Reviews & Opinions

Al's Take: Jim Madden
Al Lubiejewski Loves Jim Madden's Creativity

James MaddenIt All Began ...

The creative rush drives Jim Madden like a leased Maserati on the German Autobahn.  In fact, Madden's so artistic that he even ties his shoes with a jumble of intricate sailor's knots.  Whatever he tackles, though, from slapping on his shoes to making music to broadcasting jazz to writing sonnets to building houses, he brands each with his ingenuity.

Madden was born in 1956 in Erie and took his first piano lesson when he was eight.  Although, Madden liked the piano, he didn't dig his regimented lessons.  "The teacher wasn't very good because he didn't allow me to be creative.  I wanted to bang out some new chords but that wasn't part of his plan."

But Madden continued plodding through routine lessons until his freshman year at McDowell when he was struck by musical lightning.  One night, while attending a school concert, he chanced upon the inspired revelry of pianist John Novello and his band C.J. Bri--a rock band similar to Emerson, Lake, & Palmer.  Madden was so wowed by Novello's technique--which included a big dose of improvisation--that he begged John to show him the ropes.

Over the next few years, Madden not only soaked up everything Novello taught but had a ball doing it.  But one day Novello broke to Madden the bittersweet news that he was moving to Boston to attend The Berklee School Of Music.  Madden was stunned at losing his mentor.

Finding Basil

"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."

Since that day, Madden's been working hard with Basil.  "Ronzitti's the master in this town," Madden says.  "Going to class with him is like going to Julliard."

From Novello and Ronzitti, however, Madden learned more than just how to play, write, and arrange music--he grasped the worth of sharing his talent with others.  "I'm now doing for others what Basil did for me."  And Madden beams when he tells of his own students competing in music events and of former students returning to sing their successes.

Creative Genius

However, Madden's creativity isn't sapped by music and teaching.  He also does woodworking and remodeled his attic at his former house into a music studio and subsequently completely remodeled his current digs into a space out of Architectural Digest.  He pens prose and poetry which he hopes to have published.  And he works hard on a college textbook that will someday help students learn to play the piano.

In addition, some years back, Madden and his long-time friend, Chuck Suerken, hosted WQLN FM's Friday night "Jazz Club."  Under their direction, the 90 minute show, in addition to sporting some great recorded jazz, showcased some witty bandy between them on topics from Erie City Council's skunk and woodchuck nightmares and Penndot's pothole hotline to Bogart's wry characters in "Mutiny On The Bounty" and "The African Queen."  Their banter was pretty much all improvised--a kind of Ken Nordine "Word Jazz," tongue-deep-in-cheek, relentless comedy routine.  Basically, it was smooth jazz for the tonsils.

But Madden's learned from everything he's done, stored it on his clipboard, and moved on to new challenges.  Some years back, he married vocalist Marilyn Livosky who helped him remodel his life and their beautiful home we've just mentioned.

And he now seems thrilled appearing with his quartet every Friday night at the Papermoon.

It seems everything Madden touches turns into either prose, poetry, rhythm, harmony, laughter, or a pile of sawdust, but usually all of the above.  Fortunately, whatever he touches also frequently turns into a work of art.

Al LubiejewskiAl Lubiejewski is an Erie, PA Attorney, freelance writer, and JazzErie member who hosts "Bop `N The Blues, Fridays at 8 PM, on Erie's WQLN, 91.3 FM.

September 14, 2011