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Trumpeter and educator Jim Rotundi dies at age 61

Trumpeter and educator Jim Rotundi dies at age 61


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Trumpeter and educator Jim Rotundi dies at age 61

Jim Rotondi was praised for his broad, round trumpet sound, remarkable virtuosity and confident swing.

(Photo: Andrea Frascari)

Jim Rotondi, a famous straight-ahead trumpeter, composer and teacher, died suddenly on July 7 in Graz, Austria. He was 61.

His death was announced on Facebook on July 8 by his wife, the former Julie Vanparys. No details were released, but Rotondi had given no indication of ill health and had performed a few days earlier at the Rochester Jazz Festival in upstate New York with his own quintet and with the collective sextet One For All (of which he was a founding member).

Rotondi was praised for his broad, rounded trumpet tone, remarkable virtuosity, and confident swing. It served him with distinction during his years of work alongside soul superstar Ray Charles; jazz organist Charles Earland; pianists Harold Mabern, Mike LeDonne, and Toshiko Akiyoshi; vibraphonists Lionel Hampton and Joe Locke; and tenor saxophonist George Coleman.

His most frequent collaborators, however, were tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, trombonist Steve Davis, pianist David Hazeltine, bassist John Webber, and drummer Joe Farnsworth: the other members of One For All, all of whom worked together regularly and in varying combinations outside the auspices of the collective. This often included work as members of Rotondi’s bands, with whom he released 14 albums.

Rotondi was also highly regarded as a composer with a strong foundation in melody, blues and bebop, and as a teacher. He taught jazz trumpet for 14 years at the University of Music and Dramatic Arts in Graz. (He previously taught trumpet at Rutgers University and SUNY Purchase).

James Robert Rotondi was born on August 28, 1962, in Butte, Montana, the youngest of five children in a musical family. His mother was a piano teacher and insisted that all her children take piano lessons. In high school, he switched to trumpet — only then did he hear Clifford Brown for the first time. “Quite an eye-opener, to say the least,” he recalled in a 2019 interview. “So clear, so perfect, it’s unbelievable.”

After two unannounced years at the University of Oregon, Rotondi transferred to the University of North Texas in 1982, where he studied jazz trumpet—winning first prize in the International Trumpet Guild’s jazz trumpet competition in 1984. After graduating in 1985, he moved to New York, where he freelanced for several years before being hired in Ray Charles’ touring band in 1991. From there, he moved on to the big bands of Lionel Hampton, Toshiko Akiyoshi, and Bob Mintzer, and small bands led by Charles Earland, Lou Donaldson, Curtis Fuller, and Joe Chambers. He also played regularly at Small’s with Eric Alexander, where Criss Cross Records founder Gerry Teekens first heard Rotondi and recorded his debut album, Meet Jim Rotondi.

While Rotondi was a frequent freelancer, Farnsworth (a classmate at North Texas), Alexander, Davis, and Hazeltine remained his core cohort; together with bassist Peter Washington, they formed the “supergroup” hard-bop collective One For All in 1997. The band remained together for the next three decades, with John Webber eventually becoming the permanent bassist. Additionally, Rotondi and Hazeltine co-fronted an electric group, Full House.

Rotondi moved to Austria in 2010 to teach at the University for Music and Dramatic Arts, where he was a gifted and beloved teacher and revived his electric band as a teaching method. He also worked regularly in bands throughout Europe and had homes in France and Austria. His most recent album, Finesserecorded with both big band and orchestra, was released in February by Cellar Music.

In addition to Julie, to whom he was married for 20 years, Rotondi is survived by two brothers, Douglas and Frank Rotondi; two sisters, Susan Rotondi and Mary Ann Rotondi Heus; and several nieces and nephews. DB


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