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Joe Romano is sitting in with the angels now... Rest in peace, Joe

saxophone imageJoe Romano, a sax man close to the hearts of many jazz musicians in Rochester and around the world has passed away. Joe played with a veritable Who's Who of jazz greats, including Buddy Rich, Louie Bellson, Woody Herman, Chuck Mangione, Wynton Kelly, Sam Jones, Billy Higgins, Art Pepper, Barry Harris, Sonny Stitt, and Charlie Parker. As Ron Netsky noted in City Newspaper in 2003, "[o]ver the last half century, few Rochester jazz musicians have pulled off as much as Joe Romano."

Romano was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer a few months ago and recently moved back to Rochester to live out the rest of his days. He died yesterday evening at the age of 76.

If you'd like to leave a comment about memories of hearing or playing with Joe, please feel free to leave a comment or send an email to me here at the blog and I'll collect them and post them at a later date.

Added image Here's a profile of Joe published today in the Democrat & Chronicle. Check out the growing number of rememberances in the comments (click on the Comments link below)

This post was originally published on JazzRochester.


As I tell everyone, Joe was my musical father. He hired me for my first jazz gigs at age 16 at Lloyd's on Alexander St. I remember him offering me 3 nights a week steady but my parents would only let me do Fridays and Saturdays because Thursdays were a school night. I was so mad at my folks because I wanted to play as much as I could with Joe but understood in a way because of school. I think one of the most important things Joe taught me was to be authoritive when you play. He was a hard player and expected that from you but he also had a lot of beauty when he played. He could really play a ballad. I know he loved Stan Getz a lot. In fact a couple of years ago on a gig I played with him, someone asked him who his all time favorite tenor player was and he said Stan. Joe really came more from Sonny Rollins on tenor but I could here Stan's influence too. He was a powerful alto player as well! He loved Bird!!
In 2003 we were playing a lot together when he moved back here. That's how the idea of his CD THIS IS THE MOMENT came about. He really wanted to make a CD. He asked me to play on it and of course I was very honored. I remember how much fun we had in the studio and on the way down and back as we rode together. He could tell great stories and make anyone laugh. He was the king of the one liners!
Joe will always be a big inspiration to me. I will miss him dearly and will cherish all the times I got to play with him and be around him. RIP Joe

Mike Melito

joe and i used to go hear bird and he came in and out vegas many times. he came in with sam noto , and carl fontana at the silver slipperbut he and sam never got along with carl. he needed a gig and i gave him my baritone sax to use on my band at the flamingo hotel. he was a great musician and i know he liked what i did with harold land , moody, tom scott, richie cole, benny golson, and most recently eric alexander terry richards was in contact with joe and relayed comments from joe about me. he had a amazing influence on some the great musicians from rochester, sal nistico , sam noto , mouse bonati ,gus mancuso etc. we will miss joe romano. jimmy mulidore

I recall the first time I heard Joe in Rochester. He absolutely blew me away!! You knew you were in the presence of a jazz great. God bless you Joe. May his memeory eternal!!

I first heard Joe when I was 16 years old when I was a high school student visiting my brother John who was a sophomore at U of R. I couldn't believe what I was hearing coming out of this dude's horn(Joe). I was new to the music -- but this sounded like the authentic stuff from Stitt, Cannonball, Bird...but purely his own.

I have always viewed Joe's solo voice as the 'real deal'...steeped in tradition but originality and inventiveness off the the charts. Having the chance to play with Joe numerous times was truly a gift that I am thankful for. He had no tolerance for anything that didn't further the music. In a candid moment on our way to gig in Buffalo he opened to me and said: "All I ever wanted to do was play this music as well as I possibly could...swing, create, groove...I don't know how many times I am going to come back East (from Portland), but let's have a great time and play great tonight!" We laughed a lot that ride down the Thruway that night, but I never forgot that sincere message.

We'll miss Joe a great deal. He was one of a small handful of legends that created an upstate NY jazz scene that we all are still trying to sustain. Most folks around Rochester, have no idea how respected Joe was all around the world. He never rolled out his resume on the band stand. He always came to play.

I first heard Joe Romano in a small club on State Street in Rochester in the early 60s. Joe always struck me as a natural, like Zoot Sims, a player who always swung and who took great joy in the music. Sadly there is not a lot of Joe on record. There are three recordings that I know of that feature Joe Romano in a small group setting. First, “Recuerdo” (Jazzland / OJC) is a 1962 Chuck Mangione quintet date with Wynton Kelly, Sam Jones and Lou Hayes. There is a very fine 1975 Xanadu recording “Sam Noto/Act One” with Barry Harris on piano. “This is the Moment” is a 2003 self-produced quintet date with Joe Magnarelli, trumpet; Dino Losito, piano, Neal Miner, bass and Mike Melito, drums.

