Grant Park and Vivaldi Concerto

In 1968 I was asked to perform a guitar concerto with the Grant Park Orchestra. I chose a Vivaldi concerto in D major. I was very busy teaching; playing shows six nights a week, and doing recording sessions during the day. Because of my busy work schedule I did not have a lot of time to study. I started to study this work two weeks before the performance date. I still remember walking across that stage as if it were the last mile all the while asking myself "Does that part repeat once or twice?" As I looked out at the five thousand heads in the audience I asked my self "What the hell am I doing up here?"

The conductor took the tempo of the first movement and the last movement faster then we had rehearsed it. I transposed the middle movement an octave lower which permitted me to use a more sensual vibrato and the guitar sounded like a cello in that register. Because of that transposition I was able to really milk that middle movement.

In retrospect I had to be insane to go up on that stage with only two weeks of study. I would never do that today. The strange thing is that I was one of the few persons to receive rave reviews that season. Maybe it proves my friend Phil Bova's crazy statement that "Practice is a sign of insecurity."

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Chicago Symphony

I performed the Seven Characteristic Pieces by Webern with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Jean Martinon was conducting. The guitar part is used more as an effect then a major part. Martinon felt that the audience would understand it better if we repeated it so we performed it twice. It was so slow that he subdivided each beat in two equal parts so we could be more accurate in our execution.

I also performed with The Chicago Symphony Orchestra for a Gershwin program with Sarah Vaughn singing and Skitch Henderson conducting. Miss Vaughn was astounding. Her rich beautiful voice soared from sensuous dark low notes to gorgeous high notes with ease and with the CSO behind her it was magic. In addition to playing electric guitar the overture has a banjo solo for I Got Plenty Of Nothin. (On a personal note I don't have a great love for the Banjo.) There was no way I was going to study the banjo. I tuned the banjo like a guitar thus allowing me to use guitar fingerings. No one knew the difference. I did the same thing with the mandolin. I played many commercials and recordings with a mandolin tuned like a guitar and it sounded fine.

Mr. Henderson was more interested in the young piano player that he had brought in from New York and was giving the orchestra wrong entrance cues. He cued me in two bars ahead of time and instead of coming in I counted two bars and then came in. When you are wrong on banjo the whole world knows it because it's such a loud raucous sound. The orchestra does not come in until the end of the solo so I sweated it out till the end of my solo. I had disobeyed the conductor and there would be hell to pay if I was wrong. I was right and the orchestra came in at the end of my solo. He never apologized for giving me the wrong cue. The moral of the story is that when you see a conductor turning the score from left to right it means the idiot is lost and it's every man for him self.

One day John Weicher of the Chicago Symphony asked me to perform with the orchestra. I had performed several times with the orchestra and knew that he was a violist with the orchestra. I asked him if in addition to viola if he played violin, cello or bass with the orchestra. He said he didn't, so I asked him why was I asked to play classic guitar, electric guitar, mandolin and banjo and have the pressure of keeping them in tune while performing? I asked why didn't he hire extra players and let me play one instrument. He didn't answer and that was the end of my symphony career. They wanted to get four for the price of one. The emotion one experiences when performing with that incredible group of extraordinary musicians is beyond description. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is considered the world's best orchestra. I love attending their concerts. It feeds my soul.

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Chicago guitar gallery

When I got off the road with Harry Belafonte I was about 23 or 24 years old. At that time I started my guitar studio in the Creative Arts Center at 64 E. Van Buren. A violin dealer named Eric Prager and his German partner Wolfgang Ritter approached me. Prager was the sales person and Ritter was a violin repairman that had trained in Mittenwald Germany. (This was a strange relationship because Eric was Jewish and had hidden out in a farm in France during the war and I'm sure Wolfgang had probably been in the Nazi Youth Movement.)

