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I played solo clarinet under Tom Fabish at St. Mel High School, DePaul University Concert Band, and Chicago's C. Y. O. Band. My formal training continued at Roosevelt University where I acquired a Bachelor and Master of Music Composition degrees. My private studies included: saxophone improvisation with Joe Daley; clarinet with Joe Daley and Walter Wollage; flute with Ralph Johnson; composition with Karl Jirak and Robert Lombardo; arranging with Lane Emery; and electronic composition with Don Malone.

Some of the orchestras I have worked with are: the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Mill Run Orchestra, the Civic Opera House Orchestra, the Playboy Club Orchestra, the Grant Park Orchestra, the Auditorium Theatre Orchestra, the Candlelight and Forum Theatre Orchestras, plus many bands and combos in the Chicago area.

My Jazz groups have performed extensively around the Chicago area. I have been showcased at the 1982, 1984, 1985, 1989, 1994, 1997, 2001, 2005, 2006 and 2011 Chicago Jazz Festivals.

Besides playing and composing for local talent, I have given clinics at Niles West High School, Rolling Meadows High School, Elk Grove High School, Wheeling High School, Hersey High School, Waubansee College, Wright College, Vandercook College, Roosevelt University, Arizona State University, the Music Educators' National Conference Convention, Northwestern University, Illinois State University, the ICA Clarinetfest at DePaul University in Chicago and the Northern Illinois University Clarinet Cornucopia in Dekalb Illinois.

I have written four books on improvisation, "217 Sequences For The Contemporary Musician" and "Improvisation" a set of three books (Beginning, Intermediate and Advanced).

I have performed with: Joe Daley, Eddie Harris, Herbie Hancock, Gary Burton, Oliver Nelson, James Moody, Ira Sulivan, and many others.

Some vocalists and entertainers that I have played for are: Frank Sinatra, Mel Torme, Nancy Wilson, Sammy Davis Jr., Billy Ekstine, Tony Bennett, Lena Horne, Vic Damone, and many more.

Musical shows that I have played for are: Gypsy, Oklahoma, Chicago, West Side Story, Applause, I Do I Do, Coco, Irene, How To Succeed In Business, Hair, Beatlemania, The Wiz, A Little Night Music, Sophisticated Lady and many more.


by Luigi Santosuosso

Rich, lets start from the beginning. When and where were you born?
9/20/41 in Chicago, Illinois.

Are you a second generation American?

Where were your parents from?
My father was from Rome my mother was from Voturno.

Did you grow up in a musical family: did your parents or relatives play and/or were they instrumental in you discovering music?
My father played accordion. I have three older brothers, and one sister who is deceased. My oldest brother Matt played guitar but never completed his studies. My next brother Mario never played an instrument but was an exceptional baseball player who made the Chicago White Sox farm team only to be influenced by his wife to quit. My next brother Tony was very influential in my musical career, he introduced me to Joe Daley, a legendary Tenor saxophone player from Detroit who became my mentor, friend and musical driving force for my own career. I discovered music on my own but I got support from my brother Tony to pursue it.

You said that your first "jazz epiphany" came about during a car trip - at the age of 8 - when you heard on the radio Artie Shaw playing clarinet. What did you find in that sound that enticed you so much?
The quality of the tone that Artie showed. His sense of soul that he portrayed. The way he would slur upward like a fire engine syrine. He influenced me alot.

Once you found out more about who this musician was and what that instrument was, did you start taking music lessons right the way?
I wanted to but it took about six months to acquire a clarinet. My mother bought a clarinet for $40 from my cousin Ed Giannini who was a musician in the big band era. He was the one that gave me two lessons before he went on the road. It wasnt until I was eleven when I met Joe Daley who became my teacher.

After Artie Shaw who were the other musicians that you got into?
Benny Goodman, Woody Herman, Glenn Miller, Spike Jones etc. Since I was much younger than my brothers and sister my connection with music was due to their 78 rpm records. They all were ballroom dancers and had acquired many of the well-known big band and vocalist records of the 40s. At an early age, 2 years old I used to impersonate singing artists of the 40s at the well-known Italian fests in Chicago. When I started studies with Joe Daley at eleven I was introduced to the music of Charlie Parker, Sonny Stitt, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane. Since I was a clarinet player I would listen to classical music as well. I became the solo clarinet player at St. Mel high school playing classical music while Joe Daley was teaching me jazz at my weekly private lesson.

Do you remember what was the first album you ever bought?
Glenn Miller Big Band playing his hits.