Jeff Spevak’s story in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle mentions that Diane Armesto recorded some of Joe’s remembrances after he returned to Rochester. I wonder if Diane has given any thought to making these recordings available. I, for one, would love to listen to Joe’s stories.

Joe was my guest with Diane Armesto on Traffic Jam, the show I hosted from 2001-2004 on Jazz90.1 in Rochester. He was a very gracious guest and told quite a few funny stories. He was also generous in his support of the station, including as a headliner at one of our Meet The Artist concerts. I can't remember the circumstances, but we ended up holding that concert in a school cafeteria. That didn't matter. Joe still burned like he always did, and the capacity crowd loved every second.

As a young piano player in the 60's, I was fortunate to attend the Sam Noto/Joe Romano school of hard knocks bebop in Buffalo. Their quintet, which consisted of Sam, Joe, Joey Azarello on piano Tom Azarello on bass and Al Cecchi on drums held forth at a little
coffee house owned by Sam called the "Renaissance" from midnight to dawn. It was the spot for all the great upstate players and a lot of the visiting big name players passing through.

I played there a lot, subbing for Joey sometimes and sometimes sitting in, and it was a lot like jumping into a pressure cooker. Sam and Joe had a fierce energy and their ensemble playing was crisp and exciting, their solos adventurous and always profoundly musical.

I got to play with Chuck Mangione, Pat La Barbera, Sal Nistico, Don Menza, all the great upstate horn players of that era. It was always obvious to me how much all these great players admired Joe Romano. He had a way of making a sarcastic comment if someone (like me) played a wrong change or stepped on the soloist, that was both funny and
stinging at the same time. It made you practice and study harder. This was jazz college for guys like me.

Later, I moved to Vegas. I got to play with Joe and Sam again on the now infamous Silver Slipper jazz gig with Carl Fontana. Carl, a great musician, was way too laid back for Sam and Joe and hilarious fireworks ensued.
Over the years I played a variety of gigs with Joe here, including the last "reunion" gig with Sam at Don Menza's Riviera Jazz Night.

There was never a moment on the bandstand with Joe Romano in all those years that was not exciting and musically fulfilling for me. He was one of those rare players who loved music so much that he could never give less than his best, whether at the top level of jazz performance or some lame hotel party gig.

The last time I played with Joe was at the Riviera gig I mentioned above. Despite having survived a heart attack, he was sounding better than ever, soulful and inventive and aggressive as usual.

After the set he paid me a compliment I will always treasure. He said "Mike my boy, we trained you well!"

RIP Joe, you will be missed...

Mike Breene
Las Vegas

When I think of jazz in Rochester, Joe is who I think of first. When I was coming up he was the most powerful cat around, and everytime I saw him he gave off the vibe of someone who was very strong with what he did, and also hard to please and impress. This guy took no prisoners! I didn't get to hang with him nearly as much as I would have liked, but I had some good moments nonetheless. The first time i ever heard him was on an cassette playing with Vinnie Ruggerio, in a quintet that had Pat Labarbera, Barry Kiner and Alan Murphy Jr. Man they sounded great! The first time i got to play with Joe was not long after i started studying with Joe Lovano. Romano knew i was studying with Joe, and wanted to hear what was going on with my playing. I got to play the last two sets with him, and it was great, really great. He said I sounded good, and that i should stick close to Lovano, he wouldn't steer me wrong (i did, and he didn't). But of all the times I saw, heard and hung with him, the best was after running into him one night at the movies while i was home visiting my mom after a seven month Ray Charles tour. We were both headed towards the bathroom from our respective pictures, and after asking what i was doing back in Rochester, said "hey man, my movies sucks, let's go to my house and have a few drinks and listen to some music". We sat there for hours and got slowly but completely ripped while we listened to Rollins, Bird, Stitt, Griff, Hank and Trane, i just let him talk, about those guys and also about Vinnie and Sal Nistico and Sam Noto and Roy McCurdy and all the upstate cats. It was unbelievably great, and when the night was over I was so lit he let me sleep on his couch, but not until I called my mother to tell her where I was! The only positive thing about a great musician like Joe moving on is that we all get a good look at his legacy, and he left a great one. Of course all the beautiful music, but more importantly, all the musicians he helped to train and bring out. Guys like Joe Locke, Mike Melito, Danny Vitale, Bob Sneider and everybody else who knew and worked with Joe, they're his musical children, and every time they get up on a bandstand and hit hard like Joe did, you're hearing a little piece of him. He was a beautiful guy and a great musician, and he will be sorely missed - R.I.P.

