MIDDLESEX - Friday, March 13…That’s the ominous day the music stopped for Reading resident Dr. Rick DiMuzio.
For nearly a month, the saxophonist and music composer’s innermost being survived a tortuous existence after playing his last gig just four days before Mass. Governor Charles Baker shut down all non-essential businesses in Massachusetts due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
By April, the veteran Berklee College of Music faculty member could no longer suffer the silence. So he did what any reasonable musician would do: He called up the band and started booking concerts at the only venue that would take them.
So it was that over the weekend of April 18, DiMuzio’s Springvale Road neighbors walked outside their homes to find the music professor and his jazz trio jamming out in the driveway.
By the last such neighborhood concert weeks later in September, area residents had become so accustomed to the ritual that they started popping up lawn and camping chairs in their front yards to listen in on the performances, which were also live-streamed over social media platforms like Facebook.
“The need to play just took over. We did it because we felt this need to express ourselves. It just fed us artistically,” recalled DiMuzio of the informal neighborhood performances. “We did 10 of those concerts before we stopped in September, when the weather became less hospitable.”
With the winter season approaching, DiMuzio is now relishing in the completion of another major undertaking that was 15-years in the making: The release of his second jazz album.
Entitled “Time Travelers”, the album features nine jazz selections composed by DiMuzio, whose inspiration for the album came after looking at a picture of his relatives hanging on his living room wall.
“It’s a portrait of my paternal great grandparents, two ‘time travelers’ who were, in a sense, responsible for my existence, yet I had never met them nor had known anything about them and their lives. It’s a reflection on the fragility and brevity of life,” he explained.
“They’re all my compositions and [the selections are all played] by musicians I hand-selected,” he later said of the new release. “I try to make the album feel like a concert experience. You get varieties through the whole thing, so by the end, you’re musically satisfied.”
DiMuzio, whose wife, Jenny DiMuzio, is a music teacher and choral director at Reading’s Parker Middle School, first picked up a clarinet when he was in the fifth grade.
Though immediately drawn to music, it was a brief and at-the-time unnotable exchange with his father that likely changed the trajectory of DiMuzio’s life.
As the Reading resident recalled, he and his father, a barber and church choir member, would often listen to records on an old phonograph, and DiMuzio at the time had been enjoying the clarinet solos of jazz musician and big band leader Woody Herman.
“I found this little 45 album by Woody Herman, and my dad walked in and said, ‘Hey, he’s really good. I hope you can play like him some day,’” he explained. “Well, I took that as a challenge.”
Little by little, the young DiMuzio would memorize and practice a few new notes each day from that song. Soon, his band teacher discovered that the novice clarinet player had a gift enjoyed by few others: The ability to learn music by ear.
The fifth grader, who until early adulthood assumed everyone could pick-up on music that way, would eventually be forced out in front of his classmates to play the whole Woody Herman solo by himself.
Initially, DiMuzio was not happy with the extra attention.
“I remember my knees were practically knocking together,” recalled the Pittsburg area native. “I ended up playing that whole solo, and I got my first standing ovation. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, I really like this! I think I’m going to do it again.’”
Dreaming of little else but performing for a living after that day, the Reading resident eventually went on to study music as an undergraduate at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. From there, he would obtain his master’s degree from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York and go on with his new wife to become a music teacher at Truman State University in Missouri.
While working to create a jazz program at his Missouri workplace, DiMuzio was informed he would require a doctorate in music, so he ended up enrolling in the world-renowned New England Conservatory of Music.
First living in Watertown, the DiMuzio’s would eventually decide to settle down and start a family in Reading, where they raised their daughter Katy, who herself graduated from Berklee College of Music this year with a degree in music business.
“We were really just looking for some place where I could get in and out of the city easily,” said the college professor of he and his wife’s decision to move to Reading. “With music, there isn’t really a lot of money to be made. You do it because you love it, [so we needed an affordable place to live on the outskirts of the city].”
DiMuzio, who now tries to teach students how to learn music “by ear”, has immensely enjoyed his 20-plus year career as a music educator.
But composing and performing music will always be his first love, which is why he’s so excited about his latest release, which comes after the saxophonist has spent years growing familiar with the musical whims and intuitions of the musicians featured on the album.
“Absolutely,” responded the jazz enthusiast, when asked if musicians really have that much artistic liberty when playing musical notes scribbled on a page. “What’s written is just a blueprint. And with jazz, there’s even less of a blueprint than normal, because we all improvise things.”
A professional musician who has performed across the world, including in Europe, Central and South America, and in Asia, DiMuzio performs regularly as a sideman with the Greg Hopkins Jazz Orchestra and Quintet, Bert Seager, Fernando Huergo, Phil Grenadier, Leo Blanco, and Kevin Harris.
He has played or recorded with such artists as David Liebman, Steve Grossman, Bill Perkins, Jaleel Shaw, Jerry Bergonzi, Kenny Wheeler, Conrad Herwig, Lage Lund, Danilo Perez, James Williams, Leo Genovese, Esperanza Spalding, Terri Lyne Carrington, Roger Humphries, Francisco Mela, John Hollenbeck, and Jamey Haddad, among others.
“Time Travelers” is DiMuzio’s second album release as a leader since the debut of “First Offering” about 15 years ago. Time Travelers is available on most major streaming platforms, including iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, Apple Music, and Deezer. Those interested in a physical copy of the album can also visit http://www.rickdimuziomusic.com, where the liner notes are also provided. Video links from this spring’s driveway performances at DiMuzio’s Reading home with upright bass player Keala Kaumeheiwa and drummer Austin McMahon can also be found on the website.