I Remember Joe

This article was published in Just Jazz Guitar.Everyone knows about Joe Pass the great guitarist. I hope these little vignettes reveal the inner beauty of Joe Pass the person. These are wonderful memories of my moments with Joe Pass. My name is Jack Cecchini, and I first met Joe Pass at the London House a famous jazz club in Chicago. It was 1962 and I was playing guitar in the house band with the Jose Bethancourt Trio which consisted of marimba, bass and guitar. It was Joe's first night with Oscar Peterson, and he was very nervous about playing with the group. What happened that first evening was miraculous. Joe laid low for the first set. When he came off the bandstand he said, "I'm gonna get him this set." When the second set came up he was laying for Oscar. What Joe had done was listen very intensely for the whole first set. He had figured out Oscar's harmonic concepts, and every time Oscar came around the corner Joe was waiting for him. All the following nights were very exciting with those two virtuoso players trying to outdo each other.

After the London House years Norman Granz started to promote Joe's career as a solo guitarist. Every time Joe came through town we would spend the days hanging out together and at night I would hang out at Rick's Cafe or Joe Segal's Jazz Showcase where Joe was working.

Joey Zennino and Benny Zennino, who live in Chicago, are first cousins to Joe Pass and were very dear to him. Joey Zennino is a real Damon Runyon character. He is totally insane. Joey has a false left eye and consequently has no vision on the left side of his face. Every time he would drive us in his car it was cause for reevaluating one's status with one's maker. I always felt that he should be employed by the church because if you rode in Joey Zennino's car there was no way you could be an atheist. Joey is always speeding, and one of his favorite tricks is to pull his false eye out when the police stop him for speeding. He tells them that he is speeding because he poked his eye out and is rushing to the hospital. Many times he gets a police escort to the hospital. He goes in the front door, comes out the back door and goes on his merry way.

Joe loved pasta, especially pasta con àglio e olio. So Joey, Benny, Joe and myself would hang out during the day going to different Italian restaurants in town and just pass the days having a barrel of laughs like a bunch of little kids.

One afternoon, after lunch, Benny, Joey, and I decided to take Joe to the Russian steam baths. We talked Joe into sitting in the top tier where the heat is the most intense. Joe kept complaining about how hot it was, and we kept telling him that it was good for his health. Joe came out of the bath looking like a well done lobster. By the time he got to the gig that night he was completely drained of strength from the heat of the baths and had a hell of a time struggling to stay awake while he was trying to play. All he wanted to do was fall asleep. When he came off the bandstand Benny, Joey, and I were laughing like crazy while Joe cursed us for taking him to the baths and talking him into getting steamed well done.

Another time, when Joe finished his engagement at Rick's Cafe, I told the manager that I was going to present Joe with an award after the last set. When the last tune of the set was over, I went up on stage and announced that this award was being presented to him on behalf of all the Italian guitar players in the country, then I gave him the biggest eggplant that I had been able to find in all of Chicago. His eyeballs grew twice their normal size when he saw that his award was a huge eggplant.

Joe had a ritual that he went through every time he checked into a hotel. First he would argue and then bargain with the registration clerk for the lowest rate. Then he would look at several rooms and finally decide on one. The same day he would change his mind and want a different room. This comedy of errors would go on for several days until he finally settled for a particular room. Joe was a real neatness nut. Everything in his room had to be in its proper place. I would drive him crazy by moving stuff around and he would run around putting it back in its proper place.

The only time Joe and I had a cross word was when he said he needed to take his suit to a dry cleaners. I told him that I could drop his suit off on my way home and that I would bring it back the next day. He got really strange and said, "How do I know that you won't keep it?" I blew up and told him to kiss my butt. I told him that I valued his friendship and I wanted to be his friend, but that I was not a Joe Pass groupie and that if he acted like an idiot he could go to hell. The choice was his to make. I also pointed out to him that since I am three times his size his suit would be of no value to me. I also mentioned that I never questioned him or tried to pick his brain about how to play this and how to play that. I told him I'd rather find the answers on my own.

Joe apologized and said that the reason he acted that way was because it was a habit he picked up in jail; he had learned not to trust anyone. That incident brought Joe and me much closer because he realized that I valued him as a person as well as an artist. He also made a point of always asking me to bring and leave my guitar in his hotel room so we could play together.

Besides playing jazz guitar, I also play the classic guitar, and Joe would always ask me to play for him. He loved the classic guitar. He would say that what I was playing was real art and what he was doing was a lot of BS and not an art. We would argue about that, and I pointed out that people all over the world admired his talent and that he had given millions of people great joy.

It wasn't until the last year of Joe's life that he mentioned to me that he had always taken his talent for granted and he now realized that he had been given a special gift. He began to truly understand and appreciate what a wonderful gift it was and how many people he gave joy to. That statement made me very happy because he finally realized that he had been blessed and he felt that the good Lord had bestowed a unique talent on him. In the thirty- five years that I had known Joe he never flaunted his talent or ability. It was the only time that I ever heard him mention that he had a special talent.

I set up several clinics for Joe during which he talked about major and minor scales. I finally told him that the people attending knew about major and minor scales; what they wanted to learn was how to apply his harmonic concepts and how to create a chord solo. He took Satin Doll and went on to show how he would substitute chords a half step above or below the target chord. By the time he got through, everyone was thoroughly confused, because he played "Satin Doll" fifty different ways and harmonized it differently each time.

There was someone in one of the clinics that had no idea in the world what the clinics were supposed to accomplish, and he kept interrupting the class and asking questions that had nothing to do with music. The final straw was when he asked Joe if he also sang. I got bummed out and replied that not only could he sing but that he was a hell of a tap dancer. I refunded his money and told him to hit the bricks.

I'm allergic to tobacco smoke and Joe loved his cigars. Most students that came to Joe for a lesson would pay him with a box of cigars. His room stunk of cigar something awful. He would open a window and smoke near it so the smoke would not affect me. Of course it did, and I would get as sick as a dog. Several times the room was so full of cigar smoke that the smoke alarm went off and the fire department was called. Poetic justice was done when he worked the Jazz Showcase because Joe Segal does not allow smoking in the club, and when Joe Pass would try to smoke his smelly cigars in the club Joe Segal would tell him to go out into the hotel lobby to smoke.

In all the years I knew Joe I saw him fall off the wagon only once. He was very high, and he was acting very crazy. I went up to his room with a friend and found the stuff in his dresser drawer. I took it and flushed it down the toilet, and all the while he was cursing me. I also found out who sold it to him. It turned out to be a young relative, who was an addict, and when I told his father he gave him a good trashing. Joe was devastated about his divorce. He had been married about 22 or 23 years to Allison Pass. I know that Joe was going through some real bad times with his domestic life, and I guess he couldn't handle the pain.

After Joe's death Ellen Pass came from Germany and visited for two weeks. I was in Frankfurt, Germany performing and came back to visit with her. She is a charming woman, and Joe was very much in love with her. He met his German wife Ellen when he was doing a radio interview in Germany. Joe was very much in love with her and he would call her every night after his gig. His phone bills had to be enormous. If Joe had a couple of days off he would jump on a plane and go to Germany to be with her. Joe had planned to buy a home in San Diego after Ellen received her pension. Joe loved Chicago and wanted Ellen to visit Chicago with him.

