Parkland Press

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Midiri Brothers Orchestra in Pa. Jazz Society concert

Friday, September 20, 2019 by GEORGE VANDOREN Special to The Press in Focus

The Midiri Brothers Orchestra brings its exciting brand of jazz to open the Pennsylvania Jazz Society’s fall 2019 season, 2 - 4:30 p.m. Sept. 22, Dewey Banquet Hall, 502 Durham St., Hellertown.

Group members include Joe Midiri, clarinet, sax; Paul Midiri, vibraphone; Dan Tobias, trumpet; Pat Mercuri, guitar; Jack Hegyi, bass, and Jim Lawlor, drums.

“Our band is eclectic. We play a little bit of everything,” says Joe Midiri in a phone interview.

“We’re inspired by the classic groups: Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, the Ellington small groups. Our repertoire goes from 1910s to modern jazz songs,” Midiri says.

The group got its start some 30 years ago.

“Paul and I were playing as sidemen with several bands. We wanted the opportunity to play together and to play more challenging stuff. We started rehearsing and then getting jobs. It was a gradual process. We’re talking the mid- to late-1980s,” says Midiri.

The Midiri brothers have a somewhat unusual beginning as musicians. They were in a high school shop class where the teacher was recruiting students for the band. Joe signed up for clarinet and Paul for trumpet.

“Not long after we got the instruments, I heard a Benny Goodman album live from the Palladium. Then I found an Artie Shaw album. A year and a half after I started playing, I auditioned for college as a music major.”

Joe Midiri received a degree in music education from Glassboro State College (now Rowan University). He auditioned at Indiana University for a masters’ program but was too busy playing to pursue it, or for that matter, to teach in a public school. He has taught privately for many years and has been an adjunct professor at a performing arts academy for the past 16 years.

His brother Paul switched from trumpet to drums for the band’s gigs. He took up the vibes in another odd twist. A gentleman came into the music store where he worked part-time. For $25, Paul became the proud and enthusiastic owner of a set of vibes.

Joe says his brother “is a very serious student. He’s either writing or studying material all the time. He writes a lot of rags.”

Midiri discusses other members of the ensemble:

“Dan Tobias is very musical. He doesn’t grandstand. We’ve been playing together for years. It’s easy for us to find harmonies with each other. He has such a beautiful, sweet sound. It fits great with the sound of the vibes and clarinet.

“Pat Mercuri can do it all. He plays with Philadelphia Orchestra or Pennsylvania Ballet when they need guitar or mandolin. He also played mandolin for the New York Philharmonic’s New Year’s Eve production, ‘Porgy & Bess,’ on national TV.”

Midiri calls Jack Hegy, who has played with Don Rickles, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé, and Keely Smith, “a great presence. He doesn’t miss anything you do.”

Of Jim Lawlor, who has the longest tenure with the band, Midiri says, “When Paul started playing vibes, Jim would play drums. He’s been with us since ’89.”

Tickets: at the door. Admission is free for students.