Coming to jazz only after he had already been performing professionally for more than two decades, Merle Koch displays great technique and a stylistic range that would be respected by any jazzman. The mainstream jazz and Dixieland stylings of clarinetist Pete Fountain were where Koch garnered his swinging credentials in the late '50s; the subsequent name of his own Merle Koch's Polite Jazz Quartet suggests more of a flow in the Fountain style. Koch has also turned up the water pressure on recorded tributes to jazz piano greats such as Jelly Roll Morton and Duke Ellington. A Nebraska native, Koch as a teenage musician got into dance bands, providing entertainment for one of the main popular activities out on the prairies. He did quite well in this field, heading out to Hollywood where by the late '30s he was working with his own compact combo. This entire era of his career does not seem to have been documented on recording, a process that began once the pianist threw his musical coins into the Fountain, so to speak. Available sets with Fountain's groups include an early-'80s live show At Piper's Opera House, reissued on CD in the following decade and also featuring tenor saxophonist Eddie Miller, trumpeter John Thomas, trombonist Bob Havens, and Bunky Jones on bass. In addition to a few recordings released under Koch's own name, he also collaborated on projects with Fountain's sidemen including Miller and Jones.
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