Paleo Retiree writes:
In this posting, I introduced the inspiring jazz musician and music educator Ned Corman. Ned and I talked about his life as a Pennsylvania farm boy, then as a young musician, then as a student at Eastman School of Music, and we covered some of his early jobs as a professional musician. Today we yak about the beginnings of his work as a fulltime music educator as well as his ongoing adventures as a professional gigging musician. Be sure to check out “Now’s the Time,” Ned’s recently-published autobiography, which he wrote with Rob Enslin. At this link you can buy a copy of the book or download a free PDF of it.
Paleo Retiree: You were saying that it was a motorcycle accident that put an end to your stretch touring with the Fred Waring band.
Ned Corman: When I came off the road in the spring of ‘66 I’d banked some money, and with it I bought my dad a motorcycle. He’d always talked about how much he’d loved this motorcycle, an Indian, he had when he was young. One of the tragedies of my life was that dad died that summer.
PR: That’s very sad. Sudden?
NC: It was a mild heart attack, so he was expected to recover, but he didn’t. I was in the act of telling my mother that her husband had died when the phone rings. It’s a music contractor from Rochester saying, “These are the arrangements for the summer stock program, will you be here?” Mother and I regrouped and decided that dad would have wanted for us to carry on as best we could. So I called the contractor back and told him I’d be there. I rented a trailer and took the motorcycle I’d bought for my dad to Rochester. I’d drive it to the Playhouse and other rehearsals and dates.
PR: How did the accident itself happen?
NC: I was on 490, the expressway. I got on at Monroe Avenue, wended my way to the inside lane, and just before Winton Road overpass I got hit by a truck.
NC: Concussion, dislocated hip, serious lacerations on the left leg. I spent six weeks in the hospital.
PR: That’s a long stretch.
NC: It was. Had that not happened I would have moved to New York that fall.
PR: Once you recovered, what was next for you as a performer?
NC: There was a British dancer, his name was Tommy Steele.
PR: I remember him — a big Broadway star.
NC: He was. And there was a bus-and-truck tour of “Half a Sixpence.”
PR: That was one of his big roles.
NC: It was. The bus and truck was going out on that tour in ‘67. The music director was a guy I’d played summer stock with. He wanted me as first clarinet and assistant music director. So I went out with them.
PR: How long a gig was that?
NC: Fifteen weeks or so. I came back to Rochester and did another summer stock/Arrangers Holiday summer, with the express purpose of moving to New York in the fall of ‘67.
PR: Did you finally give New York City a try?
NC: I did. A close friend who played for me in the big band at Penn State had gone on to Manhattan School for his graduate degree. So when I moved to New York City, the two of us looked around for apartments. At the end of three days, when I’d seen what we were going to be able to afford and the kinds of hovel I’d have to live in, I decided, “I can’t live in New York City.” I packed my stuff up, got another rental car and went home. I just decided I didn’t want to live in NY.
PR: What hit you during those three days?
NC: Poverty. I’d have been living in abject poverty until I got my feet on the ground, and potentially for a long time after that. The other thing that came on me was that I by and large had never worked without a paycheck. But if I moved to New York I wouldn’t know where my next money was coming from.
PR: Yet you’d been thinking about New York City for years.
NC: Major, major dilemma. I went back home to mother’s house. I didn’t know what I was going to do when I grew up. I called the contractor again, and was about to go out on a tour with Robert Goulet, who was doing “On a Clear Day.” I was also thinking about teaching, and I called a bunch of people I knew in the teaching business and told them to keep me in mind. And then in November of ‘67 the guy who had been band director at Penfield High School dropped dead of a heart attack.
PR: Bill Bradley, who taught me and my classmates, and was a big local favorite.
NC: He was probably in his mid 30s. I got a call shortly after Thanksgiving asking if I’d come interview for the position. It was a position I was interested in so I boogied on up. I met Jim Dumm for a couple of hours on a Saturday. We had a good talk. Jim gave me a tour of the junior high and high schools. After a few hours he said I should talk to the superintendent. So I went over to Mr. Peck’s house and sat on the sun porch.
PR: I remember Mr. Peck.
