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Tony Monaco: Taking Jazz Organ to the Summit

C. Andrew Hovan By

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AAJ: How long have you been teaching and how did that all come about?

TM: When I was almost sixteen, I had my first bout of Neuralgic Amyotrophy affecting both shoulder blade areas and different parts of each arm and hands. It was at that time that my father bought me my first Hammond B3 organ because I couldn't play the accordion anymore. He found another great organist, the late Jim Russell, who gave me lessons on how to use the B3 and Leslie speaker. He was such a great teacher that decided I wanted to be a teacher like him someday. Soon after I met Joey, I built my first website. I used a video camera and filmed Playing Jazz Hammond Part 1 on VHS tape. Soon, I was getting orders like mad so I made a 2nd and 3rd part. I've built quite a catalog. I also started advertising personal lessons where students could come spend time with me. Darren Heinrich became the first one to come from Sydney for a month. He rented a space, I put an organ in there for him to practice, and soon he will graduate in Sydney with a doctorate degree in music. Unfortunately, Columbus is far away even from Madison, Wisconsin. So enter Michael Cammilleri, a young aspiring organist working as an IT and sent by his family to me for lessons as a birthday present. He helped me develop the way to teach online, using not only video cameras, but connecting midi data for more detailed and recorded data and lessons. It was this early model that has allowed me to grow students globally with successful lessons that are documented and can be replayed over and over.

AAJ: One might not think of Holland, Michigan as being a place for jazz organ majors, but here you are teaching on-line courses there at Hope College. How did that all come about?

TM: I'll call it the Jim Russell Effect and being first generation. I went back to College and in ten years earned a BSBA to avoid being my father's concrete laborer like when I dropped out the first time. So that degree meant and still means something to me. I've always dreamed of being a teacher, but have always been a little insecure of my knowledge. You can't teach what you don't know. Being a teacher is a grace and a heavy responsibility in my books. How many times do you hear someone say they quit because they had a bad teacher? More distressing is the look of disappointment and failure in their face and eyes. I was invited by Dr. Rob Hodson of Hope College to deliver a workshop and performance. During my visit and after a highly charged morning class and workshop, we all went to lunch. Students always ask about your career and like name dropping and stories of success and the limelight. We talked about dreams and I expressed my dream to become a college professor. Crazy, but I am just beginning my third year at Hope College. Not only is my work growing inside the college, but we have our first enrolled Jazz Organ Major, Mr. Clif Metcalf. I don't think anyone has ever graduated with that degree nor is it offered. Over the next 4 years, I will be blessed to help this young student learn this craft and art and I will learn a lot too. Even better, thanks to a special program offered to us from Mr. Barry Bandstra, I am going to Grinnell College this fall to begin with Mark Lavar and we will have our second college to join in on our online classes. The nice part is that everyone wins here.

AAJ: Which leads us to the upcoming Hope College Organ Summit happening September 9th and 10th. Tell us about the event and what exciting things we can look forward to during the festival.

You saved the best for last. The greatest thing about being in the music industry and being a musician is that you're never finished. The energy of music cannot be retired. Dreams are always alive and attainable to all who are gifted by it, see it, and grab it. It is our fountain of youth. Not long after becoming a taxable employee again, I closely began working with many great people in the music department at Hope. Everyone works hard there and has a great enthusiasm. Brian Coyle was the first person I met at Hope after Dr. Hodson. I shared the organ summit vision with him and Dr. Hodson. The idea was to have a yearly event that could host the greatest living organists and combine it with workshops of many kinds. This year, my good friend and organ tech Lonnie Smith (the organ doctor, not to be confused with Dr. Lonnie Smith, the super organist) will give a workshop on maintaining vintage instruments. Also, organists will have a chance to play with Harvey Mason and Chuck Loeb during one workshop. We are also bringing in director Murv Seymor who filmed and directed Killer B3. Plus, Jim Alfredson will be there with his group organissimo for a performance and clinics. This will hopefully be the first of many more festivals, with the emphasis on becoming bigger and better and helping many students along the way.

Photo Credit: C. Andrew Hovan

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