“You Go to My Head” (1956) Conrad Gozzo

“You Go to My Head”

Music composed by J. Fred Coots; probably arranged by Earle Hagen or Herbert Spencer.

The story:

The ultimate sideman in the Hollywood recording, movie and television studios through the 1950s and into the 1960s was trumpeter Conrad Gozzo (1922-1964). Gozzo was revered by his fellow musicians throughout his career, which started in 1938, when Conrad was 16, and ended in 1964 with his tragic, premature death. Most trumpeters regarded him with awe. Gozzo was a superlative ensemble musician who fit into any band or orchestra. He was most renowned as a first or lead trumpeter. His job in that role was to provide the sonic top of any ensemble that he played in. He did that with great power, brilliance of sound and accuracy of pitch. He also completely understood and manifested the rhythmic concept of swing in his playing.

Only rarely did Gozzo play extended solos. When he did, and they were recorded, trumpeters everywhere could not wait to acquire those recordings, listen to Gozzo, and marvel. In addition to all of the other attributes Conrad possessed as a trumpeter, he had a most gorgeous sound. It was full and round, and didn’t thin out when he played in his high register. (Above right: Conrad Gozzo in the late 1940s.)

Gozzo first came to the attention of many musicians in the world of swing when he played first trumpet with Claude Thornhill’s band in 1941-1942. He then spent the years of World War II in the Navy band organized and first led by Artie Shaw, then led by Sam Donahue. After the war, Gozzo played most notably with Benny Goodman, Woody Herman and Tex Beneke.

It was in the Beneke band that Gozzo met a young man who was then the pianist in Tex’s aggregation, Henry Mancini. Mancini later recalled: “The Beneke band included some incredible players including Conrad Gozzo, one of the greatest lead trumpet players that ever lived. Before (my friend) Sal Libero came into the band, I roomed with Conrad. He had hardly any neck, and when he played trumpet what little neck he did have disappeared into his body cage. He had a great high range and was utterly dependable. He defined the term ‘lead trumpet,’ and musicians still (in 1989) talk about him. (MZ note, musicians are still, in 2022, talking about Gozzo.) He really drove that band and any other band he was in. He’d yell at the other guys, ‘come on you bastards, blow!’  Because of  the way his neck disappeared when he played, his head seeming to come right out of his shoulders, he looked like a little gopher. So of course, his nickname was ‘Gopher.’ Until he died, he was on all my albums, starting with The Music from Peter Gunn.(1)

The wedding day for Conrad Gozzo and Betty Claire – summer 1941. L-R: Conrad’s uncle Tony Gozzo, unknown, Conrad, Betty, Conrad’s brother Benny, his father Jimmy and mother Millie Katz Gozzo.

Gozzo married Betty Claire, who was a singer in Claude Thornhill’s band, in 1941. They had two children, James and Conrad, Jr. In the late 1940s, Gozzo moved to Los Angeles to begin a career as a free lance studio musician. Through the 1950s and into the 1960s, he was one of the busiest musicians on the scene, making hundreds of recordings, working in the film studios and on television. In 1953 or 1954, Gozzo joined the NBC orchestra in Los Angeles. That employment continued until his death. But in addition to his duties at NBC, he continued working on commercial record dates and on films. This free-lance employment was facilitated by fellow trumpeter Mannie Klein, who with his wife Marian and brother Dave operated a music contracting business. In many cases, if Klein contracted the musicians for a recording date, he would also play trumpet on that date, as would Conrad Gozzo, who would invariably play lead. Conrad’s work load went from heavy to crushing in the late 1950s. And in addition, on every date where he appeared, he was expected to perform at an almost superhuman level. Consequently, his tensions and anxieties increased.

Unfortunately, with Gozzo’s success came some destructive behaviors. As his work load and the expectations of his employers increased, so did his intake of alcohol. In addition, his tendency to gamble spun out of control and he became a compulsive gambler. The large sums of money he made playing his trumpet very often went to paying his gambling debts. His trips to Las Vegas were inevitably disastrous. His final trip there, in October of 1964, set in motion the events that would result in his death. (Above left: Don Fagerquist, Conrad Gozzo and Mannie Klein on a recording date in 1963. In the background is Bobby Gibbons.)

Fellow trumpeter Uan Rasey recalled: “Conrad went to Las Vegas and lost all his money. He had no money to pay his casino bills and transportation back to Los Angeles. He called (pianist) Jimmy Rowles who in turn called trumpeter Louis Mitchell and myself. We all sent money to the casino in Las Vegas. Still, Conrad didn’t have any money to get home. His bandmate from Artie Shaw’s Navy Band, pianist Rocky Collucio, saw Conrad in the Las Vegas airport sitting there in a stupor. He had a crumpled check in his hand. He begged Rocky to put him on a plane to Los Angeles. Arriving in Los Angeles, Conrad went to the Safari Motel on Olive Street, where had been staying. (He was by then separated from Betty.) Trumpeter Don Fagerquist saw his car there and went to Conrad’s room. He found him to be critically ill.”  Fagerquist called Betty, informing her of this dire situation. Conrad was removed by ambulance to St. Joseph’s Hospital, 502 South Buena Vista St., Burbank, on Wednesday October 7, 1964. The next day, he died at 3:35 p.m. The cause of death was cirrhosis of the liver, complicated by diabetes mellitus. Conrad Gozzo was 42 years old.