Joe Romano was one of the greatest saxophone innovators to play the instrument! He had a huge influence on me in many ways. He was very supportive of me playing sax. He loved the fact that he was always welcomed on my radio show when he would come back to Rochester and was a guest on it many time over the years. Nobody could play a ballad like Joe Romano, whether it be on alto or tenor! Nobody! When he would play a ballad, Joe possessed a beautiful-sadness which resinated from his horn. I was driven to tears on more that one occasion, as I would hear him play a ballad. I used to always try to sit right in front of him as he played, in order to get the full impact of this inspirational jazz player. I could go on and on, but I suppose less is more. I will always miss Joe Romano and I'm glad to have had the pleasure of hearing him well over 150 times, but whose counting. May You Rest In Peace JR! YOU WILL ALWAYS BE THE MAN!

Tom Pethic, Jazz 90.1

I used to work the cruise ship gigs with Joe, quite a bit.

Joe always told me that my playing was like a watered down version of Teodross Avery, and this inspired me to really drink less and shed more so I could get it together.

I never took care of business, though and still have an issue with the drink, but I never forgot Joe's advice. I simply lacked the intestinal fortitude that it takes and
as a result I'm just another guy with a Link and a Selmer Mark 6 posing as a jazzman with relevant to say.

Joe Romano was a class act and as old-school real as they come.

Joe Romano may be best known for his improvisational skills & deep-swing feel, his candor and his having inspired so many young musicians to get up on the bandstand to express themselves--me too--1981 in Las Vegas and again in Rochester where we played with guitarist Tommy Rizzo and Steve Davis on bass.

It was a good night. We were all genuinely pleased – something new for me as I had not been satisfied with my playing until this particular evening. While my inner ear was well advanced from my having listened intensely to music for years, up to this point I had only been playing the drums for two, and was not yet able to actually execute on the instrument all that I could hear in my head. Joe apparently heard the direction in which I was going and wanted me in his band.

What made this night special was that I was reasonably well prepared, was feeling strong-–feeling good and perhaps most of all I wanted to play my very best for Joe. I was also able to settle into a nice-–a real nice deep groove with Steve Davis. It was a great experience for me to have hooked up with a bass player like that. I remember that we were all smiling all through the night. It was magical-–and never to be again.

I took a hiatus from playing drums and from the drama of the jazz scene to consider choosing a more stable, conventional,normal life.

Upon realizing that I had no choice, that normalcy was not my destiny, I got back into music--this time into singing--and back into my relationship with Joe performing & recording together and being the very best of friends.

Having known this man for nearly forty years, having experienced his intensity both on and off the bandstand, having witnessed his strong influence on young musicians in his hometown and the respect he received from musicians from coast to coast for his own unique, natural, fiery way of playing ... in the end I am only grateful for his existence.

Three weeks before his death, Joe asked if my experiences with him throughout all the years had been mostly positive.
“99.9%” I reassured him. “That’s good to hear babe” he smiled. Me too.

I love you JR.... Always and After,


Diane Armesto; Rochester, NY

Sorry I wasn't able to get back to you right away about Joe Romano. Mike Stern once told me it took him two years to start talking about Jaco in the 'Past tense" instead of the "Present tense" and that's the way it's been for me about Joe Romano. Joe and I went out side the music boundaries and became very close friends, brothers almost Karmic in a sense; it was Karmic!!. I'm still not completely in tuned with the fact that he's gone. I stare at the headlines just looking at his name and reading in disbelief as it all went so fast.I thought that at least we'd be able to play one more time together. I use to think Joe was invincible with his "cutting character", mannerisms and cynical humor that made us all crack a smile.

I first met Joe when I was 20 at the Top Of The Plaza with Buddy Rich's Band in the 60's.There was literally a line to get in the elevator out on Broad St. I went with a sax player named Cappy Sanderson and a young pianist named Biff Hannon. The three of us were working steady at the Leroy CC in Leroy, NY. Joe knew Cappy very well as Cappy played very much like Stan the Man one of Joe's favorites. Joe looked at Cappy and said " Hey Cappy good to see ya, look at me man I'm getting older and the rest of the sax section is getting younger" then he smiled at me and Biff. I knew that someday I'd play with Buddy's Band and also with Joe and my intuition was right. Joe later told me how he was responsible for booking Buddy's band there that night cause Buddy didn't have a gig. Richie Cole, Pat LaBarbera and Joe Calo were in the sax section. Art pepper had just got off cause he was so sick. Joe use to room with Art and is talked about in Art's book 'Straight Life'.

