with bassist Bob Funesti and drummer Dan Derienzo

with bassist Bob Funesti and drummer Dan Derienzo

My Story

I started piano lessons at age 7. My Mom had been a pianist so we had an old Remington upright piano in the house. I progressed to where I won the Frederic Chopin Piano Award for classical piano playing as a senior at Somerville High School (New Jersey) in 1979. As I was studying classical music in high school, I also started to listen to jazz pianists and wished I could play like them. My Dad took me to some jazz concerts and I couldn’t help but be captivated by the freedom and joy the musicians seemed to play with. When I was a sophomore in high school, my brother Jim got me a Keith Jarrett solo piano album for my birthday, and I played it over and over, amazed by the beauty and imagination of his improvisations. 

After high school I went to the University of Delaware without any idea of what my career path would be. I was even a classical piano major there for a few months before dropping out of school. I started working a job in the Somerset Medical Center store room, stocking shelves and delivering supplies around the hospital. I still wanted to play jazz, so I went to the local music store and asked if they could recommend a jazz teacher. They put me in touch with Keith MacDonald, a local teacher who had actually gone to high school with the great jazz pianist Bill Evans. Keith was an excellent pianist and teacher and it only took a few lessons for me to realize that I was on the right path. Practicing scales and chords now had a whole new meaning as they became tools to use in arranging and improvising. 

In 1983 I went back to college at Montclair State in my home state of New Jersey, this time as a math major. I was always good in math and music, and since I still wasn’t planning a career in music, why not study math? I also found myself wandering into the music building quite a bit and saw that they were starting up a jazz ensemble led by Chris White, a bass player who had played with the legendary jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. As a math major, I didn’t even know if they would let me audition, but they did and I was accepted into the ensemble. I had heard jazz groups play before, but to play with a group and feel the music from the inside was truly addictive. 

When I graduated in December 1985, I still didn’t feel ready to play jazz professionally. I interviewed for two pension consulting jobs as that seemed to be something that math majors could do. I was offered both jobs. I took one of them but also got another job as well, since the person whose pension job I declined actually hired me to teach his daughter piano lessons! When I started the new pension job, one of the employees there also hired me to teach her daughter piano lessons!! I now had a full time pension job and two piano students on the side. 

I gradually picked up more piano students and then got a job playing piano in a restaurant on Friday and Saturday nights. At some point in 1989, I realized that I couldn’t keep that schedule up for too long and something had to give. I quit the pension job and decided to rely on teaching lessons and playing gigs to make a living. I was finally a full time musician. 

I had just started to compose a few songs when in 1990, I was given the opportunity to write a synthesizer piece called “Tubular Rasa” for a Modern Dance Class Performance at Montclair State University. It was a thrill to watch them dance to the music that I had created, and it was exciting when they brought it back for a 1994 performance! I never notated the music for the piece. It was just recorded on the synthesizer. I never even kept a copy of the recording, so the piece remains buried in the past, but the experience stayed with me and helped me realize that composing was going to be an important part of my life. As I continued teaching lessons and playing gigs, I kept on writing, mostly jazz flavored songs that could be played on piano or by small jazz groups. 

As I write this today, it is 2019, and I am looking back at thirty years of gigs, lessons, compositions, and other musical experiences. As time has passed, my songs have become especially meaningful to me, as they have mirrored the various experiences in my life. I have written songs inspired by words, photos and paintings, songs in response to tragedies, and songs about nieces and nephews and family vacations. Other compositions have been more spiritual, nostalgic, and prayerful. 

On a personal level, I wrote a little song, appropriately titled “I Wrote a Little Song”, for my wife Ginny. I wrote lyrics for this one, and have gradually started to write more songs with lyrics. It was fun to surprise her with it at a local performance with jazz vocalist Brynn Stanley singing it beautifully. I then had a chance to write a choral arrangement of the song and Ginny conducted the Triad Vocal Ensemble in a beautiful performance. I wrote a song called “Baby Boy” after my oldest son Dustin was born and another one called “Dreams of Dustin” after having dreams about him before he was born. I am grateful that he still gets emotional when he hears these songs, and it is a connection that we have. I wrote a song called “Baby Nathan” after my son Nathan was born. This past summer he asked me to write him a song with some energy, and I couldn’t turn him down and wrote a funky latin jazz song called “Sounds Like Summer”. I also wrote a song called “M and M” for my parents, Mike and Marilyn, who have always supported me in my music making endeavors. 

Recently there have been more songs with lyrics, which has led to a collaboration with singer Laura Wooton and we have started to record some of these. This is an exciting new direction for my music and I look forward to getting these songs out into the world. 

I hope that some of my music finds your ears, and that you find something that you connect with. I get great satisfaction from writing songs, and even more satisfaction when people get to hear them and are inspired by them. Feel free to send me feedback about my songs. I welcome connections with people who share a part of my musical world.