GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – SNAP.
On John Salerno’s birthday, his father would snap his fingers.
“That’s how fast it goes,” the father would say.
“It does go fast,” John Salerno told an audience Wednesday night.
He was speaking of his 30 years at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
The audience was gathered in University Theatre for the university’s final concert of the school year… and John Salerno’s final campus concert before retiring as associate professor of music.
There is no question John Salerno knows jazz. Wednesday, he directed two campus ensembles, performed on saxophone and flute and then led the heavy-duty The John Salerno Orchestra that includes many of his skilled former students from over time.
The orchestra has an affinity for classic Frank Sinatra material that is given extra showbiz zip from vocalist John Warpinski. And, whew, the group can crack the whip in jazz fireworks all through the 20 players. One after another, players were featured in solos that essentially were rapid waterfalls of notes.
As career finales go, John Salerno’s was in a rare league. Sha-zam! It was big.
And the audience was enthusiastic – giving a standing ovation with cheers in a final salute.
The performance ended with the giving of a plaque and a six-pack of beer, with a tearful/emotional John Salerno’s final words being, “I should have been drunk an hour ago.”
Oh so much was at play in his head.
It is December 1970. Lovell Ives is leading his jazz groups in the university’s lecture hall with the overflow crowd sitting in the aisles and standing in doorways. University Theatre is not yet built. “Impressive in their solo licks were pianist Pete Polzak, and saxists Craig Cook and John Salerno.” – Warren Gerds, Green Bay Press-Gazette.
John Salerno has been on the UWGB faculty 30 years, but he goes back there at least 52 years.
It is a nightclub, the Pack and the Hounds, in 1971, when Green Bay had 30 clubs offering live music six nights a week. A hot band is Jazz 7. “The group is really the Pete Polzak Trio plus four”… (including) John Salerno. – Warren Gerds, Green Bay Press-Gazette
It is 1972, and the Pete Polzak Quartet, including John Salerno, has opened for the great Dizzy Gillespie at a concert at St. Norbert College. While playing poker with his drummer and pianist, Dizzy Gillespie says of his trumpet playing, “I ain’t as good as nothin’ as I am at that.” – Warren Gerds, Green Bay Press-Gazette
It is 1973, and John Salerno is to be featured in a two-student recital along with drummer Dave Charles with John Salerno’s program including original compositions he will play on piano along with solo pieces for saxophone. The starting time is 8:15 p.m., which is standard at the time. – Green Bay Press-Gazette
It is 1975, and John Salerno is playing a gig with the group Touch at Bruiser’s Pub. “Salerno has been one of the top, if not THE top, saxmen around this area.” – Warren Gerds, Green Bay Press-Gazette
It is back to May 4, 2022, in the institution where John Salerno has performed many a concert with many, many a student and hearing/playing/performing exactly one zillion notes in classes, at Jazz Fests, at summer music camps and in concerts of multiple stripes.
He paces as he hears “Lake Effect,” a work he wrote in 1991 on his return from further education and teaching in Florida. His ambiance tells of a person caught in an ocean of thoughts – so many things flashing – almost-tearful words of thanks from colleague Adam Gaines still lingering. The band of his creation is gushing notes of his creation. Amid the dizzying vigor of the whole, soloists let loose with bolts of sheer energy.
He has plans for The John Salerno Orchestra.
As for UWGB? “I’ll be around,” he said.
It is March 2022. Lovell Ives, who links to the origins of the UWGB jazz program, is recognized with the 2022 Service to Music Award of the Association of Wisconsin Symphony Orchestras.
John Salerno has offered nominating input:
“He was and still is an inspirational educator of music. He could do it all: perform, compose, arrange, conduct, as well as educate. He was always available, and indefatigable in his efforts to teach his students about music, but especially jazz music. He was one of the first jazz educators in the state and a pioneer in moving jazz into the college music curriculum.”
The story can be found by clicking here.
“The AWSO has Jeanne Aurelius from Clay Bay Pottery in Ellison Bay make the prize each year,” Jill Quigley said. “It is custom designed each year for the winner – I tell Jeanne a few things about the winner, and she incorporates whatever she can into it. This year, a phoenix as well as Lovell’s name. The vase always says the year and ‘Service to Music Award’.”
