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Obituaries : Gene Cherico; Jazz Musician

August 16, 1994|DAVID E. BRADY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Gene Cherico, a jazz bassist who took up the instrument as therapy for a debilitating arm injury and later performed with such greats as Benny Goodman, Stan Getz and Frank Sinatra, has died. He was 62.

A former resident of Encino and Simi Valley, Cherico died Friday of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma at a Santa Monica convalescent home, said his former wife, Mary Lusk of Ventura.

It was while stationed in Germany with the Army in the early 1950s that Cherico suffered the injury that led to his musical career. At the time he was a drummer. But after a train collided with the car he was driving, Cherico took up the double bass to strengthen his severely weakened arm.

After leaving the service in 1955, he attended Boston's Berklee College of Music for three years, where he met pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi. With drummer Jake Hanna, they formed a trio that played numerous gigs between 1956 and 1959.

"He liked the original trio," Hanna recalled Monday. "We had a lot of fun with that band."

As a sideman, Cherico went on to play in groups led by Benny Goodman, George Shearing, Stan Getz, Maynard Ferguson, Red Norvo, Herb Pomeroy and Peter Nero between the late 1950s and early 1970s. Later he played in bands that accompanied such singers as Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Carmen McRae and Nancy Wilson.

In 1967, Cherico moved to Los Angeles, where he recorded with a big band led by Louie Bellson and a band headed by Akiyoshi and her husband Lew Tabackin.

Cherico retired shortly after he was diagnosed with lymphoma 10 years ago, Lusk said.

"He had a great feel and a very good ear," his friend Hanna said. "Probably the best of all the bass players."

Born Eugene Valentino Cherico on April 15, 1932, in Buffalo, N.Y., he took drum lessons as a child and later became a drummer with an Army special services band.

He is survived by his daughter, Amy Cherico of Ventura; a stepdaughter, Ann Cherico of Ventura; and two brothers, Anthony Cherico and Gerald Cherico.

There will be no funeral. Cherico will be cremated and his ashes scattered at sea. Aftercare California Cremation & Burial Society in Van Nuys is handling the arrangements.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to a trust fund for Amy Cherico in care of the Bank of A. Levy, 2499 Harbor Blvd., Ventura, 93001.

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