HIGGS: Think back – I bet you can hear it too

Norma Higgs

“Music is life itself. What would this world be without music? No matter what kind it is.”

— Louis Armstrong

“When Ron Corsaro, the band leader, arranger and composer slides into his seat in front of the piano just to the left of his big band, he disappears. He taps his foot lightly and then 16 musicians begin caressing notes and tossing them like marshmallows in every direction.” So wrote Jerauld Brydges in his Niagara Falls Gazette column dated April 21, 1982.

During the second week of “Live Music Is Best Week,” sponsored by the Niagara Council of the Arts and the Local 106 American Federation of Musicians you could take in a “freebie” including Joe Mangione and Lou Barone along with Ron Corsaro. Brydges noted that “what comes out of the horn of Chu Nero and even his dentist, Samuel Morreale, who worked his way through dental school playing the saxophone, played for you for nothing.” This freebie took place in the ballroom of the Niagara Falls International Convention Center on Tuesday nights during 1982.

The room was not full that night but it is a big room with tables and a dance floor in front of the band. Typically it was a perfect room for musicians like this group gathered for folks who like ‘good music; listening music’ according to Ron, who was considered a mature 43, whose life has been enmeshed in music according to Brydges. He was a graduate of the State College at Fredonia and North Texas State University and at the time of this column was the chairman of the music department at Niagara-Wheatfield Central School.

Ronald L. Corsaro born in 1937, to Louis and Geraldine Corsaro, began his musical journey playing the piano at teen dances and the Ontario House along with other popular hang-outs in the Niagara Falls 1950s as a member of “Joe Marillo and the Rockets” and performed around town and on the road.

Later, during the 1960s, he formed his own group, “The Ron Corsaro Trio” with regular performances at many of the local nightclubs. Ron also composed, arranged and played with many local vocalists such as Lori Marucca, Hank Hammond and Rose Carella.

He spent time with the local musicians, offering them the opportunity to work together in a workshop big band called “Ron Corsaro’s Jazz Experience”. Always moving up a step, during the ‘70s he created the “Upstate Express Septet” who headlined the 14th annual Lewiston Jazz Festival and he joined Dick Soluri and started the Village of Lewiston Jazz Project which featured high school music students at special performances.

Lewiston remained on his list and for 14 years he was the musical director of the Lewiston Jazz Festival. He also helped promote the Ontario House Reunion Jazz Concerts with proprietor Robert Minicucci. The list goes on … jazz workshops, vocal music for church and school choirs, performing at fundraiser concerts in support of youth mission work and composing music for the Buffalo Jazz Ensemble.

Ron moved on to touring on a national level with the Tommy Dorsey Band, composed music for “The Tonight Show” and worked with Tommy Tedesco on two albums ‘Autumn’ and ‘When Do We Start.”

It was only natural that awards and accolades came his way and he was awarded three ‘Best Compositions’ for his ‘Desert Heat’ at several national jazz festivals. Ron‘s album ‘Dream Suite’ was nominated for a 2002 Grammy and he received the ‘Best Composition Award’ at the Radio City Collegiate Jazz Festival for ‘Porgy and Bess Jazz Suite’. Ron received four stars in ‘Downbeat magazine” for his Album ‘Boun Natale ‘among many others.

Ron Corsaro passed away during 2017 and was included in the 2018 Legacy Inductee Hall of Fame ceremony held Oct. 28, 2018 at the Rapids Theater.

“My dad, Louis was a jazz buff. Still is. And I grew up in a musical atmosphere” said Ron during the Jerauld Brydges interview in 1982. “I learned the piano and then I met one of the biggest influences of my life, Lou Morell, the guitar player who made it out west.”

Brydges ends his column … “It is time to go. Ron dashes a cigarette and glides in front of his band. He lifts his arm and there is music.

Julie West, who used to sing at the Whirlpool Supper Club on Main Street, comes to the microphone and does a job on a slow ballad, her voice dusky, some of the notes the consistency of finely ground sand. Listening music. Good stuff. Lou Barone played last night. Jack Lis is playing Tuesday. Big Bands. Good soft marshmallow sounds from great musicians. We’ve got them here. It’s been free all week.”

Close your eyes – think back. I bet you can hear it too. Stay tuned.

Contact Norma Higgs by email at niahigg@aol.com.