Born: January 10, 1934 Primary Instrument: Clarinet
“There are a number of exceptional clarinetists working in the traditional idioms right now, but none of them cut Joe Licari.” --Robert Levin
Joe Licari (b. January 10, 1934, Brooklyn, New York) is an American jazz clarinetist.
Known as an especially “hot” player with an exuberant and always emotive attack, Licari is considered, by critics and peers alike, to be in the front rank of contemporary “classic” jazz musicians.
He is also among the most immediately recognizable. The renowned Bob Wilber, with whom Licari studied for nearly a year, said of him: “You hear the influence of Benny Goodman in his playing…also the Chicago players Frank Teschemacher and Pee Wee Russell, plus the New Orleans clarinetists Johnny Dodds, Sidney Bechet and Jimmie Noone. He has used some of their ideas and rejected others to come up with his own style. To achieve [your own] identity is the goal of all serious [jazz] players. When you hear [Licari’s] clarinet you know it’s him.”
In a 60-year career Licari (who also plays the soprano and alto saxophones) has worked alongside such luminaries as Roy Eldridge, “Wild” Bill Davison, Conrad Janis, Big Chief Russell Moore, Connie Kay, Bob Haggart, Vic Dickenson, Pee Wee Erwin and Doc Cheatham, and with the vocalist Julie Wilson. He’s also appeared in films, on The Today Show, on Jim Lowe’s radio show (eight years), and in venues that have included The Algonquin, Eddie Condon’s, Jimmy Ryan’s and Michael’s Pub (where he was a stand-in for Woody Allen).
In addition to three recordings under his leadership,* Licari has been a featured player on albums by The Red Onion Jazz Band, Julie Wilson, “Big Chief” Russell Moore, Herb Gardner, Dick Voigt’s Big Apple Jazz Band, Jim Lowe, Dorothy Loudon, Betty Comora, The Speakeasy Jazz Babies and The Smith Street Society Jazz Band.
*Haunting Melody (with pianist Larry Weiss), Claril Productions
That’s A Plenty, Claril Productions
Jazz Quartets, Waiting for Katy, Claril Productions
Licari's autobiography, The Invisible Clarinetist (Xlibris, 2004), with a foreword by Bob Wilber, is available from the publisher or directly from Joe Licari at the address below.
Many a terrific hot jazz musician has a smooth side. A sweet tone. A way of playing that makes you say “Isn't that pretty!” So when inferno-style clarinetist Joe Licari and one-time incendiary trumpeter and longtime keyboard stylist Larry Weiss play duets at Palazzo Restaurant the only real surprise is that subtly swinging is about as far into hot territory as they go. And you know what? It's far enough!
In fact, the duo is called Swing Time, and what they do is play American standards beautifully. Gerswhin, Rodgers & Hart-all the classic composers, movie songs, show songs, some jazz favorites that don't set off any smoke alarms: these musicians have been in business a boatload of years and they have absorbed a ton of tunes.
Licari, of the emotive attack, rich color, and flying fingers, has worked alongside such luminaries as Roy Eldridge, “Wild Bill” Davison, Conrad Janis, “Big Chief” Russell Moore, Connie Kay, Bob Haggart, Vic Dickenson, Pee Wee Irwin and Doc Cheatham, and with the vocalist Julie Wilson. He currently is a part of the Red Onion Jazz Band, The Grove Street Stompers, The Speakeasy Jazz Babies, The Big Apple Jazz Band and others.
Weiss, whose gracefully declarative right hand is never overwhelmed by the quiet authority of his left, has had the pleasure of associating with earlier jazz greats including Teddy Wilson, Bobby Hackett, Budd Freeman and Vic Dickenson, at jazz venues such as Eddie Condon's and Jimmy Ryan's, He has played jazz festivals in this country and England, and he currently freelances in the NY/NJ metropolitan area with various jazz bands and his own swing quintet.
From the gorgeous “These Foolish Things” and “Memories of You” (showing off Licari's lovely legato work) to a nostalgic Over the Rainbow (featuring fine embellishments by Weiss) to the jaunty “You Took Advantage of Me” and “As Long As I Live”…there is a certain formula, the same as with any jazz band. Here it is something like theme articulated, dreamed on, revisited, let go. These two masterful professionals have played fast and furiously together over the years but that wouldn't do at Palazzo. Although the talent is still brilliant, for Swing Time the passion is all heart.