They wanted to start a guitar shop and wanted me to be a partner. Because of my reputation as a performer and teacher they felt it would draw customers and be successful. I thought about it and agreed to be a partner. I came up with the name Chicago Guitar Gallery and it was located at 334 S. Wabash Ave. This was the era of the guitar craze. If you ordered a guitar from Gibson there was a two-year wait. Guitars were flying off the wall faster then one could order them. To make a long story short the gallery became very successful and my partners decided that it was better to split the pie two ways instead of three ways. I could have fought it legally but I did not want to be involved with partners that I felt were snakes.

They needed to expand so they moved to 222 S. Wabash on the 8th floor. When they moved I rented their space at 334 S. Wabash and started my own school and retail business called Jack Cecchini Classic and Modern Guitar Studios. This was a good move because people knew that it was previously The Chicago Guitar Gallery so I got a lot of their old customers. At this time I had met my future wife Eva. She was the manager of The Creative Arts Center. She quit her job and came with me to help run my new school. She was a great help. She ran the business end and I ran the teaching, training of my teachers and relationships with the luthiers and suppliers.

At this time a Japanese salesman name Tahara came into my shop and had brought several very fine Japanese handmade guitars he wanted to sell. I developed a relationship with him and started to export American made amplifiers and fine handmade guitars by Manuel Velasquez and Koontz and also vintage American guitars for the Japanese market. I then started making trips to Japan and made friends with the famous luthiers. I then went to many different guitar factories and started to import guitars under my own brand name of Mana. Mana was the beautiful 5year old Japanese child of my friend Tahara.

A salesman informed us that the Wurlitzer store wanted to close out their musical instrument division and just deal in pianos and organs. I met with the Wurlitzer executives and they offered me the basement of their retail store. The space was a dream come true. It was completely carpeted with ready built studios and wonderful storage space. It was heated and air - conditioned. It was 10,000 sq. ft of ready to go space. The added bonus was a huge window display on the ground floor of the same building of my former partners who were located on the eighth floor and no show window. That show window was my ex partners undoing. My studio took off. We had 350 weekly students that were buying instruments, weekly lessons and supplies. I expanded the musical instrument department to include electric pianos, flutes, trumpets, saxophones, and the largest inventory of classic guitar music and jazz books in the Midwest. I carried the finest handmade guitars by world -renowned luthiers. In addition I added a repair shop. My ex partners went ballistic because my show window was killing them. I really cut into my ex partners sales and eventually they closed shop. Poetic justice kicked in and the moral of the story is what goes around comes around.

Jack Cecchini Studios produced some of the best guitarists and teachers that today are located in many parts of the world. I am very proud of what we accomplished at my school.

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When I was in New York I walked into a music store called The Spanish Music Center. They had a Torres guitar, which is a very rare guitar that was used by players such as Tarrega and Pujol. Antonio Torres to a large degree is responsible for designing the bracing that is used by many luthiers. The proprietor mentioned that a Mr. Winkler had a great collection of guitars. I made an appointment to see him and among his great collection he had five original Torres guitars. I tried several of the Torres guitars and they had the warmest most beautiful sound I've ever heard. They did not posses the power of the modern guitar but had an incredible tone. It turned out that Winkler had worked on air bases in Spain and he had brought in the best Spanish guitars on American planes. I tried a Fleta he had and I told him I wanted to buy it. He said it was not for sale. He mentioned that his son had two Fleta's and wanted to sell one of them. His son lived in California so I flew to California and met with his son. His son brought out two Fleta's. One sounded great the other was dead. He said that the one that sounded great was his personal guitar and was not for sale. I gave him a set of strings and asked him to change the strings and play only the inferior guitar for a week. I came back a week later and tried the guitar out and it sounded great. It just needed to be played. When he heard the guitar he refused to sell it.