When Joe was in town he and I hung out all day and I would be at the club every night. I got very ill one night and didn't go to the club. He called me and was very angry that I wasn't at the club. That was Joe's way of showing me that he cared and wanted me there.

I tried to interest Joe in the seven string guitar and forced him to sit and play mine for a half hour just to see how he felt about it.

I believe that the seven string guitar is the ideal instrument for solo guitar because of the voicing possibilities and the fact that low bass notes are possible in the higher register of the instrument. I felt sure that he would take to it but several months later when I asked him if he had gotten a seven string guitar he said that it was too much trouble to learn how to play it. Joe would have been the ideal person to play seven string guitar because of his great talent plus the fact that he played finger style.

I had a wonderful idea for Joe, and he started following through on it. I suggested that he get some top arrangers and composers to write something for him and symphony orchestra. Then he could get bookings with some of the world famous orchestras and make a lot more money. I also arranged for Peter Madlem to write some duets for Joe and John Williams, the famous British classic guitarist. Joe met with John and they were in the planning stages of doing an album together.

One night at a gig Joe was really cooking, and I realized what he was doing. He was playing on top of the beat so much that he was almost but not quite rushing. That was how he created tension and excitement when he played. When I mentioned it to him, he said that it was very observant of me to figure that out, and that it was a very difficult thing to achieve, that it had taken him a very long time to master that particular technique.

Joe wanted to live so very much and fought his illness like a lion. He had found his faith and went to church every day. He really believed that he had lived as long as he did because of his faith. He also felt very bad about his illness because he felt it was so unfair to his new wife Ellen.

The last time I saw him was at the NAMM show in Anaheim. He asked me to feel his side. He had a lump the size of a baseball, and it had grown overnight. Joe had a tumor. The doctors tried a new technique of injecting it with alcohol to kill it. When they pulled the needle out the cancer cells spread to his side.

Four days before Joe's death I called him at his LA apartment. His wife Ellen answered and gave him the phone. He sounded terrible and could barely talk. He said, " Jack, I've been thinking about you but I've just received a treatment and I feel really sick. I'll call you back tomorrow." Four days later Tommy Gumina from Polytone Corp. called me and told me Joe had passed away that morning.

I was a pallbearer at Joe's funeral. After we put the casket in the car I looked at it and thought how ironic that even in death he had to catch another airplane to get to his final resting place in New Jersey. I was shocked and very angry to see that very few guitar players attended Joe's wake and funeral. It astounds me how they picked his brain while he was alive but didn't have the decency to pay their last respects to a musical giant that contributed so much to guitarists. One of the pallbearers, a young Japanese man, had come all the way from Japan but it was too inconvenient for the L A guitar players to attend his funeral.

A strange event happened the night before Joe's funeral. I had to take three planes to get to L.A. My plane didn't get in till three AM Phil Upchurch was kind enough to wait at the airport for my plane. I slept at Phil's home. At five AM I was awakened and terrified because my bed and Phil's house started to shake. There was Phil in the doorway laughing at me like crazy. It was an earthquake tremor, but I find it very strange and in some way prophetic that it happened on one of the most sorrowful days of my life.

As guitar players we all owe Joe Pass an un-repayable debt. He showed us that the guitar's harmonic and contrapuntal possibilities are unlimited. More importantly, he gave us all inspiration to reach beyond our limitations because he showed us that it was possible to use the guitar in a unique way. This gentle giant has left his mark and will be an inspiration for thousands of future players. He opened the door and has shown us that there is another way to play this wonderful instrument.

Joe was a very gentle and kind human being. Without my knowledge he offered my wife, Eve, ten thousand dollars for me to go to a health spa to regain my health. He was worried about me. The last time he left Chicago we embraced and he whispered in my ear " Jack, I love you like a brother." We both had tears in our eyes, and we both understood and knew what we didn't want to believe.

There was a sweetness, a childlike innocence and playfulness about Joe Pass the person. His brashness and loud bravura were a cover up. Down deep he was really a very gentle and extremely shy person. I still see Joe with his silly grin and his cigar . I think about him every day, and I still weep for my dear friend. I know where Joe is, and I'm sure that all the musicians and harp players up there are asking him, "How did you do that and what was that beautiful chord you just played?"


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Johnny Smith

Johnny Smith is the Segovia of the electric guitar. Johnny Smith has always been a great inspiration to me, and thousands of other guitarists. I remember the first time I heard a recording of his playing. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. No one has been able to duplicate his style of playing. His stretching ability allows him to play close position chords that other players can't reach. His impeccable technique, beautiful tone, touch, legato and articulation set him apart from other players. He is the only guitarist that can move from chord to chord and not get a break in sound between chords. In addition to his phenomenal picking technique he can execute double stops as fast as most players play single notes. His playing is very clean and his articulation impeccable. He plays solo guitar with a pick and still takes advantage of the contrapuntal resources of the instrument. He is also a fine classic guitarist and arranger.

I remember an incident when John and I were in my studio and we had consumed quite a bit of vodka. I suggested that the Girl With The Flaxen Hair by Debussy would be a beautiful piece that lends itself to being played with a pick. I played it for him in the key of G. John then pointed out that certain parts had to be transposed to a different octave in that particular key. He then proceeded to play the composition in different keys, pointing out all the pluses and minus's of each key, with all the chords and voicing in their proper place. He did this effortlessly. John's immense knowledge and talent are mind - boggling. I had heard his recording of "Golden Earrings" and asked him to play it for me. To watch him picking the arpeggiation in his arrangement of that tune was amazing. His execution of the arpeggi sounded like a classic guitarist playing finger-style except he was doing it with a pick. A book he wrote many years ago called "Aids to Technique" {Charles Colin, Publisher} was a real eye opener for me. His fingering of three octave arpeggi and scales are studies that I practice all the time. They impart a tactile sense of security and knowledge of the total range of the guitar. When John mentioned he was writing a guitar method {Mel Bay, Publisher} he mentioned that he was writing the notation where the actual pitch of the guitar sounded. This meant that the guitarist would have to read bass clef. Most guitarists can't read treble clef let alone bass clef. I told John that it would scare teachers off and affect sales. He is absolutely right from a theoretic point of view but he was fighting centuries of guitar music being written in treble clef. John published it with both clefs because he felt it was the correct thing to do. I know that it scared most guitar teachers and consequently affected sales. I believe if guitarists became familiar and adept with both clefs they would be much better musicians. John is a gentleman from the old school. I consider it a great honor and privilege to call Johnny Smith my friend.

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Sam Koontz

I first met Sam Koontz at a music convention in Chicago. I entered a display and someone was playing a Koontz guitar. I asked if I could try it and he answered no. At that moment a man entered the room with a nametag on his lapel that read Sam Koontz. I asked him if he had built the guitar and he said yes. I asked him if I could try it and he said sure. He took the guitar away from the player and gave it to me. I played it and asked if it was for sale. He answered yes. I asked the price and he said $700.00 dollars. I took out my checkbook and paid him. That was the first of many Koontz guitars I bought. Years later Sam said the reason he liked me was that I was the only person that never tried to get him to lower his price. Sam and I just seemed to be on the wave length and we got to be very good friends.

Whenever he built a guitar he would call me and play it on the phone. He would go into long detailed explanations about the structural changes he had made and how it affected specific aspects of the instrument. Sam was an innovator and his guitars kept getting better each year. I sold many of his instruments to my students.