NC: A wonderful man. We talked for a half hour or so, and then he said, “Well, we’ll hire you.” I said, “What do you pay?” And he said, “We pay this.” And I said, “Well, that’ll never do.” I said I had to have $10,000 to come to work. A starting teacher in those days was getting $3000 or $4000. And he said, “You got it.” We shook hands. That’s the only contract I ever had in all the years I taught in Penfield.
PR: That’s great. Let me backtrack just for a sec. When you left New York and went back to Pennsylvania and decided what you wanted to do was teach, was that a big soul-searching moment?
NC: Yup. I was staying at my mother’s house, so I had her for counsel, as well as a cadre of friends from Penn State. I spent a lot of time drinking beer and talking with people about what to do.
PR: What was going through your head?
NC: It was clear I couldn’t live in New York City. The whole process in the last four or five years had been getting my doubling chops up so I could be highly competitive in New York. In the New York City music business in those days, if you were part of the A group, you could do three or four jingles during the day and still have time at night for a show if you wanted to do that. A jingle might pay you a hundred bucks, and if you got an international or national jingle your residuals might be as much as four or six thousand dollars. And you might catch a national every couple of weeks if you were part of the A group. It was a tremendous amount of money. The guys who did that were living like Wall Street guys. So part of the motivation was to make a lot of money and part of it was to play with the best players in the world. But the prospect of living in abject poverty until I established myself, I just couldn’t do that.
PR: Did you consider the other big cities?
NC: You could also do well in Nashville, but the music in Nashville was mostly country-western. Chicago was not an alternative in those days. The market in Los Angeles was good. You had the movie industry so you could be doing that regularly. But I didn’t want to live in L.A. We’d been there for two or three weeks with the Waring Show and the smog just killed me.
PR: My SoCal-bred wife tells me that the smog in the ‘50s and ‘60s was terrible.
NC: Every other day it was so bad it burned the daylights out of my eyes.
PR: So you really were in a bind.
NC: I’m playing my clarinet, sax, oboe and flute well enough, but I can’t live in any of the places where I can make a go of it. And I really did miss teaching when I was on the road. I’d really enjoyed the teaching I’d done in Greece. And then I got the call from Penfield, and the offer was really attractive.
PR: Plus you had all your Rochester contacts, so you were moving into a scene you were familiar with.
NC: I should also say that Chuck Mangione had been out of town for a few years. He did Art Blakey for a while, he did Maynard Ferguson for a few years, he did Kai Winding for a while. Chuck and I stayed in touch. Sometimes we’d be back in town at the same time and we’d make music together. And Chuck came back to Rochester in the fall of ‘67. He’d had as much of New York City living as he could put up with, and he’d gotten married. In any event, he came back with the idea of making his mark in Rochester and making a living playing here. He came back in the fall of ‘67 and was working with a ten piece band. He said if I came back to town I could work with him.
PR: That sounds like an attraction too.
NC: And, in addition to Arrangers Holiday and summer stock, I’d become an extra player with the Philharmonic around the time I graduated. That meant that when I was in town, if they needed extra players in the reed section, I’d get the call. So when I was thinking about taking the Penfield job, I also had the prospect of working with Chuck, the prospect of working with the Philharmonic, as well as the Rochester Broadway Theater League, which did four or five shows a year — I played lead in that pit as well. And then I could have the summer work too. It would certainly improve my income and provide the chance to do a lot of high level music making.
PR: So you accepted the Penfield offer. What kind of guy were you at that point?
NC: I was fairly full of myself. I had just bought a Mercedes. So when I showed up to work, I’m driving a one year old Mercedes 230 SL.
PR: How were you received?
NC: I always felt well received by my colleagues. The hardest part about coming into the gig was that Bill Bradley had been so much loved.
PR: He was a big favorite with locals.
NC: A legendary person. I never watched Bill work so I didn’t know what he was like as a teacher. But some of the people who were his students that I worked with told me that Bill was fairly casual about things. My approach to being a music teacher was sit up straight, be on time, say please and thank you, put your hand up and don’t screw up.
PR: For us students it was quite an event when you showed up. What time of year was it?
NC: I started on January 3rd in 1968. The NY State Music Conference usually happened after Thanksgiving, and Bill had died while attending the conference. I got the call in early December.
PR: How did you win over the student musicians?
NC: Fortuitously I had worked with two of the school’s best musicians, Jeff Brede —
PR: I knew Jeff. He was a great clarinet player.
