Tony Monaco: Master Chops T
So what happened was, about five years ago, my dad ran into Chuck Mangione in Florida. He told Chuck “I got a son, he’s really a good organ player. You should hear him.” And of course Chuck says, “Everybody says their kid’s a good player.” So he gave him a tape that I had made. I had a record deal with a record company. I don’t want to disclose their name. But before that record could come out, it was a jazz organ record, they sold their catalog and moved on to bigger and better things. So that kind of fell through, because of the catalog switch. But anyhow, Chuck heard the demo tape I was presenting to that record label. And he loved it. He came into Columbus and played three nights with me at my parent’s restaurant. We had a banquet facility and threw a big jazz thing. And that got the ball rolling for me again. Because now I was mobile. I wasn’t in the restaurant business. I’d taken over my dad’s construction business, like, 10 years ago. So now I had my trailer and my B3 and everything. So that gig with Chuck really sort of accelerated me around town. Cause I’d been tucked away for 10 years running a restaurant business. And life goes on. If you’re not out there playing the gigs with the other musicians, you kind of get forgotten. But once I played that gig with Chuck, things just kind of took off.
Then my dad got sick with lung cancer and died three years ago. Once again, that kind of put me back, because I had to be there to help my dad with everything he needed to have taken care of. But soon after dad died I met Joey DeFrancesco. That opened all the doors. It didn’t necessarily open the doors in terms of record labels beating down the door. I think it opened the door within myself because here I was hanging with who I consider one of the great jazz organ players of today. He’s digging my playing. And the band’s digging my playing.
AAJ: How did that come about? Did he come through Columbus?
Monaco: Yeah, he was coming through Columbus. A friend of mine, another musician, said “Hey, Joey DeFrancesco is coming to town.” So I thought, maybe Joey gets sick and tired of eating in restaurants. Maybe it would be real nice if I could find out if Joey maybe wants to go to my mom’s house and have some really good homemade Italian food. And I really didn’t have any intention of doing anything with my organ music, other than it was just one Italian-American boy hooking up with another Italian-American who just happen to be organ players.
I believe in God and I believe in fate. What ended up happening was, when I went to pick up Joey, I had to pick him up at a seminar that he was giving at a local high school vocational careers center. So when I went to pick up Joey, one of the persons that was there said, “Hey Joey, this is Tony Monaco. He’s a good organ player. You should hear him play.” So Joey slid off the bench and said “Come on.” Well I wasn’t really prepared for this. I went to pick him up to take him over to my mom’s house. That was it. I was totally unprepared. My legs were shaking, man. And I don’t get flustered that easy, but Joey’s bad, man. And Byron Landham, his drummer, was at the drums. All I could think is “Let’s set a groove,” you know. So I tapped out a groove and started playing “Fly Me to the Moon,” with a style that’s called squabbling; it’s an organ thing. Joey’s eyes lit up so big. I’ll never forget it because I was paying attention to what was going on around me. His eyes lit up and he gave out a “yeah!” you know. And it was like we were instantly friends.
You can tell when somebody plays whether they’ve got the feel or not. That’s something you just can’t learn. You either groove or you don’t.
AAJ: So he was responsible for the first CD?
Monaco: Yeah. On the way to my mom’s house we started talking organ. And I said, “Joey, man. I’ve been trying a long time to make things happen. I had a record deal fall through once. I don’t know anything about organ.” He said “You never met anybody like me. You’re going to come to Arizona and I’m going to produce something for you.”
Cause I was telling him I’d like to have a nice CD some day just so my kids can share with their grandchildren. I went over to Arizona, and the recording that became Burning’ Grooves ... it clicked. It was very nice. It was funny, he was just sitting in the control booth watching me play. It wasn’t like he was telling me what to do. He was really cool because he helped me select what he thought were good tunes and good rhythms to put together on a CD.
AAJ: Did he play on that as well?