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By the time he settled in South Florida, Turk Mauro had lived a fairly epic jazz life. On the cusp of 50 in 1994, the saxophonist had played with the bands of Buddy Rich and Dizzy Gillespie, and worked with Stan Getz, Zoot Sims and Al Cohn, among other marquee names. At the suggestion of Sonny Rollins, he had relocated to Paris, where he thrived for years before moving to the Sunshine State to care for his ailing father. Mauro worked fairly steadily, although his fortunes ebbed due to failing health and personal controversy (more of which later). After decades of scuffling on an increasingly diminished jazz scene, Mauro died in August at age 75.
With his wolfish grin and salt-and-pepper beard, Mauro became a fixture at clubs such as O’Hara’s Pub in Fort Lauderdale, where he played with the area’s top jazz musicians as well as with his longtime friend and fellow saxophonist Richie Cole. Like Cole, Mauro was rooted in the jazz and R&B of his early years, citing tenor man Gene Ammons as a major influence and including himself among the players who “were unaffected by the John Coltrane School of playing.”
Born Mauro Turso in New York City, Turk developed a love for jazz at an early age. His dad, a truck driver, played tenor sax in a swing band. By age 11, Turk habituated the sidewalk outside the Metropole Cafe at Seventh Avenue and 48th Street, too young to enter but positioned just right to see and hear Zutty Singleton, Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge and Charlie Shavers through the nightclub’s glass doors. He eventually got to know the musicians. Trumpeter Henry “Red” Allen took him under his wing, allowed him to sit in and even got him gigs. As a young man, Mauro continued to impress the jazz elite, whose encouragement convinced him that maybe he could make a living playing jazz.
Mauro’s future looked promising. He played a two-week engagement with Dizzy Gillespie, joined Buddy Rich’s band, received strong reviews for his 1977 debut album, The Underdog, and opened the Blue Note jazz club in New York in 1981. But the ’80s proved challenging. His sophomore recording, The Heavyweight, tanked. Jobs for trad jazzers were becoming scarce. In 1987, following Rollins’ advice, he moved to Paris, finding success as an in-demand sideman until recession rocked the French economy. South Florida was his next stop.
Mauro was welcomed into the area’s small but active jazz scene, winning fans and fellow musicians with his brawny sound on tenor and baritone saxes, bawdy blues singing and a willingness to share stories and a joint after a set. But away from the bandstand, Mauro’s life was far from rosy. His father’s health continued to deteriorate, as did his own; his colon burst, laying him up in the hospital. He was gambling and losing big, and his marriage was in free-fall. His frustration spilled over at O’Hara’s one night in late 1999. During a set, he squabbled with vocalist Beverly Barkley, who remonstrated him for lighting a cigarette on stage. Later that evening Mauro punched the singer square in the face. He was arrested, and his career took a hit. Certainly, he was no longer welcome at O’Hara’s.
Time passed, and Mauro worked at other venues. However, he continued to battle health issues, including dental problems and eventually cancer. About six years ago, Mauro retired, holding a farewell performance at The Arts Garage in Delray Beach. At the end, he was living in a friend’s condo. When the friend died in July, his continued residence there was untenable, but Mauro died before it became an issue.
Fellow musicians paid tribute on Facebook, attesting to Mauro’s generosity of spirit and unsparing honesty and the sheer joy of working and hanging with him. Mauro may not have attained the glittering heights of the names on the marquee at the Metropole, but he had made it past the door and onto the stage, where he enjoyed every minute of his hard-won life in the jazz world. - Bob Weinberg