Guitarist, multi-instrumentalist, composer, producer.
JACK DeSALVO, hailed in THE WIRE magazine as “masterful”, played with Ronald Shannon
Jackson and D3. Guitarist DeSalvo, a highly regarded composer, also plays cello, mandolin and
banjo. “banjo player Jack DeSalvo uncorks a salvo of twangs as if Earl Scruggs has pushed his
way into a Count Basie jam.” – NYC Jazz Record. He plays with his own band and with Julie
Lyon, 12 Houses, Sumari etc.
Jack DeSalvo began guitar lessons at age eight. By his early teens he was rehearsing and
performing with local rock groups. The first transformation from interest in pop music to other
forms occurred when he bought an LP based on its cover when he was 11. The record, already
a classic by that time, was Fresh Cream. Hearing the track Sleepy Time Time inspired his early
research into the Blues, including BB King’s Live at the Regal and recordings by Albert King and
others. By 15 DeSalvo had picked up harmonica and mandolin and started to use a bottle-neck
slide after seeing Johnny Winter perform and hearing Duane Allman on LP.
While trying to commandeer his teen-aged garage band’s repertoire to more blues oriented
material, his friend Steve Aprahamian (now an eminent composer) played him Birds of Fire by
the Mahavishnu Orchestra. This changed everything. Exposure followed to the music of
Coltrane, Miles, Charlie Parker and early jazz. DeSalvo’s sketching and painting, which were the
center of his activities from early childhood began taking a back seat to music, though he
always felt they emanated from the same impulse.
Jack began studying classical guitar with his jazz teacher Al Faraldi. Al sent Jack to NYC to Al’s
teacher, Leonid Bolotine. A violinist with Toscanini’s NBC Orchestra, Bolotine had initiated the
guitar department at Mannes College of Music and established the American Institute of the
Guitar. At Bolotine’s urging, DeSalvo began to study theory and harmony and eventually
composition and orchestration with Ariada Mikéshina, who was formerly a student of Richard
During his classical studies Jack continued to pursue jazz and improvisation, playing in
ensembles with drummer and eventual recording engineer Tom Tedesco and the late Chapman
Stick innovator Frank Jolliffe. Forming a group with Tedesco, trumpeter Charlie Monte and
bassist Joe Buonomo, DeSalvo performed at clubs in NYC and New Jersey playing a repertoire
that ranged from old standards to Wayne Shorter tunes and free improvisation.
DeSalvo went to Boston to attend Berklee College of Music. He also studied George Russell’s
Lydian Chromatic Concept. He found his conversations with Mr. Russell particularly inspiring. It
was at this time that he began his process of waking up every morning and writing music,
encouraged by poet William Stafford’s practice of writing a poem every day. Though Jack has
written long forms, symphonic works and chamber music, it is music written for small jazz
bands that became the core of his writing. He feels these pieces, accessible to musicians
through the jazz chart, are analogous to free-verse poetry, another art-form that has enriched
DeSalvo’s sensibilities and informs his work.
Moving to lower Manhattan to immerse himself in the downtown music scene, his apartment
was at the corner of Mott St. and Prince St. which was was then a nexus for a number of
musical genres and related arts, down the block from the original Knitting Factory, around the
corner from Lunch for Your Ears and near Todd’s Copy Shop-Gallery. It was in this milieu that
DeSalvo developed his writing, which he termed Composing for Improvisers, while continuing
to work on himself as an improviser.
He kept his jazz guitar and classical guitar techniques separate until he started to study with Bill
Connors, the first guitarist with Chick Corea’s Return To Forever, who had already recorded his
landmark ECM recordings. Connors encouraged DeSalvo to break the dichotomy between
plectrum-oriented jazz playing and right-hand classical technique. This was liberating and
eventually led to Jack’s pianistic independence of moving voices while developing a flamenco-
like fluidity with his right-hand fingers to match the plectrum technique he developed early on.
DeSalvo’s performances at this time were centered on his own compositions. and he performed
concerts at Inroads, the Open Center and played at clubs including Seventh Avenue South and
the Inner Circle. He made the first recording of his own music, Moments Of, with a group
consisting of himself on guitar, Rick Jesse on tenor saxophone, Scott Butterfield on bass and
Chris Braun on drums.
