Talented multi-instrumentalist Ray Biondi bonded especially well with star drummer Gene Krupa, with whom he is featured on a slab of sides that rivals his own collection of instrument cases for hogging space. Krupa and Biondi also wrote songs together, usually with a few other collaborators such as songwriting genius Frank Loesser. "Bolero at the Savoy" is one of the wilder numbers the pair concocted for the drummer's own band, with the help of two other writers throwing in ideas. "Some Like It Hot," an opinion shared by Loesser in a songwriting triumvirate, was covered by vocalists such as Nat King Cole. As a child, Remo Biondi (his real first name just like the company that makes the drum heads) started with violin and down a road that was not supposed to lead to ditties with suggestive titles. His early training was classical, under the supervision of several teachers from the American Conservatory of Chicago.
Mandolin was a natural double at age 12 and a gateway into the world of string bands, which often featured players who might be featured on three, sometimes four or five different stringed instruments. Still focusing mostly on violin, Biondi also added guitar and then trumpet into his musical arsenal and began thinking outside the classical cereal box.
In 1926 he began playing professionally with the Blanche Jaros Orchestra, based out of Cicero, IL, the town where Biondi had attended high school. The next year he started an eight-year period of heavy freelancing in Chicago, enjoying new contacts such as trumpeter Wingy Manone, reedman Bud Freeman, and many others in a city where there seemed to be a club with a band playing in it on every street corner. Earl Burtnett put Biondi in his lineup as a violin and trumpet double, and this band took to the road in a series of tours that included gigs in Kansas City and Cincinnati. New York, an even more distant destination, beckoned with the promise of a gig from clarinetist and saxophonist Joe Marsala. Already hauling the violin and trumpet to these gigs, Biondi also got to play guitar whenever the regular picker, Eddie Condon, had double-booked himself.
This situation continued until 1938, when Krupa put Biondi to work solely on guitar, the exception being an orchestra project the drummer fooled around with in 1944. For this Biondi took out the violin and saved his bandleader the expense of hiring another string player. A year later he left Krupa and went on his own in a series of small groupings. One of his combos had a long residency at
Chicago's 606 Club, then Biondi opened a club himself, a venture that didn't last too long. Krupa took him back on the road in the early '50s, and as the decade unfolded Biondi began to get session guitar and mandolin work in some genres outside of straight jazz. He trilled on mandolin while Pat Boone thrilled teenyboppers and hit rhythm chords with razor accuracy for the Crew Cuts as radio listeners got their heads shaped around a new musical style called doo wop. By 1961, Biondi had begun a serious shift to teaching all of his instruments except the trumpet, but also continued gigging with groups both large and small, including the orchestra of Dick Schory in the former case and stride pianist Art Hodes in the latter. He died in the early '80s. He is of no relation to the police detective of the same name who tracked California's notorious "vampire killer" and later wrote a book about it. ~ Eugene Chadbourne, Rovi