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Ron Aprea's Tribute to John Lennon

Nicholas F. Mondello By

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We recently caught up with saxophonist, composer/arranger and educator/clinician, Ron Aprea and spoke with him about recent activities and his current recording project—his personal John Lennon/Beatles tribute.

All About Jazz: The last half of 2013 and the time so far in 2014 have been quite positive for you. Let me ask you first about Remembering Blakey. It received excellent reviews and media attention.

Ron Aprea: We got off to a great start with that project. The reviews were all good and it was also up for Grammy nominations in three categories—Best Jazz Album, Best New Artist and Best Jazz Arrangement for "Cherokee." We had a good run and actually made it up to the final cut. The exposure was good for me. It did well as CD Baby keeps sending me checks and asking me for more CDs. There are 29 Five-Star reviews on my page there and many elsewhere.

AAJ: I also see that you've been performing regularly with your big band gig at Trumpets Jazz Club & Restaurant in New Jersey.

RA: Yes, with my vocalist—and wife—Angela. I've been doing Trumpets with Angela and my small group for years. One night we were hanging with the owners, Kristine and Enrico, at a barbecue at our house and they had no idea that I had a big band book—with Frank Foster's charts and mine -as well. So, I had him listen to some demo things I had. I really had no interest in doing that, since it's a lot of work—and, as you know, not a lot of money. But, they kind of rekindled the big band flame that's been smoldering around in there and I'm glad they did. Jimmy Young, who I've been playing with since the 60s and who knows all the great New Jersey Area players, has been helping out with the contracting for us. And, it's been going great and we're having fun.

AAJ: Who's on the band?

RA: Cecelia Coleman's playing piano, Jimmy Young's playing drums, Bob Millikan is playing lead trumpet. Arthur Barron, who is a ridiculous trombone player. Eddie Xiques on baritone, Marty Fogel on tenor. Nathan Eklund, Dave Roberts, Justin Hernandez are the trumpets. Mark Friedman and a young monster on alto named Marc Schwartz. Marc studied with me through high school and got his bachelor's and master's degrees from the Eastman Conservatory and he's just tearing it up around New York. The band is a nucleus of players as most good players are busy. So, for example, if Bob Millikan is busy, another strong lead player will fill in.

AAJ: And it's a regular monthly gig?

RA: Yes, the last Sunday of each month. We'll be there for the next four or five months at least.

AAJ: You've mentioned on both Social and Broadcast Media that you have a John Lennon/Beatles project in the works. Can you tell me about it and your involvement with Lennon?

RA: Sure, I did an album with John Lennon in 1974 entitled Walls and Bridges. It was his first attempt with horns-this was after he had left The Beatles. It was a five horn section that he used—all jazz players, with the exception of Bobby Keyes, who is known more for his rock solos. Frank Vicari was on tenor, Howard Johnson on bass sax and baritone, Steve Madaio on trumpet and I played alto. It was a big album for John. As a matter of fact, his only Grammy was for "Whatever Get You through the Night" from Walls and Bridges. I have wanted to do a Lennon album for years. I guess what inspired me to do this album was through Ginger Broderick who does a television show on MNN. It's a weekly show that broadcasts live from New York every Friday and is called "Ginger New York." I did her show earlier this year and, knowing that she's a huge Beatles fan, I played two Lennon tunes, "Imagine" (with a Bossa/Jazz feel) and "Happy Christmas" (with a 6/8 feel). When we finished playing and I went to sit down for her interview, I saw that she was quite overwhelmed to the point she was welling up with tears. So, I thought: "If my treatment of John's music has that effect on people, maybe I should do the Lennon tribute now. And, it just seems like the right time."

AAJ: How did you hook up with Lennon in the first place?

RA: That's a funny story. Steve Madaio and I have been friends for many years. We were both living on Long Island at that time. And, at that time he had been touring with Paul Butterfield, the Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder and others. We were talking on the phone one night -as we still do, even though he now lives out in Palm Springs—and Steve says: "What are you doing tomorrow? I have a small recording project you might want to do." From the casualness of Steve's voice in the middle of our conversation, it sounded like a jam session, demo date, or things like that that we would regularly do. I said I was good and I had no idea it was with John Lennon.

AAJ: What was your reaction when you walked into the studio and saw Lennon?

RA: Well, right before we hung up, I asked him "Who's the record date for?" Steve said: "Oh, it's for John Lennon!" That's Steve! That's my man! He's pretty casual. He drops the bomb. He likes to shock you.

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