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Deuces Wild

The Deuces Wild was considered to be one of the best small jazz combos in Pittsburgh during the 1940s and 1950s. This web page attempts to sort out their confusing history and fluid membership.

Founding and Naming of the Group

Obituaries for tenor saxophonist Jon Walton state that he "formed" or "helped form" Deuces Wild in 1946. Trombonist Tommy Turk stated:

I played with a group in Pittsburgh and fell in love with them immediately. We hit it off real good. There was a tenor player by the name of Jon Walton who was with Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, and we got along immediately when we played together. (Obituary, Jazz Journal International, Nov. 1981)
And according to Vince Leonard's obituary of Turk:
Turk established himself in Pittsburgh with the Deuces Wild, a jazz quintet that played the Carnival and Midway Lounges, downtown, during the '40s. ... Along with Turk and [Reid] Jaynes [piano], the earliest Deuces consisted of drummer Tommy Noll, later replaced by Dick Brosky; bassist Joe Wallace, the former symphony player replaced in the group by Danny Mastri; and John [i.e., Jon] Walton on saxophone. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Aug. 6, 1981)

However, a 1964 Pittsburgh Courier article about a Carl Arter and Jon Walton concert stated, "Mr. Brosky coined the name and played drums for Pittsburgh's most famous jazz group: 'The Deuces Wild.'" (Oct. 24, 1964) So it's unclear whether Brosky was the original drummer or whether he contributed the name before joining the group.

Carnival and Midway Lounges

In the late 1940s era of the group, they gigged almost continuously at the Carnival Lounge in downtown Pittsburgh before moving to the Midway Lounge in 1950.

By the early 1950s, Flo Cassinelli had begun replacing Walton on tenor saxophone in the group. Cassinelli listed the members as himself, Turk on trombone, Jaynes on piano, Mastri (nicknamed "Foxy") on bass and Carl Peticca on drums. He also boasted in a 1993 interview that they were the "best band in town" and that "all the band players that would come a 25 mile area...would make a beeline to downtown to hear this band." (OHMP 92)

Pianist Bobby Negri stated in a 1994 interview that in the early 1950s he joined Deuces Wild at the Midway Lounge and mentioned Turk and Cassinelli and Walton as an original member. (OHMP 138)

Pianist Ray Crummie also described his joining of "Tommy Turk's combo" at the Midway Lounge in "1952 or 1953." He listed the members as Cassinelli, Walton, Turk, Mastri, and sometimes Dick Brosky, and later, Carl Peticca on drums. He said, "I think they still called it the Deuces Wild; that name was in existence since the late 1940s." (OHMP 114) Crummie also referred to Turk as the leader of the group and mentioned that in the last year and a half at the Midway "we had a lot of celebrities" sit in with the group including Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge, and Miles Davis.

Roy "Little Jazz" Eldridge's sitting in with Deuces Wild was described by Roy Kohler:

By the late 1940s the Deuces Wild...had become the best known jazz group in Pittsburgh and saxist [sic] Jon Walton called his old friend, 'Little Jazz,' to come back to town and sit in. He came for one week in 1947 to the Carnival Lounge and stayed for three. His rapport with the Deuces Wild produced some great episodes in Pittsburgh jazz. (Pittsburgh Press, June 4, 1972)

According to both Cassinelli and Crummie, a typical week would involve playing 6 nights Monday through Saturday from about 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. with the addition of Saturday afternoons. Sets were typically 40 minutes with a 20 minute break. Pianist Teenie Trent often played solo in between Deuces Wild sets. (OHMP 92 and 114)

Two Deuces

In the mid-1950s, according to Bobby Negri, Deuces Wild split in two. (OHMP 138) Turk, bassist Harry Bush, and Brosky gigged at the Point View Hotel in Brentwood, a few miles south of Pittsburgh, while Cassinelli and Negri and Mastri played "constantly" in the Hill District, including the Crawford Grill. For example, Deuces Wild featuring Dodo Marmarosa on piano had a stint at the Crawford Grill in 1957. (Pittsburgh Courier, Nov. 16, 1957) This second group had Peticca on drums and then eventually Spider Rondinelli.

To make things even more confusing, Crummie also stated that he played with Cassinelli at this time. (OHMP 114)

Turk's gig in Brentwood was from about 1955 until he moved to Las Vegas in 1959, He returned occasionally, though; an ad in the Pittsburgh Courier for a 1962 Jazz Festival in Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall in the Oakland neighborhood lists one of the acts as "Tommy Turk and the Deuces Wild." (Nov. 18, 1962)

In the late 1950s, the Cassinelli and Negri version of Deuces Wild also spent summers playing at the Cowshed in Conneaut Lake, a resort area about an hour and a half north of Pittsburgh. (OHMP 138)

By the early 1960s, the members of Deuces Wild had gone their separate ways. In June 1972, though, as part of a week-long Pittsburgh Jazz Festival, Deuces Wild played a special luncheon honoring trumpeter Roy Eldridge. The lineup for this incarnation of the group is unknown, but it was supposed to include original tenor saxophonist Jon Walton. Unfortunately, he died a month beforehand and "had been looking forward to playing at Roy Eldridge Day (June 16) during the Pittsburgh Jazz Week and Festival." (Downbeat, Aug. 17, 1972)

Regularly Performing Deuces Wild Members

    Flo Cassinelli - tenor saxophone
    Tommy Turk - trombone
    Reid Jaynes - piano
    Bobby Negri - piano
    Ray Crummie - piano
    Joe Wallace - bass
    Danny Mastri - bass
    Harry Bush - bass
    Tommy Noll - drums
    Dick Brosky - drums
    Carl Peticca - drums
    Spider Rondinelli - drums

Featured Local Guests or Session Musicians

    Tiny Irvin - vocals
    Jeanne Baxter - vocals
    Hershey Cohen - trumpet
    Chuck Cochran - piano
    Beverly Durso - piano, vocals
    Dodo Marmarosa - piano
    Terry McCoy - drums
    Bill Price - drums
    Rodger Ryan - drums

Four 45 RPM singles released in the mid-to-late 1950s by Deuces Wild (led by Cassinelli) are documented in Carlos Peña's Pittsburgh Jazz Records and Beyond, 1950-1985.

Go to Pittsburgh Jazz Musicians page.
Go to Oral History of Music in Pittsburgh (OHMP) page.

Updated January 29, 2013.