Peter Lyons

Andy Fusco

June 12, 2022

I was listening to Burning For Buddy - A Tribute To The Music Of Buddy Rich in my van recently. It's a great album: killer players, tons of good arrangements, and it's super long. It's 75 minutes and 18 tracks. Easily a double album but it's actually just volume one and they made a whole volume two as well. It features Andy Fusco on lead alto and it got me thinking about him and wanting to check up on him. So I went on youtube and found a concert and some high-production-value videos like this one:

I always was impressed by how tight Andy played with Walt Weiskopf. Listen to the note endings. They are totally synced up mind meld style. I think you can only get that with lots of time gigging together. They played together in Buddy Rich's big band for a few years.

In reading through the video descriptions and comments I came to discover that Andy Fusco passed away from COVID-19 complications in April 2021 and these videos were a tribute to his memory. Andy was my main private jazz teacher in high school. One of my parents would drive me to a neighboring town (Roselle Park I think) to take lessons which he conducted in a small side room in his mother's house. Andy claims he and his mother were on Johnny Carson billed as "Andy Fusco and His Mother" with Andy around 9 years old playing clarinet. A quick web search doesn't pull any old digitized clips up, but it could be true! The living room housed Andy's Mom's big organ as the centerpiece of the room. Down the narrow central hallway past the kitchen, where his father was perpetually ensconsed smoking a cigar, was the lesson room which was just big enough for an upright piano, 2 chairs, and a couch. That's where Andy and I practiced sight reading Lennie Niehaus jazz duets, worked on transcribed solos, and did ear training exercises.

Andy was always in good spirits and full of encouragement. It's quite common for the jazz world to be mean to less-talented improvisors such as myself and I never felt less-than when working with Andy.

I enjoyed a lot of Andy's recordings, but I think my favorite is the title track Tale of the Fingers from a John Goldsby record which does not seem to be readily available on streaming services at the moment.

I'm so grateful to have had so many great music teachers, and especially private teachers.

Thank you Vincent Calabrese! Vince was my first private teacher. He primarily played Latin Jazz on alto and clarinet and he was the grandfather of one of my classmates. Super nice guy and I really looked forward to our lessons.

Thank you Gerson Horowitz! Mr. H was the band director at my high school and really helpful and encouraging to me as I became increasingly serious about music and started doing things like region band, all-state band, and eventually music school auditions. I was often a wise-ass and probably often an insufferable snob at that time and Mr. H would periodically pull me back into alignment with a gentle shepherd's hook approach. I think I spent 4 of my 8 class periods in the band room the second half of senior year if memory serves. Something like concert band, instrumental music where I was learning flute and clarinet, jazz band, and an independent study on music history.

Thank you Carolyn Pollack! Carolyn played Principal Oboe in the NJ Symphony and taught me oboe lessons. I got a lot of training in playing classical music expressively through Carolyn that I otherwise would not have come across until much later. She taught lessons in her basement in Cranford and I would sometimes ride my bike there. She often played vinyl albums of symphony recordings for me to study various oboists. She patiently taught me reed making which how you teach that to a teenager I may never understand. I remember putting the corners of oboe reeds into a micrometer to measure if they were the ideal thinness or needed more scraping.

Thank you Chris Brellochs! Chris was the sax teacher at my summer music camp and eventually taught me private lessons during the school year too both in NJ and later in NYC. He was demanding and disciplined and taught me rigorous approaches to practice. We played trios and quartets a lot and he's still my best friend today!

Thank you Paul Cohen! I first connected with Paul via the Manhattan School of Music pre-college program. I would take the train from NJ into Manhattan and subway uptown to get private lessons with Paul at MSM when I was still in high school. It was such a thrill. Paul helped me find and buy the silver curved Buescher soprano sax that I cherished for many years. He had a literal saxophone museum at his house in Teaneck where I later went for lessons too. Of course I ended up attending Oberlin Conservatory primarily to study with Paul (and because Paul advocated for me to get a partial scholarship).

To have access to all these great teachers as well as instrument dealers, repair technicians, mouthpiece makers, etc was such an amazing experience of being in the NJ/NY area. Andy Fusco, you will be missed!