Bill Shultz who was working for Yamaha (he later became the CEO of Fender) asked me to go touble shoot and suggest improvements for Yamaha guitars. Yamaha was having problems with their neck joints. I suggested that Sam understood production methods from working at the Harptone factory and would be the ideal person to help with production guitar problems.
Sam was a simple man but the moment he entered the factory he became a genius. The engineers at Yamaha were in awe of him and his knowledge. I learned a great deal about guitars from Sam and at the Yamaha factory.

Two very interesting experiences were the climate control chamber and the sound proof chamber. We would put a guitar into a humidity-controlled chamber with movement sensors all over the instrument. The sensors would reveal which parts would move first as a result of the humidity or lack of humidity and then build the instrument to compensate for the movement in that particular area. This information prevented the guitars from cracking in the specific climates of each country the guitar was shipped to.

The sound proof chamber was a room that was elevated off the ground. The moment one entered it the strangest hearing sensation occurred. The room was totally devoid of any reverberation at all. It was a very strange and totally new hearing sensation.
We could test the true sustain of guitars in this chamber because it was totally insulated against any kind or reverberation. We would pluck a string and time it with a stop watch and in this way we would get real information about which bracing system and which change we made improved the instruments sustaining power.

Another important technique was to put the guitar tops in a drying room so they would shrink and glue the braces on while the top was shrunken. This technique prevented many instruments from cracking.

Sam always built his guitars so they resonated at the pitch of A flat. Sam explained to the engineers that the cubic air content of the instrument determined its resonance. The engineers disagreed and Sam took a bucket of water and poured it into a guitar. This of course reduced the air content and changed its resonance note. The engineers had egg on their face.

Forty-five years ago the toilets in Japan were level with the ground. One had to squat to go to the bathroom. I had one of the workers build a box with a hole on the top of the box and placed it on top of the Japanese toilet. I then printed USA Patent applied for in red ink on the box. The factory workers loved it and used that temporary toilet while I was there. The worker that had cut out the parts for the toilet thought he was making a jig for the guitars.

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George Shearing

I met George Shearing when he played The London House in Chicago. He had his quintet with him that consisted of piano, vibes, drums, bass and guitar. As a boy I had listened to my cousin Renzo’s collection of Jazz recordings that included many Shearing Quintet recordings. I was absolutely fascinated by the Quintet’s sound and especially Chuck Wayne’s guitar solos. I still remember the song called "In a Chinese Garden" that had very difficult guitar arpeggiation. My dream was that someday I would play in Shearing’s quintet. Unfortunately that never happened. I made friends with Ron Anthony who was the guitarist with George’s Quintet. Ron is a very fine guitarist. We hung out and played a lot together. Ron is a very funny guy. He has an international reputation amongst musicians about his primary occupation which is chasing girls. Every time his name comes up we all break up laughing. That being said he is a fine musician. When I first me Ron he was crying the blues over the fact that after a gig he had forgotten to put his D’angelico guitar in his car and drove off leaving it on the street. Every night Ron would mourn and complain about the loss of his D’angelico. Several years later when he again was playing The London House with George he got a call from the New York Pawn Shop Police. They had found his guitar. He was the happiest man in the world. That Ron got his D’angelico back is a miracle.

I played a Joke on George. I knew that George could read Brail so I punched a bunch of holes in a matchbook cover, handed to George and said, "I have a message for you from Buddy Charles." He broke up with laughter. Because George was buried in his quintet many people don’t know that George is a great solo pianist and an incredible accompanist. He finds the tastiest most beautiful chords when he plays solo or accompanies. My friend Russell Fitzpatrick owned a restaurant/club called The Embers on Walton Street. George had a Seeing Eye dog and the people at the door would not let him in because of the dog. The papers gave The Embers a lot of bad press. The next day The Embers marquee read, Welcome George Shearing and dog.

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Manuel Lopez Ramos

I attended Manuel Lopez Ramos classes in San Miguel De Allende Mexico, Cuernavacca Mexico, and Spring Hill College in Mobile Alabama. I first met Manuel Lopez Ramos in 1967. He was a very dedicated guitarist and teacher. I found him to be very kind and extremely generous with his time. He emphasized the importance of notating all notes with correct right hand fingering.

I felt his main weakness was his over use of the rest stroke. I felt that his over use of the rest stroke caused his playing to sound percussive and affected the fluidity and legato in his playing. His phrasing was very expressive but lacked the nuance of touch and color because he never used his nails to their full potential. He would file his nails and not buff them and this affected his sound. I discussed this with him in detail.

I wanted to help Ramos with his career. I went to Harry Zelzer the impresario that booked all the great artists in Orchestra Hall. {He was the founder of Chicago's Allied Arts Corp.} I had to do some very persuasive talking to get him to present Manual Lopez Ramos. He had never heard of him and felt that he would not draw an audience. I finally convinced him to package him with the Segovia subscription series with four or five other guitarists.

Orchestra Hall is the Carnegie Hall of Chicago. It is a major concert venue where the Chicago Symphony, Segovia and all great artists perform. When Ramos performed he was very nervous and his concert suffered as a result of his nerves.

Manuel Lopez Ramos was an apostle for the guitar, a very inspirational teacher and very warm human being. He truly cared about helping students and promoting the guitar. Manuel's Lopez Ramos legacy is the many fine guitarists he produced. I have a lot of respect for Manuel's playing because he wore his heart on his sleeve when he played. The guitar has lost a devoted messenger. I am sure that all his students miss him very much.

Playing in Red-light District:

When I was in Mexico attending Manuel Lopez Ramos class I could not find a jazz club. After asking a few persons I was told that the only place that had jazz was in the red light district. So I went to the red light district and made friends with the musicians. When I would be late for class Manuel would ask, "Where's Cecchini?" The students would say "he's sleeping, he was playing jazz at the whore house all night."

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Julian Bream

I attended Julian Bream's class in Eugene Oregon. Julian has a phenomenal technique and is a brilliant musician but I feel his playing is cold. There is no doubt about Bream being one of the worlds great guitarists.

In class he was very anti - American. He was constantly bad mouthing America and Americans. He had a serious alcohol problem and was drinking a quart of vodka or gin per day. His comment to me about my playing was "Cecchini, you are too Italian." My answer to him was "Julian you are too English." To this day I still think that's true of his playing.

When he was going to perform in Chicago I picked him up at O'Hare airport and took him to his hotel. He was performing at the Eighth Street Theatre. After the concert he wanted to have dinner and said "I'll pay for the wine if you pay for the meal." As far as I was concerned I would have paid for the meal and wine. I found the comment tacky but I knew that he was very money conscious. I drove him back to his hotel and he could not keep his hands off my girl friend. He has left a very bad impression on me and I never went to hear him again. In his biography "A life on the Road" he mentions that he invited a Japanese guitarist that attended his concert in Japan to look him up in England. When Julian saw him coming up the walk to his home in England he hid and would not answer the door. That's Julian Bream.

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George Allen My Teacher

The Music store Lyon and Healy had a beautiful collection of Gibson guitars. I would go and admire them because I could not afford one at the time. I remember a Gibson L5 in their show window. I actually would have dreams about that guitar. There was a salesman named Bob Dayton who also played guitar and he told me to come on Saturdays because all the players would jam on Saturdays. I asked about a teacher and he mentioned that George Allen was teaching in the building. I went to his studio and arranged to take guitar lessons from George. He gave me some basic scale and chord fingerings to learn. He also taught me to read music in the higher positions. He insisted I learn two songs per week. He emphasized the importance of memorizing tunes.

