Johnny Frigo

Johnny Frigo
Background information
Birth name Johnny Frigo
Born (1916-12-27)December 27, 1916
Chicago, Illinois
Died July 4, 2007(2007-07-04) (aged 90)
Genres Jazz
Instruments violin, double bass
Labels Arbors Records
Associated acts Jimmy Dorsey
Bucky Pizzarelli
Jessica Molaskey
Harold Fethe

Johnny Frigo (December 27, 1916 – July 4, 2007) was an American jazz violinist and bassist.

He first appeared in the 1940s as a violinist, before working as a bassist. Frigo returned to the violin in the 1980s, and enjoyed a comeback, recording several albums as a leader.

Johnny Frigo died at age 90 of complications from a fall. He had been battling cancer according to some reports of his death.


Frigo was born in Chicago and studied violin for only three years beginning at age 7. In high school he started to play double bass in dance orchestras, and would continue his career as a bassist for several decades. In 1942 he played with Chico Marx's orchestra and did a comedy routine on violin with Marx on piano.[1] He entered the United States Coast Guard during World War II only to find himself playing in a band on Ellis Island with Al Haig and Kai Winding.

After a brief turn at active service near the end of the war he moved to New Jersey. He toured with Jimmy Dorsey's band from 1945 to 1947, later forming the Soft Winds trio with Dorsey's guitarist Herb Ellis and pianist Lou Carter. During this time he wrote the music and words of the standard "Detour Ahead",[1] which has been recorded by Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Bill Evans, and Carola among others. During that time, he also wrote the sardonic swing tune, "I Told Ya I Love Ya Now Get Out" which, was recorded by June Christy and the Stan Kenton Orchestra; Chicago jazz vocalist Erin McDougald recorded the song 50 years later on her BluJazz album The Auburn Collection (2004).

In 1951 Frigo returned to Chicago, primarily working as a studio bassist and arranger. He also led the band at Mr. Kelly's, a popular Rush Street nightspot. Between 1951 and 1960 he played fiddle hoedowns and novelties with the Sage Riders, the house band for WLS's long-running National Barn Dance. He continued playing with the Sage Riders for another fourteen years after WGN revived the show in 1961. In that time he worked with Chicago born jazz vocalist Anita O'Day in both live and studio recordings done in Chicago. He was featured (on bass) on O'Day's quartet version of "No Soap, No Hope Blues". John Frigo is credited as playing fiddle for the track "A Rectangle Picture" on the Mason Proffit album "Wanted" released in 1969 on the Happy Tiger label.

In the mid-1980s Frigo largely abandoned playing bass to refocus on the violin. After sitting in with Monty Alexander, Ray Brown, and Herb Ellis at Chicago's Jazz Showcase, Alexander invited him to join the trio for several upcoming live dates that produced Triple Treat II and Triple Treat III (Concord 1987). Johnny Carson once asked Frigo why it took so long to start his career as a violinist. Frigo replied "I wanna take as long as I could in my life so I wouldn't have time to become a has-been".[1]

He performed as a jazz violinist at festivals worldwide, including the Umbria Jazz Festival and North Sea Jazz Festival. Frigo also was a published poet and artist and played flugelhorn. He wrote and performed the 1969 Chicago Cubs fight song "Hey Hey, Holy Mackerel."[2]


His son, Derek John Frigo, was the lead guitarist for the rock band Enuff Z'nuff. Derek Frigo died of a drug overdose on May 28, 2004.[3]


As leader

Title Release date Notes Label
Jump Presents Johnny Frigo 2009-06-02 JCD 12-33
Frigo's last studio recording
under his name and leadership.
Jump Records
Summer Me! Johnny Frigo Live at Battle Ground 2008-07-24 8021 Log Cabin Records
Johnny Frigo's DNA Exposed! 2002-02-05 19258 Arbors Records
Live at the Floating Jazz Festival 1999-08-24 358 Chiaroscuro Records
Debut of a Legend 1994-01-01 JD119 Chesky Records
Live from Studio A in New York City 1988-11-16 CD: JD001
Chesky Records
I Love John Frigo...He Swings 1957-12-12 LP: MG20285
CD: Verve 145602
Mercury Records

As sideman

Title Release date Artist Label
Love Words 1958 Ken Nordine Dot Records
Solitaire Miles 2006-01-01 Solitaire Miles Seraphic Records
Quiet Village: The Exotic Sounds of Martin Denny 2006-11-21 Martin Denny Rev-Ola Records
Out of Nowhere 2006-01-01 Harold Fethe Southport Records
Keep the Coffee Coming 2006-09-16 Anita O'Day
FiveFour Records
Blue Suede Shoes: Gonna Shake This Shack Tonight 2006-02-28 Pee Wee King Bear Family
Comes Love 2005-06 Elaine Dame Blujazz
Simply...With Spirit 2005-05-10 Hanna Richardson & Phil Flanigan Arbors Records
Barn Dance Favorites 2004-09-08 Pine Valley Cosmonauts Bloodshot Records
Strange Weather 2004-05-04 Jack Donahue P.S. Classics
Multitude of Stars 2004-06-08 Statesmen of Jazz Arbors Records
Hot Club of 52nd Street 2004-05-25 Bucky Pizzarelli & Howard Alden Chesky Records
Singin' Our Mind/Reflectin' 2004-05-25 Chad Mitchell Trio
2 in 1
Collectors' Choice Music
The Slightly Irreverent/Typical American Boys 2003-10-07 Chad Mitchell Trio
2 in 1
Collectors' Choice Music
Legends 2003-07-01 Skitch Henderson & Bucky Pizzarelli Arbors Records
Delicate Hour 2003-01-07 Patty Morabito Lml Music
Pentimento 2002-06-04 Jessica Molaskey P.S. Classics
Triple Scoop 2002-03-26 Monty Alexander Concord Records
Romance Language: French songs for lovers, featuring Johnny Frigo 2002-02-14 Claudia Hommel Maison Clobert
2001-03-27 Buddy Greco Polygram Records
RCA Country Legends 2001-09-25 Skeeter Davis Buddah Records
Hoagy on My Mind 2001-07-17 Phillip Officer Jerome Records
Now and Then 2001-01-01 Claiborne Cary Original Cast Record
Time, Seasons and the Moon 2000-09-19 Linda Tate Southport Records
Little Things We Do Together 2000-01-01 Anne Pringle & Mark Burnell Spectrum Records
Round About 1999-02-09 Audrey Morris Fancy Faire
Royal Street 1997 Raul Reynoso


When My Fiddle's in the Case: The poetry and paintings of Jazz violinist Johnny Frigo, 2004, Lost Coast Press.

External links

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