Spider Rondinelli, perhaps the most influential jazz drummer in Pittsburgh, passed away this week at the age of 82 (read obituary). I was fortunate enough to take some lessons with Mr. Rondinelli and on one occasion, Jeff Watts. That’s a double threat of jazz drummers from the Steel City. I remember being enamored by his flawless playing and how he danced around the kit. There are two of his distinct patterns that I still use today.
That said I must confess that I didn’t fully appreciate Mr. Rondinelli as a drummer or as a teacher until some years later. At the time I felt convicted. I should have practiced more and stayed under his tutelage longer. He taught me how to sit within the structure of the song, knowing when to keep time and when to break away.
It’s been years since I played any form of jazz so I imagine my chops are lacking. If I look back at the training with him I might be able to fake it. I imagine that Mr. Rondinelli would be disappointed but also pleased to reinvigorate my skill in that genre.
One thing for sure, his legacy of music will not be forgotten. If you have an opportunity to listen to “Jubilee” you will hear some of the most tasteful drumming that recalls the golden days of traditional jazz. Mr. Rondinelli’s use of the hi-hat particularly stands out.
In an article from a 2007 edition of The Post-Gazette Mr. Rondinelli reflected on his life as a top musician in his field. “Jazz is going to save the world,” he said. “Jazz music has given me security. I have done nothing else in my life. My father wanted me to be a tap dancer, but I preferred to play the music that made me want to dance.”