George was not very knowledgeable about theory, harmony or voicing. He was not an accomplished guitarist in the artistic sense but he was a very successful commercial player. He helped me in many ways by making me aware of what marketable skills were necessary on a job and what to watch out for. George was a very kind man. He opened many doors for me by recommending me for various jobs. He did not have to do that because he was creating competition against himself. Because of his kind recommendations I began to acquire a good reputation in town.

An example of George's honesty and integrity was the fact that he told me there was nothing more he could teach me. George was responsible for teaching Bobby Roberts, Ronnie Steele, Pat Ferreri and myself. We were the most in demand players in Chicago because he gave us marketable skills. He would show his student's examples of scores from different shows or sessions he played and the type of difficulties we could expect in the marketplace. He would warn his students which leaders to look out for. Which ones were late pay, no pay or didn't pay over time. As we all know it’s not only what you know, but also who you know.

George gave me entrée to musical circles that would have been closed and very difficult to penetrate. It was his recommendations that opened doors to people that were very active in the Chicago musical scene and especially to the lucrative recording studios.

George not only helped me with musical advice, but also made me aware of a specific code of conduct and ethics that a musician should conduct his musical life by. It is interesting to note that a man who was not an exceptional player was able to pass on the important skills necessary to earn a living. I am indebted to George Allen in many ways and I will never forget him.

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Gavin Williamson

Gavin was a pianist, organist and famous harpsichordist. He had studied in Paris with the famous harpsichordist Wanda Landowska. The equally famous harpsichordist Rosalyn Tureck who was called "the high priestess of Bach" was a student of Gavin's. Turek once told Wanda Landowska "You play Bach your way and I'll play it his way. Gavin lived in an old grey stone on Hyde Park Blvd. I went to Gavin to study old music. I really enjoyed my lessons with Gavin. He was a gentleman from the old school. He liked vodka and orange juice. I would bring a fifth of vodka and we would talk for hours about his Paris days, and the artistic environment that existed in Paris at that time. He owned two original Pleyel harpsichords that were built especially for him and his partner when they were concertizing all over the world. The sound of those instruments was incredible. When he played a chord its sonority was a feast for the ears. On the first floor in addition to the two Pleyels he had two Steinway concert pianos. His home had three floors and each floor had many different types of ancient keyboards and clavichords.

Many Chicago Symphony players would coach with him. I often saw the famous Chicago Symphony oboist Ray Still coach with him and many opera singers also coached with him. I studied Vivald's concerto for guitar and orchestra with him and performed it with the Grant Park Orchestra. I got rave reviews and he was so proud of me. He gave me this piece of advice. He said one should hire some one to take care of the everyday chores of life, like paying bills shopping cooking etc. He said even if you have to give up all your money do it because it frees you to practice your art. I am so very fortunate that my dear wife Eva, in her everyday kindness and love, takes care of those tasks so I can pursue my art. I owe so much to her unselfish kindness. I truly miss Gavin's old world charm and wonderful conversations. The art world has many wonderful and exciting people that enrich our everyday lives and Gavin was one of them.

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Jimmy Raney

Jimmy Raney is the intellectual of the guitar. His ability to think horizontally on the instrument permits him to articulate like a horn or saxophone. He plays gorgeous counter lines and to me is the poet of the guitar. I never tire of listening to him. It wasn't until much later in life that I realized how great he was. I was too musically illiterate to appreciate the profundity of his musical lines. There are recordings of him playing with Stan Getz when Getz was twenty years old and Raney was twenty-two years old. He sounded like a mature player with fifty years of experience at that young age.

Jimmy Raney is a true Be Bop player. He is my favorite player because of the strength of his improvised lines. Just before his death he sent me a CD of his playing called The Master. It is available on the Criss Cross label. It is a great CD and it belongs in every jazz lover's library. The last time I heard him perform was at The Jazz Showcase in Chicago.

Jimmy suffered from a hearing impairment. He would lose his hearing and it would suddenly come back. While performing one evening with Barry Harris and a rhythm section he had the distortion switch turned on and he could not hear the distortion. I went up to the stage and turned it off while he was playing. The amazing thing is that he knew the music so well he didn't have to hear the chords. He could feel the pulse of the bass and drums. His playing was great even though his hearing was gone. My greatest regret is that I didn't have the opportunity to study with him.

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Karl Herreshoff (1941- 2006)

I met Karl Herreshoff at Michael Gurians workshop in Greenwich Village New York. Karl was a fine guitarist, Baroque lutenist and composer. Michael introduced us and we became friends and hung out together. Karl was a free spirit and lived very simply. He slept on a mattress on the floor and his total possessions consisted of a stack of music, his guitar and lute. He said he could pack his belongings in a few minutes and be free to leave and travel anywhere in the world. He asked me if I could do the same. I answered that I could not do that. His answer was that I was a slave to my possessions. I have often pondered that conversation and there is a lot of truth to Karl's statement. I also realized that I could not live the way he lived.

I had a Ramirez that he liked very much so I traded him the Ramirez guitar for a Gurian Baroque Lute, which unfortunately I have never learned to play. Karl Herreshoff moved to New Zealand and gave house concerts. I understand that he then moved to Hawaii and died in Hawaii.

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Richard L. Schneider (Luthier)

Born on March 5th, 1936 in Michigan Died January 31, 1997. Richard Schneider was a luthier from Detroit. He eventually settled in Kalamazoo Michigan. Every time he finished a guitar he would come to Chicago and ask my opinion of his guitar. He had apprenticed with Juan Pimental in Mexico and at first he built a traditional guitar. In 1967 he collaborated with Dr. Michael Kasha - a mathematician, physicist, and acoustical engineer of Florida State University. The Kasha guitar is a totally different guitar construction. Over the next thirty years they worked together to develop innovative acoustical designs for the classical guitar. During the last few years Richard finally began receiving the respect he rightly deserved. He dedicated all his time to making the best classical guitars from that time on. He also provided instruction and apprenticeship programs to further the art of building fine acoustic instruments.Richard Schneider and Bob Fischer a friend of his stopped and had lunch at my home before going to Detroit to get his teeth fixed by a friend. On the way back they got into a serious car accident that caused serious injuries to Richard and his friend. The injuries ended Richards's life. Richard was a lifelong manic-depressive and struggled all his life with this serious problem. By pushing the envelope of design Richard Schneider has become mentor to an entire generation of instrument makers. About 30 years ago an interesting experiment took place at my Eva's apartment. My friend Joe Fava, Richard and myself were present. Richard said that we could not tell the difference between a fine instrument and an inferior one by listening to it. We had three guitars and we referred to them by numbers. Richard played Number 1, then Number 2 and then number 3. Joe and I were not able to identify which instrument he was playing. When I played the instruments Richard identified each instrument correctly. When Richard played I could not divorce my mind at how badly he phrased and played. When I played Richard's mind was not preoccupied with the interpretation of the music. He was listening for overtones, sustain and other qualities. Joe and I could not divorce our minds from the horrible playing and interpretation of Richard's playing. Upon playing the instruments Joe and I were able to immediately tell the superior instrument from the inferior instruments by the response to touch and many other qualities a musician looks for in a guitar.

