Phil DiRe, founder of the Buffalo Jazz Ensemble, passed away on May 26 at the age of 80. this delay.
That’s not to say that the other years didn’t matter and didn’t become mainstays in Phil’s life. But that is to say that Phil, as a musician, influenced the lives of many musicians and the history of jazz in Buffalo during this time.
In November 1972, Phil conducted the first edition of the Buffalo Jazz Ensemble in a concert at the Buffalo Central Public Library to a standing audience. The ensemble continued to give concerts in places such as Artpark, Studio Arena, Keenan Center and others. Including concert dates at the former Bona Vista Lounge on Hertel Avenue as well as the Student Union Social Hall at Buffalo State College.
The Buffalo Jazz Ensemble, led by Phil, helped launch a performance trip for several prominent musicians with Buffalo heritage. Notable artists included pianist Al Tinney, bassist Sabu Adeyola, saxophonist Joe Ford, drummer Lou Marino, pianist Jimmy Calire, drummer Tommy Walsh, drummer Naser Abeday, guitarist James Clark, keyboardist Jeremy Wahl and saxophonist Jay Beckenstein. Beckenstein, who was a private student of Phil, together with Wahl formed the nucleus of what has become one of the most famous jazz fusion groups in history – Spyro Gyra.
In 1975, Buffalo was at the center of a pioneering concept in the country. He was one of the first to receive city, state, and federal funding for jazz performances. Phil negotiated a one-time deal with the City of Buffalo under the leadership of Mayor Makowski, the New York State Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Union of Local Musicians and the new non-profit organization. profit created by Phil – Association for Jazz Performance which would launch an ambitious program to fund an ongoing series of concerts in every park, cultural center and school in the city.
The Buffalo Jazz Ensemble performed at these concerts and exposed many young people to jazz music. Their very first event took place on the steps of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, becoming a weekly event in the summer, and continuing with the sponsorship of the Buffalo News and publisher Stan Lipsey after 1980 starting with the Buffalo. Jazz Workshop, directed by Sam Falzone. .
Prior to these pivotal years, Phil was assigned, while serving in the Marines, to the White House, where he led the White House Jazz Quartet during Johnson and Nixon’s overlapping years of administration. This put Phil alongside Duke Ellington, Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, Dizzy Gillespie and Billy Taylor and allowed him to perform with one of his best friends in life, legendary drummer, songwriter and arranger Justin DiCioccio.
In the late 1970s, Phil accepted an invitation to move to Las Angeles to earn a living as a studio musician. Before leaving, he turned the jazz ensemble over to Sam Falzone, where it eventually became known as the Buffalo Jazz Workshop, and operating on a smaller budget and scale.
Feeling dissatisfied with his role as a studio musician, Phil responded to a friend’s request to join him at a newly opened club in Palm Springs. The club was owned by famous singer Keely Smith. Phil quickly made an impression on Smith and became his musical director, arranger and conductor. This Keely Smith ensemble, which also included renowned saxophonist Sam Butera, became one of the most popular groups to ever tour on the Las Vegas and Atlantic City circuits. The band was the follow-up act to Louis Prima’s great 1950s band, which featured Keely Smith as lead singer. As the band’s musical director, Phil found himself playing with big names such as Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Billy Eckstine, Tony Bennett and other legends of jazz as well as popular American music.
In 1982, constant touring, time away from his family, and the tragic loss of his son Michael at a young age brought Phil home to the Buffalo area. In 1994, Phil founded SuccessWare to help run his family’s HVAC business his father started, Sunbeam Heating and Cooling. Phil persevered and wrote the core computer program for SuccessWare without any formal training.
The call to jazz and blues music has never left Phil. In his later years he returned to performing fervently locally as well as in Florida, performing alongside friends and at special gatherings. He enjoyed the role of advisor and mentor, taking a keen interest in the revival of jazz locally and offering his support.
His later years served as bookends, in many ways, for the foundation stone that brought about a ripple effect in November 1972. The circular waves of the ripple effect continue to expand, touching and influencing the lives of jazz fans and buffalo musicians. region and beyond.
Phil is survived by his beloved wife of 57 years, Geraldine “Gerri” DiRe. He was a devoted father to Maria, Michelle, Deanne and the late Michael J. DiRe. He was affectionately known as “Dad” by his many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. For Phil, love of family came first in life.