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Tony Miceli: Mallet Magic

Victor L. Schermer By

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Tony Miceli is a jazz artist well known in Philadelphia music circles and receiving increasing exposure nationally and internationally. He is a vibraphonist of astonishing virtuosity and musical resilience and inventiveness. Above and beyond his mastery of the instrument itself, Tony is a creative force in the musical community. For instance, in the late 1990's, he established a group called "Monkadelphia, dedicated to performing the music of Thelonious Monk in an innovative, contemporary way. That group is still flourishing today, and performing Monk in a way that no other musicians can match in virtuosity, complexity, and avant-garde nuances. More recently, Tony joined forces with up and coming jazz vocalist Meg Clifton to do an album of jazz versions of famous rock tunes. This CD, entitled Meg and the Cliftones (see Discography, below), swings and rocks in a way that heralds a whole new style of music. And, this past January, on the stage of the Perelman Theater at the Kimmel Center, Miceli performed jazz versions of two Mozart arias with singer Joanna Pascale in an event called Mozart: Reloaded, conceived by the composer Andrea Clearfield.

Miceli is prone to experiment, but his creative impulses are well-considered and rooted in tradition. He is on the faculty of The University of the Arts and the Curtis Institute. He performs virtually everywhere in town, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Chris' Jazz Cafe, and he is always mentoring new players. Meanwhile, his virtuosity on the vibraphones is unparalleled, partly as a result of his innovative use of the "Miceli Stoned Grip, in which the two mallets of each hand are spaced by two fingers rather than one. It is rare that a musician develops his own way of playing an instrument that substantially advances the technique itself. Cellist Pablo Casals was one. Trombonist J.J. Johnson was another. Miceli belongs in that celestial sphere.

In addition to his musical interests, Tony is heavily "into computers and high-tech gadgets. So, when I asked him to do an interview, he suggested we make an audio version as a "podcast. I'm a writer, not a talk-show host, but I have had a bit of a background in radio broadcasting, so I decided to take the plunge. It turned out to be a very enjoyable experience for both of us, as we hope it will be for you. I dropped over to Tony's studio with a few questions written down on a note pad, and Tony turned on his digital recorder. Standing behind his vibraphone, he could and did musically illustrate some key points he was making. This, plus the informal give and take of an audio interview, adds a dimension to the process.

We had a warm, at times lighthearted and at other junctures dead-earnest and almost brutally honest conversation that lasted about an hour and a half. At times, I think we forgot that the recorder was on, so the level of sincerity of this interview is unusual, especially when Tony talks about himself. Afterwards, we agreed we should divide the interview into sections, so that you, the internet audience could listen to specific topics at your own pace and interest.

I believe this interview will be valuable not only to listeners, but to music educators, students, and musicians of all levels of training and experience. It is a great teaching tool. Listen, learn, and enjoy!

Here are brief summaries of each segment of the audio/mp3 interviews:

Fave CDs is an introduction and also gives Tony's response to the infamous "desert island question. (12:02)

Teaching And Music Bus provides Tony's observations on music as a business and an educational medium. (13:06)

How To Keep Jazz Vital evolved out of my questioning and doubting Tony's forays into rock and classical themes, to which he provided convincing counterarguments. (31:18)

In Larrys Improv Page, Tony describes and gives the rationale for the web pages he has established for himself and several other Philadelphia musicians. The title of the website honors legendary tenor saxophonist Larry McKenna. (4:08)

Monkadelphia consists of a discussion of how that group evolved as well as the nature of Monk's music and its sources. (12:46)

In Philosophy Of Life, Tony reflects on the hardships of being a journeyman jazz musician and the sense of meaning that makes it all worthwhile. (4:06)

Musical Development is about Tony's evolution as a jazz musician, from his high school days to the present. Here, he also recalls how the "Stoned Grip developed and got its name from Tony's state of mind at the time. (19:02)

Tony maintains Larry's Improv Page which has much useful information for musicians, including pages devoted to Tony himself as well as saxophonist Larry McKenna and others. There are some transcripts of solos.

Selected Discography:

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