Out of all of the events in my life that would have a lasting impression upon me, there are two which stand out above all others. These were formative, inspiring my boyhood love for the outdoors and fishing and also my passion for music. As petty or inconsequential this might seem to some it was the 1964 production about flyfishing on ABC’s Wide World of Sports featuring Joe Brooks. The other seminal event was hearing John Coltrane’s solo on giant steps, Recorded in 1960. I had already been playing saxophone for several years by then, but I would guess it was 1973 when I first heard that colossal performance. I was 15 or 16 years old and promised to myself, I would figure out how he accomplished that level of virtuosity and would strive to achieve the same. That was a big goal to set for someone who at that point had only a basic understanding of music theory and only a novice ability to read music and perform.
High school for the most part bored me to tears, but there were two places I would find inspiration; those were the music lab and art class. I was a member of the Jazz Orchestra, directed by Mr. Obrien, playing bari, tenor and alto depending on what was needed at any given time. The other place I would find myself, especially during my senior year, was in Joe Donnelly‘s pottery studio. There I would spend hours on end throwing stoneware on the potter’s wheel.
Torn between music and fine arts, I chose the latter, applying to the New York state college of ceramics at Alfred University. I could also pursue my musical interests at Alfred as well, with a minor in music theory. I found myself practicing sax more than studying art history and it was at Alfred that I was introduced to the arranger and trumpet player John LaBarbara, an alumni of the Buddy Rich Big Band, whose works have been recorded and/or performed by Buddy Rich, Woody Herman, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie and many others. John was offering a course in big band arranging so I signed up.
It was obvious to me as I was gravitating more towards Jazz performance and writing, my interest in pottery and fine arts was becoming comparatively less interesting and important to me. Purpose was being tested in my minds crucible, music was where my aspirations truly lay and I asked John LaBarbera, a giant, who I respected and admired where should I pursue a serious study of jazz. John recommended Berklee College of music. The course was set.
I applied to Berklee as an Instrumental Performance major, auditioned the summer of 1977 and began attending that Fall semester. While at Berklee, I was fortunate to study with Joe Viola, (also Mike Brecker’s instructor) and Andy McGee and played in ensembles taught by Mike Metheny and George Garzone. Also a member of the Phil Wilson International Dues Band and subbing in Herb Pomeroy’s Recording Band; I was schooled in playing with big bands in a recording environment. In addition to improvisation and performance; I rounded out my studies with harmonic analysis, solfege, composition and arranging courses under Ted Pease and scoring for commercial orchestra with Bob Chestnut.
During my first year at Berklee I was recruited by Peruvian bassist Oscar Stagnaro, to perform with the Contemporary Orchestra of Peru, directed by Jamie Delgado Aparicio in Lima. The experience of performing in the 1st chair and soloist with the 60 piece commercial orchestra for 2 weeks was a memorable and formative one.
In the Summer of 1979, I took a hiatus and relocated to New York City, sitting in on jam sessions and performing in any venue I could find. Returning to Boston for the fall semester, I completed my degree. During this time, I continued to commute to Long Island and NYC to perform with my quartet and quintet, with Joe Cohn, Ricardo Silviera, Jay Azzolina, Neil Tufano, Armon Donelian, Gary Dial, Ratzo Harris and other musicians. In between a day job and intermittent gigs, I applied to CAPS and National Endowment for the Arts, hoping for a grant to help subsidize my jazz composition pursuits. Neither of those came to fruition.
After graduating Berklee I was contracted to play on Costa Cruise Lines, the M/S World Renaissance and M/S Americanus where I was musical director for the ships Orchestra. I worked on the seas for 2 years. As fate would have it my Ship, M/S World Renaissance was docked in Port Everglades, Fort Lauderdale, coinciding with Jaco Pastorius’ Birthday Concert at Mr. Pip’s. It was a seminal moment and inspiration, hearing Othello Molineaux, Micheal Brecker, Bobby Mintzer and Peter Erskine perform with the Peter Graves Orchestra led by Jaco. That performance is still etched clearly in my psyche.
At the end of the second year I got a tourist visa and disembarked in Caracas, Venezuela to explore the music scene and opportunities. The idea was hatched after a conversation with two musicians on the ship. They introduced me to the production manager of Sono Rodven Rocords, the Venezuelan subsidiary of Velvet Records. That would be Miguel, (his last name escapes me), who generously offered me lodging in his condo for my time in Caracas. It didn’t take long to find a jam session at the Juan Sebastian Bar, the premier Jazz club in the city. I sat in for a set and was astonished when offered the gig for two weeks. The sax player wanted some time off.
While in Caracas I met a young talented pianist, Otmaro Ruiz and was recruited to play in his fusion jazz project. Through Otmaro I was introduced years later to Peruvian percussionist Alex Neciosup Acuña, of Weather Report fame. After my tourist visa expired, I returned to Boston. With no steady source of musical employment, I undertook several different day jobs and applied to New England Conservatory, with the offer of a scholarship as a member of the Conservatory’s Medium Rare Big Band. I was accepted, however the scholarship money was now unavailable to my utter disappointment. I was despondent, but not defeated. Pushing ahead I had the opportunity to study with Phil Woods who thought I’d be a good fit for Tito Puente’s group. As fate would have it, I needed a steady gig and went on the road with an R&B group instead. Looking back, it wasn’t my best choice; I’ll always wonder what direction my music career would have taken and what doors may have opened.