NC: — and John Woods, who was also really good, the summer previously in a high school jazz ensemble at Eastman. I was good at the rehearsal stuff so we’d hit it off. So when I came to Penfield, those two guys and another guy named Jim Gamble were all on my side.
PR: Word was out.
NC: I’d have had a rebellion on my hand if those three hadn’t been in my corner.
PR: Everybody in town was grief-struck about Bill Bradley, and lord knows most of us in Penfield had never seen anybody like you before —
PR: — so there was a feeling that you were going to have to prove yourself.
NC: There were a lot of skeptics. Digging for comments or participation was hard. However when you have the best players in the band sitting up and paying attention, you get past that resistance. And I’m six feet tall and I can be pretty loud. So things came around pretty quickly. And I have good rehearsal techniques. You can’t play in a band and rehearse something and hear the music get better and NOT think, “Hey, this is working.”
PR: My parents were lovely people but were really conventional small-town Republicans. I’m sure they weren’t unusual for Penfield at that time. How wild a guy did you feel like in the midst of it?
NC: I got together socially with Mr. Peck, the man who hired me, only once, after he’d retired. His comment was “Well, you showed up at my house, I thought you looked a little outrageous, and you asked me for a lot of money, and I thought that was pretty courageous. And frankly I thought the music department was getting a little staid and needed to be stirred up a bit and I figured you’d do it.”
PR: Awesome. What did you make of the town itself?
NC: I knew Penfield was a bedroom community for Kodak. And part of what was going on at that time in the district was that the corporate folks had started to earn notches on their gun handles by serving on the school board. That gave them a boost in the corporate world for having done community service. So when I came to work, the board probably came down 5-2 or 4-3, old blue-blood community servants vs the other part of the board being people from the corporate world. That’s the dynamic that was going on within the community, and I think it was going on within the schools generally as well.
PR: What sort of kids did you encounter when you first showed up? Were they very motivated where music went?
NC: One of the reasons that coming to Penfield was attractive was that there were a lot, and still are, a lot of Eastman School faculty and Philharmonic members who live in Penfield and raise their kids here. A lot of the reason they do that is the good school district, but an awful lot of the reason they do that is so their kids can be part of a good music program. When I arrived my first trumpet player was the son of a trumpet teacher at Eastman and I had another kid whose dad was an Eastman flute player.
PR: What kind of shape was the music program in when you showed up?
NC: The string program was very well-established. Penfield School District, the city school district and Eastman School of Music had collectively brought in Shin’ichi Suzuki to the area for his first visit to this country.
PR: The Suzuki Method guy?
NC: That’s the one. The string program had been formidable before Suzuki came to town. It was head and shoulders the best string program in our area. The district, truly, was ahead of the times. Then, once Suzuki came to town and the district embraced Suzuki principles and combined that with the traditional principles that already existed, the string program became one of the best in the state. It was a very, very fine program. That’s one reason I didn’t want to poach any string players.
PR: I see.
NC: A practical problem is that once you start doing jazz and popular music it’s like a drop of ink in the water, it just spreads. Most everybody when they’re learning to play, they want to play the pop music, the hit music, of the day.
PR: How long were you with Penfield school district? And how many kids do you figure went through your bands?
NC: I went to work on January 3, 1968, and I retired on June 30th, 1994. 26 and a half years. One of the things I did after I retired was go through all the yearbooks from the time I was there and extracted the names of the kids I remembered working with. On that list was about 1500 names.
PR: That’s a lot of kids.
NC: Almost all of them were music students. I also taught a course called Values Clarification for three or four years. Of the former students I run into, as warm as the reception is from so many that played in the band program, some of the warmest is from the kids who were in the Values Clarification program.
PR: I didn’t know about that. What was it?
NC: The spring of the year I came to town, there were a couple of teacher workshop days. The guest speaker at one was a guy by the name of Sid Simon, from Temple University. And Sid did a workshop on Values Clarification. He had six kids from different grades and he worked with them for about an hour. He drew out of them so many wonderful observations, comments and creative responses to different things … It was very stimulating. He treated kids with a great deal of respect, and I was really taken with the impact he had. He turned up the next summer in East Rochester and Linda and I took a week-long workshop with him. Sid was in the tradition of Alexander Neill, who ran a school in Britain —
NC: Summerhill, that was it. Anyway, we did a second summer session with Sid, and after that I petitioned the high school principal and said I’d like to write a curriculum for a course and start to offer it as an elective. Electives were popular in those days — you could take an elective without being penalized for not having taken an academic course. I got approval for it.
