Obit: Al Viola, 1919-2007


Al Viola, who died February 21, was an L.A. guitarist known for backing Frank Sinatra and doing a lot of studio work. He was also a masterful jazz player.

I first saw him in the early ‘80s, contributing to some kind of tribute event with Buddy Collette. Jazz guitar can be a major snore, so I didn’t expect much when this mustachioed gentleman sat down and hunched over his ax. Then, all by himself, he made the whole auditorium quiet down and listen.

You could see why he wasn’t that famous -- he radiated no ego, no neediness, no ambition. But man, he loved to play. His smile said that sharing this gift was his favorite thing, and the notes came as easily as the smile. Musicians’ highest praise for a fellow artist’s playing is that it tells a story. Without words, Viola told stories that everyone could understand, about love and home and walking down the street on a nice day. Clean, clear, warm, unhurried. Thanks, good to meet you. Really good, in fact.

Born in New York, Viola moved here and stayed, because it suited him. Lucky us. (Greg Burk)