remembering a father
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     Jack Joseph D'Amico
           (1911-1996)

Jack D'Amico (born Giacomo) began his musical studies on the
violin. His father Luigi D’Amico  had learned to play the guitar in
his hometown of Santa Croce di Magliano in Molise, Italy, before
he came to the United States and became a blacksmith. His fathers
love of music informed a tradition of music making, amateur and
professional, that continues to this day to shape so many lives in
the family. Until the end of Jacks life, he continued to play the
violin his father bought for him for those first lessons. His sister
Angela, Mary Louise Nanna's mother, took piano lessons from the
son of Jacks music teacher and  while still teenagers Ange and
Jack then played for silent movies, not always agreeing on how to
interpret scores which had headings such as
allegro misterioso
notturno
 (”for stealthy action in the dark”), and Jack playing with
his feet up on a chair to avoid the unsavory condition of the movie
theatres floor. He also played the mandolin at Pete Nanna's
barbershop, that gentle Barise who would later marry his sister
Ange. And after he retired Jack went back to playing the violin
with the Cheektowaga Community Orchestra under Mary Louise’s
baton.

For these and so many other reasons Jack wanted Mary Louise
Nanna to play today. They share many qualities, inherited from
Jacks mother Giovannina (always known to family and friends  as
“Mamma Jenny”)—the sharp sense of humor, the impatience with
fools, an uncompromising demand for excellence, and a willingness
to take on the battles that come with being committed and honest.

In the later years of his retirement, Jack also began playing violin-
piano duets with his son Robert whenever the two could get
together either in Gainesville, Florida or Buffalo. Jack especially
loved the piano-music of Fritz Kreisler and the piece that always
began and ended their practice sessions was Kreisler’s “Liebesleid”
which Mary Louise will play today with Robert as her accompanist.

The popular American music of Broadway shows and of the great
dance band era was at the heart of Jacks professional life and is
represented today by the selections to be played by Dick Riederer,
a musician of a younger generation who became Jacks dear friend.
They shared their east-side, European roots, their sense of
tradition, their musicianship, and their love of the well-crafted
popular tune.

By the time he started a professional career and married Carol
Patti in 1936, the saxophone became his main instrument, but in
the cadence of his own life it was the violin with which he began
and ended. Like the Patti girl from Schiller street who stayed with
the D’Amico boy from Goethe, the violin never left him. You could
see his love for both in the way he held them and the look they
brought to his face.

Jack always said he just “picked up” the tenor saxophone and
clarinet because he could find more work doubling. His
extraordinary ability to sight read continued from his violin studies
and he developed a distinctive, full sound on the horn and thus the
saxophone became his “working” instrument. He and his wife Carol
started their life together on the road with the orchestra leader
Chauncey Cromwell (the stage name of, improbably enough, a
Sicilian band leader).  During the war he worked at Curtis Wright
making airplane engines and resumed, after the war, what was to
become a long and distinguished career as in every sense the
complete professional musician. He was equally at home on the
staff at WGR Radio, in the pit of a theater playing a show, at clubs
or private parties, at the circus, backing up performers at the
“Towne Casino or Chez Ami supper clubs, or even playing for
amateur dance recitals in an era when live music was the rule
rather than  the exception in public life. He was of an era of
musicians who combined a prodigious memory with flawless sight
reading. The saying often repeated about these musicians was that
if a fly landed on the score, they read it.

In the tradition of his father’s social activism, Jack was a leader in
the Musicians Union, fighting for better working conditions and fair
pay, and having to suffer the consequences of his opposition to the
national union leadership on many of these issues. The music
business, that oft discussed topic of conversation and debate in his
household, began to wane and like many musicians he took a “day
job” to supplement his income. First he sold DuMont televisions in
the early 1950’s and then he joined Appliance Associates for his
second profession in the building business which he approached
with the same energy and attention to detail. It rewarded him
financially and with some of his dearest  friends among the
salesmen and builders who met at such places as Anjons or the Red
Carpet, on their many trips to Europe, on the cruises with the
Builders Association, and always on the golf course.

