SATURDAY, JAN. 16 -- 7:30 p.m. (Doors open at 7:00 p.m.)
JAZZERIE MEMBERS PARTY HONORING BASIL RONZITTI
Erie Women's Club, 259 West 6th St.
Suggested donation $5, If you are not currently a JazzErie member, you can purchase a membership at half-price: $12.50 for Individuals. $20 for Families, $15 for Seniors, $15 for Senior Families, $7.50 for Students.
Party includes free refreshments (wine, beer, soft drinks) and hors d'oeuvres. Parking on the street or adjoining church lot.
Great music, great companionship, great refreshments, a satisfying evening. Music my the James Madden Trio: Madden - piano, Dave Blaetz - bass, Sonny Froman - drums.
As promised, here's Part II of the Basil Ronzitti Story. Ronzitti is the Guest of Honor at this year's party.
BASIL RONZITTI -- PART II
Interview by Jim Madden, popular Erie pianist, teacher, former WQLN jazz D.J., construction wizard.
The story begins when Jim was a freshman at McDowell H.S.,
I was knocked out when I heard John Novello's rock band, and begged Novello to teach me to play like that. Over the next couple of years, I not only soaked up everything Novello taught but had a ball doing it.
But one day Novello broke the bittersweet news that he was moving to Boston to attend the Berklee School of Music. I was stunned at losing my mentor. "But John told me not to worry. He told me to go see Basil Ronzitti, the man who had been teaching him for years. So I went. My first lesson with Basil, I felt right at home. I knew I had done the right thing".
Basil recalled: "Jim learned very quickly. At a recital, he played a modern composition by Ross Finney from Chicago. You had to play the piece in the way in which it was created, that is, the composer gave you some musical figures and you had to incorporate them and improvise. Some people came up to me after the concert and said 'That was really interesting. Where can I get it?' And I explained to them that they could get the music -- but it was partly improvised, they'd have to invent much of it themselves.
"That's partly how I approach teaching. The student has to take a piece of music, find out how they feel about it, what they want to do with it, and make it their own."
I studied both classical and everything else with Basil, though he started with jazz. When I questioned this, Basil reassured me: "Don't worry, you'll use all of this." And he was right.
Basil, how does it feel, teaching all these people? What's it like?
"It's like...you're meeting new people, learning new ways to work with people.
"Some teachers taught at home or music stores. And there was the 'Erie Conservatory." All levels were available. The most ambitious students were embarking to other cities: New York, Boston, the West Coast, Nashville -- for the music industry that had the opportunities."
What were the big changes that happened during and after that time?
"After World War II there were musicians working five nights a week, often playing ethnic music: Italian music, Polish music. With the next generation it changed: instead of Italian-American music, it became American-Italian music, based on popular Americcan songs.
"In the 1960's and '70's Rock became the baseline music, incorporated into everything else. The 1970's brought different styles again.
"But if you're good, if you play good material, you can play in these different styles." (Example: The following clip shows John Novello in a different vein, with the band "Niacin" in concert in Tokyo.)
Recent surveys seem to find that only about 4% of people listen to jazz. Maybe 6% listen to classical, What does that mean? Stupidity?
"Not stupidity. Music needs to be explained to people. A few years ago I became interested in Schoenberg and 12-tone music. I studied it off and on for about 10 years. Some of my wife's friends asked her 'What's wrong with Basil? is he sick? The things he's playing sound awful!'
"I think people aren't used to the tension in the music. I think about what was happening in the world during those years in the first half of the 20th Century, and it wasn't happy. I think 'That's what war sounds like.'"
But only 4% listen to jazz. What does that mean? When we get old, will this music just kind of fade away?
"No! The music is changing. There are changing styles --- and the people will want to hear them. There have been periods when a style dies down. Then the next generation comes along and a new style is back. It cycles with generations.
"There are periods when harmonies are very basic, then periods when they're taken on the outside. But there are three chords in every song in the world."
Is jazz arrogant? Because it goes toward the more complicated?
"You have to start where people will take it in. Balance it." Basil then told a story from TV about a Time Machine, in which Beethoven was taken to a modern electronic music store, and became joyously immersed in trying out all the new keyboards and gadgets.
So it shouldn't be judged.
"It's a style. It will be there, because people will hear it and want to play it.
What people, experiences in jazz have moved you? When did you first hear "Giant Steps"?
"I was in the service. I heard a couple of saxophonists playing what I thought was an exercise of 'long tones.' I asked , 'What is that?' and the guys said 'That's where it's at!!' Once I understood, I gravitated to it--great, great music."
* * * As he was leaving Jim's house after the interview, Basil spontaneously sat down at the piano, paused for a moment, then improvised a three minute Fantasy. Not strictly atonal, but close, intricate, thoughtful -- and utterly present and beautiful. After the last notes, he looked up as if to say: "I'm still here!"
FOR PART i OF THE BASIL RONZITTI STORY, go to www.jazzerie.com>Music & Events>Local music & Events>JazzErie Membeers Party.