Jazz Ensemble II, John Salerno, director
+ “Sanda” by Clifford Brown
Emily Milski (trumpet), Paton Rickard (saxophone)
+ “Blues on a Hill” by Randall Reyman
Kenneth Howard, Emily Milski, Trevor Hart (trumpets), Elizabeth Horner (saxophone)
+ “Only the Good Die Young” by Billy Joel, arranged by John Salerno
Marcus Moss (vocals), Payton Rickard (saxophone)
Personnel: Payton Haupt, Elizabeth Horner, Gabe Moore, Rachel Massey, Katrina Meyer, Marcus Moss, Dani Wolf (saxophones); Jean Brown, Emily Edison, Trevor Hartl, Kenneth Howard, Emily Milski (trumpets); Austin Schroeder, Adam Budzinski, Erin Mader, Caitlyn Rupnow (trombones); Daria Yanchik (piano); Cory Aldrich (bass); Madeline Daniels (guitar); Tony Fenner (drums)
Vocal Jazz and Jazz Combo, John Salerno, director
+ “Diary” by Bread, arranged by John Salerno
Tony Fenner, soloist
+ “When You Say Nothing at All” arranged by Kerry Marsh
Megan Yodar, soloist
+ “From Me to You” by Beatles, arranged by John Salerno
Brienna Landsness, soloist
Personnel: Vocal Jazz: Alec Andersen, Tony Fenner, Brienna Landsness, Allison Mengel, Marcus Moss, Rachel Rabas, Megan Yodar. Vocal Jazz Combo: Tony Fenner, Kendall Salter (drums); Kyle Seidl (bass), Presley Christman (guitar)
Jazz Ensemble I, Adam Gaines, director
+ “Misterioso” by Thelonious Monk, arranged by Michael Abene
Sopon Suwannakit (piano)
+ “Angel Eyes” by Earl Brent and Matt Dennis, arranged by Matt Harris
John Salerno, saxophone
+ “The Buckethead Blues” by Tony Guerreno, arranged by George Stone
Presley Christman (guitar); Miguel Rodriquez (trombone); Jess Crist (saxophone)
Personnel: Allison Mengal, Sydney Sebert, Jess Crist, Alec Anderson, Rachel Kircher (saxophones); Kameron Jennings, Sophia Lehr, Riannon LeCaptain, Aliya Hammer (trumpets); Rachel Rabas, Sam Ryan, Miguel Rodriquez, Austin Schroeder (bass); Sipon Suwannakit (piano); Presley Christman (guitar); Tony Fenner (drums, vibraphone); Kendall Salter (drums, auxiliary percussion); Kyle Seidel (bass)
The John Salerno Orchestra, John Salerno, director
+ “Beautiful Friendship” by Donald Kahn, arranged by John Salerno
Christine Salerno, vocals
+ “Lady is a Tramp” by Rodgers and Hart, transcribed by John Salerno
John Warpinski, vocals
+ “Don’t Worry About Me” by Rube Bloom, transcribed by John Salerno
+ “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” by Cole Porter, transcribed by John Salerno
+ “Lake Effect” by John Salerno
Personnel: John Warpinski (vocals); Steve Cooper, McKenna Hayes, Jen Johnson, Steve Johnson, Randy Knaflic, Andy Pagel (saxophones); Nathan Behling, Kevin Short, Brad Terrell, Adam Gaines (trumpets); Bill Dennee, Kelly Galarneau, Bill Hill, Dave Sawall (trombones); Terry Iattoni, Danny Lueck (drums); Craig Hanke (bass); Christine Salerno (piano)
THE VENUE: Of 1970s vintage, the 450-seat University Theatre is a complex facility inside Theatre Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. The theater features a proscenium (flat front) stage that’s 50 feet across and 23 feet high. The seats are a calm shade of red fabric, black plastic backs, and light brown arms. The concrete walls gray and slightly angled. The ceiling is a semi-dark green/blue for the coverings ventilating/electrical equipment. Concrete dominates the room – the floor, the walls, the stairs. Aisle carpeting is a flecked gray. The seating area in front of the stage is adjustable to accommodate an orchestra pit when needed. The theater includes two seating areas – a lower one 20 or so feet deep on a slight incline that reaches a poured concrete wall and the upper one above that “moat” that rises sharply and creates an amphitheater effect. The theater may be entered from the lower or upper level.