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Local Jazz legends spotlighted

July 1, 1993

Local Jazz legends spotlighted

By Matt P. Spinello

By Matt P. Spinello

President, Rockford Jazz Society

The most respected musician in Rockford, is guitarist John Porrazzo, no matter your particular bent in music. He is embraced as warmly by rock and roll players as he is by classical, jazz or country-western followers. John is also the oldest musician in captivity in these parts, having overshot the runway in Chicago by more than 60 years ago, landing at Camp Grant. Two Cuban cigars and a sip of Italian red wine later, while sitting in with an accordion/mandolin/guitar group, he was hooked. Rockford has been his home ever since. At 86, John can look back at a lifetime of memorable musical experiences from his side-by-side playing with world-famous Django Reinhardt in France; through perhaps 1,500 Italian wedding receptions, years of journeying on the road with bandleaders Vaughn Monroe, Joe Venuti, Louie Armstrong, Doc Cheatham and Wayne King. Mix in a decade with the Dave Remington bands, engagements with every jazz group ever assembled in this area, including his own, frost it with playing the Inaugural Ball for President Richard M. Nixon, add his being honored by the RAMIs in 1999 with a Lifetime Achievement Award, and you have a fairly complete picture of the man in all his musical splendor.

John Porrazzo will join 20 younger musi-

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cians (most of them in their 60s or slightly older) for the Second Annual Jazz Legends of Rockford concert, Jan. 27th. An overflow audience last year forced program promoters to turn away 200 would-be attendees. This year’s event will be presented at the Tebala Shrine Temple to accommodate a much larger audience. The jazz musicians have been selected primarily from the upper echelon of the Rockford Jazz Society, a fraternity of musicians and fans that organized five years ago during a Sunday jam session with 14 in attendance. Today the Society maintains a roster of more than 500 members and fans who meet monthly with a mission statement that encourages “Keeping Jazz Alive!” A different musical jazz group appears every second Sunday of the month at Society meetings held at LaMere’s Convention Center, 3919 Eleventh St., from 3:00-6:00 p.m.

Musicians booked for the event (in alphabetical order) include Mike Alongi, jazz accordionist who has rubbed musical elbows with the great Art VanDamme, written scores of musical treatments, performed with trumpeter Doc Severinsen of the Tonight Show, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and fronted countless classical and jazz groups over the past half century. Mike is a musician’s musician.

Jack Brand is the in-demand drummer, teacher and author/publisher of the book Shelly Manne, Sounds of a Different Drummer, which drew international acclaim. Jack also heads Percussion Express, which publishes programmed lessons to encourage young drummers to develop precise skills as timekeepers. Jack is probably the most overworked drummer in the world.

Bassist Clyde Bachand, a much laid-back bass and tuba player, comes to very professional life as soon as the downbeat is established. Clyde has worked coast to coast complementing groups of which he has been a member from classics to jazz, from symphony orchestras to jazz trios.

To simply title Julian DeLuna a jazz pianist is a misnomer. The man plays at least half a dozen instruments as profi-

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ciently as he handles the keys, and sings in several languages. You have seen him with Mike Williamson Productions repeatedly over the years. He has also fronted his own groups from trios to big bands.

Val Eddy’s recent exposure in print puts him in his mid-70s. Val and pianist Homer Carlson were area favorites for nearly 50 years, touring the countryside. Val continues to perform with area big bands and plays single dates with his quartet. He remains one of Rockford’s busiest bass players. When he’s in a silly mood, he turns to the banjo, sometimes in concert with John Porrazzo.

Guy Fiorenza remains the area’s world-class bassman throughout northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. He spent at least 15 years with maestro Dave Remington in Chicago, at the Wagon Wheel in Rockton and the Abbey Resort in Fontana, Wis. His bookings continue to take him to the Windy City, to Madison and Milwaukee and a number of regularly booked engagements in the Rockford area.

Frank Guzzardo started on the guitar 50+ years ago, switched to trumpet somewhere in the middle, returned to guitar and now plays both instruments with a gusto unmatched by most who emulate his work. He had a long relationship with the Flukes of Dixieland for a number of years, fronted 100 groups of his own during the last decade, and now jobs with various bands in the area, including his own.

Maxine Holler was hailed the queen of the Wagon Wheel for nearly longer than the resort was in business. Her piano work can take you from blue tears to the raucous radiance of the old saloon days. Her jazz impressions outperform many male counterparts. She sings, swings and plays vibes as extraordinarily as she romances the keyboard. Max has been a musical fixture at the Gun Club in Beloit for nearly two decades and just signed a new extended contract.

Wilford Johnson has been the president of the Rockford Musical Association (the musicians’ union) for nearly two decades. He has played and taught trombone for more than a half century and is as at ease with the seriousness of a booking with the symphony on one evening’s performance as he is with the frivolity of a Dixieland dance job the next.

