Joe Parillo, director of the University of Rhode Island’s Big Band, has worked at the university since 1985. Having earned his bachelor’s degree from Rhode Island College in 1975, Parillo described his college experience as being on a “five year plan,” having taken a few years off to tour with bands, or “gigging” as he referred to it.
Coming up playing in rock bands, he made the shift to playing piano during his time in college. Parillo talked about his experience playing on the road with the Glenn Miller Orchestra in 1984. He traveled around the country with the orchestra, even going to Hawaii and New Zealand to perform at times. While he enjoyed touring internationally with fellow musicians he felt he needed to return to school and finish his Masters degree. Though Parillo has been busy as a professor at URI he still has time to travel once in a while, having just gone to Cardiff University in South Wales, to perform a solo piano concert last February.
Parillo said he has been around the URI as a student since the late 70s, which has given him a strong connection the university. He worked at URI and the Community College of Rhode Island simultaneously while at school. He graduated from the New England Conservatory with his Master of Music in Jazz Studies and Composition in 1988. He began as a professor and slowly transitioned into being the Big Band director, teaching mostly jazz history courses and directing a jazz combo. He started at URI because he was filling in for Art Motycka, the former director if the Jazz Big Band, who had taken ill. He took over the Big Band around 1989, which he says is still growing to this day.
The Jazz Big Band has played in many events and concerts over the years, they have played at the Lincoln Center before and been performers at the Newport Jazz Festival, they will be making their fifth appearance at the festival this summer, the festival is Aug. 4-6.
According to Parillo, there are 80 music majors with 30 to 35 students either double majoring or having a focus in jazz. Parillo said there are placement auditions for the jazz combos which have open auditions, but for the big band there are more rigid and formal tryouts, though he welcomes anyone interested to reach out. Parillo says students who do not want to play at such a high level, or are not quite ready for the level of the big band, can join the combos or take private lessons. These are available to those outside the music major as well. Jazz theory courses are something he recommends to amateurs or people trying to get into jazz. And as a good lead into private lessons, composition classes are available.
Parillo mentioned some alumni who have been doing notable work after they left URI. According to Parillo, several are in rock bands and some play in Nashville. Another student plays in a band in Providence. Parillo gave a special mention to Ben Shaw, who hosts a show called “Is This Jazz?” in Providence at AS220. The show brings together jazz musicians to the main stage of AS220 the first Friday of every other month.
Parillo mentioned how students who are still in school are doing great things with their music as well.
The URI Jazz Big Band is going to start playing at Shad Lea’s Guitars, what used to be The Pump House, in Wakefield the last weekend of every month. The concerts will be open to the public for $5. Parillo suggested some modern musicians as good gateways into Jazz for beginners. He recommended Brad Mehldau and Bobo Stenson for more traditional jazz piano and Robert Glasper as a more hip-hop influenced musician for any students looking to train their ear for jazz music.