Monday, June 23, 2014

Ron Aprea: John Lennon/Beatles Jazz tribute album on the horizon!

Ron Aprea is a jazz saxophone player.
He arranges, composes, produces.

He has played with world class musicians including people like Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, Woody Herman, Tito Puente and a host of other great jazz bands and musicians. He has toured and done festivals in France, the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival event at the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho. His wife, Angela DeNiro,  is also a jazz singer. He has produced three albums with her. He has his own production company where he takes on other artists and produces them. He also has his own recording studio.
I began the interview by asking Ron makes him happy and what makes him unhappy.
He said there are a million things that make him happy. He is happy when he wakes up in the morning! He is happy to be doing what he loves doing, playing music, and especially creating good music with good musicians.
He is happy to see his kids grow up and his grand kids as well.He also has a wonderful wife that makes him happy. She supports him one hundred percent. What makes him unhappy? Not performing as much as he would like to at times.
Sometimes, political situations make him unhappy. For the most part, he tries to stay away from negative thoughts. He focuses on the positive things like his music.
That keeps him from having bouts with unhappiness. All in all, he's a pretty happy guy!
Why does he do what he does? For all of the above reasons. He loves performing. It is a major thrill for him to be up on a stage and seeing people being cheered on by what he does. He also loves the idea of being creative. He is in a very creative end of the music business, primarily in the jazz world. It is always changing. It is always growing and expanding. He is always searching and looking for new avenues. He is still learning, as well. The process is part of what he loves as well.
Ron's parents were not artistic although there was music on both sides of his family. On his mother's side of the family, they all had good singing voices, including his mom. On his father's side of the family, there were some musicians. His mother use to take Ron to theatres, one being the famed Paramount Theatre. These were the days when there were many live stage shows.

His mother did love music.
They would see many of the great bands live on stage. He remembers thinking as a kid, "That's what I want to do."

It's hard for him to imagine what his life would have been like if he had pursued a different path. He did love sports and was a baseball player when he was younger.
If he had not gone into music, perhaps that is the path he would have followed. He also loves to make things, so being a carpenter is another possibility.