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David Rubio (Luthier)

I met the luthier David Rubio whose real name was David Spink at his New York workshop. He later moved to London and lived on Julian Bream's estate for a while. I sent him a $2,000.00 deposit as a down payment for a guitar. Several years went by and I had not heard from him. I wrote several letters and he never responded. Charlie Byrd mentioned that he had the same problem and that he had hired a lawyer to get his money back. I got in touch with the London Chamber of Commerce and explained the problem I had with Rubio. I got a very nasty letter from Rubio with my money. He was angry that I had gone to the London Chamber of Commerce. He sounded like he was the injured party. As far as I was concerned his behavior was very unethical and I'm sure that Charley Byrd and I were not his only victims.

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Carl Albanus Johnson (Born? Died 1973)

Carl Albanus Johnson was a Swedish violin maker. Violins were not selling so he decided to make guitars. It is my understanding that he had learned about guitar construction from working in the Elmer Stromberg factory in Boston. Johnson built his reputation among Chicago's professional guitarists with his fine guitars. In addition to myself, Fred Rundquist, Pat Ferrari, Ron Steele and others played Albanus guitars. It is believed that he built about one hundred guitars in his lifetime. Albanus guitars are very rare. I own several and he also built me a mandolin that I have used on many TV and radio commercials. His instruments have a very clear and beautiful sound. His guitars are magnificent instruments and are equal to any of the famous luthier's guitars.

Carl played the violin and when I visited him I would play Bach's solo violin works for him on his guitars. He would always say "Jack you are a real guitar player." He just appreciated hearing all the resources of the instrument being used. Carl loved the horses. He kept complete records of each horses performance and under which conditions he ran. He also had a cat that he trained to do tricks. Carl was a gentleman from the old school and a very talented craftsman. Carl never received the recognition he deserved.

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Bill Barker

Bill Barker was a student of Carl Albanus Johnson. Bill Barker and his brother Jack built archtop guitars in Peoria, Illinois. Barker never achieved the acclaim he deserved. He built about 120 guitars in his lifetime. The great Martin Taylor played his guitar for some time. If I'm not mistaken I think Martin first discovered Barkers guitar when he first played one at my home. My talented student Frank Portolese has also used a Barker for many years and continues to do so.

Barker typically used Sitka spruce for the soundboard, with curly maple back and sides, and a five-piece neck lamination of curly/flamed/bird's eye maple with two center laminates of walnut and one of maple. He used the DeArmond 1100 pickup, which is the only pickup I have ever used on my guitars. If you go to You Tube and to Frank Portolese's web page you can hear him playing the Barker guitar and Robert Conti plays his Barker 7 string on You Tube. Bill Barker was an excellent luthier and a very nice person. I always enjoyed my conversations with him.

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Django is a tribute to the human spirit. He said more with two fingers then most player's can with four fingers. His disability forced him to devise a different fingering technique for the guitar. His playing is devoid of affectation and has a spirit of total abandonment. He is truly a free spirit. His playing is never intellectual; it is always joyful, playful, full of life and fun. He is a happy player and emotes that happiness in his playing.

There are many players trying to imitate him. To begin with they should tape their third and fourth fingers and evolve a new fingering technique. Unfortunately they still couldn't begin to come close to sounding like Django. A copy is a copy and an original is an original.
My Standard Poodle is named after Django and he too refuses to be bound by human rules and commands. Like Django he is a free spirit and refuses to be dominated by man's rules.

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Khono Masaru   (1926 -1998)

1948 He started making guitars. 1960 He went to Spain and studied making guitars. 1967 He was warded the GOLD MEDAL in Elizabeth's Concourse Belgium, international competition in guitar lutherie. Dec. 13 1998 He died of renal cancer.

In Hamamatsu, Japan, Yamaha has a room with several hundred old and very rare classic guitars from the finest luthiers in the world. They examine each instrument thoroughly, take critical measurements, measure sustain, balance, volume, projection, and many other important factors that make an exceptional instrument. They take this information and try to incorporate it into their guitars. They don’t allow anyone to enter this private room. They were very kind to me and allowed me to spend a lot of time in this room playing this treasure trove of great guitars.

Among those I tried I found a great guitar by Kohno. The top had many cracks that had been repaired. That guitar was incredible. It had great sustain, wonderful balance, a warm tone, and played very easily. I offered Yamaha $10,000.00 for the guitar which was a lot of money in those days. They didn’t want to sell the guitar but offered to lend it to me. I knew that if I took that guitar home knowing that I had to return it, I would be depressed to no end. I thanked them and went to visit Kohno. He somehow knew of me and offered to make me a guitar. On my next trip to Japan I went to his shop and he brought out the guitar he claimed to have made for me. I played a few short pieces on it and handed it back to him. I told him that I knew of his great guitar-building talent and that I did not believe he’d made the guitar. The guitar I played that day was no where near the quality of the instrument I’d played in Yamaha’s private room. One of his many luthiers had made it. I was disappointed because I knew he had the skills to build me an exceptional guitar.

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Sila Godoy (Born in Villarrica, Paraguay on December 4, 1919.

One day a guitarist showed up at my studio and introduced himself as Sila Godoy.  He was on tour for the Paraguayan Government promoting the music of Paraguayan guitarist and composer Agustín Barrios Mangoré [born May 5, 1885 died August 7, 1944].  Sila had a very good technique, but he didn’t have the magic touch that creates the seductive sound that only the guitar is capable of.  He was a wild man with incredible, wild tales.  I ran into him again in Mexico City, and he invited me to a concert he was giving.  At the end of one of his pieces he announced to the audience that he wanted to introduce a great guitarist, the illustrious Count Cecchini.  The whole auditorium started to applaud so I had to get up and take a bow.  I wonder why my parents never told me I was a count?  As I said he was a wild man.


Pat Ferreri

Patrick Ferreri, Chicago’s well-known and respected studio, classic and jazz guitarist, has just released his first solo jazz album, Expressions of Love. This album features Patrick’s own exquisitely complex arrangements of the following timeless songs: All the Things You Are, Nice Work If You Can Get It, Medley: Wait Till You See Her, I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face and Nancy (With the Laughing Face), My Romance, Early Autumn, They Say It’s Wonderful, The Very Thought of You, Moon River, Stella By Starlight, and Till There Was You. Three years in the making, this album is now available through:


Timed perfectly for both Christmas and Valentine’s Day, this CD will appeal to anyone who has ever been in love or dreamed of being in love.

Patrick’s forty years of arranging for TV commercials and musical ensembles is evident in his publication library online called The Professional Series. Transcriptions include classical pieces for the solo classic guitar, guitar and flute, guitar and clarinet, guitar and voice, and guitar and string ensembles. Career Management articles, two books for the fretted bass, and his newest release for 2008, The Classic Guitar Player’s Guide for Arranging, Composition, Improvisation and Interpretation (Vol I) are available online through Ferreri Publications.

Every day people around the world use his compositions as their business commercials. Available through Boosey & Hawkes Production Music, Patrick performs on the following albums where individual songs can be downloaded in wav or mp3 format: Nature Trail, 99 Spots, Good Intentions, and All Blues.