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Italian Feast Band

The Italian neighborhoods always celebrated some saint’s day, usually Saint Joseph, Saint Rocco, or the Virgin Mary by having a neighborhood feast.  A feast consisted of early mass and then a statue of the saint being paraded thru the neighborhood with a marching band. I was a young high school kid-playing clarinet in this marching band.  The procession would stop in front of each home and the people would come out and pin money on the statue, and offer the band a glass of wine.  By the time the band reached the end of the block everyone was half numb from the wine. An elevated bandstand had been erected and at night we would play a concert of operatic music.  Boscarino was the bass drummer in the band and he was constantly ridiculed, belittled and reminded that he was a lowly drummer and not a real musician.  One must imagine how demeaning this was for poor Boscarino.  I’ve forgotten which work we were to perform but Filachione the conductor remarked that he needed a gong for this work.  As fate would have it Boscarino worked in a Chinese restaurant and mentioned that the restaurant owned a huge gong that measured about ten feet in diameter.  Filachione’s ears perked up and asked Boscarino to see if he could borrow it for the performance.  Boscarino hired a truck to transport the huge gong to the bandstand.  Because of its great size and weight a special support was built to hold the gong.   
Now one must remember that Boscarino has suffered the disdain of his fellow musicians for years.  This business with the gong is Boscarino’s fifteen minutes of fame, this is what he was born for, and this is his moment in the sun.  Filachione instructs Boscarino to watch him very carefully, and when he cues him for his entrance that he is to start beating on the gong as hard as he can.  Boscarino has this huge five-foot gong mallet with a huge ball on each end of the mallet and he is to swing the mallet back and forth and smash the gong until the gong would begin to sound.  Now what one must understand is that once a gong of this size is started it would take an act of God to stop its vibrations.  It is now nighttime and we start to perform.  We are into the work about ten minutes and Boscaringo is chomping at the bit and watching Filachione like a hawk.  The trombones are standing next to Boscarino and Filachione points to them to make their entrance and Boscarino thinks Filachione is pointing to him and starts to beat the hell out of the gong.  Filachoine is screaming like a mad man for him to stop and Boscarino thinks he is yelling for him to beat the gong harder and keeps beating the gong as hard as he can.  Filachione stops the orchestra, throws his baton to the floor, takes off his straw hat and starts to rip it in half and storms off the bandstand swearing in Italian.  To this day when I picture this scene in my mind’s eye I fall apart laughing.
Another incident happened when we were playing an outdoor concert in Villa Park IL.  The orchestra was seated on an elevated band shell.  Mangione was the tuba player with Filachione’s orchestra.  He was a virtuoso player.  The work we were playing had a difficult and extended tuba cadenza.  The orchestra is silent and Mangione is playing his solo.  On the side of the tuba player there are three young kids, about fifteen or sixteen years old.  They are eating chickpeas and their idea of great fun is trying to throw the chickpeas into the tuba while the tuba player is playing his solo.  One could hear the chickpeas clanging and rattling down the tuba.  Mangione finally can’t take it any more, goes ballistic, starts swearing in Italian, jumps down from the band shell and starts chasing the kids all the while screaming, somona betche, Imma gonna kille you.
Now I ask you, how many of you have such wonderful memories?

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Mr. Kelly's

I worked Mr. Kelly's, a famous Chicago jazz club with Rod Mckuen the poet. I really enjoyed the job because I was creating lush musical backgrounds for his poetry and songs on classic guitar. Emily was the gal in charge of the sound. We had sound checks and we decided on specific settings for amplifying the classic guitar on a microphone through the house system. The problem was that she loved to play sound engineer with my sound levels. On some songs my guitar was too loud and on the next one I would have to pound on the strings to be heard. I asked her to stop playing with the dials but she continued playing with the volume. I warned her that if she continued to play with the sound I would bring my amp in and I would by pass the house system. She said, "You can't do that." The next night I brought in my volume control pedal, took the house mike away from the front of my amp and that was the end of her little games. Moral of the story is "Don't ever let any sound engineer determine what your sound should be or how you should play your instrument. They can destroy your reputation.

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Happy Medium

I played the "Jacque Brel Is Alive Well And Living In Paris" score for 18 months. The score called for electric guitar, classic guitar, and mandolin. The overture starts with a fugue between the electric guitar and piano. The orchestra was condensed so I had to play the trumpet, flute, and guitar parts. Bob Gulliuame who plays Benson on television was one of the performers and was constantly skipping meter. I told the bandleader that the next time he did it I would not play catch-up with him. Sure enough he skipped beats and I didn't go with him. The rest of the band played catch-up but I played the music. It was a real train wreck and sounded like hell. When intermission came Gulliuame started screaming about the music sounding horrible. I told him that we had played catch-up with him for months and if he couldn't count that was his problem. I was not going to play catch-up, and I was going to play the arrangement as it was written. He learned to sing the song with correct meter. He had learned an important lesson and never did it again.