PR: How did it go?
NC: It was very controversial. There was a Holy Roller or two in town at the time and they raised all kinds of hell with the Board of Education about my course because it didn’t have The Bible on the reading list. But we prevailed and I taught the course for three or four years.
PR: I’m trying to imagine what the class consisted of.
NC: The course happened on stage. We had no chairs, we all sat on the floor. I rarely pontificated or said “Do this” or “Do that.” I had a bunch of awareness-raising exercises. You’d get students paired up and one would be blindfolded and the other one’s job was to lead them around the school without speaking. The deal was, when you came back, then you traded roles. The person doing the leading then became blindfolded. That puts in play a very powerful dynamic.
PR: I remember exercises like that from acting classes I took. That was far out stuff for Penfield at that time.
NC: Very far out, yeah.
PR: What were your fellow teachers like when you arrived? I remember some sharp young teachers and some square old burnouts.
NC: I didn’t socialize much outside of hanging out and getting drunk on Fridays. I had my whole musicians circle. As soon as I got back to town I was in my playing milieu again, and I had some other friends from earlier days in Rochester. Those were the people I wanted to spend time with. And by and large teachers can be boring and uninteresting. Later on, I had a close relationship with a group of teachers at the high school. But by and large I didn’t have close associations with many of the people I taught with.
PR: Were you saving your energies for your own teaching, and your own activities around town?
NC: I think so. I never even served on a school committee.
PR: You must be the only teacher in the world who never served on a committee.
NC: Whenever somebody asked if I’d serve on a committee, I’d just say no.
PR: So what was on your list of official responsibilities?
NC: There were no lessons at the high school. However there were class lessons at Denonville, one of the middle schools. I was responsible for all wind and percussion lessons at Denonville as well as rehearsing the Denonville band, and the high school band at the time, and the stage band at the high school.
PR: I remember a jazz band at the high school. Was that your responsibility?
NC: I rechristened the stage band the Jazz Ensemble. Part of what I set out to do over the first four or five years was grow the program. We grew it sufficiently that there was a second band at Denonville, and over time there were four bands at the High School and three Jazz Ensembles.
PR: Good lord.
NC: I conducted them all. It was a Herculean load.
PR: I bet it was. Did they all have different characteristics?
NC: I tried to do a bona fide jazz repertoire with all of the Jazz Ensembles. I would program pretty much what I needed to get the buy-in from the players. Which was also what I did with the concert band. My standard rap to a parent was, If your kid’s a rock and roll player, get him in my Jazz Ensemble and he’ll be converted — he’ll become a jazz fan. And once I got him in the Jazz Ensemble, I’ll get him in the classical world, because he’ll convert to loving classical music too.
PR: Did Denonville and the high school also have orchestras, in addition to the bands you ran?
PR: That’s where the string players and the easy Mozart were.
NC: There’s a whole dynamic in that. The dynamic is that any hot band worth its salt can seduce many of the string players because if they find out they can play loud, fast, raucous music, they don’t want to play Mozart. So one of the ways I tried to be sensitive and respectful was I never poached string players.
PR: I left Penfield after your first year but when I’d come back and hang out with old friends I was amazed how good the bands had gotten.
NC: Over five or seven years the jazz program at the High School became one of the best in New York state.
PR: What were some of the things you’d do to cultivate a good music culture in town?
NC: One thing I did was I took the Jazz Ensemble and, at separate times, the Wind Ensemble, to all the elementary schools. It was a chance for the high school kids to perform, but my primary motivation was to use it as a recruiting tool.
PR: Did you take the Jazz Ensembles out of town much?
NC: Some. For example, we started a Jazz Ensemble fundraiser in I think 1970. I’d been invited to take the group to Glassboro, New Jersey, where Rowan University is, to a festival there. A classmate of mine from Eastman School had been hired to develop a jazz program at Rowan. I agreed to take the band down, and I got permission from the administration and the board to do that, with the stipulation that we had to pay our own way. So my concoction was to do a Jazz Ensemble fund-raiser concert and get some of my professional jazz friends who were great players to come in and we’d blow all night. Any time you put a great player with a high school band, if the high school band sounds good, and the audience gets off on it, it’s really exciting. The kids and parents are inspired.
