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Ron Aprea: Passion Supreme

Nicholas F. Mondello By

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Ron Aprea is a saxophonist's saxophonist. After all, none less than the late, great Frank Foster called him friend, confidant, section mate and leader. And Foster wasn't alone in this regard. Aprea has been a mainstay and graced the sax section in the bands of Lionel Hampton, Woody Herman and many others. A multi-faceted musician with impeccable alto playing, superb composing and arranging chops, Aprea has produced dozens of successful recordings, including for star vocalist, Angela Deniro (Mrs. Ron Aprea). His second CD as leader, Remembering Blakey (CD Baby, 2013) has received rave reviews, significant airplay, and has been submitted for a Grammy nomination in multiple jazz categories.

All About Jazz: Please tell us how Remembering Blakey came about.

Ron Aprea: The album came about in an ambiguous kind of a way. Originally, it was going to be a big band album. I had spent close to a year writing big band charts. Had a couple of rehearsals in town and the band sounded wonderful, the music was fine but, I then realized that this big band production was too big for my budget. So, I decided to scale things down and add some new tunes and decided to record with the sextet. In re-writing the music, I kept hearing "Blakey"—Blakey's name kept popping up at different times while I was in the process of re-writing the music. Still, I hadn't thought about calling it "A Tribute to Art Blakey," or Remembering Art Blakey, but, sometimes things evolve. I remember Vince Cherico coming into the studio and asking me what kind of feel I wanted, I said: "Blakey." So the whole thing had a "Blakey vibe" to it right from the beginning. Shortly after the session I realized that I should really dedicate this album to the person who inspired it—Art Blakey. It was his influence right from the beginning that dictated the style of my arrangements. And it was the memory of complete ecstasy for me as I sat in the Birdland gallery listening to Art Blakey and his Jazz Messengers tearing it up. So Remembering Blakey kinda' seems appropriate.

AAJ: Are there any Blakey compositions or tunes on the recording?

RA: No, actually there are not. These arrangements are in the Blakey style. Blakey, as most people know, was a great drummer, not a composer that I'm aware of. This wasn't an imitation or remake of Blakey material. This is music played in the "Blakey style" which is Hard Bop—with background riffs behind the solos. A "Jazz Messengers" style to it without actually playing any tunes that Blakey recorded.

AAJ: Paul Brusger did a number of original tunes for the recording. Can you tell us a little about his writing style and why you selected those compositions?

RA: Paul Brusger and I have been great friends for many years. Paul and other various rhythm players would meet here and play. I have a recording studio here in my home. We would get together here and play—an artsy-fartsy get-together—and Paul and I were both composing songs. So, these sessions were a great place to fine tune them. Paul was knocking all of us out with his writing. So, I thought it was about time that Paul's tunes be recorded in a setting that would do them justice. I'm happy for Paul, he's a wonderful composer.

AAJ: Having listened to the recording, I think that Paul has really captured the "Blakey vibe" or sound in the compositions and the performance.

RA: Paul is from that Hard Bop school. He's also a fine bassist, and hard bop is his meat. I thought his tunes would be perfect for this project. We recorded six of Paul's originals, plus some standards. But, it's fun playing his tunes; they are a challenge and some of his changes are different and interesting.

AAJ: I believe some of his tunes here are based on other tunes' changes—"Flown the Coop" on "Sweet Georgia Brown" and "Andrea's Delight" on "Giants Steps" or "Ladybird?"

RA: "Andrea's Delight" is not either. They're his own chord changes—he goes through a number of key changes on this tune. He'll write tunes on standard changes and he'll write tunes on his own chord changes as well.

AAJ: Please tell me about your choice of personnel on this recording. Why these players?

RA: Well, I hand-picked people who understand this style. I couldn't think of a better horn section than trumpeter, Joe Magnarelli and tenor player, Jerry Weldon. They've spent years playing together. They have their own Hard Bop quintet, and they've both played in the Harry Connick Jr. Big Band together. And they're great friends and great friends of mine. I couldn't think of anybody who could have played this music any better.

AAJ: And the rhythm section?

RA: The rhythm section, with great care, was hand-picked as well—all friends who I've worked with before. Pianist Cecilia Coleman and I have done six recording projects together. This makes seven. Tim Givens also. I met Cecilia through Don Sickler. Don helped me put a band together for a vocal production. The vocalist is my wife, Angela DeNiro and Don put this rhythm section together for that project which was to be called "My Shining Hour." Then came 9/11 and things were put on hold for a year or so. We eventually completed that project, but with slightly different personnel. But Cecilia, Tim Givens, and Vince Cherico were in the original plan, and all three have been involved with my productions and gigs ever since.

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