Jazz News & Notices

Romolo Chocolates Music Series: Tony Stefanelli's Gift to the Community
Musician, Entrepreneur & Producer

“I never really liked jazz, but I’ve been here every week and now I’m beginning to get it, to understand how complicated and interesting the music really is...”  - An enthusiastic fan

Pete Levin Plays with Frank Singer & Joe Dorris at Romolo's Concert Series 2011

 Pete Levin with Frank Singer and Joe Dorris in the Romolo Chocolates Piazza, Saturday, Aug. 27.

An Amazing Season

The Romolo Chocolates summer concert season is now over, but what a season!  One of the truly new experiences on the Erie jazz scene this year was the emergence of a full schedule of Saturday evening concerts featuring an eclectic array of genres: “roots rock,” jazz, funk, blues, classical chamber music, “Caribbean sounds,”…and artists ranging from top area musicians to international stars.  All of the 13 concerts were open to the public, and FREE!

Tony StefanelliTony Did It

The brains and hard-driving initiative behind this major accomplishment was Romolo owner-operator Tony Stefanelli.

“We got a tremendous response from our customers, and unexpected help from newspaper articles and other publicity.  Attendance averaged between 150 and 200.  There were about 260 people at our final concert.  And people came to listen; I was amazed by how quiet it got when the band was playing.  We also were lucky on the weather – not one concert was rained out.”

This was the second year for the concert series, much expanded from last year’s trial run with solo artists.  Concerts were held outdoors in the Romolo Piazza, which Stefanelli remodeled and enlarged to recreate the ambience he experienced during a visit to Rome.  He also added an excellent sound system.

The idea for the concert series stemmed from Tony’s experience with customers, as well as his love of music.  “I noticed through the years that people responded positively to special events.  My idea was doing something during our less busy months in summer.  I wanted to continue giving back to customers and the community.  We had already started ‘Billy’s Friends Foundation’ to help children with special needs”  (named for Tony’s step-son) “and wanted to do the same thing here.  As a musician, no matter what else you do, giving back stays important.”

“A lot of people who aren’t familiar with jazz came to the concerts, and enjoyed what they heard.  We had a core audience of both customers and music lovers who came almost every time.  So there’s a kind of educational aspect, too.”

Music isn't Free, But the Concerts Are

How about paying for it all – the remodeling, the artists?  “Our business has been expanding.  It extends to increased production for private businesses as well as what you see in the store.  At the beginning of the year, when we went over our budget, we determined we could do the series, and we would just enjoy it.  We didn’t have to make X number of dollars.  It would be our gift to our customers and the community.  Actually, we’ve done OK, with the good response across the board.  And my family has helped: Jen and Anthony, Roman, my granddaughter and others.”

The quality of performers in the concert series has been remarkable: stars Tony Monaco, Pete Mills, Pete Levin, and local artists Singer, Dorris, Steve Trohoske, “Dollar Bill,” the Lake Erie String Quartet, and others.  Stefanelli  is no stranger to producing exceptional programs.  He has served  actively on the JazzErie Performance Committee for years.  His most recent JE production was this Spring’s  “Singers Night” with New York Voices’ Kim Nazarian and her husband Jay Ashby, plus the Collegiate Academy Vocal Jazz ensemble, backed by Jim Madden, Joe Dorris and Tony.

Tony the Musician

Tony’s own performing career, as an electric and upright bassist, has most recently been identified by his tenure with Cats A Bear.  He has performed with a number of other top Erie bands, including Wave, Angel Fire, and Quintessence, in the ‘70’s.

A key musical experience for Tony was his opportunity to study with bassist/composer/bandleader Dave Holland for two summers, by way of a National Endowment for the Arts grant.  He won the grant “while I was studying  intensively with Basil Ronzitti,” by submitting a portfolio of his own compositions and arrangements.  His time with Holland was spent primarily studying upright bass technique.  “Dave was a great teacher, and quickly saw that I hadn’t really had formal training in the bass, so we focused on that.  He had been staying with drummer Jack DeJohnette, so I got to meet and hear him as well.  The commute (to NYC) was strenuous for me and my wife, but it was worth it.”

Tony plans to keep on giving – through another Romolo Chocolates concert season next year, through his musicianship, and through his participation in the community.  A great deal for all of us!

By Dick Thompson
September 12, 2011