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April 12, 2013     Post-Gazette
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April 12, 2013

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POST-GAZETTE, APRIL 12, 2013 Page13 00N00anna 00Babb'00onno by John Christoforo A Nostalgic Remembrance Socially Scene (Continued from Page 13) I must have been eight or nine and was told that Babbononno was going to teach me to read music. My teachers at the Chapman School across the street from where we lived in East Bos- ton had taught us music. When I said this to Babbo- nonno, he laughed. In Ital- ian, he said, "I'm going to teach you Solfeggio, the Ital- ian method every profes- sional musician studies." The Solfeggio method is the European method of musical articulation that does, in fact, prepare a student to un- derstand the melody, har- mony and rhythms of a com- position. Dad and all my uncles had studied music this way before they ever touched any instruments, so it was Solfeggio for me with Babbononno as my teacher. I would sit in front of a music stand, read and sing out the notes and beat them out as if I was conducting or leading a band. Babbononno would sit next to me beating out the same rhythms with a ruler and if I made a mis- take, I got the ruler on the knuckles. I tell people that by the time I was 12, I had hands like a fighter. Well, I learned to read music backward and forward. When Babbononno thought I was ready, he told my father that it was time I picked up an instrument. Uncles Paul and Nick thought it might be nice if I learned their instru- ments, clarinet and sax. I tried and didn't like either one. Babbononno tried to teach me drums. I didn't take to drumming either. Dad had a friend stick an accordion under my chin. That was even worse. From there I tried trombone, piano, violin and guitar. I wasn't comfort- able with any instrument and after a family powwow, it was determined that I wasn't ready to take up an instrument. When I got to junior high school, I joined the drum and bugle corps. The Boston schools had military drill back then and the Joseph H. Barnes Junior High School had a drum and bugle corps that had a good reputation and I took up the bugle. Ralph Fucillo, a professional trum- pet player that Dad and my uncles knew, was the bugle teacher and I had an easy time of it. Mom and Nanna used to discuss how happy Babbononno, my father and uncles were that I was finally involved in music. When I headed for English High School a few years later, I tried the trumpet. My prob- lem was that I was working at the Seville Theater, play- ing baseball and didn't really have time to practice my instruments. Finally, mak- ing money and playing ball won out and the bugle and trumpet began to gather dust from lack of use. Dad had given me lessons on the bass violin which interested me at the begin- ning. But, I lost interest when the spring of my senior year of high school rolled around and I made it as a second baseman for a local CYO team as well as the second baseman for an American Legion team. Just around graduation time, I was sitting on the front steps of the house on Eutaw Street in East Boston and a friend came walking by carrying a bass violin over his left shoulder. I yelled out to him and he came across the street to talk and rest a bit. I asked him what he was up to and he indicated that he was selling his bass violin as he had joined the Army. He had been playing with a local dance and stated that they would need a bass player and why didn't I speak to the leader, also a friend, who lived in the neighborhood. Well, I spoke to the leader and borrowed Dad's bass for a rehearsal that he asked me to attend. From that point on, I was hooked. I loved playing the bass even thought I went home with blisters on a few of my fingers. Dad resumed the bass lessons and I prac- ticed every free minute I had from that point on. I started college that fall and stayed with the neighborhood band enjoying the jobs and the extra money. By the time I finished my freshman year at Boston State (now U. Mass Boston), I knew that I had to go beyond neighborhood musicians to grow musically, so I auditioned for the Ken Reeves Orchestra, made it and became a professional at age 18. Dad was proud, Babbononno was proud and my uncles couldn't wait until I would be ready to play with them. Morn and Nanna would brag about their son/grand- son when they met with the ladies in the neighborhood. Once I had passed the audition for the Ken Reeves Orchestra, Dad brought me to Lebow Brothers, a local cloth- ier on Washington Street that gave a good discount to members of the Musicians Union. I was fitted for my -- FOR YOU WHO APPRECIATE THE FINEST -- THE MUSIC FOR ALL OCCASIONS 781-648-5678 first tuxedo and was on my way. Because I was now work- ing with people from many parts of the Greater Boston area, Dad found a car I could afford. Working with the local band in East Boston, I didn't need a car, but now it was a necessity. It was 1958 and I bought a '54 Chevy for $550. My bass fit inside and that's all that counted. Babbononno hated cars, but loved to ride in my Chevy because it carried a musician to work several nights a week and he was proud. During the spring of 1960, it was graduation time. At about that point, I heard from the grapevine that the Bos- ton Civic Symphony was look- ing for string players. Dad had taught me to play bass using a German classical approach, so I decided to try out. I made it and became a bass player for that orches- tra. We rehearsed on Monday evenings in the basement of Boston Latin School. The conductor, Calvin Novak, was strict in terms of wanting things done his way. He was a perfectionist with perfect pitch and you played your part his way or else. Fred Davis, a teacher at the South End Music Center was often a guest artist with the orches- tra and I began to study piano with him. I didn't want to be- come a pianist; I just wanted to learn more about music and thought the piano was the way to go. The fol- lowing spring, I played a few concerts with the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra. When they were short cer- tain instruments, the music director, Harry Ellis Dickson, would recruit from the Civic Symphony and I was one of the draftees they hired to play bass. Well, from that point on, I tried everything from sym- phony to soul, playing in Bos- ton and New York mainly, and enjoyed much of it. I made enough money to pay my way through two master's degrees and a doctorate with- out having to ask anyone for a loan. Because Dad and I both played bass, we seldom worked together. The only occasions were band con- certs at Revere Beach or Houghton's Pond during the summer, when he played tuba and I played bass. I did wind up doing a lot of work with Uncle Nick. When Babbononno was still living with us, he would watch me get dressed for a job and have to examine my tux, see if my nails were clean and OK the shine on my shoes before I could exit the door. Those were the days before DJs and canned music or electronics and they were fun. Much of it is gone now, and for the most part, you can't make a living playing music. It's just a sideline today. But, those memories of the old days ... they live on and are stronger than ever. Phone GOD BLESS AMERICA Jonathan Biss will take stage with the Elias String Quartet this weekend at Jordan Hall. (Photo Courtesy of Friday, April 124 at 8:00 pm in NEC's Jordan Hall you can see these talented acts come together for a classic perfor- mance and superb direction. New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall is located at 30 Gainsborough Street in Boston. For more informa- tion on shows and the orga- nization you can visit or call (617) 585-1100. A Tasty Treat to Compli- ment Your Time in the City .... Spring has sprung and so are the outdoor patios to grab a bite to eat. Since its open- ing in 1994, Stephanie's has been an institution in the heart of Boston's Back Bay. The upscale Newbury Street location offers shoppers, tourists, business travelers and locals a hearty meal in a cozy banquette or street-side with a perfect view for people watching. Owner Stephanie Sokolove serves "sophisticated com- fort food" in a relaxed and welcoming environment. The restaurant features a sidewalk cafe, club-like bar, cozy fireplace and sky-lit din- ing area. Over the years Stephanie's has received accolades in numerous pub- lications, including USA To- day and The New York Times. Stephanie's is located at 190 Newbury St., Boston. For further info on menus, hours and reservations, visit or call 617-236-0990. K3  Fully Insured Lic #017936 Nechanical Heating & Air Conditioning Sales, Service & Installation Ken Shallow 617.593.6211 Leave the DELIVERY to Us! 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