I went to Berklee in Boston a few years later in 1970 after a recommendation from Pat LaBarbera that night at the Top of The Plaza. Then after a 10 year stay in Boston I came back to Rochester the same time Joe did in 1980. Our first gig together was with a big band gig at the Xerox Auditorium. I was carrying my bass and it was a snowy freezing night. Joe and I literally walked up to the entrance together and his first words were "What a night this is huh, this shit is out, hey don't I know you from some place"? After the gig Joe came up to me and said "man you play real nice I'll be calling you for some gigs". Sure enough Joe called and wanted to start a small group together. Our first gig was at the Casablanca with Bobby Blandino and Mark Manetta. We played 'Oleo' right up there. Bobby looked at Joe, smiled and during the break we all laughed and it was a beginning of a musical union. We worked a lot together at Lloyd's on Alexander St. in the 80's using various drummers, pianists and guitarists. We played at a place on State St. named the Gallery with Andy Calabrese and Steve Curry. Joe was taking a great solo on 'Lover Man' one night and this guy in front of Joe was putting his head down and really getting into the music. Joe kept looking at him and I thought 'oh no'. Finally Joe stopped playing and said right in front of the packed club "Hey man don't let me interrupt your nap or anything" the whole place fell on the floor.

We played a place called Mulberry's on Hudson Ave. Great Italian food although Joe never ate before he played but I certainly took advantage of it. We had various cats playing with us there and sitting in also. Andy Calabrese and Bobby Blandino (who is on that DVD going around that they shot at the club a real nice live look of Joe playing his buns off ) along with Richie Vitale, Mike DiMartino, Mike Melito and Biff Hannon. One night Chuck Mangione came down and so did Don Menza. One night when the pianist went to the bar during a break and he knew we'd be up there a good hour so the pianist ordered a bunch of drinks. We were all waiting for him to come up to the bandstand and he had an arm full of drinks. Joe looked at pianist and then looked at me and said "What the 'frig' is this"? He turned to the pianist and said "you know I don't mind you drinking man but I don't like anybody who drinks more than me". The whole place went into hysterics.

Joe and I collaborated in a few concerts together also. We did one at Red Creek with Sammy Noto, remember that one? It was sold out. We also did Richmond's Bar with a big band and I promoted it as The Joe Romano Big Band. The Mangiones were there along with Steve Gadd. Danny D'Imperio played drums and Biff Hannon on piano. We even had Jeff Tyzik in the trumpet section. I had a tape of that band along with Joe's Jokes but it got lost some how.We also played that club on the corner of Main and Scio. What was the name of that club? It's up for sale now. We also did a Mother's Day Special at Susan Plunkett's place called Jazzberry's (use to be Tommy's). We featured Sheila Jordan on vocals and sold both shows out. That was an interesting night with Danny D ordering drinks from the stage while Sheila was singing. She didn't put up with that for long LOL.

Then there was Sammy's club in Buffalo The Renaissance with Sal Nestico and Sammy Noto and Joe. They all blew 35 choruses a piece on Rhythm Changes at MM 200 and that was a half note. We went 45 minutes on one tune once and an hour and a half sets with six people in the joint but those animals didn't care. The rhythm section players were holding up but Sammy kept thinking we were in the wrong place but it was him LOL. Maybe cause the drinks were free. Did I miss anything? Oh what about the night at the Rochester Jazz Festival when Steve Gadd and Gap played. Joe was looking around and saying hello to everyone when we were on stage in between tunes. Joe called a tune "Old Folks" and I was getting a volume setting on my amp. Joe said "hey and how about a hand for an old friend sitting in front of me. I was in the army with this guy imagine that, imagine that"? Well the guy was really short and Joe said "hey stand up and take a bow " and the guy was waiting to sit down at his table and Joe said "Oops his is standing".

We also had a very successful Benefit Concert at the Little Theater with Steve Gadd and Harold Danko put together by Diane Armesto to recondition the piano at the Little Cafe. Joe had just returned from Vegas and he called a tune that's one of my favorites 'For Heaven's Sake' only we did it as a Samba which had a great feel to it. A little contrary to the way it's usually played as a very slow Bill Evans-ish ballad. Joe and I use to ride all over listening to Bird, Trane, Getz and he even was interested in the younger cats like Brecker, Berg, Mintzer and Bergonzi. We'd go over to his mother Rose's for dinner then afterwards go to the OTB. Once his mother was trying to give him a few bucks on a horse and her and Joe were looking at the program and Joe said "Ma don't bet on that horse it's a looser" then they'd squabble over the odds it was a real riot. I miss the jams and hangs over at Jack and Del Stevens. Jack always had great wine and great cashews. It's one of those periods that holds a special place in my heart. I knew how Joe played and I used to drive the time right up Joe's spine and Joe would cut through with his alto with some of the best Be-Bop lines I ever heard.

