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Uncommon Chemistry in Standard Time

We all work with the same number of hours in a day, but some, like the three musicians performing at the Playshop on Saturday, just know how to put the right beat to it.

Chances are you've heard John, Bucky, Carmen and Jerry play before, but perhaps you didn't know it.

Let's put it another way. You've probably heard the name Brubeck, right? Then you know the last name of one of John Cutrone's musical pals. How about the Tonight Show? Yeah, that's where Bucky Pizzarelli used to play. Benny Goodman, the "King of Swing?" Carmen Leggio blew sax with him. And the name Frank Sinatra may ring a bell. Keep in mind that Jerry Bruno accompanied some of his most famous songs.

All four of these acclaimed jazz cats specialized as studio musicians so, while other guys like Sinatra or Benny Goodman were getting all the credit, John, Bucky, Carmen and Jerry were doing the musical heavy lifting, laying down the foundations for some of the music world's top hits.

On Saturday night, however, you can see three of them headline their own show as they pay tribute to their group's late fourth member, Carmen Leggio, at a special jazz concert at the Wilton Playshop.

Cutrone grew up in Fairfield County and currently lives in Ridgefield. He says his musical background extends "from A to Z," but it was an introduction by Bill Watrous in the 1970s that really helped him make headway in the industry. Watrous got Cutrone into the New York City music scene, which ultimately led to his playing drums in the "Manhattan Wildlife Refuge," a group composed of 16 to 20 of the top studio musicians in the entire city at the time.

In the Refuge, Cutrone played with legends like Tom "Bones" Malone and "Blue" Lou Marini, both one-time members of the Blues Brothers Band, and Elliot Randall, the guitarist responsible for most of the ripping riffs on Steely Dan's best albums. But even after playing with such big names and doing so all over the country, the high concentration of musical diversity and talent in Southwestern Connecticut still blows Cutrone away.

"I consider the Arts scene around her to be incredible," Cutrone said. "There's all these incredible not only musicians but actors, songwriters...and it's funny how music brings people together- it's like dominoes falling."

Cutrone met saxophonist Carmen Leggio in the 1980s, a meeting he cited as "really the catalyst for this record coming together," and played with him for more than 20 years. Five years ago, Leggio introduced him to Pizzarelli and the three, plus Jerry Bruno, got together one day in April of last year.

"We went into the studio at noon and came out at three and had a record," Cutrone recalled. "All it was was a great time and us laughing...when you play with people that have done it for so long, it's not a chore. It's spontaneous. It's fun."

Cutrone said most of the songs were recorded in a single take, a testament to the high skill level of the four musicians and their synchronicity. Pizzarelli has played guitar with the likes of Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock, along with having thousands of studio dates under his belt, so Cutrone recalls hearing from him that "it was a good take" was about the highest praise he could receive.

"It was like throwing paint on a canvas," Cutrone recalled of the organic recording process. "Except the paint we were using was sound."

"Fourxfour" is the album they emerged with, a record of jazz standards brightened by Pizzarelli's guitar, Leggio's sax, and anchored by Cutrone on drums and Bruno on bass.

Sadly, Saturday's iteration of the songs will be somewhat different. As Cutrone tells it, Carmen Leggio started feeling light-headed a few days after they recorded last April. Not long after, he passed away.

But Cutrone and his bandmates are excited to pay tribute to their departed partner and he doesn't believe they'll miss a beat, with the talented Pizzarelli picking up many of the melodies on guitar. They are also looking forward to getting a chance to play in such an intimate venue like the Playshop, what Cutrone imagines will be perfect for their sound and the songs.

"The impetus for doing this is largely that we're looking so forward to the room," he said. "The music is very acoustic, so I think the place will be perfect and the ability to perform the music we did in the studio, sadly without Carmen, will be great...we'll all be thinking of him while we play this stuff."

The one night event takes place on February 13th at 8:00 pm.  Tickets are $35.  For ticket information contact the Wilton Playshop at 203-762-7620 or www.wiltonplayshop.org. Copies of "fourxfour" will also be available for sale at the performance and a Q & A with the musicians will follow.

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