Jazz Great Teaches Life, Lives Jazz

Jazz Great Teaches Life, Lives Jazz

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He's a world-renowned sax and flute player with ten CDs to his name and the former musical director for trumpeter extraordinaire Maynard Ferguson. Rowan music professor Denis DiBlasio teaches life in the jazz lane. He's lived a life others only dream about but, he's the first to tell you, it's out there and available, ripe for the picking.

He's a world-renowned sax and flute player with ten CDs to his name and the former musical director for trumpeter extraordinaire Maynard Ferguson.

He's jammed with some of the biggest names in jazz and traveled the world blowing his horn, from the Hollywood Bowl and the Playboy Jazz Festival to the private court of the King of Thailand.

He's lived a life others only dream about but, he's the first to tell you, it's out there and available, ripe for the picking.

HE is Denis DiBlasio, director of the Jazz Program at Rowan University and Executive Director of The Maynard Ferguson Institute of Jazz at Rowan.

In between weekend and summer gigs, and there are many - booked as far as two years in advance - DiBlasio holds court of his own, inspiring students to not only reach for the brass ring but to nail it.

"You can do anything you want here at Rowan and get the support of everybody," DiBlasio says. "If you're motivated, it's like a playground."

As an example DiBlasio mentions senior David Lackner, a fellow sax player in the jazz program who recently cut his first CD, Chapter One.

"There's no course on putting out a CD but Dave's motivated," DiBlasio says. "He wanted to do it and he got it done."

DiBlasio says Lackner, who'd studied with him since his arrival at Rowan as a freshman, was eager to cut a disc but had lots of questions.

"I told Dave to surround himself with the best and that's just what he did," DiBlasio recalls.

The result was a nine-track recording featuring Philadelphia-area heavyweights George Rabbai, Jim Ridl and Jim Miller. One of the tracks, "Three for DDB," is a tribute to Denis DiBlasio.

A tenured professor who has been on staff at Rowan for more than a dozen years, DiBlasio, 53, says he caught the jazz bug at age six and he's been delirious ever since.

"It was just another fun thing to do," he says. "Football's fun. Climbing trees was fun. And jazz is fun. It was just that simple."

A lesson in music marketing

A stop by DiBlasio's office in Wilson Hall is like a lesson in jazz classics. Or music marketing.

The décor reflects the tastes and experiences of a man who's seen the world - maps and music paraphernalia, a wall of sound, his baritone sax.

On the phone, DiBlasio finesses the details of a contract for the rights and royalties to a Maynard Ferguson piece he worked on. Ferguson, his friend and mentor, died in 2006, but he still evidently plays a big part in DiBlasio's life.

"Mechanical royalties come from selling your CDs," he explains, ever the teacher. "Publishing royalties come from when your stuff is played on the air or TV."

But the player beware: the history of music is rife with rip-offs and scammers, a tradition that forces even the most talented of players to mind their business.

And part of the business, he explains, is keeping on track of things.

"The contract is only as good as the paper it's written on," DiBlasio says. "There have been entire books written about guys getting ripped off so this is a huge part of it."

DiBlasio is amiable with the recording executive on the line but he'd clearly rather be playing or teaching. Gigs are evidently what he loves most and recent ones have taken him to Salt Lake City for the Crescent City Jazz Festival and Chicago for the Elmhurst College Jazz Festival.
"Playing is never a problem," he says. "It's the travel. It's like the old expression. I'll play the gig for free -- you're paying to get me there."

A good ride

DiBlasio, who believes no good artist should have to starve, says there are plenty of options for aspiring musicians - from performance and recording careers to writing and teaching.

He enjoys a combined approach.

"For me it all comes back to playing," he says. "If I don't write or play it makes it hard to teach."

Between the writing, playing and teaching, he also still finds time to record.

DiBlasio's most recent disc, "View From Pikes," received critical acclaim when it was released in 2006. Writing on www.jazzreview.com,

Don Williamson described the straight-ahead compilation as "astounding."

"DiBlasio's View from Pikes proves once again that his distinctive style both on baritone sax and flute is not only technically astounding, as proven by his jaw-dropping performance on ‘Tear Up an Anvil in an Open Field,' but also richly appealing," Williamson wrote.

The critic bemoans the fact that DiBlasio was not included in a JazzTimes online readers' poll of great contemporary baritone sax players but concludes that it was JazzTimes, ultimately, who missed the beat.

"As for the polls, maybe next year, maybe not," Williamson writes. "But does it really matter? What matters is the pleasure that Denis DiBlasio has brought to immeasurable numbers of listeners -- and the lessons that he has taught to countless students -- throughout his career."


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