Sunday, October 2, 2011

Tony "The Boss" Pasquarelli

 Tony Pasquarelli, photo from Carnegie-Mellon's Today magazine

Born in 1915 and raised in the East End, Anthony was one of four children and the only son of Guy and Maria Pasquarelli. Guy was a butcher by trade, and his boy Tony would go on to make a living off of chops - not the fried ones, but of the musical variety.

As a pre-teen, he played his horn at bar mitzvahs and private parties, getting back and forth in a cab.

By his teen years, Pasquarelli was gigging around town, another product of the City's primo music incubator, Westinghouse High. The trumpeter didn't have the means to go to college - the depression hit during his school years - but he got his education on the streets and stages of Pittsburgh. And he did eventually make it to Carnegie Tech/CMU, but as teacher rather than a student.

He was much in demand as a trumpet player, featuring a deeper tone than the usual high pitched, shrill blasts that most brass players produced. Pasquarelli preferred to free-lance rather than join a group and played for the CLO, Ice Capades, & Ice Follies, on the staff bands for the local radio and television stations, and for the orchestras of the Nixon, Penn, and Stanley Theaters.

Tony could go from showtime and pop to classical in a heartbeat. He played before the wand of conductors William Steinberg, André Kostelanetz, Karl Fritz and Richard Karp, and performed with the PSO, Pittsburgh Grand Opera Company, and the Pittsburgh Sinfonietta. He also blew for the Pittsburgh Pops.

But as well as he could make his trumpet sing and swing, Pasquarelli was best remembered as a teacher. He ran a private studio located downtown beginning in 1948 (he wouldn't quit giving lessons until 2009, at the age of 94) and was an instructor at Carnegie Mellon before it was Carnegie Mellon, with his tenure spanning from 1957 - 2004.

His students called him "The Boss." Pasquarelli was a demanding teacher, but he took an interest in his charges not only as musicians, but as people. He was a technician, and instilled discipline in his students, but with a helping of humor. His devotion to his art was second nature. Those who visited him during his last weeks of life said that he was still asking them if they were practicing.

And those students did pretty well under Pasquarelli's tutoring. His roster included Mark Schrello, Solo Trumpet of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra; Dennis Ferry, Solo Trumpet with L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande; Klancy Martin, principal trumpet for the Caracas Symphony Orchestra and Charles Metzger, First Trumpet with the San Francisco Ballet.

He produced a number of players for the local brass ensembles. One of his charges was Paul Halliwell, who played for the Allegheny Brass Band and served on the board of the River City Brass Band.

Among his River City Brass Band mainstays were Bernard Black, soloist and principal cornetist; Drew Fennell, principal solo flugelhorn/resident composer and conductor Denis Colwell.

Needless to add, several of the brass players he tutored also went on to teach.  Others went on to successful careers in other fields, and are quick to credit Pasquarelli with providing the life lessons that helped them along the road.

His students and CMU thought the world of Pasquarelli. When he retired from CMU, the institution named him its first "artist-lecturer emeritus in trumpet." His charges honored him with not one, but three specially commissioned pieces.

The first was composed by Carnegie Mellon instructor Byron McCulloh, former bass trombonist with the Pittsburgh Symphony. The second, commissioned by Pasquarelli’s students and the River City Brass Band, was written by British composer Philip Sparke. The last was performed for his retirement and written by Fennell.

The City even got into the act, posthumously dedicating June 7th as Anthony “The Boss” Pasquarelli Day as proposed by Councilman Bruce Kraus and unanimously approved by Council's members.  And you all know how often it is that City Council agrees on anything.

Pasquarelli never had any desire to leave the City for greener pastures. Heck, he probably never had enough time to consider the thought. For decades, he would teach at Carnegie Mellon in the morning, then head Downtown in the afternoon to his private practice and spend his evening at a gig.

But even legends have their limit. In February, Anthony Pasquarelli died at the age of 95. His passing was marked in the spring by a special concert held at the Memorial Park Church in Allison Park by his students and the Carnegie Brass.

Anthony Pasquarelli has left behind a legacy of brass players that will last another generation or two. And you can probably bet that right now he's standing by the Golden Gates, listening to Gabriel blow his horn and telling him to keep on practicing. Once a teacher...

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