The music:

The song “You Go to My Head” is a great one which was composed in 1938 by J. Fred Coots (music) and Haven Gillespie (lyric). Although the lyric to this song is evocative and affecting, in this performance the singing is done by Conrad Gozzo with his trumpet. All of the characteristics of his playing are on display here: gorgeous sound, excellence of pitch, and a bravura display of range.

Conrad begins this performance by starting his melody exposition in the first chorus (there is no introduction) in his lower middle register, unaccompanied. He is then picked-up by the saxophone quintet, which provides him with a warmly harmonized cushion of sound to play against. This continues through the first eight bars. A brief burst of brass is a springboard from which Gozzo vaults into the second eight bar melody repeat, with some embellishment, in his brilliant high register. The saxophones take the first half of the eight bar bridge, with Goz’s trumpet augmenting their sound in the second half. The entire ensemble plays the last eight bars of the chorus, with a few choice notes added by Conrad.

The arranger then returns the music to the secondary (bridge) melody, with the quietly-played open brass leading the way, juxtaposed with the soft reeds. A contrast follows, via a change of tempo and forte brass in the high register. The main melody and tempo return after a miniature fanfare, as does Gozzo, now playing passionately in his upper register. In this passage Conrad’s ringing trumpet sound is contrasted with that of nappy lower register trombones and saxophones, an effective touch.

The finale is also well-constructed. The ensemble plays softly, then louder as they move up in register. This is a prelude to the return of Gozzo’s trumpet for the volcanic climax to this performance.

It is my opinion that when this performance was recorded, Gozzo played first trumpet in the band throughout the arrangement, then later dubbed in the solo trumpet parts. I say this because the ensembles are topped by Conrad’s trademark brilliant and powerful trumpet sound.

This recording, which was made in Los Angeles in either 1955 or 1956, was a part of an off-the-beaten path RCA Victor LP called Wonderful One …Luis Arcaraz and His Orchestra with Conrad Gozzo. It is my informed speculation that the orchestra that made this recording was composed of Hollywood free-lance musicians, all of whom worked regularly with Conrad Gozzo.(2)  Luis Arcaraz was a pianist and singer who worked in Mexico City. He also led a big band in the mid-1950s, which played a series of engagements from Los Angeles to Chicago in 1955. That band apparently presented music in a Mexican vein along with American swing-influenced items, like the one presented here. Presumably, this album was a part of a promotional campaign for the Luis Arcaraz big band. For whatever reasons, that band did not penetrate the American pop music marketplace to any great degree. But we have this lovely recording as a memento of Luis Arcaraz’s hopeful enterprise.

Post script: I have found that the most accurate evaluations of any musician’s ability and accomplishments are provided by his/her co-workers, that is by other musicians, particularly those who play the same instrument. In the case of Conrad Gozzo, those evaluations are particularly glowing. John Best, himself a masterful trumpeter who had a successful career covering six decades, met Gozzo in Artie Shaw’s Navy band in 1942. Best was almost ten years older than Conrad, and took him under his wing. In the late 1940s, he helped get Gozzo started in studio work in Los Angeles. “It was always a great pleasure to play in a trumpet section with Goz. His phrasing, feeling, rhythm, intonation and overall attitude at his job made it something to look forward to, especially on recording sessions. I know there are many great trumpet players around today (1989) with a higher range on the horn than he had. But when he played a high G on the end of an arrangement, it was with power and a full tone that I’ve never heard from anyone else. He was the Enrico Caruso, Jack Dempsey and Babe Ruth of the trumpet, and I thank God that I got to play along side him all those years.” (3) (Above right: John Best and Conrad Gozzo on a recording date in the mid-1950s. The trombonist in front is Si Zentner.)

Here is a recollection of Gozzo’s impact on a band, made by trumpeter Al Stewart:

The recording presented with this post was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

Notes and links:

(1) Did They mention the Music? …The Autobiography of Henry Mancini, with Gene Lees, (1989) 39.

(2) I have not been able to find any discographical information for this recording.

(3) The quotes from trumpeters Uan Rasey and John Best, as well as much of the other information included in the text above, come from The Great Goz Story, Part 5, by Harold S. Kaye. Mr. Kaye’s excellent five-part series of articles on Conrad Gozzo’s life and work appeared in the IAJRC Journal in 1992 and 1993.

Here is a link to another great performance by Conrad Gozzo:


Here is a link to a performance by one of English bandleader Ted Heath’s star trumpeters in the 1950s, Bert Ezard. His playing and Gozzo’s had a lot in common.


Here is a link to one of Gozzo’s earliest recordings, Claude Thornhill’s beautiful theme song, “Snowfall.”


And here is another Thornhill performance driven by Conrad Gozzo on lead trumpet, the wild and far-out “Portrait of a Guinea Farm.”


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