PR: And the money starts to flow.
NC: Yup. There had been a practice in the district prior to that that you never charged admission to a school performance. I subscribed to that, with the caveat that, if we’re going to take a trip and we have to pay for the trip, I didn’t want kids to have to wash cars.
PR: It worked out well?
NC: It did. Those fund raiser concerts go on today. Some of the best jazz artists in the world have showed up for these high-school concerts in little Penfield.
PR: It must have inspired the kid musicians.
NC: Yeah. The pros I invited, if they weren’t already hip to the importance of music education, I tried to make them hip to it before they came. And if they had any irascible qualities or jive bebop qualities, I told them they weren’t allowed to do that. They had to be helpful and nice to the kids or I wouldn’t pay their bill.
PR: That’s really funny.
NC: Lew Soloff was one of the people that came for the first fundraiser. He’d just come off the road with Blood, Sweat and Tears — he was a bona fide star. Another guy that played that year was Joe La Barbera. Later, he was Chuck Mangione’s drummer for a long time, and then Bill Evans’ and Tony Bennett’s drummer. That first time we did the fundraiser we had four or five players. There was a guy named Fred Lewis, one of the most entertaining people you’d ever run into, an absolute wild man and a crazy player. So the first concert anyone had ever paid admission for to hear the kids, it was a resounding success. Over time we built it to two nights. There were four high school jazz ensembles, and a junior high school ensemble. One of the guys I hired even started a jazz program in the local elementary school.
NC: The younger groups would play on Friday night, and they’d play to half a house or three quarters of a house. Then we’d typically sell out on Saturday night. The soloists would come to town and they’d play with the older and the littler kids.
PR: That’s pretty big-hearted on the part of the soloists to take part.
NC: Mostly the people I asked were people I’d worked with. I think I made an impact over time being a fairly top level professional player whose real gig was teaching school, and whose message was “It’s important we have music education.”
PR: Let’s talk about your own playing during your years as a teacher. As a performer yourself what did you wind up doing most?
NC: I was the guy in town who played the baritone sax book for 30 years. If there was a show that needed a bari player, I got the first call for it. That was partly because my doubling skills were so good. Although there were some other good bari players in town, there wasn’t anybody who could double as well as I could. Well, that was my opinion.
PR: You delivered a lot of value.
NC: I had a lock on it here. If I’d been in New York, for the first few years I’d have been stuck taking some lame gigs. Here in Rochester, I was able to be pretty selective.
PR: What kinds of jobs did you do?
NC: As I said, part of the reason I came back to Rochester in ‘68 was that Chuck Mangione had come back in the fall of ‘67. So I immediately had his big-band thing to play with. In 1970 he did the big “Friends and Love” concert with the Philharmonic. I did that, and that transformed Chuck’s life, and as his rep developed in those areas, there’d be 20 or 30 concerts a year with orchestras around the country.
PR: What did Chuck do for personnel? Did he take a core group with him when he went out of town?
NC: Often. He started working with a sextet at that time, and I’d go along, and we’d play orchestras here and there. But once he got hotter he’d put a 50-55 piece orchestra together and we’d tour. We never went west but we did the whole East Coast, from Boston to Florida.
PR: But Chuck wasn’t the only thing you were doing.
NC: When I came back to town another reason for it was that the Rochester Broadway Theater League was doing its road shows.
PR: They were a big deal.
NC: There might be a half-dozen or ten of those gigs a year. And as Chuck’s career went along, his brother Gap had his own big band, and I was part of that. There was another leader in town, Roger Eckers, and Roger had a big band, and I was Roger’s bari player for all of those years. And for two years there was a Town and Country dinner theater in East Rochester, which did cabaret and Vegas style acts. And there was still a fair amount of freelance recording going on in town, so I might have ten or 25 freelance recording gigs a year.
PR: You played with the Philharmonic too.
NC: They’d hire me as a saxophone player, mostly for pops music — Gershwin and others. When the orchestra was doing well they’d hire extra players like me ten or so times a year. When they weren’t doing well, there would be maybe two gigs a year.