Me and Blandino years ago would create a groove Joe would say "you could grow watermelons in it". One night Joe was playing especially well and we had Joe Gallante on piano and Barry Kiner sat in. We were playing "Blackbird" and Joe felt the groove and said "Man I'm gonna take this group on the rode, just don't get hit by a truck, LOL". If the groove was especially hard and the scotch was good Joe would let out a yell "Yeah your right!"

One special night we were playing to a very enthusiastic audience and we tried to walk off the stage but the audience kept bringing us back so I said "Joe what are we gonna play?", as we played the whole book of favorites we had. He said "Follow me man you can't lose when you play the blues, ya dig". I'm gonna miss Joe beyond belief kind-a like a badly needed breath of fresh cool air in a bar room filled with smoke. But most of all I'm gonna miss his passion for music, his sound, his edge and his autonomous dexterity in which he played but most of all I'm gonna miss Joe 'cause he was like a brother and 'one of a kind'; because he was the one and only Ladies and Gentlemen 'Give it up for Joe Romano'. Everywhere we went there was always someone that Joe knew. I use to say "Joe man you ought to run for President" he'd laugh at that one. Joe was also a very good painter. I got a chance to see some of his works while visiting him a few times in his last days. So Greg if there's a Be-Bop Heaven then there's got to be one hell of a Be-Bop Band.
I Love and Miss you Joe ....Peace!!!!!!!!!!

Fred J. Stone, Jr.

I was sadden to read that Joe had passed. I haven't seen him for quite a long time, but the memories of our time spent together seems like yesterday.
I am very fortunate to have spent two years in Alaska with Joe. Being in an Air Force band, we were able to do what we both loved most, PLAY MUSIC 24/7 for two full years.At the time, being 18 or 19 years old,everything in Jazz was new to us.Joe was more advanced at the time, but he grabbed this bass player by the ear and pulled me along.
Joe was one of those special people that brought out the best in the people he worked with. He certainly inspired me to become a much better musician.
He will be missed very much.

Chuck Whitworth

I had so many great nights listing to Joe. The late night hangs were memorable too!

One night in particular stays in my mind. It was a cold, very snowy weekday night at The Glass Onion. Maybe ten people in the place because of the weather. The band has Barry Kiener, Steve Davis and Danny D'Impierio in it.

They reached a unbelievable and intense peak, and at one point, one song flowed into another. No breaks between songs, and they ended with a fierce "Mr. PC".

That band LIFTED THE BANDSTAND that night!

Peace and Love to you Joe,

Tom Marcello

It was Sunday afternoon on March 1, 1981. Freddie Hubbard was performing in a Las Vegas club--Joe Julian’s. Having known Freddie from Los Angeles where I had been booking the best in jazz at clubs like Donte’s, The Baked Potato, The Sound Room, etc. I approached him and asked if Joe Romano could sit in.

“Can he play?” Freddie asked in his sometimes smug, intimidating way.

“Why don’t you tell me” I suggested, apparently with confidence enough so that Joe was invited up onto the bandstand.

I will forever remember how wonderful Joe sounded that day--a perfect day when everything he attempted to execute on the alto saxophone fell perfectly into place--swinging, captivating, delicious bebop lines you could almost taste.

I remember too how proud I was of Joe’s playing when Freddie looked over at me and with a smile of submission nodded his head--impressed with and delighting in what he was hearing too.

Great to hear about that playing together of Joe and Freddie in Las Vegas back in 1981. Thank you, Diane. Do you have any other memories of Joe Julian and his Las Vegas night club - especially of Julian's wife, Helga Julian Marandola, who was a great bar pianist and night club singer? Klaus from Germany.

Those special, inspired performances by Joe Romano 1981 in Las Vegas - did they all took place in Joe Julian's nightclub or were there other venues? As far as I know Julian's club was destroyed by fire in April 1982.


I played piano on a gig with Joe Romano in Rochester back in the early '50s, while attending the Eastman School.
I well remember he was a great player & was pleased to learn he made it later on with Buddy Rich and other bands.

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