to record his own music. He heard the trio of pianist Ray Santisi, bassist Jack Carter, and drummer Peter Littman at the Stable and hired them. Stan Kenton produced the recording for Capitol. On June 14, the quartet recorded the first half of an album, but another Kenton tour, with Boots playing baritone this time (Charlie Mariano was playing alto), delayed its completion. Mussulli returned to Boston and completed his LP in November. Santisi was still on piano, but Max Bennett and Shelly Manne replaced Carter and Littman.

The album’s liner notes warned that Mussulli had moved on from his Kenton days. He’s quoted as saying “times change, and I like to change with the times,” and also, “My favorite is Charlie Parker…has been almost since the first time I heard him.” Of the June tunes, “Diga Diga Doo” features a most Parker-like attack taken at a fast tempo, while the appealing “Little Man” is a relaxed swinger in the “St. Thomas” mold, with a fine Mussulli solo and good support from Santisi.

Nat Hentoff reviewed the record in Down Beat and wasn’t overly impressed; he gave it 2.5 stars. The music didn’t grab him. It must not have grabbed the record-buying public, either, because when the album went out of print, it never came back. It’s never been reissued in any format.

This Mussulli quartet wasn’t heard from again, but Mussulli worked with Santisi in Serge Chaloff’s Boston Blow-Up! band in 1955, and in Herb Pomeroy’s big band in 1955-57. His later significant claim to fame came with his Milford Area Youth Orchestra, which made it all the way to the Newport Jazz Festival in 1967. Boots Mussulli died in Milford on September 23, 1967.