With retirement a new routine emerged of driving to Florida, to
spend most of the winter with his son, his daughter-in-law Susan
Armstrong, and his grandchildren Julia and Christopher. Those days
at the beach, golf courses, and various cafes and restaurants of a
small college town passed much too quickly, but they were always
followed by the happy return to Greenbranch Road and the
beloved view of the trees and the stream.

During his last months Jack’s time was mostly spent listening to
music—those many beloved violin concertos, the Walton,
Mendelssohn, Sibellius, Brahms.  And however tired he seemed he
never lost his uncanny sense of time, rhythm, and phrasing. One of
his favorite motifs was how all of life was rhythm—the way we
walk, the way our hearts beat, the way we eat and speak. Even at
his lowest point he might open his eyes as a piece began on the
radio to remark “Taking it kind of fast arent they?” And they were.

In addition to the music what I will always remember about my
father is the art of talking. He loved story telling, discussion,
argument, jokes and even the sound of special words. It
encompassed a general concept of always maintaining a charming,
articulate and interesting bearing—what years later I would come
to understand as the Italian phrase
una bella figura—but I mostly
remember it as learning to have interesting ideas and to express
them well.

I don’t know how he and my mother kept up those two lives—
getting up early in the morning for work and going out at night to
play, or listen to music or meet their many good friends. Some of
my best memories of those years are connected with chance
meetings when they were out after my Dad had finished a job,
meetings at the Royal Arms for jazz, or to hear Dick Fadale at
Jacobbis, or at home for a late night snack and talk at the kitchen
table before he would go off to get a few hours sleep before his
morning sales calls—never used an alarm clock, just told himself
when to get up.

This music for me will always bring to mind the routine my father
went through before a job—finding a good reed, testing out some
new tunes or some old favorites, shaving, shaking out one of those
beautifully ironed and folded dress shirts my mother stacked in his
drawer, the aphrodesia after shave, the tie, the distinctive gesture
of thrusting his hands in his pockets and leaning forward for one
last check in the mirror. My father loved this music—he performed
and cherished the tradition of classical music, certainly
appreciated any form of music that was well played—but he was a
man who grew up with the great show tunes, the thirty-two bars,
the verse, the refrain and bridge of American popular music at its
best. The love of that music was in his face when he would play a
new tune for you, or show you how a tricky phrase should be
accented, or where there was a nice change in the bridge—lifting
the horn a bit and catching your eye.

I was lucky to see him once downtown, his saxophone case in hand,
just as he was about to turn into the revolving doors of the Statler
Hotel, impeccably dressed, probably an hour early for the job,
every inch the professional musician. And though he griped about
bad jobs—the leaders, the drummers, the drunks—he loved the art
of performance and he will always be alive for me in that moment,
turning from the dark street into a world of people, light and
music.
archives
In 1996 I traveled to Buffalo to attend a memorial
service for the father of Jack D’Amico—my dear
friend I have known these many years back to
the days we were students at the university.

The service occurred at St Vincents church on Main
St, one of the most beautiful churches in a city of
churches and a perfect venue for this occasion.

Jack Sr was a musician and on this day that was
theme--music, both jazz and classical, performed
by friends and family and fellow musicians he had
worked with for many years.

For me it was a Bach trio featuring his niece Mary
Louise Nanna on violin that was the highlight.

Some months later I wrote a story,
Reunion in
Buffalo
, that ends with a description of the
service. I wrote this:

Life can be boiled down to a handful of moments. This    
was  one. There is extraordinary music played by  
extraordinary musicians. But this was different. It was    
this  woman playing this music in this church in this city
to honor the memory of this man. There were my own
memories and feelings about the old man—and my
relationship with Jack. But mostly it was the music—played
by this woman.

I understood for the first time why the violin was such a
fantastic instrument. It perfectly set the tone for this
occasion.

I started to cry.

Normally I don’t cry. The last time was when my second
wife left me. But these werent tears of grief or sadness or
regret. The music did not evoke these emotions. It was
inspirational and glorious. It was unforgettable


The piece below was written by Jack and his
brother Robert for distribution at the service. I
thank them for their permission to publish.