Joseph C. Rinaldi

A lifetime lover of jazz and the blues who played with notable bands and also performed for presidents

May 24, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

Joseph C. Rinaldi, a professional jazz clarinetist and teacher who began his career playing for the swing bands of the 1940s and later became a mainstay of the Peabody Ragtime Ensemble, died Tuesday of heart failure at Huggins Hospital in Wolfboro, N.H. He was 85.

Joseph Carmen Rinaldi, the son of a barber and a homemaker, was born and raised in Washington, where he graduated from St. John's College High School.

Something of a musical prodigy, Mr. Rinaldi was a mere kid when his father gave him a Bb Soprano Curved Saxophone, a rather unusual-looking instrument that he kept and played for the rest of his life.

"He used to introduce it to audiences by saying, 'My uncle gave me this sax when I was 7 years old,' and then he'd launch into a jazz arrangement of Gershwin's 'Summertime' from 'Porgy and Bess,''' said Ed Goldstein, who plays tuba with the Peabody Ragtime Ensemble and is music director of Peabody Productions.

By age 9, Mr. Rinaldi was a professional clarinetist, as a member of the Elks Boys Band. In addition to the sax and clarinet, he eventually mastered the oboe and bass sax.

After graduating from high school, Mr. Rinaldi studied privately with Daniel Bonade, who was considered one of the finest woodwind teachers of the era and was a member of the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.

While a student, Mr. Rinaldi freelanced and played with CBS Radio studio bands on live and recorded broadcasts.

During World War II, he left Curtis and took a job as a welder in the Philadelphia Navy Yard, returning to school after the war ended.

During the 1940s, Mr. Rinaldi played with Harry James, Tony Pastor and Gene Krupa and also completed an eight-week tour with Judy Garland, family members said.

"He also played at inaugural ceremonies and balls for every president from Franklin D. Roosevelt to George W. Bush," said Mr. Goldstein, who also is a member of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra.

"He played at the 1961 Newport Jazz Festival, opening for Maynard Ferguson, who came out and jammed with him for a while," Mr. Goldstein said.

From 1959 until 1984, Mr. Rinaldi was music director for the chain of Gaslight Clubs in the U.S., which also included a club that has been closed for years on Cathedral Street in the city's Mount Vernon neighborhood.

He also played nightly in the Washington Gas Light Club with his Dixieland band, the Joe Rinaldi Quartet.

The Rockville resident, who moved to Wolfboro in 2005, joined the Peabody Ragtime Ensemble in 1993, where he also was a mentor to young musicians.

Mr. Goldstein became acquainted with Mr. Rinaldi in the late 1980s, when both were performing at the world championship escargot race.

"Here we were playing Dixieland as escargot went flying by," said Mr. Goldstein, with a laugh. "We fell in love with each other musically and it was so easy, I felt as though I had been playing with him all of my life."

Mr. Rinaldi was a hit with audiences whenever he performed big band music, jazz, ragtime, Dixieland or the blues.

"He'd play four bars on the bass sax, jump up and then play four bars on the soprano sax. Believe me, it's very difficult to do, but Joe did it, and it drove audiences into a frenzy," Mr. Goldstein said.

"He knew how to set up things and was quite the showman. He knew what made people tick and he could communicate through his instrument," he said.

Mr. Rinaldi especially enjoyed playing his two clarinets — a B-flat and an A-flat — that were both made from the same wood, making them resonate the same, according to Mr. Goldstein.

After moving with his wife of 42 years, the former Sharon Mountain, a singer he had met in the Washington Gaslight Club, Mr. Rinaldi taught music at the Brewster Academy and played second clarinet with the New Hampshire Symphony Orchestra.

"One of his students at Brewster Academy was Wynton Marsalis' son," Mr. Goldstein said. "And he was very comfortable having Joe teach his son."

Mr. Rinaldi, a Redskins fan, "enjoyed smoking a nice cigar and playing golf on the hottest days," said his daughter, Melissa P. Rinaldi of Melrose, Mass.

He also enjoyed spending time with his family and was a "good storyteller," she said.

In 2006, he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Musicians' Association of Metropolitan Baltimore.

"He continued playing right up until the end of his life," his daughter said.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10:30 a.m. today at St. Patrick Roman Catholic Church, 4101 Norbeck Road, Rockville.

In addition to his wife and daughter, Mr. Rinaldi is survived by a son, Joseph V. Rinaldi of Avon; a brother, Charles E. Rinaldi of Adamstown; five grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.

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