Apr 11, 2012 Russ Tarby Uncategorized
When we were kids my mom and dad would take us out for dinner and a show at Three Rivers Inn, up in Phoenix, N.Y. We heard top-shelf singers such as Paul Anka, Teresa Brewer, Brenda Lee and Nat “King” Cole.
So when I heard that Joe Riposo recently composed a tune about Three Rivers titled “Through a Child’s Eyes,” naturally I recalled my childhood visits to the legendary CNY nightspot owned by the late Dom Bruno.
But that’s not what it’s about at all. It’s about how the musicians in the house band maintained a measure of creativity even after playing the same songs for the visiting stars night after night after night.
“My brother Tony and I had the band out at Three Rivers for about seven years in the 1960s,” Riposo remembered. “It was called the Tony Riposo Orchestra, and it was a great education for everybody because we’d back up singers like Tony Bennett, the McGuire Sisters and Frank Sinatra Jr. Each star usually had a ten-day run, and we’d play three shows a day and dance sets in between the shows.”
The orchestra included cats like tenor saxophonist Sal Nistico who went on to become a driving force in the post-bop movement, and drummer Ronnie Zito, who went on to work with Bobby Darin. “The band was great,” Riposo recalled.
The musicians had no trouble at all learning the book for all the headliners, but the real fun happened during the dance sets. They’d play jazz.
“Sal got a big kick out of playing those dance sets,” Riposo said.
In 1957 and ’58, Riposo had performed in U.S. Army bands with New Jersey born saxophonist Wayne Shorter, a gifted musician now acknowledged as jazz’s greatest living composer. Anyhow, Riposo was inspired by Shorter’s unusual harmonic environments. So when Riposo wrote arrangements for the orchestra’s dance sets at Three Rivers, he’d incorporate Shorter’s techniques, especially those unconventional harmonic structures.
“Those new charts were a challenge,” he said. “They kept us fresh. It was fun.”
“Sal Nistico and I traveled to many jobs together, and we’d get talking about improvisation,” Riposo remembered. The two Syracuse saxmen had noticed that when kids first start to play, they improvised naturally. “But then after they started talking lessons, their teachers would lay down all the rules and before long their playing became too structured, too mechanical. So Sal and I would say that to improvise you had to do it through a child’s eyes.”
Or ears, as the case may be.
And that’s how the title to Riposo’s new composition pays tribute to the old Three Rivers Inn, which brought so much great music to CNY while stirring the creative juices of blossoming jazz giants including Riposo himself, who’s now director of jazz studies at Syracuse University.
“Through a Child’s Eyes” will be performed by the Morton Schiff Syracuse University Jazz Ensemble at 5 p.m. Sunday, April 15, at Sheraton Syracuse University, 801 University Ave. The students’ set will be followed by the CNY Jazz Orchestra, under the direction of Bret Zvacek, playing music from its CD, “Then, Now and Again.”
The SU Jazz Ensemble, under Riposo’s direction, will play three new works for college jazz orchestras commissioned by CNY Jazz and funded by Gregg Lambert, founding director of the SU Humanities Center; Rob Enslin of SU’s College of Arts & Sciences; and Paul Merrill of Cornell University.
Admission to Sunday’s double-bill cost $25 in advance, or $30 at the door. Students get in for $15; 479-JAZZ.
During the intermission, saxophonist Joe Carello will be presented with the Jazz Educator of the Year Award. A Syracuse native, Carello has fronted the Syracuse Department of Parks and Recreation’s Stan Colella All Star Band since 2003.
According to its composer, “Through a Child’s Eyes” is really as much a tribute to Nistico, who died in 1991, as it is an homage to Three Rivers Inn, which finally closed for good in 2001.
“The composition paints a picture of the whole jazz scene here in the 1960s,” Riposo said. “And because of Sal, it features the saxophone, although I also wrote olos for trumpet and trombone. It starts off as ballad, with a haunting melodic line, and then it takes on double-time swing feeling and stays there through the solos before returning to the melody.”
On Sunday, the tune’s featured musicians will be alto saxophonist David Carpenter and trumpeters Ryan Drake and Brett Chipman.
Sunday’s concert at the SU Sheraton should be a great way to celebrate April – Jazz Appreciation Month!