Conte Candoli had this incredible mop of white hair, a carefully managed harvest of silver that flashed like a battle pennant when he was up there in the back row of a big band. The back row is where the trumpet players sit. This is the bridge, this is mission control.
They called him Count, this strange Old World figure, and when Count was on duty, his bandmates could be sure those crucial brass passages would bark right out and make the whole band speak.
This was true even though Candoli didn't play lead trumpet, but covered the second or third parts in the ensemble harmony.
Count's place on the haphazard battlefield of modern jazz rested on his prowess as a trumpet soloist, a narrow specialty in which he was an all time top gun. Even Freddie Hubbard and Nat Adderley feared him. His reputation can be attested to by anyone who has heard Candoli in person with Bill Berry's L.A. Big Band, the Frankie Capp-Nat Pierce Juggernaut, Supersax or the Thursday Night Band, the small group he led weekly at the old Donte's in North Hollywood.
But he didn't have to push a recording career, like the bigger names. Count's meal ticket was his gig every day at NBC television studios in Burbank, in the trumpet section of the Doc Severinsen ''Tonight Show'' band, whose best numbers were played during commercial breaks and never reached the public ear.
This was corrected when the 20-year-old band went on tour for the first time back in the 1980s.