Originally published in Earshot Jazz April 2011
Imagine playing saxophone with Charlie Parker’s trumpet player. Todd DelGiudice (rhymes with Judas) doesn’t have to imagine, it’s part of history. Red Rodney hired him in 1993 for several gigs when he was only a junior at the University of Miami. Todd played so well he was invited join the band after graduation. “It was awesome,” says Todd. “Red sounded beautiful. I was living the dream.” Unfortunately, his degree came after Rodney’s death and the hopeful plans evaporated.
Career disappointments, personal setbacks, and spiritual trials fed Todd’s humility and perseverance. Just as he began subbing in Maria Schneider’s New York band, a personal crisis brought him home to Fort Lauderdale. The difference of religion with his girlfriend created an obstacle in their relationship, so he came to terms with his faith, converted to Mormonism, and they wed. “Ultimately, I have no regrets because I was led towards my wife and my faith which are the most important things in my life.”
Introverted, highly self-critical, and approaching 40, Todd spent much of his music career in and around academic institutions except for a stint in New York City. With Masters in Music from both Miami and the University of Oregon, Todd taught at Northern Illinois University before his current position at Eastern Washington University in Cheney. “The teaching job at Eastern and standing in front of high school bands put me out of my comfort zone but I’m getting better. I’m not really a pound the pavement kind of guy, you know, a hustler for gigs. It’s hard to even sell myself at all.” Todd says, “It was never my dream to be a jazz star, but more to be a sideman with the top players.” Despite having material and musical relationships for recording earlier in his career, the steady teaching job finally provided the means and motivation to produce a CD.
That CD is Pencil Sketches, recorded in 2010 and released in 2011 on OA2 Records. Nine original instrumentals and one standard span open and twisted terrain with technically virtuosic playing from a patient and calm center. But chops smooth and well oiled don’t overshadow the setting of hip vibe and balanced tone nor the pursuit of delicate phrase and sincere story. Todd’s playing goes down more like strong licorice tea than black drip coffee.
The best melodies come from improvisations rather than compositions. Duck and cat movements inspire three of the songs. A Lenny Tristano-like melody jangles over chords based on “If I Were a Bell” and a matrix of minor third root substitutions buttress at thinly stretched melody from “All the Things You Are.” Except for one spot after the saxophone solo on “New Leaf,” the thought thread seems unbroken across the whole recording.
Musical influences come from Keith Jarrett, Lee Konitz, Rosa Passos, Radiohead, and Joe Lovano. The deep interaction of the Jarrett trio on “Too Young to Go Steady” from Standards Live sets the standard Todd seeks in group improvisation. “Keith has lots of chops but won’t use them if he isn’t feeling it. It’s important to craft a solo and go on a journey. You only need to use technique to get you there.”
Lee Konitz’s “intense yet contained fire” echoes in Todd’s playing as does Warne Marsh’s “more snaky/floaty way” on “317 E 32nd Street” from Konitz’s Live at the Half Note. Todd relishes the “sense of joy” in Rosa Passos’ voice on “Chega de Saudade” from her recording Amoroso. Radiohead puts him “into an almost meditative state” when “Thom Yorke’s voice floats over the big, washy groove” on “Nude” from In Rainbows. Todd likes Joe Lovano’s artistry on the title track I’m All for You. “There’s nothing particularly spectacular about it but there’s a maturity to Joe’s playing that feels like home. I like what hits me in the heart.”
Todd met Seattle pianist John Hansen in practice rooms when Jay Thomas brought his East/West band to eastern Washington. He played with bassist Jon Hamar in Benny Green’s trio at a local jazz festival. Hamar recommended drummer Byron Vannoy to complete the rhythm section for Sketches. Although Todd often works with musicians around Spokane, he would like to test the waters of the Puget Sound.
A series of gigs in the Seattle area are in the works for April. Meanwhile, you can watch and hear Todd on YouTube with his Spokane group, pickup a copy of the CD at oa2records.com and enjoy the fresh Pencil Sketches.
Visit http://todddelgiudice.wixsite.com/todddelgiudice to read more about Todd.