Tony Martucci Quartet: “straight-ahead jazz” from music faculty

Mark Robinson
Staff Writer

Wednesday evening provided a highly anticipated faculty recital at VCU’s Singleton Center. The Tony Martucci Quartet arrived at VCU fresh off of a performance at Blues Alley in D.C., a historic venue that has hosted jazz and blues legends since 1965. Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Byrd and Maynard Ferguson are just a few of the acts to grace the stage at what the New York Times called “the nation’s finest jazz and supper club.”

The quartet is led by, and named after, VCU jazz drum set instructor, Tony Martucci. The man hailed as a “world class drummer” by Coda magazine certainly has a world class resumé: over thirty-five years, Martucci has performed internationally with dozens of musicians and ensembles.  Past gigs have included Canada, Italy, Finland and Estonia, as well as featured performances at the Monterey and North Sea Jazz Festivals. Martucci, having released numerous albums, will soon re-enter the studio with his quartet to work on their newest CD.

All of this while maintaining a 25-year long teaching career.

Trumpeter John D’earth, a VCU artist in residence, pianist Marc Copland and bassist Tom Baldwin joined Martucci Wednesday night. A packed Sonia Vlahcevic Concert Hall focused on Professor of Jazz Studies Tony Garcia as he introduced the ensemble: “It has been a great delight to have Tony Martucci on our staff for so many years.” The quartet entered to applause and prepared for their opening piece.

Martucci interrupted a lengthy, hushed moment of preparation as he stood up from his drum set, yelled “Thank You!” and pretended to walk off the stage. This drew laughs from the crowd and previewed Martucci’s colorful character as a performer.

The first selection began with a melodious piano intro. The bassist plucked vibrantly as the trumpet took the lead in the piece. Martucci played a minimal role early in the song before picking it up at the end with a technical drum solo that he executed effortlessly.

Pianist Marc Copland’s original composition “Waltz” followed. Fittingly, the song opened with an ominous piano solo. D’earth echoed the minor chords on trumpet before his wailing solo began. He passed the lead to bassist Tom Baldwin, who proved to be an energetic performer during his bass solo. The song slowly faded out and left Martucci with the mic to introduce the band formally.

“Emily’s Star,” a collaborative composition from the group, was perfectly balanced. Martucci flipped his Promark sticks back and forth between traditional and match grip as D’earth’s fluttering trumpet solo drove the piece. An extended solo for Martucci brought audible “oohs” and “ahhs” from the crowd. Many people tapped along on their legs with him before the song ended.

The next two selections were Baldwin’s compositions: The lights dimmed to fit the feel of “K-Bassa,” a mellow groove which progressed to a cut time section in which Copland’s piano took a more featured role.   Martucci’s quirky individuality as a performer was evident throughout the evening: at one point in “K-Bassa,” Martucci met Copland at the top of a piano run with a cymbal crash, crying out, “Woo!”

“Since we’re in a Tom Baldwin kinda mood, we’re gonna play another one of his selections,” announced Martucci before enthusiastically kicking off the driven, up-tempo “Rides Left, Rides Right,” a swing number that stayed true to the group’s roots. D’earth’s bright sound and quick runs led the piece before giving Copland and Baldwin turns to solo. Martucci’s drums drove the piece and he demonstrated his smooth skills on yet another solo.

Before announcing the final song, Martucci joked, “I haven’t even started my stand up yet!” He then took time to give a more serious speech about the importance for young musicians of networking and gaining exposure. He thanked both the quartet and the audience before announcing the band’s final selection as an “unusual closing tune.”  Marc Copland’s “Sun at its Zenith” received the honors, slow and sumptuous. Solos were passed all around, the most intriguing of which was D’earth’s muted trumpet feature.

The audience – many of whom knew Martucci as a professor and mentor as well as a musician – cheered as The Tony Martucci Quartet ended their show in just under an hour and a half. This Thursday, they head into the studio to begin work on their latest album.

Find more info on the VCU Department of Music, including a full schedule of upcoming concerts, at  Student tickets are free or discounted.

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