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Torrie Zito (1933-2009)


Torrie Zito (October 12th 1933-December 3rd 2009) by Frank Griffith

The death of composer/arranger Torrie Zito (photo credit: New York Times) last month went virtually unremarked in the UK. Zito wrote the string arrangements for John Lennon’s Imagine , collaborated on at least a dozen albums with Tony Bennett, and worked with a host of others. Here’s Frank Griffith’s appraisal.

The days of the hired arranger – skilled at turning his or her hand to any musical style of the time are ebbing fast. Names like Don Costa, Oliver Nelson, Ernie Freeman and Steve Gray (UK) come to mind. Many of them have sadly passed away now, but another major reason for their disappearance is the lack of lasting popular music written by genuine songwriters to be recorded by popular music singers.

Arranger, Torrie Zito died in Decembr and he was one such arranger to the great popular singers of the day. Married to jazz songstress, Helen Merrill, for many years his credits included Morgana King, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett for whom he was pianist and MD for many years as well.

His arrangements for Ms King were particularly memorable for a swathe of LPs that she recorded in the mid 1960s. They include all manner of popular songs of the day like Mountain High, River Deep, Moment of Truth, The Shadow of Your Smile as well as 1930s chestnuts like Gone With the Wind and Anything Goes. It also doesn’t hurt to have Phil Woods aboard providing piping hot obbligati (fiery, but to the point solos) on The Best Is Yet To Come and Wild Is Love. Its difficult to fathom how Morgana’s lightish and overly vulnerable vocal quality is from the same woman who played the commanding matriarch of the Corleone family in the epic film The Godfather just a few years later (1972). Part of this, presumably, was Torrie’s ability to support her pretentious, faux-delicate voice with an able-bodied but understated musical backing.

Zito’s contribution to Sinatra’s 1984 collaboration LA is My Lady LP (talk about a turkey of a title song….) as his updated and modern sounding treatment of Teach Me Tonight. This is clearly the highlight of the date which is no mean feat considering the other two main arrangers were Frank Foster and Sam Nestico. Just two choruses in total, loping along at a medium tempo swagger, Torrie cloaks the opening chorus with upward moving unison flute lines counterpointing the downward harmonic chromaticisms. He then throws caution to the wind with an upward modulation opening up the brass and saxes to full bore in the second and closing chorus yet pulls slightly back at the end with a medium range, mezzo forte chord. No need for any more higher and faster theatrics after so much in the middle.

A great voice, now dimmed, and as the film music maestro,Henry Mancini, stated in his book, Sounds and Scores, “the job of an arranger is to provide the song the best possible treatment regardless of your personal feelings about the song”. Torrie Zito did just this and the legacy of popular music is better off for it.

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2 replies »

  1. While on the Harry James band…playing Alto Sax.
    We had a date at the Valley Forge Music Fair in
    April 20th to April 25th l976…On the bill for (7) shows were..Tony Bennett,Sarah Vaughan and the Harry James band….With Tony was Torrie Zito with
    his rhythm section along with Harry's Band backing up the entire show…Torrie's rhythm
    section with the James Band was “HOT”…the (7)
    shows were sold out…I have great memories of
    Mr. Zito… Rest In Peace…Dear friend..
    Sincerely,
    Pat Longo aka
    Pat Longo Hollywood Big Band

  2. Another great Torrie Zito effort that nobody seems aware of is “James Moody with Strings”done in the early 60's for the Chicago-based Argo label.

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