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Phil Urso

Subtlety and restraint defined the playing of Phil Urso, a member of the 1950s' cool school who owed a strong artistic debt to Lester “Pres” Young but never came across as a clone of him. Urso started out on clarinet, but the tenor sax became his primary instrument after he studied it in high school. Though not that well-known, Urso was a solid and expressive jazzman who played with Woody Herman, Jimmy Dorsey, Miles Davis, Terry Gibbs, Oscar Pettiford and others in the 1950s. In 1954, he co-led a quintet with trombonist Bob Brookmeyer that recorded for Savoy, but Urso's best-known association came in 1955 and 1956, when he was a sideman for Chet Baker.

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The Philosophy of Urso

No other jazz player in Denver has Phil Urso's pedigree.

Phil Urso holds a letter that trumpeter Chet Baker wrote to him in 1971.

“I have always felt you were and are the most underrated of America's jazz players and composers,” Baker begins. His letter continues for a few pages, telling Urso about his experiences abroad, and then concludes, “Well, Phil, we'll say goodbye for now with one more reminder that we love you and wish you all good things, and when anyone asks me about my favorite tenor player, the answer is always Phil Urso.”

Urso puts the letter away with a smile and says, “He's layin' it on kind of thick.”

But Urso never heard from Baker again

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