Tony Monaco: Master Chops T
Monaco: Yeah. I’m really glad you asked that question. Because Columbus is a really great jazz town. We’ve had a lot of great organ players come right out of Columbus. Don Patterson was from Columbus. Hank Marr is from Columbus. I was under age. My dad would take me to these clubs so that could hear these guys live. And then, what ended up happening is, I started playing in the jam sessions around town where the organs were. And the next thing I know I’m getting calls at 16 years old to play the gig when these guys couldn’t show up. So that’s what kind of really got me going, because all of a sudden I’m filling in a date for Hank Marr or I’m filling in a date for somebody that’s well known, and it got in my blood. I love this! You know?
AAJ: What about the influence of other types of pop music of that era, did that affect you as well?
Monaco: Yeah. A lot of these jazz clubs I was playing at, of course, on breaks the juke box would be going. A lot of these were chiltin’ gigs. The juke boxes would be playing Marvin Gaye and all that stuff. The main thrust of my CD collection or record collection is all organ players. That’s what I loved the most and I concentrated on that.
AAJ: The pull was that strong?
Monaco: I really love organ. I live and breathe it. I’ve got one in my house. I’ve got one in my trailer ready to go on the road. I’ve got one in my shop where I run a construction business. And so every where I go I got one to turn on. But I listened to a lot of Santana. I like Rick Wakeman. I like Emerson, Lake & Palmer. There was a lot of really neat B3 stuff going on there too.
AAJ: So you came up through all that, but Jimmy Smith had the strongest pull. And you finally met him?
Monaco: He called me because he kind of really dug the fact that I was trying to do his stuff on the accordion. And I was just making the switch. As a matter of fact I was just coming out of the hospital from my first bout with the disease, called neuralgic amyotrophy, which means the atrophy of nerves. And I had just made the switch over to organ when he called. It was like three years later that I went to LA to visit him. He had a club in LA and he remembered me. The next thing you know I was playing.
My dad and I went out there to do a couple of things. I had a brother and sister, we did a lot of show music. And so we were going out there to kind of make some connections for this family band that we had. So, of course we’re going to go see Jimmy Smith at his supper club. I was always the one that was the jazz musician in the family. But when I was younger I did a lot of things with my brother and sister. They’re very talented too, they just never really got into jazz.
AAJ: When and what was the moment that pushed you into more gigs and a reputation as a jazz player. How did that evolve?
Monaco: Soon after I met Jimmy Smith and played in his club ... I’d always played a lot of jazz gigs in Columbus ... our family opened a restaurant business. So what ended up happening was: now we own a very nice exclusive Italian restaurant and we also had a lounge. So all of a sudden my B3 was in the lounge of the restaurant that we owned. So I kind of got stuck for about eight years, 10 years, running a restaurant business and playing there only. And of course because of the kind of restaurant it was, we had to play a wide variety of music. People that go to fine dining Italian restaurants don’t go to hear jazz. Unfortunately. So, I kind of got held back because I was in the restaurant business. In the meantime, now I’m married and got three kids.