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Jim Snidero: A Tale Of Taste

Dan Bilawsky By

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What's the hallmark of quality jazz? If this question was posed to a group of jazz musicians, each person would no doubt give a different answer that would speak to differences in taste. Some would lean on tradition and others might push the idea of innovation, but few, if any, would actually use taste itself as the defining factor. That's what separates alto saxophonist Jim Snidero from the rest. Over the past thirty years, Snidero has come to be known as an arbiter of taste through his sideman work, leader dates and educational endeavors, and that's no accident. In discussing the role of taste in jazz, Snidero notes, "That's the thing that reaches people and that's always in the front of my mind: what's the best solution in a certain musical situation as far as art and taste [is concerned]?" More often than not, Snidero's been able to confidently answer this self-posed question through his horn.

Jim Snidero first came on the scene in the early '80s, already exhibiting many of the aspects of good taste and judgment that would later come to define his work. But that was hardly the start of the Jim Snidero story; that story begins in Camp Springs, Maryland where he grew up. Snidero, like many professional players, credits one of his earliest teachers—who he reconnected with shortly before this interview—as the force behind his jazz awakening. He notes, "I just spoke with my ex-junior high band director who was a jazz alto saxophonist, and he came in during my second year in middle school/junior high school; it was really because of him that I got into jazz. I was playing saxophone from age ten, but when he came in, he started a jazz band and I knew right then; it's one of those things you hear about. I knew when we did our first rehearsal with the big band, when I was 13 years old, that that was what I was going to do. And he was very nice and nurturing. He took me to great music shops, and he talked my parents into getting that Selmer Mark VI, which was a lot of money back then. He thought I had some talent I guess. And I started taking private music lessons from a store in town, and just got really turned on to jazz."

At the same time that Snidero was being inspired within the walls of his school, he was also being guided by other musical forces in the outside world. "I had a private teacher that was very good, and he turned me on to [saxophonist] Phil Woods" Snidero says. "So, by the time I was fourteen years old, I was listening to that and I started to get into other guys too, but Phil Woods was really important to my development because I saw him play live many times when I was really young and I took lessons with him when I was a teenager, and it just gave me such a great model of artistry and saxophone playing. To see that live at such a young age, it has a tremendous impact," and that impact left an audible impression in his work that remains to this day.

Jim Snidero—Stream of ConsciousnessWhen it came time for Snidero to make the move to college, he chose North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas), which houses one of the finest jazz programs in the world. While he had worked diligently to get there, he knew that he still had a lot more work to do once he arrived. "I was a good classical saxophonist and I entered competitions and that sort of thing" says Snidero about his pre-college years. "And when I went to North Texas, I wasn't a very good improviser. Actually, I got into the 9 O'clock band when I first went to North Texas." The bands at that institution each receive an hour designation in their title, with the One O'clock Lab Band being the most prestigious, so Snidero immediately saw where he stood and where he wanted to be, and he began doing what was necessary to get there. He continues, "Then, in the second year I was there I was in the Five O'clock Band, and then the third and fourth years I was in the One O'clock Band."

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