It was Frank Bongiorno, chair of the UNC-Wilmington music department, who first turned Michael D’Angelo on to jazz.
Now, years later, D’Angelo will be joining his childhood mentor on stage this Friday–only this time as a peer.
D’Angelo, who now teaches jazz studies and drums at UNCW, is one of nine professors performing as Jazz With Strings tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. in Beckwith Recital Hall as part of the university’s Family and Alumni Weekend. The concert–a collection of works by legendary jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker–will benefit the music department’s scholarship fund.
D’Angelo also happens to be one of two musicians in the group with a Grammy nomination under his belt. The other is trombonist Jerald Shynett for his work with big band Jazz Surge.
While still in college, D’Angelo played with University of North Texas’ ensemble, the One O’Clock Lab Band–a longstanding college group that has, since 1946, garnered a total of six Grammy nods.
“Every year, the band records an album at the end of the academic year; it’s almost like an audio fingerprint of that year’s band,” D’Angelo recalled. “It just so happened that the album we recorded when I was in the band got a nomination. It was the first time the album as a whole got nominated in a little over 30 years. It was an incredible experience.
“The university flew the entire band out to L.A. for the awards ceremony and television broadcast. Sadly, we didn’t win, but it did leave a mark on the industry. It showed there was some wonderful, artistic music happening in the education space, and that the younger generations of musicians in a college group could be recognized on the same level as professional musicians. It felt more like a professional group than a class in college.”
Music, as they say, was in D’Angelo’s blood. Growing up in Charlotte, his father was a professional touring drummer for country musicians and bands.
“During my infancy, I was always surrounded by music while my father played, and I started to develop a curiosity for drums when I was around 18 months old. I saw what my father did and like any son, wanted to be exactly like my dad,” he said. “Growing up as a kid, I was a self-taught drummer…It was something I enjoyed to do, much more than sports or martial arts or whatever most young kids did at the time.”
It wasn’t until the age of 11 that D’Angelo received any formal training, and it wasn’t until he began attending UNCW’s Summer Jazz Workshop a few years later that he found a passion for the genre. He later went on to become a staff member of the annual sessions.
“Dr. Frank Bongiorno was really the person who got me into jazz, and it was him putting on a recording of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers that made the light bulb go off in my head. That was when I discovered what jazz really was, and it was what I wanted to play as a musician,” he said.
Shynett had a similar experience.
“My father was an avid listener and supported the arts. He used to take me to concerts and museums. I started playing music at age 12…I have been playing for over 30 years so inspiration is not my sole motivation; I quite simply don’t know anything else,” he said.
Both musicians went into adulthood knowing, simply, that they wanted to play. D’Angelo has had the opportunity to work with some of his heroes, including Dave Brubeck, Curtis Fuller, Alan Pasqua, Bob Hurst, James Carter, Wycliffe Gordon, Chuck Berghofer, Tim Warfield and Jamey Aebersold. He has performed around the world–France, Thailand and Argentina, to name a few locales–and most recently backed up Mary Wilson of The Supremes when she played at UNCW.
And Shynett has shared the stage with the likes of KC and the Sunshine Band, Ray Charles, the O’Jays, Chick Corea, Joe Henderson and Gerry Mulligan.
Eventually, the two found a new passion–education. But that doesn’t mean they don’t still enjoy the spotlight from time to time.
Jazz With Strings, they agreed, is the perfect opportunity to do so. Tomorrow, D’Angelo and Shynett will come together with faculty members Bongiorno, Mike Waddell, John LaCognata, Bob Russell, Andy Whittington, Danijela ŽeŽelj-Gualdi and Jason Foureman.
“We do not perform as a faculty often so when we do it is like we get to have non-grown-up jobs,” Shynett joked.
For D’Angelo, the experience runs a little deeper. After a lifetime of connections to music and to the campus he now calls his workplace, Jazz With Strings feels a lot like coming home.
“I guess the only thing that’s changed is they’re now my fellow professors. I would play with them every year during the workshops, and when I joined the faculty, it was more like a reunion than a new experience. Playing with more experienced musicians is a good guidance point for putting what you have worked on into practice.
“That’s what we do here as teachers–trying to give that same guidance that we received when we were learning about this music. I think we’re all at different stages of being beginners and we never stop learning about new things,” he said.
Tickets to the Jazz With Strings concert $20 for the general public, with discounted rates for faculty, staff, students and alumni. Tickets and more information are available here.
Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6341 or email@example.com.