In 1974, Ron did an album with John Lennon, which was an unusual project because Ron had been primarily in the jazz end of the business. He had been
on the road with Lionel Hampton and a few other jazz bands, including Woody Herman. Ron came back to New York and a friend of his, Steve Madaio, a trumpet player, called Ron. They were just chatting away about current events and what was going on in the music scene.
In the middle of the conversation, Steve said to Ron, "By the way, what are you doing tomorrow? We are doing a recording if you're interested." Ron said, "Sure!"
They continued small talking. Before they hung up, Ron decided to get some information about the session. Ron was thinking it was going to be some little "demo thing". It seemed as if it was going to be some insignificant thing. Ron said, "By the way, whose recording?" Steve said, "Oh, John Lennon." That was the way it started. Ron went into the studio the next day and met John Lennon. They started putting tracks down for his Walls and Bridges album. This was the fifth album by John Lennon, issued on 26 September 1974 in the United States and on 4 October in the United Kingdom.
Ron and John became friends. Ron says that John was a super guy and very easy to work with.
It was a fun project. They had five horns! The other horn players were all jazz guys with the exception of tenor saxophone player Bobby Keys, who was more of a rock musician. Robert Henry 'Bobby' Keys is an American saxophone player, and has performed with other musicians as a member of several horn sections of the 1970s. The other horn players were Frank Vicari (tenor sax), Howard Johnson (baritone and bass sax) and Steve Madaio (trumpet).
Julian Lennon was on drums on Ya Ya. 
During one of the breaks, Ron was photo copying some of the lead sheets. John didn't have musical arrangements; he basically had lead sheets. They were making up lead sheets to make up the various parts of the album. Ron was making copies so everyone would be on the same page. John walked into the room and sticks his face in the photo stat machine and hits the button.
Photostat of Lennon's face!
Two photo stats of his face come sliding out of the machine. John hands them to Ron and says, "Hang on to these. Some day they will be worth a lot of money." Ron didn't think much of this moment other than the fact that John was going to go blind! Those lights were so intense. Ron rolled them up and stuck them in his case and didn't realize what an important gift that was until a day or two later. It occurred to him that this was really cool. Ron put it in a frame and put it on his wall where it still hangs today.
The reason for this current project is to create an album and dedicate it to John Lennon. The album will consist of tunes he co-wrote or tunes from the Walls and Bridges album. One of those songs is Whatever Gets you Through the Night. This song along with the album won Lennon a Grammy, the only Grammy he ever won. Walls and Bridges received mixed reviews from contemporary music critics. During the recording of Whatever Gets You thru the Night, Elton John bet Lennon that it would top the charts.
Walls and Bridges
Walls and Bridges had a popular ad campaign (created by Lennon) called "Listen To This ..." (button, photo, sticker, ad, poster, and t-shirt).
Walls and Bridges would be Lennon's last album of original material until 1980's Double Fantasy, though a follow-up titled Between the Lines was planned for late 1975.
Walls and Bridges was first re-released on vinyl in the US in 1978, then again in 1982, and 1989, on Capitol.
Walls and Bridges was released in a remixed and remastered form in November 2005 (though four of the original tracks: Old Dirt Road, Bless You, Scared and Nobody Loves You were not remixed).
On Ron's upcoming album, he will be "jazzing up" Lennon's music. The tunes are gorgeous and Ron is being respectful of Lennon's original intent. This is a fun project for him. All in all it will be a tribute to John Lennon/the Beatles. It is something that Ron has wanted to do since his friendship with John in the early Seventies. He has finally gotten around to doing it. To make this happen, he is using Kickstarter.
So far, it is going very well, so Ron is excited about that.
I asked Ron to share his favorite memories of John Lennon.
The first thing that comes to Ron's mind is how kind John was. This may be to his detriment, but he was also very "open" with total strangers. He would say hello to everybody. In the middle of the night, after the sessions, John would be walking back to his apartment and Ron would be going to the train station through the streets of New York City. There was a lot of crime in those days. It was much worse in 1974 than what it is now.Ron was always afraid for John, but John didn't share that fear. He seemed to enjoy shocking people by saying hello to them. He would wave to truck drivers and kneel down and talk to homeless people. He was always so kind to everybody.
I asked Ron what the lowest point of his career was. He was at a loss for words. He says he really doesn't dwell on that. Like any profession, there are ups and downs. His happiness is based on how well he is playing. As long as he
Lennon's "Little Big Horns"
feels comfortable, as a musician, he is cool.
He is usually pretty comfortable, so he doesn't feel that he really has any real lows worth talking about.
What does Ron think of the state of the music industry today? "I think it's a mess!" It's in bad shape for whatever reasons. The record industry is experiencing real challenges. Recording studios are shutting down. In general, it is mostly downloads now.
CDs sales are not really happening as often anymore. The recording business, as well as the industry as a whole, is going through a tough time right now.
