Johnny Frigo

Johnny Frigo
Background information
Birth name Johnny Frigo
Born (1916-12-27)December 27, 1916
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Died July 4, 2007(2007-07-04) (aged 90)
Genres Jazz
Occupation(s) Musician
Instruments Violin, double bass
Labels Arbors, Chesky
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. He returned to the violin in the 1980s and enjoyed a comeback, recording several albums as a leader.

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 three years beginning at age 7. In high school he started to play double bass in dance orchestras. In 1942 he played with Chico Marx's orchestra and performed a comedy routine on violin with Marx on piano.[1] He entered the United States Coast Guard during World War II and played 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 lyrics to "Detour Ahead",[1] which has been recorded by Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Bill Evans, and Carola. 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 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 the WLS radio program National Barn Dance. He played with the Sage Riders for another fourteen years after WGN revived the show in 1961. In that time he worked with Chicago jazz vocalist Anita O'Day in live and studio recordings done in Chicago. He was featured (on bass) on O'Day's quartet version of "No Soap, No Hope Blues". 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 concentrate on violin. After performing with Monty Alexander, Ray Brown, and Herb Ellis at Chicago's Jazz Showcase, he was invited by Alexander join the trio for several live dates that produced Triple Treat II and Triple Treat III (Concord, 1987). Johnny Carson 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."


Frigo was survived by his wife, the former Brittney Browne and one son, jazz drummer Richard "Rick" Frigo. His other 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.[2]


As leader

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

As sideman

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

  1. 1 2 3 Bernstein, Adam (July 6, 2007). "Johnny Frigo, 90; Jazz Violinist and Bassist". Washington Post.
  2. Sleaze Roxx web site Archived 2006-10-18 at the Wayback Machine.

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