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Joe Maneri: Serial Autobiography

AAJ Staff By

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Bela Bizoni led a group I worked with. He played gypsy violin. Actually, I did one gig with his group. It was a summer month at a Hotel in N.J. It overlooked the ocean. His musicians were as unique as he was. There was Herman Arminski, concert pianist with a handsome profound appearance, Paul Rosen, a brilliant all around pianist and composer of sophisticated modern pop music, a virtuoso trumpet player from Russia, a masterful double bassist and Bela, the leader, a violinist on the highest level. Bela would swoon the people while playing great "schmaltz" at each table during dinner. On one occasion he didn't feel physically well enough to play and asked me to play the tables on tenor sax. I said, "but Bela, the saxophone looks like a plumbing supply part". He insisted I play and it worked. This odd array of musicians for a hotel band was nevertheless a success. I was only 17 at the time, the youngest of the musicians whose ages ranged from 30 to 50 years old. We played classical, romantic, sophisticated music from around the world. Bela brought out of me my gifts, such as, playing and performing classical, romantic, Straussian waltzes, tangos etc.

As I write about Bela, I'm realizing I didn't play any wrong notes. Amongst these marvelous musicians who carried an authority, and who strongly affirmed my ability in music, I felt I must be good. The fact that they were European meant I could easily identify with them, as I too felt like a foreigner. I somehow believe my wrong notes and difficulty in learning stemmed from not selling myself as American born. My parents raised me as a European.

Ralph Segreti booked me in a Chinese Restaurant across from the N.Y. Paramount theatre. Here I learned to play shows. We played from 12 noon to 3 am. We played four shows a day, and I was paid an outrageously small salary. In that period of time in history, 1944-1945, there were many music jobs with a shortage of musicians.

About the beginning of 1945, there was a decline in gigs. I started going to the Musicians Union at the Roseland Ballroom. A pianist I knew from N.Y. Sam Di Mario, called me to do what was to be my last gig as an ignorant musician. It was at the Ringside Bar across the street from Madison Square Garden. We were a Benny Goodman trio. I don't remember how good I was as Benny Goodman. This place was well known. I guess I must have been good but I wasn't aware that this was a highclass gig. I started to play a wrong note and here a wrong note there. This may have been the first gig I was fired from. Little did I know that I was about to experience what brought me to be a profound musician. More about that after I share 1946, one of my firstmost God's miracle happenings which at the present time is one of many reasons for me to write my life in this life.

I'd like to mention one incident that followed me for the rest of my life. During intermission, I was standing outside the restaurant in front on Broadway looking across at the long lines of people waiting to get into the N.Y. Paramount, to see and hear movie and Benny Goodman and his band. I was thrilled to be playing across the street. There were many people walking by me. Suddenly a man about 40 years old and I think he had a small beard, stops in front of me. I had a tuxedo on at the time. He then said "you are a musician?" I nodded. He continued "you are going to be very famous. I know because you cut yourself a lot while shaving". It may mean nothing but it's also comforted me many times.

1946 "Dance Music"

When I was about nineteen years old I became a "wedding" musician. As New York City was a smaller Europe, there were opportunities to learn dance music from all over Europe - Irish, Scottish, Polish, French, German, Jewish, and more.

With the help of Guss Pardalis, a reed player from a Greek background, I was instructed in the authentic Greek interpretation with well known songs. It took me a few years to play in a relaxed and creative way within the Greek style.

In Greek and Turkish clubs on Eight Avenue, I played for the best belly dancers. I learned the songs and was able to improvise along with the dancers' motions, according to their melodic, motific phraseology.

So at 15 years old, I played with small groups in hotels, nightspots, weddings, etc. At 20 years old I played Greek music for belly dancers, weddings, and large dances.

Though I was enjoying playing and improvising in Greek, Arabic, Turkish, and Armenian music, my heart always ached to be a jazz performer.

The years between 17 to 19 were profoundly important, as that's when I met Ted Harris in 1946. I began to play one to two wrong notes per song. These notes were usually one step higher or one step lower. I began to believe I had no brains in my head and that I was going downhill in my playing. Despite this though, I still felt I was a gifted musician.

1946 - 1947 "Making New Friends in the Land of Roses"


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