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Chapter 6 Mentors, Legends And Just Good People


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No discussion of my musical life would be complete without a mention of all the incredible people who were either an inspiration to me or actually passed their knowledge to me in one form or another.

I'll start with my very first music instructor Roland "Saxie" Schollenberger. The man who revealed to me the awful truth about sax playing and forever ruined my fantasy that my ol pal Denny (see Chapter 1) started in me. I'll never forget that little basement studio in Charelli Brothers music & appliance store on 4th and Penn Street, Reading PA. Saturday mornings, 10 AM sharp. I was his first student for the day and he was a bit cranky, but was always kind, but firm!! I'll never forget the first time I played a duet with him. It was a little piece in Hovey's "Elementary Method" book called "Lightly Row". Saxie picked up his clarinet and me on the alto. The sound of the two horns harmonizing just made me laugh uncontrolably. Had him a but ticked and the lesson was cut short for that week. I mentioned this dilema to my mom and she suggested that I think about something unpleasant while playing the duet, so I thought about my upcoming dentist appointment two days later. That took the wind out of my sails!!

One Saturday morning after my lesson, Saxie informed me that the store told him that the rental period on my horn had expired. He had to keep the horn, and they wanted something like $300.00 USD immediately for me to be able to continue with the instrument. Mom & Dad said "No Way" and I was losing interest anyway. Well, a few days later, Ol Saxie to the rescue. He said he missed me and was willing to part with his beloved Conn Alto for $100.00. My parents agreed and I continued with the lessons for a bit longer, but wound up quitting eventually anyway.

When I was 15 I got bit by the music bug again. This time I wanted to try electric guitar, but my dad said "You got that horn up in your room that we paid a hundred bucks for. How about trying that again?" So I took his advice and looked up a new teacher (Saxie wasn't taking any students at the time) a Mr. Sam Correnti. I made much progress with Sam, who was a multitalented man. Not only was he a great teacher on saxophone, clarinet and flute, but he was also a gifted painter and held an art class too. He had painted a beautiful mural on the wall of his studio in the basement of Zezwitz Music store on 7th & Penn Streets, Reading PA. One day, Sam showed me an old clipping of an article from the "New York Times" from several years before. It even had a pic of Sam in his younger years. The article was about the jazz legend Gerry Mulligan, and Gerry mentioned kindly his clarinet instructor when he lived in Shillington PA named Sam Correnti, naming Sam as one of his biggest influences. This was a mind blower!!I had heard of Gerry and read much about him in Downbeat magazine (an American Jazz publication). Also, my favorite actress, Susan Hayward mentioned Gerry's name in her Oscar winning performance playing condemmed murderess, Barbara Graham in the movie "I Want to Live!" Waiting out her last hours listening to the radio in her cell, a Gerry Mulligan tune began playing. She said "Gerry Mulligan. I know all his sides by heart". Gerry also made a brief appearance in the film and scored some of the soundtrack. It was absolutlely mind blowing that the man who was largely instrumental in getting Gerry to that point was my teacher too!

The next guy was not only a teacher, but a member of my family. Mr. Joseph Carl Borelli, AKA Joe or J. Carl. My mother's paternal side was 100% italian. My maternal great-grandmother (Philamena) and J. Carl's dad were brother & sister, making my grandfather and Joe first cousins. They were more like brothers, dispite the fact that my grandfather was a full 10 years Joe's senor, but that's how this humble italian family was. Very close to each other. Anyway, Joe's dad was a shoemaker, which, as anybody who lived in the early 20th century USA will tell you, was a very lucrative position to have. When young Joe was showing much interest and promise in both clarinet and violin, it was decided in the Borelli family that young J. Carl would attend the prestigious Ithaca College to study music. While there, Joe roomed with another very talented man named Les Brown. After their graduation, Joe secured a teaching job and met and married a pure angel of a woman, a dance instructor named Bonnie, while Les went on to form the very popular "Band Of Renoun". A few years later, Les invited Joe to join the band, but Joe graciously declined because he was a dedicated family man to Bonnie and their two daughters, but the two remained close friends. Joe introduced me to Les in 1975. I'll never forget it! Anyway, Joe became my clarinet instructor.

I didn't know much about Joe until the fall of 1972 when I joined the Reading Philharmonic Orchestra. Joe was one of the two conductors. Up until that time I didn't realize that Joe taught clarinet. I knew he taught something, perhaps violin, but not clarinet. (Fact was he taught both). The Philharmonic was an open organization where all musicians were invited to join. It was an amatuer organization and the members weren't paid, but gained experience playing classical music. It was fun and I met some fascinating people there, like Vincent Ferrante, for example. Vince was a trumpeter who owned and operated an pastry shop by day. He claimed to be related to the Ferrante of the popular MOR piano duo "Ferrante & Teicher" from the '60s. There was also a guy named Dr. Sam Turrisi. His profession was foot doctor, but he was in the wrong racket because he played some of the finest clarinet I've ever heard!! Beautiful intonation. He made his Buffet-Crampon ring like a bell!! I used to love to just hear him play. Not only that, but he was one of the most friendliest people you'd ever want to know. Always ready to help and pass long useful playing tips. He also brought his family along: Daughter Donna who played French Horn and sons Paul (trumpet) and John (clarinet and a 10 year old piano prodigy).

One day at Philharmonic rehearsal, I found myself sitting next to a trumpeter to my left who had real long and "frizzy" hair. The first thing I took notice to about him was the bottle of oil he used to keep his piston valves lubricated. The label said "Honest John's Home Brew Valve Oil". At the next rehearsal break, we began talking and before long we became inseparable friends. His name is Mark Johnston and we are still the best of friends after almost 35 years!

I was faced with a difficult decision at that time. I decided to stop taking sax lessons and concentrate on clarinet as back then, you couldn't get into music school playing sax only, so I had to take up clarinet. Sam Correnti taught clarinet too, but I felt as if I had to be loyal to the family and study with Joe, so I painfully broke the news to Sam that I would be studying with Joe from hence. To my delight, Sam was very understanding. Must be that he, being italian too, understood family loyalty. In fact, not only was Sam understanding about the whole thing, but he gave me a copy of an old picture he had of an advertisement of a clarinet method series where he and Joe were pictured with the author of the method. The pic was from several years before and he told me that he had known Joe very well and had a great deal of respect for him. It's really special when two people you really admire know and acknowledge each other like that. I had since lost that picture. I wish I stll had it. It meant alot to me.

I mentioned on Chapter 3 my piano teacher, Mrs. Miriam Heisler. This lady had an unbelievable studio. It was in her home in Wyomissing PA. I remember her main studio was in her incredibly large parlor. There were two "parlor" grand pianos in there, side by side. (To those who don't know, a Parlor Grand is the mid size piano between the smallest "Baby" grand and the largest "Concert" grand. One was an Everett, which was the "work horse" that got banged around by every student she took on. Next to that, she had a very polished and beautful Steinway. The Steinway was reserved for her students who were preparing for a serious concert or recital. You couldn't touch it otherwise. She also had a small studio downstairs for younger students where she had a spinet and she had an associate teacher for those. Mrs. Heisler was a very sweet lady who knew her theory and piano technique. She was an inspiring and excellent music educator. I also admired how organized she was.

More later!!

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