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Meet Joe Diorio

Craig Jolley By

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Early interest in jazz

I got interested in jazz early. One of my first inspirations was hearing my uncle play. He was an accomplished mandolin, banjo, and guitarist, and he used to play all the time. My father played a little guitar, and he had a large collection of records: Django [Reinhardt], Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, boogie-woogie, all that stuff. I started listening to a lot of music. In Connecticut where we lived it used to be very cold in the winter so we would close a couple of rooms off. The phonograph was in one. I used to put on my coat, hat, and gloves and listen all afternoon after school. After I learned to play I started sitting with in the better guys around New Haven and Hartford. They were much better than I was, but it was good experience. They'd play a lot of tunes I didn't know. I tried to play them right on the spot, and I did pretty good. What I didn't know I went home and practiced. I learned a ton of tunes. I used to go to a jazz gig every Friday and Saturday. The guys in the band asked me to sit in. I didn't get paid a penny, but I didn't care—I was having so much fun learning. I went to New York to listen. I wasn't quite ready to play—for one thing I was too young. I had some fake ID, and I got in to hear Art Tatum, Bud Powell, the Sonny Rollins trio, Phineas Newborn, Count Basie, Bird, all the great ones in their heyday. I had a Hell of an education.

Chicago jazz scene

I went on a tour with a circus band. It was really funny—they were dancers and musicians, but they were much better dancers. The music was rough, but it got me out of Connecticut. We got stranded in Dayton, Ohio. I called my cousin, a guitarist, in Chicago, and he said, "What's Happening?" That's how I got to Chicago. In Chicago I played with all the great ones: Eddie Harris [Diorio played on Harris' hit record Exodus to Jazz, 1961], Von Freeman, Jodie Christian, Billy Wallace (taught me a lot about reharmonizing), Willie Pickens, Harold Jones, Bill Yancey who played straight bass. I watched Muddy Waters perform—that's the blues. I played and recorded with Sonny Stitt and [trombonist] Bennie Green. Sonny liked me, and he used to tell me things—take your time, let the music breathe. Playing with him every night was a great experience because I would go home after the gig and try to imitate his lines. It was the way I wanted to play.

Miami jazz scene—Ira Sullivan and Jaco Pastorius

I met Ira Sullivan briefly in Chicago, but I got to know him better after I moved to Florida in the late 60's. As far as I'm concerned Ira's the best. I joined his quartet, which was like going to finishing school. Jaco Pastorius was very active on the Miami scene. [Pastorius and Diorio played on Sullivan's Horizon record, 1975]. We played with Ira several gigs, and Jaco continued to play with Ira for several months after I left. I used to go by Jaco's house and play with him. He played stand-up [bass violin] sometimes, and it was as good as anything you heard, but he had broken his wrist one time so it was painful. He had the right flavor and the right everything to play that stand-up. Sweet guy, he was totally straight [no drugs], and we had a nice rapport. I recognized his talent, but I had no idea he'd take off like he did. He was a genius musician—a great pianist, great composer, just a gifted guy.

Guitar duets vs. playing with a piano

I love playing guitar duets. The problem is finding the right guitarist. I think the best accompaniment for a guitar is another guitar. The piano is a little too percussive, and unless you transcend the everyday kind of playing—you're playing and the piano is comping or the piano is playing and you're comping—it doesn't work. If you're both playing (in the spirit of a Bach Invention) I think you can get away with it. There are certain piano players I like: Hod O'Brien—we've known each other since we were teen-agers. It was great to rediscover him last year. I was very disappointed I couldn't get on the gig with him last December. I almost delayed the operation, but they told me I had to go in. [Diorio suffered a heart attack and had a bypass operation from which he is recovering.] Hod's coming out [to Los Angeles] again in the summer, and we'll do something.

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