Under the tutelage of renowned jazz guitarist, George Allan, and classic guitarist, Richard Pick, Patrick learned theory, composing and arranging. As a staff musician at the American Broadcasting Company, he was the youngest musician on the Don McNeill Breakfast Club. In the 70’s and 80’s when Chicago was the hub for commercial work, Patrick was on every major spot: Burger King, Marlboro, Chicken of the Sea, Tony the Tiger, and United Airlines, to name but a few. He has worked with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Lyric Opera Orchestra, The Music of the Baroque Ensemble, The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, The South Bend (Indiana) Orchestra and numerous Chicago ensembles. As a studio guitarist, Patrick has the rare ability to perform in all styles—jazz, country, classical, and ala the latest pop artists—plus on a wide variety of fretted instruments, such as the Renaissance lute,  Country banjo, Russian balalaika,  and Italian mandolin. His skill in sight reading and composing on-the-spot has earned him the respect of ad agencies, conductors, fellow musicians, and clients.

Director Michael Thorn


Michael Thorn began his tenure as Director of Music at First Unitarian Church in September, 2004.

He is a prolific composer, writing music for organ, piano, chorus, voice and chamber groups. He and his wife, Eva, lived for several years in Sweden, where he was music director at Arentuna Kyrka, a parish of 7,000 members. One of his many compositions while living in Sweden was a "Jazz Mass," which was performed in the church and very well received. In 1984 he formed a jazz trio which is still very active.

Mr. Thorn studied piano with Hyde Parker Gavin Williamson and organ with Edward Mondello. He received a Masters Degree in Music Theory and Composition from Roosevelt University.

A catalog of his compositions and CD recordings appears on his website:


Mr. Thorn may be reached by email at mt1music@aol.com This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Giuseppe Patané (Born Naples Italy January 1, 1932–Died Munich May29, 1989)

Giuseppe Patané was a wonderful conductor who conducted at La Scala in Milan, Italy.  He was in Chicago to conduct concerts at Grant Park and Ravinia.  I remember going to an orchestral rehearsal with him, and he was conducting without a score.  He stopped the orchestra and told the third trumpet player that in the third bar the second note should be a D natural and not D flat.  Since there are a hundred thousand notes in a score I asked him how in the world would he know what that note was in the third bar, and that the note was D natural?  He said that as a little boy he would sit in the orchestra pit with his grandfather and then with his father.  When I pressed him for a more satisfactory answer he said he didn’t know and could not answer the question.  Toscanini had this same gift.

We would hang out at the Three Arts Club, an all-girls club for young women in the arts, and play ping pong.  Patané was a great ping pong player.  I never won a single game against him, probably because I was looking at all the beautiful girls instead of the ball.  This clubhouse was built to provide a safe, supportive, and economical residence for young women studying the arts.  The Byzantine-style entrance contains mosaics representing the three arts of music, drama, and painting.  The rooms were arranged around a beautiful central courtyard.  I have often performed in that beautiful courtyard for different occasions.

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Violin and Guitar

Elaine Skorodin is a virtuoso violinist.  She has concertized all over the world.  I performed many beautiful works with her, and the extra bonus was the wonderful sound she got out of her Stradivarius violin.  She attends all my parties and performs for my guests.  She’s a magnificent artist and always includes one or more of the Bach violin solo pieces especially for me.

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Jana Mason

Another gal I worked with was the beautiful Jana Mason who was married to the businessman/socialite Fred G. Wacker, Jr.  Fred Katz was Jana’s pianist, conductor, and arranger.  He arranged many of the compositions for the Chico Hamilton Quintet and also played jazz cello in the group.  Fred was a true intellectual and an interesting man.  He claimed to be a communist and would always joke about the coming revolution.  Fred would get very nervous before each show and would go to the bathroom and throw up.  I had contracted a serious case of amoebic dysentery in Mexico and was going to the bathroom 15 times a day.  Jana said, "Look at my two geniuses, one heaves his guts out and the other one craps his guts out."

The Drake Hotel was an old-money hotel.  All the matronly women who lived there would walk around decked out with hundreds of thousands of dollars in jewelry.  Corny Panico was the trumpet player in the band.  He would walk into the hoity toity Drake Hotel with a long loaf of Italian bread under one arm and a salami and sausage under the other.  The shocked matrons would look at him as if he were demented.  Between shows he would cook up sausage and green peppers.  I really miss those crazy times and laughs!

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Jim Norris Guitarist/Luthier–Feb. 5, 1926–Mar. 18, 2000

Jim Norris was the first Chicagoan to study with Andres Segovia in Spain.  Jim and I were the founders of the Mid- America Guitar Society, which is, now renamed the Chicago Guitar Society.  Jim Norris was also a wood worker and started repairing guitars at the old Town School of Folk Music in the sixties. It was a very exciting time. Old Town was the Bohemian part of town where artists lived and worked. There was an abundance of coffee houses where one could hear Jim Norris and many other musicians perform. When Jim returned from Spain he had made the acquaintance of Oscar Ghiglia, and Aldo Minella from Italy, Jiro Matsuda from Japan, Guillermo Fierens from Argentina and many other young and promising guitarists. One by one we invited them to perform for our new guitar society and that was the beginning of my acquaintance with many foreign artists.

Jim Norris designed and built many of the most beautiful restaurants and dining establishments in Chicago. He started to build guitars and in his later years became very interested in a new concept of guitar building based on the principles of the Australian luthier Greg Smallman.  Mr. Smallmans construction concepts are radically different from traditional methods of guitar construction. The top is braced using a "lattice" framework composed of balsa wood and carbon fiber. Jim worked seven days a week for seven years to refine his guitar. Each guitar he built was a definite improvement from the previous one.  In one of my last conversations with Jim he said, "I wish I had two more years. All I need is two more years to get this instrument where I want it to be." Jim was denied his two years but his instruments and accomplishments live on.
I feel very fortunate to have had Jim Norris as a friend and confidante. When I first met Jim I was a jazz guitarist and Jim encouraged me to study the Classic guitar. Jim Norris will be missed very much by me and many other friends.  Before Jim passed away I purchased one of his guitars. The world is a much better place because of Jim Norris. He made a great difference, because he gave so much more then he took.

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Audrey Morris  - Pianist And Chanteuse

I have known Audrey Morris for fifty years.  Audrey is the grande dame of cabaret singers.   I first heard her when a student of mine invited me to hear Oscar Peterson at Chicago’s famous jazz club The London House.  As I walked into the vestibule of the club there was a huge picture of a stunning looking woman.  That woman was Audrey.  After hearing her sing I became a devoted fan and spent many a night in nightclubs until closing hours listening to her sing the saddest, most tragic love songs. 

Audrey’s gift is her ability to get the most out of a lyric.  When she sings she never shouts, screams or over dramatizes a song.  She lets the lyric do its work.  Ballads are the most difficult songs to sing.  When she sings a ballad she makes you believe it.  She does it through her intuitive sense of phrasing, her instinctual sense of time, and thoughtful use of silence.  Audrey understands silence, she plays the rests. 

Her idea of a fast song is a funeral dirge.  After a night of listening to Audrey the psychologists have a great day treating people for severe depression.

Audrey is up in years but she still continues to mesmerize audiences with her great talent.  I have learned so much from listening to Audrey.  Most importantly, I learned that less equals more.