The following years on the road in FL and elsewhere gigging in dank clubs, resulted in a palpable disillusionment with the music industry. Playing the occasional, meager paying jazz gig, or uncreative club date, street gigs and weddings to barely eke out a living, supplemented by a day job, wasn’t my concept of an artistic life. I never stopped believing that the struggle and journey makes the artist and my aspirations never died, but music would now take a different path. With a need for change, I made an incongruous career change.
Laying my horn down for a few years; I returned to college at SUNY Stony Brook in 1983, as a biochemistry major, music minor. Four years later I was accepted into the School of Dental Medicine. I then did my graduate work in endodontics at SUNY Buffalo, graduating in 1993. While in the city of Buffalo, I picked up my horn and made music again with some enduring musical friends, Jack Kulp, Pat Georger, Reggie Evans and Stu Weismann, playing some memorable gigs at Nietzsche’s and a live performance on Buffalo’s college station WBUR. In Buffalo I began to experiment with my first MIDI workstation, on a PC platform.
After graduation from my Endo program, 1993, I took an associate position in Schenectady New York. It didn’t take long to find musicians. The New Eden Jazz Quartet was hatched with Dan Dobek, Paul Othon and Chris Garabedian. Together we performed at local venues including Justin’s and The Van Dyck, the Lake George, Cool Jazz and Albany Jazz Festivals. In addition, I performed with my quartet, consisting of Chuck D’Aloia, Otto Gardner and Dave Calarco. During this time in Schenectady, I begin to assemble my recording studio and DBA, MANA Productions, which later became VeryDeep Productions.
In 1999 while attending a Larry Coryell concert at the Van Dyck, I had the opportunity to meet the kinetic Kenwood Dennard. His style and energy were completely unique and I had to have him on a planned recording project. In search of a steel drummer Kenwood introduced me to Trinidadian Othello Molineaux. For keyboards I contacted my Venezuelan friend Otmaro Ruiz and in need of a percussionist, Otmaro introduced me to Alex Acuna. It was a strange coincidence to me, that all three musicians: Kenwood, Alex and Othello had all played with Jaco Pastorius, either in Word-Of-Mouth or Weather Report. The recording “Introspective”, was released April 2000, with a performance at the Van Dyck, featuring Othello Molineux and Alex Acuña performing with a collection of local musicians.
Several other performances followed with my quartet and other collaborations at the Van Dyck and other venues in upstate New York. Around this time I started to develop problems with my embouchure, manifesting as uncontrollable tremors after short periods of practicing or performing. Researching possible causes, I was diagnosed with a specific form of dystonia at Columbia Presbyterian, by neurologist Dr. Stephen J. Frucht . The cause was embouchure dystonia, a central nervous system, focal task syndrome, affecting approximately 1% of musicians. Losing my ability to perform on the saxophone was to say the least, devastating. After the accompanying grief, I found an alternative mode of performance, a MIDI instrument, the Synthophone, essentially a midi controller installed into a Selmer saxophone. It was hardly a replacement for the natural acoustics and personal connection I had with the saxophone, but it was the only alternative to perform live. In search for another instrument to replace the saxophone, I took up the steel pan, studying with Leroy Williams. Leroy and Othello Molineaux recorded on ‘Opus Pocus’, a track on Jaco Pastorius’ debut album.
In 2004 I recorded my Second CD and first Synthophone recording, “Rich Lamanna and The Last Word, Live at the Van Dyck”. It featured Kenwood Dennard, Chuck D’Aloia, Otto Gardner. For my 50th birthday in 2007, I organized a performance, originally planned for the Van Dyck, to release my live recording from 2004. Othello and Kenwood would join the group, but one week before the gig I was stunned to hear the club went under and was closing. In a frantic state, I miraculously managed to rebook the birthday party at the Red Square in Albany. As fate would have it, Albany experienced a record snowfall that evening. We still performed, but attendance consisted of only a handful of diehards. The performance was recorded but not released, due to a hard drive crash and destruction of the files. I still have the ADATs, maybe someday I’ll get around to importing and mixing it again.
Sometime after the red square fiasco, Kenwood invited me to a jam session at the Montréal Jazz Festival. He was performing with Gil Evans’ Tribute Band and the session was at a hotel in town. I got to sit in with Dennis Chambers, George Benson, Roy Hargrove and other world class musicians.
It was sometime in 2009 when Othello Molineaux was performing with his group at Lincoln Center and we organized a follow up performance at the Van Dyck. The rhythm section included Manolo Badrena, Andrew Atkinson, Silvano Monasterios and Nicky Orta. The concert coincided with the reopening of the Van Dyck and the club acquired it’s liquor license just in time for the performance. We weren’t sure if the club would open due to the delay and advertising and promotion began only one week before the gig.
I started producing my third cd, “Views“ in 2015. It was a monumental project. The material was a handful of compositions I had been sitting on for at least two decades, I wasn’t sure I could ever produce, due to the complex orchestration including a string section, French horns, steel drums, harmonica, Hammond organ, vocals and concertina. But it finally came together after three years. At the time of recording I organized a concert with Manolo Badrena and Othello Molineaux, again at the Van Dyck.
For the string section I recruited Bob Cafaro, my high school cellist compadre who now plays with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Bob had been subcontracting string sections for NFL films in New York City and organized a quartet from the Philadelphia Orchestra for my project. In total there are 17 musicians on the recording, including Alex Acuna, Manolo Badrena, Othello Molineaux, Dave Calarco, Nicky Orta, Otto Gardner, Jack Kulp, Scott Kinsey, Dan Dobek, Jason Rogers, Chuck D’Aloia, Becky Sutter, the string section and myself. The bulk of the project was recorded, mixed and produced at Verydeep Productions, my recording studio. A plan is in the works for CD release in the near future.