Frank Anthony Monterose Jr. ("J.R." is simply a corruption of the Junior) is a native of Detroit, where he was born in 1927. He is not, however, a Detroiter by any other token than the accident of birth, for before he was old enough to talk, let alone blow a horn, he was transplanted by his family to Utica, N.Y., which has been home base ever since.
J.R.'s musical studies were centered mainly on the clarinet; he had very little formal saxophone training. The first great influences were Coleman Hawkins and the late Chu Berry; but "the real inspiration that decided me to take up tenor seriously rather than clarinet or alto was, believe it or not, Tex Beneke."
J.R. was still in his early teens when his extra-scholastic musical experiences began to broaden, all the way from the Utica Junior Symphony to a nearby strip joint. Meanwhile he was learning a few things about modern harmony. "Most of my influences in learning chord changes were piano players. I dig pure harmonies; I'm for the Bud Powell school. Sam Mancuso, a guitarist and pianist with a real natural talent helped me find the way."
After working with various territory bands in 1948 and '49, J.R. caught his first taste of the big time, in a somewhat distilled form, when he was invited to tour with an orchestra led by the late Henry "Hot Lips" Busse in 1950. "There was some good young fellows in the band," he recalls, "and once in a while there was an opportunity for a few solo bars." But after a long tour that wound up in California he felt sated with enough shuffle rhythm to last him for the rest of his life.
Back home, he worked locally around Utica and Syracuse through most of 1951 before spending six months with Buddy Rich--"That was when Buddy had a big band, with Davey Schildkraut, Allen Eager, and Philly Joe Jones playing second drums. But you just don't get enough blowing to do in a big band. After six months I was drugged with my own playing, and I went back home and spent the next couple of years working in little joints but with good men."
The next opportunity to display himself came in the Claude Thornhill band. Again, there were distinguished colleagues, among them Gene Quill and Dick Sherman, but again there was the frustration of big band limitations, and after a couple of months he decided he couldn't make it.