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Ike Isaacs  (December 1, 1919–January 11, 1996)

I first met Ike Isaacs when he walked into my studio.  Ike was born in Rangoon, Burma and had to leave when the Japanese invaded.  A self-taught player, Isaacs began playing professionally while in college where he studied chemistry.  Ike was versed in philosophy, religions, and languages.  He had developed an unusual technique of pressing the tips of his fingers between the strings, and consequently he was able to fret 2 strings with one finger.  Ike was one of the great chordal masters of the guitar, with a sophisticated contrapuntal and harmonic sense.  Ike wrote solo guitar pieces with a variety of musical styles, compositional ideas, and guitar techniques to expand the guitarist’s awareness of the harmonic possibilities of the instrument. 
I had him over to my home several times for dinner.  He published several books that he was kind enough to send me.  "Jazz Guitar School" and "Guitar Explorations" belongs in every guitarist’s library and originally appeared as a series of guitar columns in the monthly magazine "Crescendo International" from the early 1960s.  He wrote "Guitar Moods," which is out of print, but "More Moods" is still available.  When he came to Chicago to play with Stephane Grapelli he offered to sell me his Maccaferri guitar, which I bought from him.  I found him to be kind, generous, intelligent, and engaging.  Ike Isaacs was the dominant guitarist in English jazz until the mid-1970s.  He played with all the greats, including a two-year world tour with Stephane Grapelli.  For the last fifteen years of his life Ike lived and taught at the Sydney Guitar School and became a much-loved member of the Sydney jazz community.  Ike Isaacs was the teacher of the great Scottish guitarist Martin Taylor.

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Mario Maccaferri  (1900-1993)

I met Mario Maccafferi at a music convention I was playing in Chicago.  Mario Maccaferri was an accomplished classical guitarist and a great luthier.  He was a student of the great guitarist and luthier Luigi Mozzani.  Mario was elegant and cultured, a true gentleman.  He invented a plastic guitar that was hugely popular with kids.  He became wealthy when he invented the plastic clothespin.

The Maccaferri guitar is the guitar that Django used all his life. It has a distinctive tone.  It’s also a loud instrument and desired among guitarists who play in the Django or Gypsy style.  When Ike Issacs came through Chicago performing with Stephen Grapelli he offered to sell me his Maccaferri.  I still have that guitar.

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Joe Fava

I first met Joe Fava at a music convention in Chicago.  He was an Italian American, 15 years my senior, who lived in Detroit.  Joe was a kind and gentle person.  Every city has its Mr. Guitar, and Joe was Mr. Guitar in Detroit.  Earl Klugh, Kenny Burrell, and Scott Tennant were students of his.   Scott dedicated his book "Pumping Nylon" to him.  Joe and I had a lot in common and similar backgrounds.  We were both first-generation Italian Americans.  We both were self-taught.  We both played classic and jazz guitar.  We were both teachers.  We both had music schools.  We both were responsible for starting guitar societies.  We both fought for and succeeded in getting the guitar accredited in colleges.  Joe and I had a deep love and respect for each other and though he was older and wiser than I, he never spoke down to me.  He always treated me as an equal.  He published 3 or 4 method books for plectrum guitar and was responsible for training many fine players.  My wife Eva and I would visit Joe and his wife Mary in Detroit.  Those days were wonderful days filled with talk of music, teaching techniques, players, instruments, and many other subjects.  Joe was a brilliant man with many talents.  He was an avid billiard player and was writing a billiard book at the time of his death.  I attended Segovia’s class at Berkeley with Joe.  I had the honor of being his pallbearer.  I miss my dear friend Joe Fava.

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Clara Siegal

Clara Siegal was a great classical pianist and an exceptional teacher.  She taught privately and at DePaul University in Chicago.  She was extremely bright and a constant inspiration, especially to students.  When George Shearing would come to perform at Chicago’s London House he would take 3 and 4-hour lessons with her, particularly on interpreting Mozart.  I would often have long talks with Clara and always came away wiser because of her insight into music and life.  I spent time at her hospital bedside a day before her death and had the honor of being asked to play for her memorial.  George Shearing sent a wonderful tape on which he spoke about Clara and played the most beautiful rendition of "Long Ago And Far Away." 

I remember one incident when I was considering giving up teaching.  I had a student who had great hands and an incredible appetite for hard work.  No matter how much I assigned her she would memorize all the pieces and practice many hours every day.  Nonetheless, I could not get her to phrase in a musical manner.  Her playing was mechanical and metronomic.  I took it to heart and felt I was a failure as a teacher.  Clara straightened me out.  I spoke to her about it, and when I mentioned that I was considering giving up teaching she said, "Do you think you are God?"  She explained that if the talent was there I could get it out, but if it wasn’t, there was no way I could put it there.  I miss Clara’s great talent and wisdom.

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Johnny Frigo   (December 27, 1916–July 4, 2007)

I first met Johnny Frigo in the recording studios of Chicago.  He was playing bass on most of the sessions and very much in demand.  I worked many sessions with him and a few private gigs.  In John’s later years he became world famous as a great jazz violinist.  Johnny Carson once asked Frigo why it took so long to start his career as a violinist. Frigo replied, "I wanna take as long as I could in my life so I wouldn’t have time to become a has-been."  John was an astounding artist, and there are recordings available to prove it.  Although he’d worked with many different pianists he seemed to prefer to work with Joe Vito, who is a magnificent accompanist.  John was a renaissance man; he was an accomplished painter and wrote poetry. 

John played at many of my Christmas and birthday parties, and it was always great fun to play with him.  His great talent is very much missed by the public and especially by musicians.  Isn’t it strange that the world’s three most renowned jazz violinists were Italians?  Joe Venuti, Stephan Grapelli, and Chicago’s Johnny Frigo.

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Orlando Murden 

Orlando Murden was a wonderful pianist, harpist, and composer.  He studied harp in Paris for 12 years and was the composer of: "For Once In My Life."  Over 150 artists recorded that tune.  Orlando also wrote many other wonderful tunes including an opera called "Trilby."  Orlando would come into the clubs at night and hand out the latest tune he’d written.  On Sunday afternoons I was playing solo guitar at a place called Turbot.  I would look up and sitting in the corner every Sunday would be Orlando Murden.  I was honored that he would come in and listen to me. Orlando was a kind and cultured person.  It was always a great joy to hear him perform.  I often saw Orlando walk into the noisiest clubs, and the moment he sat at the piano the whole room would become silent. The range of his repertoire was amazing.  He would sing an aria by Puccini and then the latest Broadway hit.  His rhythm and sense of time were phenomenal.  After Orlando had given up performing for a living I talked him into accepting a two-week engagement at a friend’s club.  It was such a joy getting to hear him again, if only for that short time.

After Orlando died I called three times and left messages for Dempsey Travis, a real estate developer and author of several books about black history.  I thought he could help me get Orlando’s original scores from his sister, Lura, in order to have them placed at Du Sable Museum or the Chicago Historical Museum.  He never answered my calls, and I was unable to contact his sister directly.  Orlando’s scores probably ended up in a garbage can as often happens when an artist dies.  I, and many others, miss this gentle, kind, multi-gifted man.

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Joe Vito

(1930-2010: Sideman played with jazz and classical giants, maintained style uniquely his own)

July 13, 2010
BY MAUREEN O'DONNELL modonnell@suntimes.com

After Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier, author Tom Wolfe said all pilots began mimicking his unflappable West Virginia drawl.

Revered Chicago sideman Joe Vito had the same effect on musicians.


Joe and Carole Vito, who met at WBBM, shared a love of music and recorded a CD together shortly before his death.

"There's several hundred 'Joe Vitos' out there in our music community. They've all got his voice down and his catchphrases," said Rich Daniels, chief of Chicago's City Lights Orchestra.

