Johnny Varro -- Bio
|Background Music: "Constantly" (Johnny Burke, James Van Heusen), from Johnny Varro Swing 7: Swingin´ On West 57th St.
, Johnny Varro Swing 7, 2001, Arbors Records, with permission.|
Piano, leader, arranger
Johnny Varro was born in Brooklyn, NY. He began studying piano at the age of ten. During his teenage years he was introduced to jazz by way of the Commodore Music Shop in NYC. There he met the manager Jack Crystal (father of Billy), who was running jam sessions on the Lower East Side. At these sessions Johnny met some of the greatest players of the era, such as Willie "The Lion" Smith, "Big Sid" Catlett, Joe Thomas, "Hot Lips" Page, Joe Sullivan, Pete Brown and others. The experience of sitting in for Joe Sullivan and Willie "The Lion" was invaluable and soon allowed Johnny to become a hired player.
Johnny's first professional job was with Bobby Hackett touring the East Coast with his quartet. In 1954 he worked at Nick's with Phil Napoleon and later with Pee Wee Erwin. In 1957 Eddie Condon asked Johnny to play at his club as intermission pianist. During that gig he met more musicians who began calling him for jobs. The Condon gig extended into Johnny becoming Condon's band pianist. The players in Condon's band at this time included Buck Clayton, "Wild Bill" Davison, "Pee Wee" Russell, Cutty Cutshall, Lou McGarity, George Wettling, Yank Lawson, Peanuts Hucko and others.
For the next several years between the Condon tours, Johnny worked most of the jazz rooms around New York including The Embers, The Roundtable, Condon's Uptown (with Edmund Hall), The Metropole and many others. Musicians such as Henry "Red" Allen, Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins, Bobby Hackett, Charlie Shavers, Jo Jones and Jonah Jones helped further his musical education.
In 1965 he moved to Miami Beach and worked on the Jackie Gleason Show. He also worked with Flip Phillips, Billy Butterfield, Phil Napoleon and toured with the Dukes of Dixieland.
Then came another move in 1979 to Los Angeles, California, where he lived, played and toured for the next 14 years. He played with Eddie Miller, Dick Cathcart, Tommy Newsom, Red Norvo, Abe Lincoln, Bob Havens and Jack Sheldon. He also did a five-year solo stint at Gatsby's Restaurant in Brentwood. It was in Los Angeles where the idea was born to organize a swing group covering the styles of the 30's, 40's and 50's. This group, known as the Swing 7, has played many of the Jazz festivals and parties.
The last move took him in 1993 to Florida where he now resides, in the Tampa Bay area. Johnny is continually touring North America and the entire World playing Jazz Festivals, Jazz Parties and concerts. He has many recordings on a variety of labels. The most recent recordings have been for Arbors Records where he has recorded extensively in solo, trio and band format under his own name. He has also recorded many times as a sideman for Arbors. He can also be heard on several recordings on the Nagel-Heyer label (Hamburg).
Johnny continues to do Jazz festivals and parties around the United States and overseas, including Sweet & Hot in LA, Mat Domber's March of Jazz, Sacramento (Emperor in 2003), Odessa, Elkhart, and others.
Johnny's high visibility on the Jazz scene has made him one of the more popular and sought after Jazz Pianists. As noted by many Jazz critics: "THE BEAT IS ALWAYS THERE."
Johnny Varro listed with Willie "The Lion" Smith, host Jack Crystal, and many others on a penny postcard for a Friday in May 1950 at Central Plaza.
- Jazz Gentry: Aristocrats of the Music World
, Warren Vaché, Sr., Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1999, Chapter 34
- The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz, Leonard Feather and Ira Gitler, second (revised) edition, Oxford University Press, 1999
- Richard Cook's Jazz Encyclopedia, Richard Cook, Penguin, 2005.
- Sacramento Jazz Jubilee Program article, May 2003
- Sweet & Hot Program article, September 2002, by Charles Champlin
- The Mississippi Rag article, September 1994, by Warren Vaché, Sr.