After a few years studying clarinet you switched to saxophone. What did disappoint you with the clarinet and why did tenor saxophone appeal to you?
Clarinet never dissapointed me ever. I saw only one path as a clarinet player that is to become a symphony player. Since the jazz clarinet players of the past, Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman were considered obsolete because the big band was on the decline I found that the clarinet did not have the popularity that it once had. Also I did not want to become a symphony player because I didn't want to wait 200 measures before I had an entrance. I declined a full scholarship to study clarinet to pursue a music composition degree. What I wanted was to know as much as I could about music composition to become a better jazz musician. I feel that composition and jazz improvisation are the same. Tenor saxophone seemed to be the instrument that lent itself to jazz and besides Joe Daley played tenor. Tenor was also pitched in the same key as the clarinet and seemed an easy transfer. So tenor saxophone seemed the perfect choice.

Later - in 1960 - you enrolled at the Roosevelt University. How was the jazz scene there back then?
There was no jazz scene whatsoever. The students started the band with the help of a piano teacher named Lane Emery. The classical department fought us all the way.

How do you think music education has changed over the years?
It hasnt at all. You still have teachers who are competent while the administrators hold all the cards.

Are todays student too focused on technique?
I wouldnt say technique. They are looking for the easiest way to get the job done. With the new technology in music, synthesizers, computers, etc, they rather press a button than get in the real dirt and sweat for their advancement.

During the Roosevelt University days you co-led a combo with the still not famous Herbie Hancock. How did you meet him, what did you like in him that made you want to make a band together with him?
There were jam sessions on the second floor of Roosevelt where even on occasion Charlie Parker came to play. I think I met Herbie at one of these sessions and we liked what we both heard. Herbie was a very easy person to get along with. The band that we made together was not a formalized band. We would tape our tunes at the studio that was located on the 10th floor of Roosevelt. These performances were used for the radio broadcasts that would be played throughout the school.

Soon afterwards Hancock got a job with Donald Byrd. At one point he called you telling you there was the possibility of joining Donald Byrds band but you turned down that offer? Why?
I had just started college and since money in my family was scarce I really didnt want to lose the money that I gave for tuition. My mother was sickly as well, and I felt that there would be no one to be there for her if she needed me. My brothers and sister were all married, but I was still living with my mother.

Did you (or do you) regret that choice?
Not at all. My philosophy is that if you can play or write with any worth at all, it will be noticed sooner or later, no matter how anyone tries to disprove it, no matter how long it will take to show it. History has proven that.

Hancock went on to have a successful jazz career. What is his musical period that you like more?
Mile Davis period.

So you decided to continue your studies and you stayed in school for six years in order to take more electives in order to deepen your knowledge of composition and arrangement. What roles do composition and improvisation play in your music? How do you balance them? What do you look for in each of them?
Certain techniques in contemporary composition, 12 tone, serial, polytonal, neo-classical, minimalism, and electronic are very important in my view of what improvisation is all about. These different techniques influence me to write certain compositions that use these theories and in turn have to be improvised with the same parameters that set up that technique. For example, my tune called Tone Row. The tune is written using nothing more than the 12 notes that are in random sequence. Once the tune has finished it is up to the improviser to create a solo using nothing more than that tone row in the same order that it was presented in the tune. This concept is perfectly suited for improvisation due to the fact that it unravels in a different way everytime you perform it.

Have you ever been interested in the so-called Third Stream?
Yes, I played a concert with Joe Daley once with the Chicago Symphony. We played a piece by Guther Schuller called Journey Into Jazz. This was a childrens concert and was very well received. I am always interested in bringing jazz to the mass public. I feel that jazz should be on the concert stage and lose its saloon image. It is Americas contribution to world music.

After your studies - in order to make a living - you performed as a commercial player and musician in theater pit orchestras. How did you keep your jazz interests and motivations alive during those years?
I would have jam sessions at my house every week. Who ever could come would come. I would sometimes have just a drummer or bass player, sometimes another horn, or violin or whatever. Our format was playing free or playing tunes. I would record everything, which I still have.

Apart from providing you with a stable income, what other positive aspects did you find in playing with commercial engagements and theatre pit orchestras?
How to get along with people of different interests.

In those days you played with the band Quorum. Who was involved in it and what kind of music did you perform?
Joe Daley was the leader-tenor sax, flute and bass clarinet, Bobby Lewis-trumpet, Rich Corpolongo-alto sax, flute, piccolo, Dan Shapira or Steve LaSpina -bass, Hal Russell or Dan Martin-percussion/drums. The material was all original charts by Joe Daley and members of the band basically using contemporary techniques, avant-garde, free, third stream, etc.

At one point after a long time in the pit-orchestra of the Schubert Theatre your frustration reached its peak and you decided to quit and join the orchestra of Louis Armstrongs former drummer, Barrett Deems. Did you like the more traditional stuff, or was it rather the need to get out of the pit orchestra that led you to play there?
Playing with Barrett Deems was not a result of being frustrated at the Schubert theatre. I started playing in his band at least 10 years after I made the decision to stop playing any pit-orchestra shows. This was a period where I had just finished my masters degree and no one was calling me to play anything. I felt very depressed and received a call from Barretts wife who was one of my former students. I didn't think in terms of what style was played, I just wanted to play.