Mr. Vito, a pianist and accordionist who performed with some of the world's top singers, played classical music as expertly as jazz. And with a well-timed pun or joke, he cracked the band up while he was doing it.

He accompanied Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra, as well as opera greats Placido Domingo, Catherine Malfitano and Luciano Pavarotti.

His fans include Doc Severinsen, Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show" band leader, who sought out Mr. Vito to play his accordion at Severinsen's Italian-themed shows on tour.

"With three notes, he could put you in Italy," Severinsen said. "He was such a delicate, gorgeous player. He was universally loved."

"He could play in the jazz clubs, and he could also play on the stage of the Lyric Opera," Daniels said. "He was a classically trained accordionist and an amazing pianist."

"He played music," said bass player Tom Beranek. "He didn't play notes."

"Joe had a way of saying things musically and emotionally -- it was just unparalleled," said Ed Ward, president emeritus of the Chicago Federation of Musicians. "Everybody could come in and play the same 28 notes and sound the same, and Joe could play the 28 notes, and it was a different song."

Mr. Vito, 79, died June 28 at his Northbrook home from cholangiocarcinoma, a cancer of the bile ducts.

He was not only a star of the cabaret era, when clubs like the Blue Max and Mr. Kelly's ruled the Chicago night. He was an in-demand accompanist to the end. He played on countless commercial jingles, and he was a sought-after bandleader at corporate events for Florsheim, Whirlpool and McDonald's, whose founder, Ray Kroc, enjoyed tickling the ivories with him.

The Warsaw Philharmonic asked him to solo at a 100th anniversary bash. He performed at Holland's North Sea Jazz Festival and the Umbria Jazz Festival in Orvieto and Perugia, Italy.

On one memorable trip to Italy, he visited a museum devoted to Puccini, and he charmed the curator so thoroughly that he was soon allowed to play on the Steinway where the conductor composed "Turandot."

Mr. Vito was probably best-known for a long-standing gig at Toulouse with the late violinist Johnny Frigo, composer of jazz classics like "Detour Ahead" and "I told Ya I Love Ya, Now Get Out."

To watch the pair was to witness "musical telepathy," said Ward. "They were absorbed with each other, and what one would do, the other one would pick up on. Unlike most clubs in Chicago, you could hear a pin drop. When they played everyone paid attention."

Mr. Vito was born Joe Vitaterna. He grew up on Avenue N in the neighborhood near the Indiana border known as East Side. His mother was from Fondi, Italy, and his father was from Castro dei Volsci. His family didn't have much money. "He learned to play piano on a piece of cardboard that had keys," his wife said.

Mr. Vito graduated from Mount Carmel High and received a degree in composition from DePaul University. He never lost the Chicago in his speaking voice, and the many musicians who like to imitate him can sound like a nasal South Side chorus. During the Korean War, Mr. Vito was in the Navy Band.

He met Carole Marturano when they were studio musicians at WBBM. She was a Big Band singer and "He was like the class clown," she said. "If he hated the song he was playing, he'd look at the band, cross his eyes."

Recently, the Vitos recorded a classics CD that sounds like it was made by a couple still very much in love. On a Cole Porter song, Mrs. Vito croons with expert pitch and phrasing: "Every time we say goodbye, I die a little."

The CD was mastered just in time for her to slip it into the casket at his wake July 1.

Mr. Vito also is survived by daughters Amy Vitaterna-Krisolofsky and Julie Strasser; a son Joe; sister Jacqueline Pietrucha, and five granddaughters.

"The 3-year-old called me," Mrs. Vito said, "and said 'Grandma, all I want is Grandpa to come back from heaven and play the piano for me."


Robert Benedetto

(born October 22, 1946 in Bronx New York is an Italian American luthier.)

I met Bob Benedetto when he came to Chicago to attend a music convention. He had built three guitars for the show. I was very impressed with his guitars and workmanship so when the show was over I bought the three guitars. Augie LoPrinzi was with him and the three of us became friends.

Over the years I would run into Bob at shows and each year his guitars kept improving. Bob has developed into a magnificent luthier. While most luthiers are very reluctant to give away their hard earned secrets Bob has generously shared his immense knowledge with many other luthiers.

I believe this is the golden age of arch top guitar building and Bob Benedetto is directly responsible for influencing many luthiers worldwide. His wonderful book and seminars have disseminated very important information throughout the world.

The passion and love of his craft is very obvious and shows in the wonderful instruments he makes.   I have felt very confident in recommending his guitar to many students. Bob has been so very kind as to make me a wonderful gift of a magnificent instrument he built for me. Bob Benedetto and his charming wife Cindy with his partner guitarist Howard Paul continue to make dependable and beautifully crafted guitars in Savannah Georgia.


Oscar Ghiglia

Artistic Achievement Award (2009):

Oscar Ghiglia was born into an artistic family - his father and grandfather both famed painters, his mother an accomplished pianist. He graduated from Santa Cecilia's Conservatory of Rome and began soon his apprenticeship beside the great Master Andres Segovia, and later "inherited" Segovia's class in Siena's Accademia Chigiana.

Ghiglia founded the Guitar Department at the Aspen Music Festival (Colorado, USA) and the Festival de Musique des Arcs and the "Incontri Chitarristici di Gargnano", and has been artist in residence/visiting professor in at the Fine Arts Centreof Banff, Alberta, the Cincinnati, San Francisco Conservatories, The Juilliard, the Hartt School, the Northwestern University of Evanston Ill, as well as The Conservatorio Giuseppe Verdi of Milan, the Rubin Academy of Jerusalem and many others

From 1983 till 2004 his teaching was carried on, year long, in Basel Switzerland, where he held the professorship in guitar at the Musik-Akademie der Stadt Basel.

Besides touring as a solo performer, Ghiglia has played and recorded with such names as singers Victoria de Los Angeles, Jan de Gaetani, Gerald English, John mc Collum; flutists as J.P.Rampal, Julius Baker; ensembles as the Juilliard String Quartet, the Emerson String Quartet, the Cleveland String Quartet, the Quartetto d'archi di Venezia, the Tokyo String Quartet; violinists as Giuliano Carmignola, Franco Gulli, Salvatore A.

I first met Oscar at a Segovia master class at Berkeley University. He was much more advanced then I. Oscar is an extraordinary guitarist. He was a friend of Jim Norris whom he had met in Spain at a Segovia class. Jim and I were the founders of the Mid America Guitar society. We invited Oscar to give a concert and a master class in Chicago. Oscar and I became friends and have remained friends for 47 years.

Oscar is a true renaissance man. He is very well read and comes from a very artistic family. Most classic guitarists bore me to death. Oscar is one of the very few classic guitarists I respect and enjoy listening to. When one hears him perform the attention to detail he has given to the music becomes very obvious. His sound is pure and he has a profound< comprehension of the composer’s intent. He has a very large repertoire of solos and concerti. Oscar has an international reputation as a teacher/performer; many famous guitarists are his former pupils.

I remember a humorous incident in Segovia’s class. Segovia would ask Oscar to lend him his Ramirez guitar so he could demonstrate a particular passage to a student. Segovia was seated in a chair with arms and when he would lean back he would bang Oscar’s guitar on the arms of the chair. With every bang Oscar would wince and Segovia would say “don’t worry, don’t worry.”

Oscar has a wonderful sense of humor. I consider Oscar a very dear friend and am always pleased to spend time with him. I wish we lived closer to each other.