Drummer Tom Marken, a native of Rockford, played it all from the start, from rock to schlock to jazz, then carried his experienced chops to California. When he had gathered enough momentum working society bands, rock groups and small jazz bands, he returned to Rockford, where he has again hung his permanent hat, working with several jazz and rock bands, more frequently singing and laying down rhythm in Maxine Holler’s Trio at the Gun Club, Beloit. Tom will be our youngest “legend” in attendance. He’ll be in knickers.

Al Paluzzi has been one of the finest vibraphonists anyone has ever heard or worked with in this area. If there have been 100 jazz groups organized and working around here in the past half century, Al has worked with them or led them. He could easily have been a stand-up comedian (“I’d rather sit,” he’s been known to mumble) and can test whether an audience is attentive by throwing musical curves usually only musicians in the room will identify. If you’re talking through one of Al’s famous vibe solos, he’ll catch you, and you’ll be sorry. He’ll put a verbal spotlight on you, and everyone will know. Listen!

Big band drummer Stan Reese returned to Rockford from the military and immediately pounced upon the music scene with several small groups. Primarily a hard-driving part of most rhythm sections, he often reflects on his former association with Nat King Cole, members of Stan Kenton’s Orchestra and other jazz greats.

Harold Smith will gain immediate attention with his clarinet solos, comparable to or surpassing those you have applauded over the years by big-time bands of the past. Harold is an on-call replacement for world-class clarinetist Chuck Hedges. His second instrument is the piano, which he masters with the same feeling and personalness he applies to his clarinet work.

Drummer Matt Spinello has been president of the Rockford Jazz Society for nearly five years. His musical background includes 10 years with Dave Remington, five of them full time at the Abbey Resort with Fiorenza and Porrazzo. He has also backed stars Jimmy Dean, Barbara McNair and Stan Kenton’s vocalist Ann Richards, up and down the California coast. He spent two years with West coast jazz pianist Claude Williamson’s trio and worked a short engagement with the late jazz pianist Hampton Hawes. He has played in and around Rockford since age 13.

Saxophonist Ken Stein is the director of not one, but two 16-piece jazz bands at Rock Valley College. He, like many of the others who will appear on the 27th, has organized, rehearsed and booked many combos over the years, in addition to training, rehearsing and presenting big bands in concert several times during each year. Ken was one of the founding members of the Flukes of Dixieland. They were booked widely and gained national attention with their recordings.

Sax man Don Sturner, who also is regarded as one of the better saxophonists in the area, came to Rockford for a visit several years ago. When others heard his work, especially on the baritone sax, they chained him to the band bus to prevent his return to the Windy City. Don bounces from band to band in the area because he’s that good. Always in demand.

Al Talignani was an accordionist who turned to keys. Al landed in this region many long moons ago via dates throughout Boston, New York, Florida and Marengo, Ill. Jazz in the latter location drove him to the Rockford area, where he played a circuit of country clubs here and in Wisconsin for several years. He is back on the scene following a short illness and playing better than ever.

Vocalist Dorothy Paige-Turner has probably worked with every musician who will be a part of this year’s event. She has been well received through her work at local supper clubs, afternoon musicales, performances with the Rockford Symphony Orchestra, local and area concert bands and during her saloon singing days with the Mike Alongi Quartet.

The Jazz Legends of Rockford performance is presented by the Mendelssohn Club, in collaboration with Charlotte’s Web, the Rockford Jazz Society and WNIJ-FM. It will be held at the Tebala Shrine Temple, 7910 Newburg Road, Rockford, (815/332-2010). Date of the program is Sunday, Jan. 27th. The first group will open the afternoon performance at 1:30 p.m. The show is expected to last until 4:30-5:00 p.m. Tickets are $10 per person, $8 each in groups of 10, purchased at the Mendelssohn Club, 415 N. Church St., Rockford, (815/964-9713); also available through the Rockford Jazz Society, (815/226-8844), The Tin Whistle, Canterbury Books, The Rockford Area Arts Council, or at the door. If last year’s event gave any indication of what to expect, tickets should be purchased beforehand. WNIJ-FM Music Director John Hill will MC the program. Be prepared to be professionally and thoroughly entertained by nearly two dozen of the area’s finest jazz stylists sporting their individual jazz impressions through their love of the art.

One Comment

  1. JOHN PORRAZZO

    April 20, 2012 at 5:29 pm

    MY UNCLE JOHN PORRAZZO WAS THE GREATEST!
    HIS FATHER(MY GRAND FATHER) WAS A CRAFTSMAN,
    A MASTER AT MAKING GUITARS, THE WHOLE FAMILY PLAYS,& WE HAVE A BIG FAMILY,WE WERE ALL VERY PROUD OF UNCLE JOHN…AND MY BROTHER DAVE, OUT IN SAN DIEGO,HE’S JOHNNY ZORRO! ANOTHER GREAT GUITARIST!!!!

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