With drummer Chris Braun and bass player Mike Bocchicchio, both a few years his senior, he
began regular extended sessions playing mostly jazz standards, music by Coltrane, Sonny
Rollins and some of Chris Braun’s music. It was during this period and because of these two
masterful players, Bocchcchio and Braun, that DeSalvo learned the meaning of swing and its
powerful essence at the heart of jazz. They made a single recording of Braun’s music,
engineered by Tom Tedesco, pre-Tedesco studio.
The next project, produced by the late David Baker was DeSalvo’s album Falls Home with Allen
Farnham on piano, Drew Gress on bass and Tom Tedesco on drums, featuring DeSalvo’s
compositions with quartet performances and solo guitar pieces.
Throughout DeSalvo’s early NYC experience he played numerous gigs with bass player Tony
DeCicco whom he had known at Berklee. At one performance in a gallery on the Lower East
Side they played in an ensemble that included saxophonist and composer Trish Burgess, who
introduced them to her husband Bruce Ditmas. Tony and Jack knew who Ditmas was – a
veteran of the Gil Evans Orchestra and The Paul Bley Quartet. A session was set up. Not a word
was said and the playing commenced. It became obvious that the trio could improvise full
pieces with a shared sense of compositional structure and yet with a feeling of total abandon.
The result was such that they immediately became a band which was known from then on as
D3 hit the downtown scene with their powerful interplay, performing regularly at the Knitting
Factory and First on First. A recording was made at Joe Pedoto’s Omni-Mix Studio. Bassist
Melvin Gibbs, who knew that Ronald Shannon Jackson was looking for a guitar player for his
band The Decoding Society, played the recording for Jackson who then hired DeSalvo.
Several European and American tours with Ronald Shannon Jackson followed with what was to
be the horn-less version of the Decoding Society, a band that included bassists Ramon Pooser
and Conrad Mathieu and guitarists DeSalvo and the late Jef Lee Johnson. While in Europe
DeSalvo met and played with many European and American musicians including Peter
Brötzmann in Wuppertal and with Miles Davis’ then current band at Club Rémont in Warsaw.
DeSalvo is featured on Jackson’s legendary recording Red Warrior (Knit Classics KCR-3032/orig.
Axiom) with Jack playing electric and slide guitar as well as playing mandolin on the bonus track
Soon after came Transparencies (Bellaphon CDLR-45057) with Karl Berger on vibes, piano and
balafon, Jack on electric, 12-string and classical guitars, Anthony Cox on double-bass and Tom
Tedesco on drums and percussion recorded in Carla Bley’s Grog Kill Studio.
The first album from D3, Spontaneous Combustion (Enja/Tutu CD-888126), with Jack on
electric guitar, Tony DeCicco on double-bass and Bruce Ditmas on drums, now a classic, was
the very first recording at the then barely completed Tedesco Studio, engineered by David Baker
and produced by Peter Wiessmüller.
Arthur Lipner and DeSalvo’s duo performances featuring Arthur’s vibes and marimba and Jack’s
classical and electric guitars led to the recording Liquide Stones (Enja/Tutu CD-888132), which
received enthusiastic reviews on both sides of the Atlantic:
“Using both acoustic and electric instruments, DeSalvo demonstrates technique, intelligence
and imagination with a broad streak of lyricism and passion in what amounts to one of the
better guitar voices to be heard in improvised music these days.” – Cadence
“Guitar and vibraphones in a thrilling duo recital with timeless, inflammable ideas. Thus warm
ballads burgeon beside provoking, avant-garde sound plasma, forming their own integrated
musical system of co-ordination.” -Rainer Guerich, CD Tips, Germany.
Arthur recorded DeSalvo’s composition Pramantha on his own album In Any Language that
included Vic Juris on guitar.
DeSalvo performed with various ensembles at the Knitting Factory and elsewhere, including Pat
Hall’s Quintet and his own groups including a trio with bassist Jeff Carney and Bruce Ditmas
and a quartet with saxophonist Chris Kelsey, bassist Peter Herbert and Ditmas. This quartet
eventually recorded DeSalvo’s album Sudden Moves (UR9989).
