Trumpeter, Educator Jim Rotondi Dies at 61


Jim Rotondi was acclaimed for his wide, round trumpet tone, remarkable virtuosity and assured swing.

(Photo: Andrea Frascari)

Jim Rotondi, a renowned hard-bop trumpeter, composer and educator, died suddenly on July 7 at a hospital in France. He was 61.

His death was announced on Facebook by his wife, the former Julie Van Parys, on July 8. Cause of death was a heart attack.

Rotondi was acclaimed for his wide, round trumpet tone, remarkable virtuosity and assured swing. It served him with distinction in his years of work alongside the likes of soul superstar Ray Charles; jazz organist Charles Earland; pianists Harold Mabern, Mike LeDonne and Toshiko Akiyoshi; vibraphonists Lionel Hampton and Joe Locke; and tenor saxophonist George Coleman.

His most frequent collaborators, however, were tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, trombonist Steve Davis, pianist David Hazeltine, bassist John Webber and drummer Joe Farnsworth: the other members of One For All, all of whom worked regularly and in varying combinations with each other outside the collective’s aegis. This frequently included work as members of Rotondi’s bands, with whom he released 14 albums.

Rotondi was also highly regarded as a composer with a strong foundation in melody, the blues and bebop, and as an educator, teaching jazz trumpet for 14 years at the University for Music and Dramatic Arts in Graz, Austria. (He previously taught trumpet at Rutgers University and SUNY Purchase).

James Robert Rotondi was born Aug. 28, 1962, in Butte, Montana, the youngest of five children in a musical family. His mother was a piano teacher and required all of her kids to take piano lessons. In junior high school, he switched to trumpet — only after which he heard Clifford Brown for the first time. “Pretty eye-opening, to say the least,” he recalled in a 2019 interview. “So clear, so perfect, it’s unbelievable.”

After two undeclared years at the University of Oregon, Rotondi transferred to the University of North Texas in 1982, studying jazz trumpet — and winning first place in the International Trumpet Guild’s jazz trumpet competition in 1984. Graduating in 1985, he moved to New York, where he freelanced for several years before being hired into Ray Charles’s touring band in 1991. From there he made the leap into the big bands of Lionel Hampton, Toshiko Akiyoshi and Bob Mintzer, and small bands led by Charles Earland, Lou Donaldson, Curtis Fuller and Joe Chambers. He was also playing regularly at Small’s with Eric Alexander, where Criss Cross Records founder Gerry Teekens first heard Rotondi and recorded his debut album, Introducing Jim Rotondi.

While Rotondi was a frequent freelancer, Farnsworth, Alexander, Davis and Hazeltine remained his core cohort; together with bassist Peter Washington, they founded the “supergroup” hard-bop collective One For All in 1997. The band remained together for the next three decades, with John Webber eventually becoming the permanent bass player. In addition, Rotondi and Hazeltine co-led an electric group, Full House.

Rotondi moved to Austria in 2010 to teach at the University for Music and Dramatic Arts, where he was an accomplished and well-liked educator, reviving his electric band as a means of teaching. He also worked frequently in bands across Europe, maintaining homes in France as well as in Austria. His most recent album, Finesse, recorded with both big band and orchestra, was released by Cellar Music in February.

In addition to Julie, his wife of 20 years, Rotondi is survived by two brothers, Douglas and Frank Rotondi; two sisters, Susan Rotondi and Mary Ann Rotondi Heus; and several nieces and nephews. DB

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