PR: Combined, it sounds almost full-time, and on top of the teaching.
NC: During my busiest years it was the equivalent of 30 or 40 weeks a year. Those were some very arduous years. I’d run my rehearsals at school, come home, jump in bed for two hours, then go to the evening’s gig.
PR: You can’t have had much life aside from the work.
NC: It was very demanding. Linda, my wife, made things possible.
PR: Could you have gotten by just on performing?
NC: It’s very hard to move to Rochester as a musician with the objective of being a full-time freelance player. Players play a lot in town, but nearly all of them make ends meet with teaching. Even if you play for the Philharmonic, if you’re the family’s sole breadwinner you still need a teaching gig to pay all the bills.
PR: When did you get your own practicing in?
NC: I didn’t practice, much. I played a lot with students. And by the time I got back to Rochester in ‘68 I was playing at a really good level, and if you’re at that level you may not be at your sharpest without practicing but you can maintain.
PR: I get you.
NC: I’d block out a half hour before gigs, so I’d have a good warmup period.
PR: What were some of the venues during those years where you performed most often?
NC: There were some restaurants with entertainment. There was a big room where Blood, Sweat and Tears cut their teeth, and we’d work there. For about a year and a half, with Bill Reichenbach and Jeff Tyzik, I had a rock and roll band called Main Street East. We played road houses, college dates and other dance dates. Jeff is now the RPO’s Pops conductor and Bill is a legendary bass trombone player in Hollywood. And I did the dates with the Philharmonic too.
PR: Sounds like a fun way to get to know the community.
PR: Drugs have always been a big part of the jazz scene. Did you get involved?
NC: I smoked one joint. Chuck Mangione took a bunch of us to Cleveland to do some recording. We thought we could get on the Herb Alpert bandwagon, and Chuck had arranged some stuff so it had some hokey, quasi-Native American sounds. Joe Romano and Gerry Niewood and I were the saxophone section, and Romano said, “You gotta turn on, here’s some weed.” So I smoked some weed. When I needed to take a piss, I went to the john and I could barely get the zipper open on my fly. It was my only experience with weed — I couldn’t do it.
PR: I remember Gerry Niewood, a terrific sax player. But I didn’t know Joe Romano.
NC: He was a Rochester legend, a great player and a really volatile dude. He could be a bit out of control a lot of the time. There’s a vernacular we used to use about beboppers — if you were a really good bebopper you had a “laser lip.” You could just cut anybody to pieces verbally if you wanted to. Nobody had a better laser lip than Joe. When Joe would get drunk, part of what came out in him was this laser lip.
PR: Is there much competitiveness among musicians generally?
NC: Yes, but mostly not overt. Had I moved to New York City I’d have probably had more of a problem with that than I did in Rochester. But in Rochester there weren’t many times when I didn’t get a gig I wanted. But there were an awful lot of jazzers who weren’t reliable. I was a music contractor for ten or fifteen years, putting together bands for touring shows, and I finally stopped doing that because it could be really hard to put together groups of people where there wasn’t at least one person who wasn’t reliable.
PR: As a musical contractor what are your duties?
NC: In musical theater, a lot of the time a company would travel maybe with a drummer, and maybe with a concert master if there’s a fiddle section, maybe a first trumpet player, maybe a bass player. But the instrumentation might call for a couple dozen more musicians. So somewhere six months before the date would happen, I’d get a call from the company and they’d say, “We’re going to be here doing this show on these dates, these are the rehearsal and performance times, and this is the instrumentation.” As a musical contractor my job was to put together those resources and make sure they were there when they were supposed to be, and to make sure nobody got drunk and fell off their seat.
PR: You’ve got to have had some adventures doing that job.
NC: Well, as I said, I often didn’t hire Joe Romano. He was the best saxophone player in town but I was afraid he would get nasty and take it out on the conductor or something. He could be just that volatile. I earned his enmity once because he needed money and I didn’t hire him — I hired somebody else who wasn’t as good a lead player but who was more dependable.
PR: Did any of the ensembles you pulled together let you down?
