NEWBURYPORT - To the world, he was and continues to be a musical legend, but to his family, he was a man who cherished his summers on Plum Island - cracking lobsters, playing cards and hanging out with his six daughters.
Charlie Mariano, the Boston-born saxophonist who became a world famous performer, died June 16 at Mildred Scheel Hospiz in Cologne, Germany, his longtime home. Mariano, who had battled cancer for years, was 85.
Born Carmine Ugo Mariano in 1923, he was raised in a strong Italian family in Hyde Park. On his 18th birthday, he was given a saxophone by his sister, and soon after, he was playing nightly at Izzy Ort's bar and dance hall in what was then known as Boston's Combat Zone, for $19 a week.
In 1943, Mariano was drafted during World War II and rather than face combat, he played in one of the several small music ensembles that entertained at officers' clubs. It was during the war that he met his first wife, Glenna Mariano, in Kansas. After the war, he returned home to Boston where he entered the Schillinger House of Music with the help of the GI Bill. The school is now Berklee College of Music.
"Every summer growing up, we would come to our house in West Newbury on the river," Cynthia Mariano, 57, remembers of the early years. "Later, we discovered Plum Island and bought a house there in the 1960s. He loved the mixture of living on the beach and traveling around or into Boston. It was a nice balance, a beautiful respite for him to come back to Newburyport."
Charlie Mariano quickly started to develop his own sound and became a fixture on Boston's vibrant jazz scene, collaborating with Nat Pierce, Jaki Byard and fellow students Herb Pomeroy and Quincy Jones. In 1950, Mariano released his first recording as a bandleader, and several years later founded the Jazz Workshop, a hands-on school that emphasized experience over instruction and later evolved into a popular nightclub.
"He was really one of the forerunners of world music," Cynthia Mariano of Merrimac said. "We grew up going to the recording studio with him and meeting people like Dizzy Gillespie."
In 1953, Stan Kenton asked Charlie Mariano to be in his big band. After a couple of years on the road, Mariano settled in southern California, where he joined drummer Shelly Manne's band and worked as a session player.
In 1958, Mariano accepted a teaching position at Berklee. He then moved to Boston with his wife and four daughters. He lasted only two semesters before moving back West, accompanied by his second wife, the young piano phenomenon and one of his students, Toshiko Akiyoshi.
Over the course of six years, the couple traveled and became famous together, according to his family, when they formed the Toshiko Mariano Quartet and recorded with Charles Mingus.
After traveling the world and having one daughter, Mariano divorced Akiyoshi and returned to Boston and teaching in 1965, raising his daughters, then in their teens.
"He raised us as a single dad," Cynthia Mariano said, noting it was important for him to come home to Plum Island and be with them in their teen years. It was then that he moved to Plum Island permanently for five years and brought jazz to the city.
"In the end, he had six daughters with three different women, but we are all sisters, all close. He was able to bring us all together," she said.
To his daughters, he wasn't a famous man but rather a creative father who taught them lessons about life and spirituality as teens.
"He was cutting edge and the leader and founder of so many things in the jazz world, but he was also an amazing man from a strong Italian family," Cynthia Mariano said. "That was his other side."
As a teen, Mariano recalled going to watch her father playing the same shows as the band Cream and the day her father came home with a Jimmy Hendricks record to share with his daughters.
"It was amazing as a teen to always have your dad bringing exciting, youthful stuff to us," she said. "He had such a fun side but also challenged us intellectually."
Mariano recalled walks on the beach in which her father would tell her to be quiet and listen to God and nature.
"He wanted to impart to us a knowledge of how rich silence can be," she said.
For the musician, that silence was when he wrote music and influenced the way music was played and heard worldwide.
In Newburyport, Charles Mariano played at The Grog Restaurant regularly and brought vibrance to the then-vacant downtown, his family said.
"He became committed to the downtown music scene in Newburyport and Boston," Cynthia Mariano said. "He brought jazz to Newburyport and started a band called Osmosis. He made the city flourish."
The jazz-fusion band Osmosis recorded with RCA records and became the opening act for other musical acts of the time.
Mariano had another daughter out of wedlock, and after Cynthia Mariano and her sister graduated from Newburyport High School in the early 1970s, Mariano left for Europe to explore world music inspired by other cultures, as well as pop and rock. He was diagnosed in 1995 with advanced prostate cancer and given a year to live, but with the help of alternative therapies and conventional treatment, he lived another 14, his daughter said.
"He left for Europe and got involved in music not interesting to the American ear," she said, noting he traveled to India each year and brought the sounds of the country to Europe. His work on the nadaswaram, a South Indian woodwind instrument he discovered on an extended trip to Kuala Lumpur, has been well documented and brought him acclaim in Europe. "He soared to popularity in Europe, but his roots here remained strong. One month each summer he would come back to Plum Island, we would rent a house and spend time together."
Three generations of girls - his six daughters, their children and their children's children - would gather on the island to spend time with the man who, to them, was just a dad and grandfather.
"He was colorful and fun," Cynthia Mariano said. "He played games and lots of talking. He was eccentric but exactly what you would want from a father and grandfather."
In 1987, Mariano married third wife, painter Dorothee Zippel, of Cologne, Germany.
In addition to his wife and Cynthia Mariano of Merrimac, Mariano leaves his sister Connie Rosato of Boston; five other daughters, Sherry Mariano of Salisbury, Melanie Lamar of Merrimac, Celeste Perrigo of Berwick, Maine, their brother Paris Mariano of Hilliard, Ohio, Monday Michiru of Long Island, N.Y., and Zana of Toronto, Canada; six grandchildren, Hillary Griffin, Gemma, Gwendolyn, Lila, Albert Carmine Lamar and Nikita Sipiaguine; and two great-granddaughters Emily and Rachel Griffin. He was predeceased by his sister, Colina Pauletti, who bought him his first saxophone, and his parents, Giovanni and Maria (DiGironimo) Mariano, Fallo, Abruzzo, Italy.
Mariano was cremated in Germany. The ashes will be spread on the beaches of Plum Island in August.