The Jazz Romeo of 46th Street
It wasn't long before Mr. Romeo became the saxophone repairman of choice amongst New York's saxophone elite, including four of his dear friends Joe Henderson, Dexter Gordon, Jackie McLean, and Bob Berg, who are all sadly no longer with us. As a matter of fact, a popular music store in Italy got word of his New York popularity and offered him a 50-50-partnership if he'd come to work at their new store in Milan. At the time, their offer seemed to come at just the right moment. He had just begun to develop the confidence to move from under the wing of Mr. Fromkin and was looking to start his own businessand "out of respect" to his former mentor, he didn't want to set up shop in the same city. Secondly, his home-sick wife was growing tired of New York and anxiously wanted to move back to Italy. So Milan seemed to be the perfect opportunity. But when Mr. Fromkin told him that he was relocating to Floridadue to the sudden increase in his rentthat changed everything.
With encouragement from his loyal clients and friends, he refused the music store's offer and decided to stay in New York. Unfortunately, his wife, who was all set to move, didn't take to favorably to the idea and decided to return to Milan anyway. "She said to me, 'With you or with out you, I'm going to Italy,'" said Mr. Romeo, with a slight laugh of disbelief.
In August of 1989, he converted the third floor studio apartment upstairs from where he worked for Mr. Fromkin's into a repair shop, which became "Roberto's Winds." But it wasn't, however, all smooth sailing.
"The beginning was really tough," said Mr. Romeo. "I was putting the rent on the credit card. There was no work. I didn't have a sign outside. People were looking for me, but they couldn't find me." And to make matters worse, some of his nearby competitors were spreading the word that he had moved back to Italy. After a couple of months of not knowing whether or not his business was going to survive, Mr. Romeo said that he started to see a glimmer of hope. "Business started to awaken in the early fall," said Mr. Romeo. "By December, I was swamped with work. I was working seven days a week, 12 hours a day.
Today, 20 years later, Mr. Romeo is still "swamped with work," but he is no longer a one-man operation. He now has thirteen full- and part-time employees and clientele that spans the globe at his newly renovated, tri-level Roberto's Winds/Michiko Studios storewhich, ironically, just happens to be located directly across the street from where he once worked as a saxophone repairman assistant for a $150.00 a day.
As our forty-minute interview neared the end, I asked Mr. Romeo whether or not he has any aspirations to play again. "Yeah," said Mr. Romeo. "What I'm missing now is that buzz that I kind forgot because of the business part and everything. I would really like to get it againthe high!"