Over the course of a 40+ year career, Joe Magnarelli has emerged as one of the premier trumpeters, improvisers, composers, and educators in jazz.
Initially training as a pianist who accompanied songs sung by his father, Magnarelli took up trumpet as a youth in his native Syracuse. He was inspired by lessons with noted trumpeter Sal Amico as well as performances with esteemed tenor saxophonist J. R. Montrose. He also studied briefly with distinguished trumpeter Louis Mucci at the Berklee School of Music in Boston, and others.
During his first two years as a student at the State University of New York-Fredonia, where he earned a Special Studies B.A. in 1982, Joe was the choir director and pianist for the Central Baptist Church in Syracuse, which he regards as a pivotal experience. He plays piano to this day, and considers it a key aspect of his creative journey.
Magnarelli, known to friends and fans as “Mags,” moved to New York City in 1986, with the goal of a fulfilling life devoted to music.
Things happened fairly swiftly. That year, he joined vibes innovator Lionel Hampton’s Orchestra. That association led to tenures with organist Brother Jack McDuff’s septet; pianist and composer Toshiko Akiyoshi’s Jazz Orchestra; jazz singer laureate Jon Hendricks’s group; pianist Harry Connick Jr.’s Orchestra; conga dynamo Ray Barretto’s New World Sextet; saxophonist Charles Davis’s quintet; pianist Harry Whitaker’s group; the N.Y. Hard Bop Quintet, a co-op band that also included pianist Keith Saunders and tenorman Jerry Weldon; composer/arranger Marty Sheller’s Nonet; tenor saxophonist/composer Walt Weiskopf’s groups; the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra; and many more. Among his appearances on over 125 recordings, many have been with these artists and ensembles.
Additionally, as a freelance trumpet player, Magnarelli has had the opportunity to play engagements in New York and around the world with Aretha Franklin, Rosemary Clooney, Joe Williams, Freddy Cole, Mel Torme, Johnny Mathis, John Pizzarelli, Jane Monheit, the Glenn Miller Orchestra, George Grunz’s European Orchestra, the Clayton/Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, the Smalls Jazz All-Stars, the Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra, Chico O'Farrill, Jimmy Cobb's Mob, and Louis Hayes’s Cannonball Legacy Band.
Mags has also performed such jazz and pop luminaries as Dr. John, Leon Russell, Liberace, the Manhattan Transfer, Freddie Hubbard, Art Farmer, Jimmy Heath, Al Jarreau, Jerry Bergonzi, Louie Bellson, Paquito D'Rivera, and Thiago Dimello.
This impressive list of affiliations clearly demonstrates that Magnarelli is in demand as a top-tier trumpet stylist with a warm, open sound and stellar technique.
A potent jazz soloist, Joe is known for his engaging, melodically-rich lines, and his powerhouse rhythm. He says he draws most of his inspiration from jazz recorded between the early 1940s and the early 1960s. He names Charlie Parker, Fats Navarro, and Kenny Dorham as core influences, but also includes Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, Freddie Hubbard, and several others on that list. Parker remains chief among these. “He’s my hero,” says Joe.
Magnarelli builds his improv style from the over 100 solos he has transcribed by these artists, and many others, but they are just a basis, not an outcome. “I try to be myself,” he says, and succeeds.
In 1994, Joe started his solo recording career with Why-Not on Criss Cross Records, and has since recorded 13 CDs on 6 different independent labels. Notable among these are My Old Flame (Give@Go Records), which features a string section; and Persistence (Reservoir Records), whose title refers to his admirable work ethic. “I pretty much practice all day every day, unless I have a gig that night,” he says. His latest effort is If You Could See Me Now (Cellar Live Records). These albums all boast his lyrical, persuasive originals.
For many years, Magnarelli has been leading or co-leading bands in clubs and concert halls all over the world. He is also a trumpet professor at Temple University in Philadelphia and the Julliard School in New York.
He remains active during the current Covid-19 pandemic, and can often be heard online at the famed New York City club Smalls, where he has been a spotlighted performer since the 1990s. There are numerous examples of his artistry on the Smalls archive. Visit smallslive.com.
Joe lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., with his wife, organist Akiko Tsuruga, with whom he often performs, and their cats, Hiroko and Tiger.