It took five years, a move to New York City and some soul-searching, but Kenai Peninsula trumpet player and musician Joe DeCino has graduated from The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music.
While he left Homer with aspirations of being a professional jazz-trumpet player, DeCino found himself drawn increasingly to other instruments and the art of composition — so much so that he didn’t touch a trumpet during his final recital.
“About two years in (to studying) I had to take some time off of the horn,” DeCino said. “It opened my eyes to all of these other facets of music that I was way more capable and interested in. I just started studying everything, a lot of composition and conducting and production and arranging — I finished as a jazz trumpet major, but that was just on paper.”
This summer will be the first that DeCino stays in New York rather than traveling back to Alaska to earn money fishing out of Homer.
DeCino said his final recital at the The New School reflected the diversity of his musical interests — but also showcased the connections he made while studying in New York, jamming with a succession of brilliant jazz musicians.
A 16-piece band made up of musicians DeCino has met and played with during his time in New York, performed during DeCino’s May 12 recital. The “foot-tall stack” of sheet music DeCino wrote was not finalized until a few hours before the show and DeCino said the group sight-read most of his big band arrangements.
The recital, a showcase of DeCino’s talent as a musician, composer and student at The New School, was difficult to put together.
“The band that I put together for the show was world class and I was totally humbled to have these people playing for me because it was pretty much for free and, really, they saved (me) completely,” DeCino said. “There were quite a few people in the band who were sight-reading.”
DeCino said he had scheduled one rehearsal so he could hear his big band compositions played — otherwise individual musicians arrived knowing they would be playing music they had not seen before.
“Musically, it was very interesting,” said Tatum Greenblatt, a well-known professional trumpet player based out of New York. “I hadn’t gotten a chance to hear Joe’s music before.”
Greenblatt, who has known DeCino for five years and calls the Alaskan musician his “private fish supplier,” said he was impressed with DeCino’s versatility and ability to change direction mid-degree and devote himself to composition rather than trumpet performance.
“He even performed a couple of pieces on the piano,” Greenblatt said of DeCino’s recital. “(It) was impressive because I didn’t even know he played the piano.”
Greenblatt said DeCino’s personality lent itself to being able to surprise people with little-known skills.
“Joe is a wonderfully eccentric person in, sort of, what he wants to do with his life and things that he wants to experience. He’s always looking for new things to do and going off on these really impressively crazy life journeys and I think seeing him do that on the piano was a little subset of that part of his personality,” Greenblatt said. “He didn’t seem at all nervous about it and got up and directed (the big band) and was like ,‘Now, I’m going to sit down and play this impossible piano thing.’”
Bob DeCino, Joe DeCino’s dad, said he liked to hear his son’s jazz and big band arrangements.
“When he’s got his big band thing going and he comes in with those first few beats that just part your hair — I like that,” Bob DeCino said. “The really cool thing is that he’s good at networking and good at bringing really good people around to play music with and when you’ve got a good talent for conducting and that kind of stuff. .. when he puts a show together I like to just go soak it in because they’re so awesome.”
Bob DeCino said he was sad to see his son put aside the trumpet, but recognized that his talent might lay more on the composition-side of creating music.
“I was probably more disappointed than surprised,” Bob DeCino said. “Because he would always be playing the trumpet, practicing the trumpet when I’d be making dinner or something, so my music was listening to him practice which I liked a lot… I miss it because of my own selfish reasons but I just like to hear him play.”
While he’s not sure what is next, Joe DeCino has a few ideas and said he will continue playing the myriad of instruments he took up after deciding to shift his focus from the trumpet.
“I’ll keep the trumpet up because, just as a composer or an arranger, it’s really helpful to be able to write music from the point of the player,” DeCino said. “So I play a lot of piano and cello, guitar and saxophone. I’ve noticed that, in the past, iff I’m trying to arrange something for strings, I’m thinking of it as a string player and not as a trumpet player — so I’m just trying to increase my own musicality I suppose.”
Still, the trumpet will stay by his side, Joe DeCino has plans to move to Africa next year and teach English in Adis-Abba, Ethiopia.
“I’ll take my instrument to Africa and travel around,” he said. “I’m looking forward to seeing things and experiencing things and feeling things that I’ve never comprehended before; to wipe the slate clean of all the subconscious parts of culture that I take for granted. I feel like if I do that and really dig into that difference, I can sort of set up a better platform to make a decision that really resonates with me about what next to do in life.”