The album Stutches (UR9996), with Jack on banjo, mandolin and various guitars, Chris Kelsey
on soprano saxophone and Tom Tedesco on tabla, percussion and drums was recorded at
Tedesco Studio by engineer Jon Rosenberg.
Not long after, the long-time duo of DeSalvo and percussionist Tom Cabrera recorded their first
album Tales of Coming Home (UR9986) with Cabrera on frame drums and percussion and
DeSalvo on steel-string acoustic six and 12-string and slide guitars and mandolin.
All through this time DeSalvo was improvising on classical guitar. In his liner notes to his solo
guitar record Jubilant Rain (UR9987) he says, “I discovered improvised music little by little as a
teenager, studying classical guitar and playing in garage bands. It was, however, the solo
recordings of Keith Jarrett that intimated a process that was perhaps even more paradigm
shattering than the astonishing jazz that I was listening to at that time. Jarrett wasn’t simply
improvising over the harmonies inherent in a composed song.
“He was making the whole thing up.
“…I was determined to search for, if not the same process, a process that would necessitate
moving myself out of the way and allowing music that clearly already exists in some other
world, some other dimension, some parallel universe beyond myself, to flow through my
instrument, the guitar.”
A chamber group version of DeSalvo’s piece The Guest was commissioned by the Institute for
Contemporary Art in Philadelphia and performed by Anthony Scafide’s chamber ensemble.
Though continuing to perform his own music in New York at various spots including The
Internet Cafe with a quintet including saxophonist Tony Malaby, trumpeter Dave Ballou, bassist
John Hébert and drummer Ed Ware and a quartet with Ron Horton on trumpet, Hébert and
Tony Moreno on drums, this period turned into a time of intense self-reflection and focus on
classical guitar repertoire from renaissance lute music, through Bach to modern works including
Britten’s Nocturnal and transcriptions of Ginastera’s piano music.
DeSalvo premiered composer Sean Hickey’s Tango Grotesco, which was dedicated to the
guitarist, at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music.
A return to Omni-Mix Studio for a different type of solo guitar record, Pramantha (UR9988),
with steel-string acoustic guitars and his own compositions, that, like predecessor recordings
My Goals Beyond by John McLaughlin and Bill Connors’ Theme To The Guardian on ECM and
even Bill Evans’ Conversations With Myself, renders a most personal album.
DeSalvo established UNSEEN RAIN Records with producer-engineers Gene Gaudette and Jim
DeSalvo. This has created an artistic home for DeSalvo’s work as a recording artist but also as a
producer, cultivating a true community of artists recording artists including Tom Cabrera, Chris
Kelsey, Pat Hall, , Julie Lyon, Lee Marvin, Bob Rodriguez, Rocco John Iacovone, Matt Lavelle,
Lewis Porter and many others as well as the groups Sumari, Fulminate Trio, Kotka, River Road
Unseen Rain currently has circa 110 titles in print and focuses on High Definition Downloads.
Regular gigs with Jack DeSalvo’s Standards Trio with D3 cohorts Tony DeCicco and Bruce
Ditmas led to the recording Heliconia (UR9991) and Starlight (UR9990).
Besides various guitars and mandolin, DeSalvo performs on cello and mandola and a small,
high-tuned alto guitar. Tom Cabrera and Jack DeSalvo’s duo recordings are graced by Cabrera’s
ever growing percussion set-up and DeSalvo’s cello, mandola and myriad guitars. This duo has
generated four albums so far, Tales of Coming Home (UR9986), Libra Moon (UR9978), Juniper
(UR9966) and While We Sleep (UR9946) and many more.
DeSalvo has performed on or produced almost 100 Unseen Rain recordings to date.
My Jazz Story
JACK DESALVO is an American jazz and classical guitarist, composer, multi-instrumenalist and producer.
"When you listen to Jack DeSalvo, it’s immediately apparent that he has an enormous musical vocabulary. Renaissance classical, garage rock,
straight ahead jazz, downtown skronk and traditional mandolin melodies are all part of his musical DNA. But when you hear DeSalvo improvise on
classical guitar, you’re hearing music of that precise moment. He has many influences (and there are as many poets, philosophers and thinkers as
there are musicians)..." – Mitch Goldman, WKCR