NC: Once I put an orchestra together for Melissa Manchester for a one night gig. She was big at the time, she had a really good music director and a great book. But I got the call late, and there was a conflict with the Philharmonic, and another show that had already been booked in town. There’s good depth in the playing in Rochester, but when you get to the third level in the string or other sections it’s not what you want. So the string section I had for her was just not a very good string section, though it was the best I could get given the circumstances. Aside from that I never had any complaints about the band I put together. I heard over and over from the acts about what a pleasure it was to work in Rochester. This is a small town but you get to work with some musicians who are on a level with the people in the big cities.
PR: It has a really good musical culture.
NC: The resources are there. There’s Eastman School, the Philharmonic’s a good orchestra, there are a lot of people who end up teaching here who are very good players, and there’s a very strong private music-lesson community in town.
PR: Did Chuck Mangione always have a lot of make-it-happen drive?
NC: Yes. In addition to being a musician he’s a boss. He likes to be a boss. He doesn’t like to be a sideman.
PR: Was he good for the Rochester musical community?
NC: Gosh yeah. Without qualification. There were a number of years when his week with the Philharmonic was a big event in town. The Shakespeare Room in the bottom of the Xerox building, where Chuck’s quartet was the house band, was a happenin’ place. By the time Chuck left Rochester — he eventually made his primary home New York, but he was still living here when he was a bona fide star — the media was after him all the time. He had a big impact on music in Rochester in a lot of ways.
PR: How much of that kind of ringleader side did you have?
NC: Not much. Growing up I saw myself being a leader but by the time I was 25 or so I just wanted to sit in the band and play my horn and let somebody else deal with the problems.
PR: It takes a special kind of drive and personality to take that kind of responsibility on.
NC: A lot of the people who do those kinds of things have needs that I don’t. I don’t really want to lead the band, all I want to do is sit in the clarinet section and play.
PR: Who has the longest-term force in Rochester music been?
NC: If there’s been a common musician in Rochester over the years, it’s been Gap Mangione. Gap’s my age, but he’s still at it, still playing.
PR: He’s been consistently active?
NC: The Lodge at Woodcliff has had a music policy for as long as it’s been open. The owner was the same person who created the Strathallan Hotel down on East Ave.
PR: I remember the Strathallan well.
NC: And before the Strathallan the people that did it, they were part of the Other Side of the Tracks in Pittsford. This whole group was what made Other Side of the Tracks go, what made Strathallan go, and what made Lodge at Woodcliff go. And Gap was their man. So as long as those places were under that group, Gap was employed as much as he wanted to be employed. Gap’s been a mainstay in Rochester since 1960.
PR: I remember that Gerry Niewood also led a band for a while. How long did his bandleading last?
NC: I remember Gerry and his wife being over for dinner with Linda and me, and we’re hanging out, and Gerry’s saying “I’m going to leave Chuck.” This was at a time when Chuck was doing well, still coming up. I said, “Wow, that doesn’t sound very pragmatic.” And Gerry said, “I want to be a leader, not a sideman.” Gerry was a long-time friend who student-taught with us in Penfield. And I said, “One, it’s very different than being a sideman. You need to think about what’s involved. And two, can you do it?” And what Gerry found out was it didn’t work. He tried but it didn’t work. So he ended up being a NY freelancer for a long time. I think he was still on staff at Radio City when he died.
PR: How did the opportunities for freelance gigging in Rochester change over the years?
NC: In the theater, increasingly touring acts were self-contained. They’d bring a small group of musicians but over time everything else was done electronically. If in the early years there were ten Theater League gigs a year, in the last years there would be two or three. In the early days there might have been a bunch of freelance recording gigs. But I don’t think I played a freelance recording gig during the last two years I was working. Other players may have gotten the gig, but there were fewer. By 2000 you didn’t need a recording studio, or even musicians, any longer, if you had the right electronic equipment.
Come back tomorrow for Part Three of my five-part interview with Ned Corman.
- You can buy Ned’s memoir here, or download a free PDF of it.
- A terrific piece by Kecia Bol about Ned and his memoir.
- The National Association for Music Education visits Ned.
- Ned pitches the memoir on local TV.
- Beginning at 18:45, Evan Dawson talks to Ned about the memoir.
- Penn State interviews Ned.
- A visit with “Now’s the Time” co-author Rob Enslin.
- A video visit with Rob.
- Check out a lot of other interviews that we here at UR have done.