When did you start your tenure in the band of Barrett Deems and for how long did you stay with it?
I started in 1987 and played with him till 1997.

During a recording session with this band you were noticed by Delmarks boss, Bob Koester who proposed you a recording deal? How was that moment? What did you think?
I recorded for Bob in 1967 for an album called Contemporary Celebration, a new age type religious album that used alot of jazz techniques including free style. We played a piece that was free depicting what hell was like. At the end I looked at Bob to see his reaction and it was negative. I thought that he didnt want to record me ever again. When talking to him about that session he told me that he thought that I didnt want to be recorded. We both had two different reactions to the incident. Now he keeps on telling me we should have recorded 25 years before.

The first album for Delmark is aptly entitled "Just Found Joy". How did you approach those recording sessions? With all the material that you had accumulated in all those years what criteria did you use to choose the compositions you would play?
I wanted to have the composition flow one to another with no real break in thought. I choose the materials that would fit this flow.

How do you feel about todays jazz music business where - because of corporate interfering needs - young kids of 20 years old are given amazing record deals by major labels rarely having the maturity to say anything new and interesting, whereas amazing musicians like you, Bunky Green, Von Freeman and many others have are highly under-recorded?
Young players can be molded by the business people where older more experienced players know their rights and want respect when it is called for. The older player wants to have some control over their recording, while the business person wants to control the whole thing.

After the great consensus gained by the first CD, what ideas did you have in mind when you recorded the second one, "Smiles"?
I wanted the next CD to be uplifting and happy.

How did you form your current band? How did you meet the various musicians?
We have all played together in different groups, formats, bands and I found them to be more atuned and acceptable to my desires and wishes.

You are now working on your third CD. Can you tell us something about it?
It will have some surprises and will contain more Latin-American influences.

After all these years you now have a very distinctive voice that renders your music immediately identifiable. Developing ones own voice is probably the most difficult thing to do for every musician (and for every person doing anything creative). What did you pursue when during this developing process? What were you hoping to sound like?
The truth that I can give as a human being. I have tried to look deep into my heart and soul to find what makes me tick, my feelings, my loves, and desires. The love of my family my wife Nancy and Marijo my daughter. My past problems and resolutions to them. In short, what God has wanted me to be from my birth, a creative musician.

Which musicians would you consider today as the most influential on your playing and/or on your musical development?
Anton Webern, Alban Berg, Paul Hindemith, Bela Bartok, Stravinsky, Stockhausen, Penderecki, Servino Gazzelloni (flute), Charles Ives, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, and Puccini. The only musicians that are at all influential on me today are classical composers and the jazz players I have mentioned before.

Chicago has always had an amazing jazz scene. How important has it been for you to live there?
I have always made a living playing, teaching and experiencing all kinds of music. Chicago is definitely a good musical experience.

The Chicago scene in the last 6-7 years seems to be undergoing a remarkable revamping. What happened? How is there now?
It seems that the club owners only want musicians to play together that they alone choose. They want to put groups together according to their own whims and likes and not the individual musicians preferences. This makes every group sound like a jam session and not a knit tight group. It is very discouraging if you are a creative player.

Is there some common denominator among the Chicago musicians that distinguish them from say, New York, New Orleans the west coast.....?
Not that I have noticed. We still have a tendency to think of ourselves as a second city under New York, but this is changing.

Apart from playing with your own band you have also been member in several other groups. Can you tell us a little more about what did you pursue with each of them (are they still active, when did you join them, who is playing in them etc.):

Spontaneous Composition

Everything was spontaneously created.

Rich Corpolongo
Alto Sax, Soprano Sax, Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Piccolo, Flute, Alto Flute, Maestro Woodwind System, and Echoplex.

Doug Lofstrom
Bass, Bamboo Flute, Percussion, and Vocal Effects.

Paul Wertico
Drums, Percussion (including:) Pressure Cookers, Hub Caps, Electronic-Harmonix, Memory-Man, Thunder Sheet, Boo-bam, Pot Covers, Assorted Gongs, Bells, and Toys.

Marshall Vente Project 9

A local band that was created to be a popular vehicle for playing the well-known jazz hits. Personal is continuously changing.

Sonic Blast

Joe Daley
Tenor Sax, Maestro Woodwind System, Echoplex.

Richard Corpolongo
Alto Sax, Maestro Woodwind System, and Echoplex.

Rich Corpolongo and Joe Daley have numerous credits in areas of music such as performing, composing, recording and teaching. This, along with their abilities as jazz performers has gained them respect from their peers. Both Joe and Rich agreed that to express themselves fully, a fresh approach with a much wider scope of sonorities and thematic material was needed. Bypassing the traditional elements such as a rhythm section, time signatures, keys and familiar forms, enabled them to improvise totally in an original style.