Ron is shooting for early October for a CD release date. Nothing is completed yet. All the arrangements have been done.
Ron cannot wait to hear these arrangements. Ron is using the horn section and the string section and the rhythm section as similar as possible to the ones used on Walls and Bridges. Ron spent six months going through every song from the Beatles/Lennon catalog. He then whittled that down to twelve. Then he did the arrangements. He had such a great time with this entire process. It is time consuming, as well, but time well worth spent. The music is done, now it's time to start recording!
I asked if he had a favorite song on this album. They all are!
He can't pick one. He already picked out twelve that he loves. It is like having twelve kids. He loves them all. When they are recording, one might "explode", and that might become his favorite. He has produced enough albums to know that that changes from phase to phase. In the writing phase, you have a favorite. Then, you go into the recording studio and that produces a different favorite. By the time it's done and you're mixing it, the one that emerges is the one you least thought would.  
The most important lesson Ron has learned in this business is to treat people nice. It is important to have support and have friends. Ron has seen just the opposite in this business and he simply treats others the way he desires to be treated. That is a lesson a lot of us should really learn.
I asked Ron to name his biggest vice and his greatest virtue. He had vices in the past that he has gotten rid of like smoking. He also may have run around a lot when he was younger. He doesn't know that he has any vices
Art Blakey
at this stage of his life.
His greatest virtue is his passion. It shows up in his music and he thinks that comes across. He did an album last year that was a tribute to Art Blakey. Born in 1919, Art Blakey began his musical career, as did many jazz musicians, in the church. The foster son of a devout Seventh Day Adventist Family, Art learned the piano as he learned the Bible, mastering both at an early age.
Art was a hero to Ron when he was growing up, a great jazz drummer. Most of the critics talked about Ron's passion in that album.
All that has been covered in this blog reveals the secret to longevity in this business. Be respectful to your peers and people, in general. Get work wherever you can. Don't lose your passion. When the business is going bad, you can't lose your passion for the music. Hold on to your passion. Separate the music from the business. Ron has been able to do that. Stay in shape. Keep your "chops" up. Hold your own among the crop of musicians that surround you. Stay fresh and continue to grow because you don't want to be looked at as an "old timer".
Stay on top of today's music scene. Ron tries to keep his music fresh by staying in touch with "what the young guys are doing."
Ron's professional schedule right now is OK. He feels that it could be better. He has been fortunate enough to forge a great relationship with New Jersey's famed jazz club, Trumpets. They have been encouraging him to bring his big band there. He has always had a passion for big bands. He has an amazing library of big band music. He has been making appearances with his Count Basie Tribute show at Trumpets one Sunday a month and they have done very well. In addition to that, he has been freelancing. He has some summer jazz festivals and concerts coming up. Again, it is not as busy as he would like it to be but he tries and stays active.
I asked if he considered himself a good student. He said absolutely! He is studying all the time. He also teaches privately. They also keep him fresh. He learns from them, as well. He is constantly being reminded of the basics because of his teaching.
Elvin Jones
He also loves watching the kids grow. He also loves exposing them to the greats, such as Charlie Parker.
As mentioned earlier, he has played with many of the greats. He has shared a bandstand with people like Elvin Jones, a jazz drummer of the post-bop era, Frank Foster, an American tenor and soprano saxophonist, flautist, arranger, and composer, Frank Wess, tenor saxophone, flute, Woody Herman (mentioned before). Ron has been fortunate. That never goes away. He loves sharing that history with the next generation. 
Ron's love of music covers the gamut from Mozart in the classical field to Harold Arlen in the pop field to Duke Ellington in the world of jazz. 
Frank Foster
His number one role model is Frank Foster. He was a great friend. He met Frank back in the fifties when he was a kid. Ron was sitting in front of the Basie band and Frank was already an international celebrity on tenor sax with the Basie band. They met at Birdland and stayed friends for almost six decades. Frank was not only a great sax player, he was also a great arranger and composer. Later, when he left the Basie band, he was a great bandleader. Ron also played with Frank's band. Frank was Ron's tutor. 
He taught Ron not only about music, but also about the business and about life in general. 
He was the closest thing to an angel. He was a great friend and a great guy. 
As of this writing, there are ten days left in Ron's kickstarter campaign. Anyone desiring to contribute or support this John Lennon project should go HERE and it will be very much appreciated by both Ron Aprea and myself. 
Thank you Ron Aprea for the gifts you have given to the world and continue to give!
With grateful XOXOXs ,

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1 comment:

  1. Richard,
    Another very interesting and informative article. Tell Ron that if he ever wants to come to the Pacific Northwest, we have one of the best Big bands around, the Lincoln Pops Orchestra. I bet they'd love to have Ron sit in with them.