HIGGS: More on Charlie Chiarenza and another Falls native

Norma Higgs

“Music is a world within itself, with a language we all understand.”

– Stevie Wonder


Last week we learned all about the Baja Marimba Band and Charlie Chiarenza, another Niagara Falls native who gained success on the West Coast as its guitarist for many years. During its “heyday,” they traveled all over the country playing special performances with the top entertainers of the day. We quoted Charlie - “It’s fun; it’s the happiest band, the greatest bunch of musicians to work with”. “The sound is unique and the band is very colorful to see on stage”. We do anything on stage and get away with it. People accept our act. They get the impression they are part of it.”

But unfortunately, all good things come to an end and all three groups had lost momentum by the end of the 1960s as the genre faded away. During this time, Alpert’s Tijuana Brass had disbanded, but the Baja Marimba Band stayed together for one more album on A&M in 1971 called “As Time Goes By.” They had a brief reunion in 1973 with an album called “The Baja Marimba Band’s Back” on Bell Records. During the 1970s, Julius and his wife, Cissy, collaborated on film scores and musicals. One last reunion took place in the 1980s which lasted a couple of years and produced an album called “Naturally” in 1982. It featured Julius Wechter on marimba and three band alumni, Bernie Fleischer on reeds, guitarist Charlie Chiarenza and trombonist Dave Wells. New to the band were: Carmen Fanzone on horns, Jules Greenberg on 2nd marimba/percussion, Harvey Newmark on bass, and Kim Stallings on guitar. Original drummer Frank DeVito toured with the group during this time, but retired and was replaced for the recording by drummer Ed Roscetti, another Niagara Falls boy. Still later, Julius Wechter formed a new group in the early 1990s called The Baja Marimbas with marimbaist Jules Greenberg, and they released one album, called “New Deal.” After Wechsler’s death from lung cancer in 1999, the Baja Marimba Band disbanded.

Charlie returned to California, bought a ranch in nearby Sylmar and later went on the road with Bert Bacharach who was married to Angie Dickinson. They played at Melody Fair in North Tonawanda and visited with Al while in the area. He later played in downtown Beverly Hills at Café Roma and when his professional career ended he found work as a maître d at a fancy restaurant, Micelli’s, where another Niagara Falls musician, Phil Palermo played for 30 years, according to Al who visited California every year to keep in touch with his old friends. Niagara Falls musicians were a close-knit group. Charles Paul Chiarenza entered into rest March 14, 2013. 

One of these days we are going to visit the Ontario House for a story as I call it the “musical incubator” as it seems to me most of the local musicians played at this location on Ontario Avenue to get a start on their career. In fact, the next musician on our list is Anthony Marillo, brother in law to John Minicucci, a local well-known attorney.

Born to Anthony and Lucy Marillo of 2456 Michigan Ave., Anthony attended Bishop Duffy High School where he played drums in the band. He moved to California around 1956 and played club dates in combos in Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe before joining Mickie Finn’s group around 1963. Fred and Mickie Finn were nightclub owners in San Diego and they assembled a somewhat zany band in which Anthony played the drums. The show featured top name guest stars.

“Anthony Marillo, a Niagara Falls native will appear in the new musical – variety series, “Mickie Finn’s” premiering in color, Thursday on Channel 2 from 9:30 to 10 p.m.” according to a Gazette column by Janet Morgan dated April 16, 1966. The new show replacing the “Mona McCluskey” series is based on the Finns nightclub which is advertised as “San Diego’s Number One Speakeasy.” The program stars these San Diego nightclub owners Fred and Mickey Finn and their band is the big attraction. The play everything from Gay Nineties’ favorites to the latest American sounds.

Jerry D’Amico’s “Music Notes” in the Niagara Gazette on Aug. 3, 1980 asked: “If the drummer on the New Mike Douglas Show looks familiar, he should. That’s Niagara Falls native Tony Marillo. Tony has had a star-studded career, backing such greats as Marlene Dietrich and Ann Margaret. I remember when he made a fateful decision in the early ‘70s not to join the great jazz group, Chase. A few weeks later, Chase was wiped out in a plane crash.” Tony also played in the house band in the Las Vegas Hilton for quite a long time. Stay tuned.

Contact Norma Higgs by email at niahigg@aol.com.