Joe Puma, a jazz guitarist who came
Guitarist Joe Puma Dies At 72
out of the big bands of the 1950s to
become a stylish solo artist, died in
New York Wednesday (May 31) after
a struggle with cancer. He was 72.
Puma's first solo recording was the
1954 Bethlehem Records album, Joe
Puma Quintet, that featured fellow
guitarist Barry Galbraith and
vibraphonist Don Elliot. (Galbraith and
Elliot would again accompany Puma on his 1961 Columbia
album Like Tweet, the title track of which was used in the
1987 film Good Morning Vietnam.) His most recent album was
It's a Blue World, which was released in 1999. Puma
performed on about 50 albums by a wide variety of artists.
Puma played in combos ranging from those of
traditionally-minded artists like Artie Shaw and Les Elgart, to
progressives leaders like Jim Hall and Gary Burton, but he will
also be well remembered for his work accompanying jazz
singers. Puma skillfully backed such vocalists as Peggy Lee,
Billie Holiday, Carmen McRae, Chris Connor, Mark Murphy,
Morgana King, Helen Merrill, Carol Sloane, and others.
Joseph J. Puma was born in the Bronx, N.Y. on Aug. 13,
1927, into a musical family. His father was a luthier as well
as guitarist, and his brothers and sisters played musical
instruments. Inspired by Django Reinhardt, Puma taught
himself to play guitar. He worked in the 1940s as an army
aircraft mechanic and draftsman, but, by the end of the
decade, he had chosen music as a career.
In the 1950s, Puma played with such bands as Sammy Kaye,
Louis Bellson, and Shaw's Gramercy Five (in which Puma
replaced Tal Farlow). Puma also worked with some of the
foremost bop and post-bop artists of the day, including Lee
Konitz, Herbie Mann, Dick Hyman and Joe Roland. In the early
1970s, Puma played in an acclaimed duo with guitarist Chuck
Wayne, and continued through the following decades to play
with such artists as Warren Vache, Al Cohn, and Jimmy
Rainey. Puma also taught briefly at Housatonic College in
Puma, 72, Jazz Guitarist of Versatility and a Jaunty Air
Joe Puma, a jazz guitarist whose quietly reflective style placed him in
demand as both a soloist and ensemble member, died on May 31 at
Calvary Hospital in the Bronx. He was 72 and lived in Yonkers.
The cause was cancer, said his daughter Rosalie.
Playing a guitar he designed and built himself, Mr. Puma earned accolades
across half a century for his versatility, from his light, restrained sound
jaunty persona as a soloist to his exceptional collaborative technique
Following in the footsteps of his father and brothers, Puma taught himself
to play guitar as a teenager, starting a professional career in 1948 after
stints as an airline mechanic and a draftsman during World War II.
His first major job came in 1949, when he performed with the vibraphonist
Joe Roland. Over the next decade he settled into the New York jazz
scene, recording with Louie Bellson, Artie Shaw's Gramercy Five, Eddie
Bert, Herbie Mann, Mat Mathews, Chris Connor and Paul Quinichette, and
later Bobby Hackett, Gary Burton and Carmen McRae.
His subtle interaction and fluid responsiveness, often praised in reviews,
made him a favorite accompanist of singers like Peggy Lee, Morgana
King, Helen Merrill and Tony Bennett.
Mr. Puma formed a duo with the guitarist Chuck Wayne in 1972 and
appeared at the 1973 Newport Jazz Festival in New York. They were
prominent on the downtown club scene for the next five years.
After the duo broke up, Mr. Puma led his own trio, remaining musically
active into the late 1990's. He recorded on his own for the Bethlehem,
Dawn, Jubilee and Columbia labels in the 50's and 60's, and led a later
session for Reservoir in 1984.
Among his recordings are "Like Tweet," with tunes based on bird calls.
Besides his daughter, of Standish, Mich., he is survived by a son, Joseph,
Galveston, Tex.; another daughter, Loris Limiero-Gjelsten of Pelham,
N.Y.; a sister, Jean LaFatta of Queens; eight grandchildren; and two