Conrad Gozzo, New Britain’s Legendary Musical Gem
Ninety years ago this week, Conrad Gozzo was born in New Britain, CT. He died all too soon of a heart attack in 1963 at the age of 42. Who was Conrad Gozzo? The greatest trumpet player and arguably the best musician ever produced by The Hardware City.
At the time of his death he was a member of the NBC staff orchestra in Hollywood and considered to be the recording industry’s top lead trumpet player. Scott Yanow of All Music Group described Gozzo “as a topnotch studio musician and first trumpeter … He was also skilled but underutilized jazz soloist.”
Gozzo’s first teacher was his father Jimmy. Neighbors would recall the sound of Gozzo’s trumpet echoing through the neighborhood.
After working with the likes of Isham Jones, Red Norvo, Bob Chester and Claude Thornhill, he performed with Benny Goodman. During World War he served in the US Navy and played in a band led by Artie Shaw. He rejoined Goodman after his stint in the Navy and then toured and recorded with Woody Herman. He also performed with Boyd Raeburn and Ted Beneke before heading to California.
In Los Angeles he played on Bob Crosby’s radio broadcasts following WWII. Gozzo was highly sought after as a lead trumpeter and worked extensively as a studio musician. How good was he? For more than a decade Frank Sinatra wouldn’t record unless Gozzo was playing the lead trumpet book. A number of Sinatra’s recording sessions were scheduled around Gozzo’s busy schedule. Virtually every recording made in the decade prior to Gozzo’s death featured the New Britain native on lead trumpet.
Among the notable arrangers Gozzo recorded for were Van Alexander, Nelson Riddle, Billy May, Ray Conniff, Jerry Fielding and Shorty Rogers. He played lead trumpet on virtually every recording of legendary composer Harry Mancini’s orchestra.
In addition to performing for Dean Martin, Gozzo spent nine years performing for the Dinah Shore Show on NBC. He also performed on the soundtracks for movies such as The Glenn Miller Story, The Benny Goodman Story, Bye Bye Birdie, Call Me Madam, Ben-Hur and Cleopatra. He also played on the Ella Fitzgerald two-record set – Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Harold Arlen Songbook.
In his prime during the height of the Big Band era, Gozzo is credited by having shaped the role of a lead trumpet player with his tremendous range and full tone. His range was such that he could effortlessly play the most challenging lead parts up an octave leaving other simply shaking their heads.
Gozzo’s lone solo album titled “Goz the Great” recorded in 1955 for Victor featured the legendary trumpeter with a Big Band as well as an octet with strings. Perhaps his most memorable recording was that of “Trumpeter’s Prayer” composed specifically for him by Tutti Camarata.
Decade after is premature death, awards named Gozzo’s memory are still presented each year at Slade Middle and New Britain High School.