By SCOTT CRONICK
At The Shore, (609) 272-7017 E-Mail
Tony do Rosario has faith the Atlantic City area can become jazz friendly. Despite the fact that the Somers Point native spends most of his time living in Los Angeles now, do Rosario has decided to stay home for a while and help build a "real jazz" scene here.
It may be a tough task, but do Rosario says clubs like mojo in Margate and the Ozone Room in the Flagship in Atlantic City are big steps in the right direction.
If you're looking to hear what do Rosario calls "background music," you might not want to check out do Rosario when he performs. The 30-year-old is passionate about the type of music he plays, talking about jazz as if he was the genre's official spokesman.
"A lot of places say they have jazz," says the guitarist, who performs at mojo 10 p.m. Saturday with his own band and 8 p.m. Friday and 4 p.m. Sunday at the Ozone in drummer Tony Day's group. "A lot of times, not to take away from the players in these venues, it's background music. The great thing about mojo, especially, is that it's geared to real jazz. They're encouraging people to come out and listen to music instead of people talking over the music. It's a very cool vibe.
"If you get into it, you realize what a cool art form this is. It's truly a great art. And it's also exciting the way you get to cheer people on after a solo. It's like sports. In football, when a guy gets a pass and he runs for a touchdown, you cheer. In jazz, crowd acceptance is just as important. After every solo, the musicians want that same crowd acceptance. And even if someone crashes and burns and doesn't nail that solo, they usually get applauded anyway because the courage to get up there and do it warrants it."
The improvisation of jazz is what particularly drives do Rosario.
"When you compare it to rock music, most rock bands in South Jersey and other bands have predecided what they will play before they get up on stage," he says. "In jazz, there is a skeleton of what the music is and you work from there. The players have no idea what they will play. Even though they know the songs that you work from, what will be played on top of those songs isn't decided until the moment he or she is going to play that solo."
The guitarist says the local performances aren't "free jazz," but a demonstration of improvisational jazz using standards and building from there.
"We play the melody in the beginning and work with the harmony of the original, and after that each person has to do battle with the chord changes and harmony of that tune," do Rosario says enthusiastically. "I say do battle because I really mean it. It's one obstacle to tackle the harmony, but then there's the rhythmic sense that you have to stay in time and in form with everyone else that you're playing with. Everyone has to make the same changes and adjustments at the same time. When it does happen, there's nothing like it."
Like most young guitarists, do Rosario didn't adore jazz when he started playing guitar at 14.
"At first I got into the typical rock stuff that everybody plays," he says. "But I was turned onto different guitarists like Pat Martino and Wes Montgomery, and when you're intrigued by playing like that, you want to find out how they do it. It turned out to be this endless search. It's endless because you're constantly searching for new ideas. I felt if I was just playing rock music, there would be an end to what I could learn. There's never an end in jazz. You can say you're a great rock player or a great whatever, but in jazz, you always can get better. It's a constant challenge.
"One time, someone asked me, 'Well jazz isn't popular, how do you know people are always going to listen to jazz?' I know there is because of the competition among musicians. You compete with yourself, but there's always going to be fellow musicians out there supporting the music and supporting the scene. We all want to reach a higher level of play, and it gets pretty heavy when you think about it."
Most of the year, do Rosario can be found touring with Mays Landing resident and popular entertainer Charlie Prose around the country.
"I like playing with him, he's a nice guy and it pays the bills," do Rosario says of his gig with Prose.
"He knows I would love to be playing traditional, straight-ahead jazz all of the time, but that doesn't always pay the bills. I like the time off. We're in a two-month hiatus, and I get to do stuff like this. I thought about going back to L.A., where I can definitely get a lot of gigs because I've lived there for seven or eight years, but there are a lot of great players here trying to make things happen. This little scene here made it worth sticking around here for a little while."
That doesn't mean do Rosario won't be returning to the West Coast.
"The L.A. jazz scene is great because there are these young, hip kids coming out to see this cool music," he says. "It's not about going to a bar to get drunk. It's about listening to the music and hanging out. Here, the jazz scene pretty much draws an older crowd. They're great, but it's too bad the younger crowd can't open themselves up to it more here."
At mojo, do Rosario plays with bassist Ethan Halpern, a friend who goes to school in New York; Dan Keselnik, a jazz organist who also plays some fine piano in do Rosario's quartet; and drummer Bob Shomo, a musician do Rosario used to always check out when he was growing up. At the Ozone, do Rosario plays with Day, Keselnik and bassist Pete Chavez.
The musician is currently working on a self-titled CD he hopes to release this year. He also will have a DVD released of a New York show he's doing with Japanese sensation Hideaki Tokunaga.
Do Rosario also has a band called The Six String Friends that often features Andy Summers of the Police and John Pisano. He says a CD may be released on the Japanese label Moo Records. They are just some of the many projects do Rosario is involved in, but if fame eludes him, so be it.
"I think that people outside of jazz don't understand that most jazz musicians aren't into the whole getting popular thing," he says. "If it happens, that's icing on the cake. Most rock players want to be rock stars, not rock musicians. I want to be a jazz musician, and if I become well known after I establish myself as a musician, that's great, too. I'd be happy to make a humble living making the music I love."