Don Joseph is (was?) a footnote to a footnote in jazz history. A trumpeter and cornetist who spent the 1950s building a sturdy reputation among discerning leaders, he was already off the national scene by the end of the decade. Joseph makes a surprising reemergence on a recording done for (who else?) Uptown Records in 1984: the impressive "One of a Kind." And then he's gone again, or at least from recording studios.
It's a shame, because Joseph was one of those musicians who was truly wedded to the lyrical. Much like Tony Fruscella, another obscure trumpeter he's often linked with, Joseph was a curious amalgam of bop and earlier jazz influences. You hear echoes of Bobby Hackett and Buck Clayton, Chet Baker and Miles Davis, Bix Beiderbecke and Armstrong, in Joseph's finest playing, all wrapped in his own warm, rounded sound. His well-crafted improvisations, laden with melody, never overstay their welcome. Joseph always found, as my friend Seth likes to say, "the pretty notes," but there was nothing cloying about his work. Making pretty, he reminds us, can be a tough job.
Here's one of the only two clips of Joseph that have surfaced on YouTube. I have no idea when this was shot-- I'm assuming sometime in the 1980s or early 90's. Joseph, playing "Embraceable You" on cornet, is in fine fettle, blowing the pretty notes with customary ease, injecting subtle bop rhythms to goose the flow. I find it very moving to hear how Joseph's achingly lyrical solo inspires trumpeter Mike Morreale to his own quite lovely lyrical improvisation. Enjoy.