The musicians for the Brel show were behind a transparent curtain. We had sound monitors placed behind us so we could hear the singers. One evening those monitors were so loud that I felt a sharp shooting pain in my ears. I went to the stage manager who was controlling the amplification and told him the monitors were unbearably loud and could he please turn them down. His answer was "fuck you." The theatre had a full house. I made the decision to leave in the middle of the show. The guys in the band kept warning me that the musicians union would either fine me or bar me from the union. I packed my guitar and the stage manager asked me where was I going. I told him since he would not turn the volume down on the monitors I was leaving. He said, "You can't do that." I said, "Watch me." I knew that as I walked out he would call my student Vito who I had trained to play the show. I called Vito and told him not to answer his phone. The guitar in the Brel show is very important so all hell broke loose the next day. The next day I got a call from Mr. Marienthal, who owned The Happy Medium, he also owned Mr. Kelly's and the London house. Mr. Marienthal knew me from working at the London House and Mr. Kelly's. He knew I was dependable and took my work seriously. He asked me what was wrong and offered me the contracting job for the whole show. I refused because my beef was with the stage manager, not the musicians. Hans Wurman, the contractor was angry with me for walking off the job. I told Mr. Marienthal I would go before the union board and if I were found guilty I would donate two weeks of my salary to his favorite charity. If I won the case Hans and the stage manager would have to donate two weeks of their salary. Hans and the stage manager refused the offer. Marienthal told the stage manager to lower the volume of the monitors. He sent me a dinner invitation for two to Mr. Kelly's as his guest. We are given one set of ears and I'll be damned if I would let a little dictator destroy my hearing. Many times I have found that people in position of what they consider power to be little Hitler's.

My Albanus mandolin was stolen on that show and 20 years later I got it back when someone brought it in on consignment for resale at a local music store.

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London House

Jose Bethancourt was a marimba player from Guatemala. He was the leader for the house band at Chicago's famous London House. He offered me the job and I was happy to take it. I loved that gig because I met all the great players like Oscar Peterson, Joe Pass, Ron Anthony, George Shearing, Errol Garner and many others. Jose had a major problem. He rushed his tempi. The good part of the job was that I learned a lot of beautiful Latin songs. Because the London House was a Jazz club the people would applaud after my solos but not after Jose's solos. This really bothered him and he said I don't want you to take any more solos, just play rhythm. I said fine and that was what I did. One night the great guitarist Johnny Smith walked in with local guitarist Fred Rundquist. Jose spotted them and said take a solo. I said no, you told me not to take any solos. He got angry and said you're fired. I said fine, I quit. He called me back but I refused to work with him again. I needed the money but not at the expense of my dignity. Many times people are put in positions that are unfair or demeaning and one must make a decision to endure the abuse or pay the economic price and tell the bully to go to hell. I have always chosen to pay the economic price because I feel that human dignity is more important then money.

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Sound Engineers

Another story that involves sound engineers happened to me at Universal Recording Studios. On a playback for a commercial my guitar sounded like a tin can. I asked the engineer to come into the studio from his control booth. I asked him to listen as I played my Koontz electric guitar and my Manuel Velasquez classic guitar. I asked him what he thought about the sound and tone quality. He said they sounded beautiful. I explained that Koontz and Velasquez had devoted their life to learning how to make an exceptional instrument and that I had devoted my life to learning how to play them. I asked him why he thought he had the right to change my sound. From that point on every time I walked into Universal he would tell his assistants oh, oh, here comes Cecchini, get the best microphones or he'll raise hell. From that time on he never played games with the dials and my guitars sounded the way I wanted them to sound.

Engineers are not musicians and their ears are not as sophisticated as a musicians. Why artists allow engineers to make decisions about the sound of their instruments or the mix on their recordings astounds me.

