I met Joe Roccisano in the sixties at a summer performing arts camp called Ramblerny, located in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Joe was from my hometown, Springfield, Massachusetts, and had won some sort of Phil Woods' scholarship to attend what was then called the Maynard Ferguson School of Jazz. Maynard came by for a minute but was much too busy to devote any time to the jazz program. I lived in the area and had volunteered to help by teaching in exchange for free tuition for my kids. Ramblerny graduated some very fine musicians: Rick Chamberlain, Mike Brecker, Richie Cole, Roger Rosenberg, Bobby Mover and Tom Zappe among them.
Joe was very advanced in musical talent and skill and although he was a great alto player it was his arranging and composing skills that got my attention. I remember his first chart on Leonard Bernstein' s Lonely Town. It was harmonically rich and captured the somber mood of the piece perfectly! He became a frequent contributor to the Ramblerny bands repertoire and a writer was born!
Directly across the Delaware River from New Hope was the Lambertville Music Circus, an arena whose normal fare was musical comedy but on Monday nights brought in jazz groups. I had arranged for the Ramblerny jazz majors to attend these concerts and also meet the artist(s) in the afternoon prior to the concert. Dave Brubeck, Stan Getz and Julian Cannonball Adderly were some of the artists who graciously met with the students and answered some of their questions. On Monday, as I was gathering the students for the field trip to meet Horace Silver, some of the kids said they had a rehearsal and couldn't go. The Musical Comedy department, which was doing Carousel, had called a rehearsal and administration had backed them up. Nobody had told me of this change of policy so I went to the office to protest to the owners, all to no avail. I told them either stand by the agreement or I was gone and I gave them a couple of hours to think about their grievous error while Joe and I went to lunch. When we came back the school was in turmoil. Students milled around the courtyard and the word out was that the lady owner had fainted. I went to see her. She had swooned and was laying on her couch doing Camile. As I entered, her husband shouted; "Phil Woods! You'll never work this town again!" Since I was not being paid and the town only had 200 people, the threat was rather hollow. But it was obvious that my part-time teaching post was over. Joe was just as outraged over this lack of good faith on management's part and came home to spend the rest of the summer with me and the family. I would take Joe along on record dates and we had a ball.
Joe and I became the best of friends. At one point he was married to the daughter of my other Springfield, Massachusetts buddy, Joe Lopes. Ah, the incestuousness of life in E flat! Joe Roccisano was one of those cats who had to make music. It had nothing to do with gigs--he just wanted to write and hear his music performed--some kind of way, any kind of way! Joe could invent a gig in a minute. He led a rehearsal band in Los Angeles when he lived there and he kept this energy going when he moved to NYC. Joe was always an East Coast guy at heart and New York was good for him as he was good for the Apple! Joe wrote charts for the likes of Woody Herman, Buddy Rich, Steely Dan and contributed to many of my special projects. (Little Big Band, Quintet, and many other orchestral projects.)
Joe could also spot a great restaurant and he turned us all on to our friend Enzo's Porta Bello restaurant located on Thompson at Bleeker. Best Italian food in New York (maybe anywhere) - and Joe loved it there! And I loved the twinkle in his eye when we ate well and laughed, and we always ate well at Enzo's! Joe and I did a lot of laughing!
This recording represents Joe's last band, a nonet. His writing on this is crisp and clear and his playing is full of light. His rendition of Henry Mancinis' "Wine and Roses" makes me weep - I weep for Joe but I also cry because the world's taste buds seem to be centered where the sun don't shine and the music that Joe made was virtually ignored by the jazz world! With Joe it was music first! That is why he always had the very best players--like Terry Clarke, who, when he left Canada for New York became a charter Roccisano fan and friend and drummer--straight from Boss Brass, not a bad band either!
All the cats who played Joe's music were hooked! So even if the press and the gigs were not happening, Joe always attracted superior musicians. The cats always know and that is the important thing! Quality! Joe was quality and love, a heluva package.
Joe died of a massive heart attack on November 9 while on his way to work at his regular Sunday Brunch gig at the Blue Note with this Nonet. He was 58! It is very sad and very unfair and unfathomable. My world is a lot lonelier without him and I shall miss him very, very much!
This recording represents Joe's last work. The writing is honed to a laser's edge - standards take on new facets - old harmonic friends sound new and fresh and there is about the writing a great deal of optimism. I cling to this optimism. Enjoy and weep if you like, but Joe is still with us--just listen to him!
Phil Woods - May '98
©1998 DOUBLE-TIME RECORDS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.