The Truth, Turk Mauro's second CD for Milestone, is plain and simple: "Basically what I do is bebop, blues, and ballads," states the south Florida-based tenor and baritone saxophonist, "and that's what we've got going on here, with a little funk added."
The self-produced recording features labelmate Eric Allison, a tenor saxophonist with whom Turk often leads a quintet, along with Pete Minger on trumpet and keyboardists Dolph Castellano, Dr. Lonnie Smith, and Billy Marcus (another labelmate). Rounding out the session is the bass-drums team of Jeff Grubbs and Danny Burger; Bob Weinstock served as executive producer.
Mauro brings impassioned warmth and consummate swing to the CD's ten tracks half of them his own compositions. He singles out Dr. Lonnie Smith's work on the Jobim song "Someone to Light Up My Life": "There's an aura about him.... He's very creative and very inspiring to play with."
Turk Mauro didn't lack for credentials during his first two decades as a professional saxophonist. He'd gigged with such diverse jazz artists as Henry "Red" Allen, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Billy Mitchell, Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy Rich, and Richie Cole. Critics were taking note of Mauro's robust style. W. Royal Stokes, writing in the Washington Post, called him "a swinger with his feet in the old school but with ideas out of the bop era and later." And, in a New York Post review, Richard M. Sudhalter described Mauro's playing as "passionate and swinging."
There came a time, however, when the demand was no longer great for musicians like Mauro, whose full-blooded, decidedly melodic approach to the tenor is modern, yet firmly grounded in mainstream traditions. By 1986, he'd hung up his horn and was driving a limousine and doing construction work around his native New York City.
An encounter with Sonny Rollins led to a change in the musician's fortunes. "He saw that my hands were all cut up," Mauro recalls. "I said, ‘I'd like to play more, but nobody's looking for anybody playing my style in New York right now.' Sonny suggested that I go to Paris."
Mauro took Rollins's advice and moved to Paris in early 1987. He'd arranged to stay in Paris with Chan Parker (Charlie Parker's widow) until he found work, but that came almost immediately during his first week in town, he landed a record date with Bob Dorough for the Bloomdido label. Club, concert, and television appearances quickly followed, as well as three critically acclaimed albums of his own for Bloomdido.
"For the first time in my life I felt like an artist and was treated like one," Mauro states.
He returned to the U.S. in June of 1994 with his Dutch bride, Marieken, and settled in Hollywood, Florida in order to be closer to his aging father. One of the saxophonist's new neighbors was Bob Weinstock, the founder of Prestige Records, although Mauro didn't know it at the time. They met through a mutual friend, New York record collector Red Carraro. Weinstock had told Carraro on the phone that he wanted to record a tribute album to Gene Ammons—the Chicago tenor titan whom Weinstock had brought to Prestige in 1950 and who remained with the label until his death in 1974—but couldn't find the right saxophonist for the job. Carraro suggested Mauro, and the result was 1995's Hittin' the Jug on Milestone—Mauro's first recording for an American label in 15 years.
Turk Mauro was born Mauro Turso on June 11, 1944 in New York City. Raised in East Harlem, he was inspired as a child by the recordings of Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, and Louis Armstrong. (Later influences include Ammons, Rollins, Zoot Sims, and Dexter Gordon.) Mauro took up the clarinet at age 10 and, within a year, was improvising and playing in a dance band led by his father, Don Turso. Turk's younger brother Ron Turso later joined the band on drums (and went on to play with the likes of Sims, Al Cohn, Roy Eldridge, and Chet Baker).
As a teenager, Mauro spent most Saturday afternoons at the Metropole, the Manhattan mecca of mainstream jazz. He was too young to get in but, through the club's glass doors, was able to see and hear such musicians as Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, and Red Allen. The young musician also hung out across the street at a soul food restaurant called the Cooper Rail and got to know some of the players from the Metropole. The legendary Tony Parenti invited the teenager to his apartment to play clarinet duets, and Allen began hiring Mauro for gigs. Later, at the Half Note, Mauro played with Cohn and Sims.
"Being in New York at that time and being interested in music so young really opened a lot of doors for me," Mauro says. "To me, it was better than going to a university."
Mauro made his first recording (for Liberty Records) in 1963 with an R&B outfit called Lou Dana and the Furies, worked in another R&B group led by Troy Seals, and spent much of the rest of the Sixties playing in lounge bands. A long association with former Count Basie tenor saxophonist Billy Mitchell led to Mauro taking up the baritone saxophone, which he played in the big bands of Dizzy Gillespie (1975) and Buddy Rich (1976-79). The first album to appear under Mauro's name was The Underdog; cut in 1977 for the Storyville label, it also featured Al Cohn. For his second album as a leader, The Heavyweight, made in 1980 for Phoenix Jazz, Mauro teamed up with Richie Cole. In 1981, a group led by Mauro opened New York's Blue Note club (where he continues to appear at least once a year). Also that year, he made his European debut at the North Sea Jazz Festival with Cole and returned to the festival on his own the next year.
Now back home for good, Turk Mauro is finding that his time has finally arrived in the U.S. While bringing his own style and soul to his uncompromisingly straightahead recordings, the saxophonist succeeds in capturing that essential quality of being able to, in Mauro's words, "communicate to more than just the strict jazz audience."