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Lyric Opera

The Lyric Opera of Chicago called upon me to play in the opera L'incoronazione di Poppea by Claudio Monteverdi. Bruno Bartoletti was the conductor. The original score calls for lute. Evidently they could not find a lutenist so they decided to use guitar. The score was a mess it had hundreds of bars of rests and no indications of meter changes and no instrumental cues were indicated to help one understand when to make an entrance. I finally got it straightened out and during rehearsal I heard Bartolletti swearing in Italian complaining that the guitar was too soft. He did not know that Italian was my first language and I understood every word he said. I responded to him in Italian that the classic guitar is a quiet instrument and not a cannon and that if he was unhappy I would leave. The director of Ravinia Mr. Gordon Edwards who had recommended me told him that if I left he would have a difficult time finding someone to play the score. Bartoletti became apologetic and we solved the problem by amplifying the classic guitar. The night of the concert the curtain went up and all was going well. After the first act the librarian forgot to put the second act part of the score on the conductors stand. Bartoletti gave the downbeat the curtain went up and he suddenly realized that the librarian had not changed the score on his podium. He motioned for the harpsichordist to pass his score up to him. I thought I was going to have a heart attack because I was following the score of the harpsichord player in order to know when to make my entrances on guitar. That wonderful Italian harpsichordist whispered in Italian for me not to worry. Incredibly he had memorized the entire score and he cued me in all my entrances. If I ever encounter that Italian harpsichordist I will buy him the best dinner in town. It is these kinds of musical experiences that subtract ten years of one's life.

Bartolletti is a great operatic conductor but it is very difficult to follow his conducting because he conducts in a circular style and it is very difficult to know where the beat begins.

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The Chez Paree

Henry Brandon and George Cook were the bandleaders at the famous Chez Paree super club.  My guitar teacher George Allen had recommended me for the job.  It was my first job with a professional big band.  I was seventeen years old and terrified.  The old pros in the band sensed my fears and were very supportive. 


I played for many of the big name stars at The Chez Paree.  Among them was a young and extremely talented Eydie Gormé, who was not yet married to Steve Lawrence, and Bobby Darin, whose real name was Walden Robert Cassotto.  Darin had rheumatic fever as a child, which damaged his heart and plagued him throughout his life.  He was a talented singer, actor, musician, and gifted composer.  He died at the age of thirty-seven. 


Jimmy Durante also worked the Chez Paree.  He had continuous music throughout his act;  his music segued without interruption from one song to another.  By the time his act was finished I was  exhausted.  Durante was a real show biz icon.  I learned so much playing those shows.  One cannot learn or acquire these marketable skills from a book.  One has to live them.  I would often see older men with young girls at The Chez Paree.  I thought, How nice to see all these fathers taking their daughters out.  Talk about naive!

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Empire Room

Ben Arden was the bandleader for 17 years at the Empire Room in the Palmer house in Chicago. The room seated five hundred persons and was famous for booking famous name talent. That band went through more vodka then Russia could produce. Ben was an easy going guy and the players were all seasoned players and excellent sight-readers. According to union rules Ben’s band could only work five nights and Norm Krone’s band worked the other two nights. I could work seven nights because I was not part of the bands. I was brought in at request of the act that was performing. Norm Krone was a little Hitler and ran his band like a Gestapo general. Unlike Ben Arden he would not allow his men to drink and he was always treating his men in an abusive manner. I am not a drinker but I purposely bought a whiskey flask and would drink in front of him on breaks in the presence of the guys in the band. The guys loved it because he could not do a thing about it because I wasn’t working for him. On one show we had a famous dance act that were the openers for the main act. They were doing a flamenco type dance and they asked me to improvise an exciting and flashy Spanish introductory cadenza to their dance. Mr. Krone never to be outdone would try to conduct while I was playing my cadenza. A cadenza is free and improvised and is never conducted. Even I didn’t know what I was going to play until I was finished with it. When he would start to conduct my cadenza I purposely would turn my head away from him until I was finished. I did it because I hate hypocrisy in life or music.

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