It should be emphasized that no over-dubbing was used to produce the special effects heard on this record. It should also be noted that all the music was improvised on the spot without any prior planning or discussion.

When will you do your first Italian tour?
Make me an offer I cant refuse!!



Written by David Witter, February, 1997 / FRA NOI newspaper

Local jazz giant Richard Corpolongo has finally found joy with the release of his new CD.

Jazz musician Richard Corpolongo is enjoying a Chinese dinner in Elmwood Park, talking about the cut La Blues from his new CD, Just Found Joy.

Its blues done in 12/4, he says as he taps a beat out with a spoon on the table. I wrote it in 4/4, but it is easier to play in 12/4, with the riff like this.... ba do da da da, da do, be bumm, da do da da da dado, be bum.

Soy sauce bottles begin jumping and egg rolls rolling, but as he continues to thump his palms on the table, a broad smile comes across his face. For after 20 years of playing in theatrical shows, teaching, and shilling for commercials the multi-talented horn player is back playing jazz, and like the album says, he has certainly found joy.

Im getting older now, the Elmwood Park resident says, and I played what I had to in order to earn a living, but now I want to play what I want. I want to write, create, and fulfill my interrupted dream and explore myself fully as a jazz musician.

Tweny-five years ago, this dream was rudely interrupted, as a promising future as a jazz man was put to a stop by a combination of family loyalties and the onset of rock-n-roll.

After playing a few school-related sessions at Roosevelt University, Corpolongo and fellow student Herbie Hancock hit it off both musically and socially. They formed a band, and after a series of gigs with the future jazz legend at Chicagos Souterland Hotel, the older Hancock went on to New York. He hooked up with trumpet impresario Donald Byrd, who was playing and recording in the Big Apple. When Byrds tenor saxman left, Hancock immediately put out a call to his old friend Corpolongo.

He wanted me to jump on the next plane to do a series of shows with Donald Byrds band in New York, Corpolongo says. But I told him that I had to stay in Chicago. I also wanted to finish college. Besides, that was about the same time the Beatles and Rolling Stones were coming on and jazz was dying out as a popular music.

Corpolongo was right about rock-n-roll but Hancock nevertheless went on to become perhaps the premier jazz musician to emerge from the jazz-rock fusion movement of the 1960s. In the meantime, Corpolongos ability to play flute and clarinet as well as tenor and alto saxophones launched him to a career as a pit musician.

He worked at the Schubert Theater accompanying such shows as The Wiz, Gypsy and West Side Story, and had an engagment backing up Marlene Dietrich in an orchestra led by Burt Bacharach. Corpolongo also gleaned a nice income from doing session work on TV commericials for Chicagos major advertising agencies. With the advent of the synthesizer, however, work for session men began to swindle. At about the same time, Corpolongo began to tire of the patented nightly routine that is required of the musicians playing musical theater. I was playing the show, Do Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up at the Candlelight Theater, Corpolongo says. The play ran for over a year, and as I sat in that little pit under the stage, not being able to express myself creatively, I got more frustrated every week.

Fortunately for Corpolongo, he ran into Louis Armstrongs former drummer Barrett Deems. Deems was in the process of expanding his big band, and Corpolongos alto sax fit right in with Deems hard-charging, drum-pounding versions of classics like The Skyliner and Sing, Sing, Sing. Soon, he was Deems lead soloist, playing at the Chicago Jazz Festival, as well as Deems regular gigs at the Nineteenth Hole in Lyons, and the Elbow Room in Chicago.

While recording Deems CD, How Do You Like It So Far, Delmark Records boss Bob Koester noticed Corpolongos elegant yet expressive solos.

Koester had thought of recording me many years ago, Corpolongo says. So after he heard me playing with Barrett, he approached me and asked if we could do a CD.

Joined by seasoned pros Eric Hochberg, Larry Luchowski, Mike Raynor, Jeff Czech, and Pat Methenys drummer Paul Wertico, Corpolongo releases the pent-up creative energy that was bottled up inside of him for all of these years. Abandoning the trappings of big band music and even tradional be-bop, he begins the disc with Valse, a spinoff of the works of Ravel, done in a cool jazz style. From there, he moves from the cleverly structured and stylish, 12-bar La Blues, to the completely free-form jazz of Time Impulse and The Way It Is. This ends the record in an avant-garde free-for-all of sound and energy reminiscent of his musical heroes, John Coltrane and Thelonius Monk.

The CD has helped to slake the creative thirst that burned within him. Ive waited a long time to record songs like Just Found Joy, which I wrote in 1964, Corpolongo says. But I think it has taken me that long to give them their true justice.


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