Those of you who had the rare privilege to “experience” Joe Rinaldi, the Peabody Ragtime Ensemble’s reed player extraordinaire from 1993 to 2005, will be saddened to learn of his death on May 18, 2010 at age 85 in Wolfeboro, NH, where he made his home after he retired from active performing in 2005.
Joseph Carmen Rinaldi was born and raised in Washington, D.C. His lifelong musical journey began at a very early age. Joe’s fans may remember him introducing Gershwin’s “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess by brandishing a tiny curved soprano saxophone. “My father gave me this sax when I was seven years old,” he would say before launching into a dramatic jazz arrangement of the tune. By age nine he was playing professional clarinet with the Elks Boys Band, and he quickly added flute and the entire saxophone family to his repertoire.
Joe attended St. John’s College High School in Washington, D.C. and was later accepted to the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, PA, where he studied privately with Daniel Bonade, of the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, who was considered one of the finest woodwind specialists of the era. He also studied flute under William Kincaid, sax under the legendary clarinetist Anthony Gigliotti, and ear training with premiere oboist Marcel Tabuteau, all principals with the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra.
During his time at Curtis, Joe freelanced in Philadelphia playing with CBS Radio studio bands and for many other live and recorded radio and television broadcasts. His education was put on hold during World War II to serve with the Navy as a civilian specialist welder.
In the late 40s, after completing his studies, Joe played with the Big Bands of Gene Krupa, Harry James and Tony Pastor. He later fronted his own Dixieland Jazz Band, the Foggy Bottom Six, in Georgetown, completed an 8-week tour with Judy Garland, and appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1961, where he opened for Maynard Ferguson. The story goes that Maynard heard him playing jazz flute and came out to jam with him on a bebop tune.
For 25 years, from 1959 to 1984, Joe served as the music director for the chain of Gaslight Clubs in the U.S. (including a long-shuttered Baltimore location on Cathedral Street in the Mt. Vernon neighborhood.) He also played nightly in the Washington Gaslight Club with his own band, the Joe Rinaldi Jazz Quintet.
Joe had the privilege and honor to play music at the inaugural ceremonies or balls for 12 consecutive U. S. presidents, starting with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, through the second term of George W. Bush, including Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Ford, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton. Count ‘em.
In the late 1980s Joe and Ed Goldstein, leader and tuba player of the Peabody Ragtime Ensemble, met when Joe asked him play for the infamous waiters’ race and escargot-eating championship on Bastille Day in Washington, D.C. What followed was a musical love affair that culminated when Joe accepted Ed’s invitation to join the Baltimore-based band in 1993, playing the clarinet and alto sax book. Eventually he was the featured player on five different instruments, including soprano and bass sax, flute. One of his signature acts involved trading eights, then fours, then twos, then ones with himself on soprano and bass sax—a display of musical virtuosity and showmanship. Five years ago Joe withdrew from full time playing and he and his wife of 42 years, the former Sharon Mountain, who he met when she was a singer in the Washington Gaslight Club, moved from Rockville, MD to Wolfeboro, NH to be closer to their daughter Melissa and her family. Although officially retired from professional performing, Joe immediately began to carve out a new musical niche for himself. He taught at the Brewster Academy High School, where one of his students was Wynton Marsalis’ son, performed with small groups in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire, and played second clarinet with the New Hampshire Symphony Orchestra.
Joe’s awards and honors spanned many decades; highlights from the latter part of his life include the 1998 Most Distinguished Alumnus Award from his high school alma mater, St. John’s, in Washington, D.C. and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Musician’s Association of Metropolitan Baltimore in 2006. He was also the featured artist with the Peabody Ragtime Ensemble when they shared the bill with the Artie Shaw Orchestra in 2006 at the Great Waters Jazz Festival in Wolfeboro, NH.
As his brother, Charles, said at his memorial service, we will miss him deeply, but they are playing some really hot Dixieland music in heaven.
Ruth Goldstein, Melissa Rinaldi and Fred Rasmussen of the Baltimore Sun contributed to this article.