On Friday, June 2nd, the heavens claimed another of Western New York’s legendary jazz icons. Ron Corsaro, Sr. passed away at the age of 79. Leaving behind a trail of jazz influence that will reverberate for the next several generations to come. (There will be a memorial service celebrating his life at 3 p.m. Sunday, June 11 at Christ United Methodist Church 350 Saratoga Road Snyder, NY 14226.)
Ron was a family man first and foremost and was married to his wife Carol for 58 years. And, a dear father to Vicki, Ron, Jr., and Lisa. Becoming a Grandfather to eight grandchildren. As I got to know Ron, in a very small way compared to the many friends he had over the past 50 plus years, one of my favorite conversations had nothing to do with jazz. Instead, it had to do with the old Italian and Sicilian tradition of Sunday afternoon family dinners of pasta and meatballs. And, yes – the Yankees (he once tried out for the New York Yankees).
Ron was born in 1938 and grew up in Niagara Falls, NY. After graduating from Trott Vocational Schools, Ron attended and graduated from SUNY Fredonia State School of Music. He also attended the prestigious North Texas State for music composition, University at Buffalo, Buffalo State College and Canisius College, obtaining master’s degrees in Special Education and Administration.
In a span of over 30 plus years, Ron contributed in so many ways during a teaching career in Wheatfield. Teaching at Niagara Wheatfield Senior High School for 32 years. He also served as Union President for the Niagara Wheatfield Teachers Association for 10 years. His love of sports led him to coach varsity football for 14 years at both Niagara Wheatfield and LaSalle high schools. Recently Ron received the New York State United Teachers’ Western NY legend award. In addition, he also recently received The United Methodist Women’s Service Pin for his support of Youth Missions through music
(Ron's love for politics also led him to the role of organizing co-chairman of students for John F. Kennedy on all the college campuses in Erie, Chautauqua and Niagara Counties, and he was the Niagara County Advance man for Bobby Kennedy.)
Throughout this illustrious career in education and coaching, Ron's love for jazz did not diminish one iota. Being a prolific storyteller, one of Ron’s favorite had to do with Bill Evans. Bill Evans was his music idol and inspiration. As a student at Fredonia State, he always remembered the specific date of April 21, 1961. The student-run Jazz Band (at a time when the band could not rehearse on campus) went to Notre Dame University for a national competition for schools around the country to compete. The band came in 2nd place in the national competition. One of the judges happened to be the legendary jazz pianist Bill Evans. He came up to Ron and asked him if he could take him for dinner, sharing how much he liked Ron and the Jazz Band. No doubt a treasured moment in Ron’s musical journey.
For many of us, we will remember Ron as the accomplished jazz pianist, arranger, and composer he became. Even in his illustrious teaching career and raising a family, Ron kept the fires burning in composing and arranging. The album Dream Suite, released in 2002, received a Grammy Nomination. Featured on this album are Don Menza on tenor saxophone, Dave Siegfried on bass, Billy Thiele on drums, and Ron on piano. Ron also played piano for the Tommy Dorsey Band and composed music for “The Tonight Show”. His original composition When Do We Start was recorded in 1971 by his friend, world-renowned guitarist Tommy Tedesco and became the title of Tedesco’s album released in that year.
Ron went on to release additional albums/CDs over the years. Evident is his lyrical jazz style of playing and fearless energy he demanded from the Upstate Jazz Express that convened over the years. Here is Ron performing Everything Happens To Me from a recording date in 1999 with Dave Siegfried on bass and Billy Thiele on drums where his lyrical style shines:
Now, check out the Upstate Express from a WBFO live recording in 1981 of Horace Silver’s composition Nutville, where you can feel the high energy (check out the photo of Upstate Express and Ron from around the same time period):
And, hear this from a live 1980 performance at Artpark of Room 608 at a hyper-speed tempo (where you hear Ron count out the intro):
As great as the energy was on the Upstate Express works, Ron’s own unique sound comes through with more clarity in the trio and ensemble settings. I particularly liked this tune, Goodbye B.B. from the Still, My Heart Sings CD, that features once again Don Menza, Dave Siegfried, and the addition of John Hasselback, Jr. on trombone (video provided by John Hasselback, Jr.):
During the past 15 years, Ron served as the Music Director for the Lewiston Jazz Festival. Contributing towards the festival to become one of the most well-attended and highly recognized jazz festivals in the region. (On a personal note, it has been an honor and privilege to step into the big shoes Ron carved out as Music Director for the festival, now called the Northwest Jazz Festival.)
A fitting close to this remembrance is to refer to the album Ron composed and produced, You Do Something To Me. On the cover is a young photo of Ron’s wife, Carol. In his usual way, he had dedicated the album to his love for Carol. To the many friends and relatives, he had in his life, he no doubt did the same as the title implies to the people who became a part of his life story.
Here is the Ron Corsaro Trio with Dave Siegfried and Billy Thiele performing You Do Something To Me. Ron’s piano voice once again swings:
(Thanks and appreciation go to Lisa Corsaro Malpica for providing history on her father and for sharing her memories. As mentioned above, there will be a memorial service celebrating his life at 3 p.m. Sunday, June 11 at Christ United Methodist Church 350 Saratoga Road Snyder, NY 14226.))