Joe Diorio Remembered – 1936-2022

On February 2, 2002, Jazz – and the Jazz Guitar Community specifically – lost a true giant of Jazz Guitar: Joe Diorio. Sadly I never had the opportunity to meet Joe in person but I was very aware of him through his recordings, instructional texts and videos. He was larger than life and his creative intellect seemed to know no bounds. He was the consummate musician and those who were lucky enough to study with him or who knew him personally, have nothing but love to share when it comes to their own encounters with Joe. Which is why I started this tribute page, to share those experiences with others who weren’t so lucky.

If you have had your own experiences with Joe either personally or in an academic capacity, please feel free to contact me at info@thejazzguitarlife.com and I’ll add your voice to this Rememberance page.

Thank you and if you knew Joe personally, my condolences for your loss. May he Rest In Peace.

Mark Egan: I first heard Joe Diorio in 1969 while he was performing with Ira Sullivan’s group at a club in North Miami Florida called The Rancher. I was a music student at the University of Miami and friends were telling me about this amazing jazz group that performed there regularly. It was the first time that I had experienced highly creative live jazz and it was a life changing experience.

I later met Joe at other concerts in the area and he would occasionally visit the U of M campus from time to time. I remember one time seeing Joe practicing outside the music building by a tree and walked over to say hello and asked Joe what he was practicing. He told me that sometimes he just worked on his right hand technique and focused on string crossing exercises and isolating how he approached picking. That really made an impression on me and it’s something that I work on continually.

He also spoke about when learning new melodic and harmonic ideas that it sometimes takes a year or more before he could incorporate those ideas into his soloing so that it wasn’t just a line but a real part of his music vocabulary.

I later was playing acoustic bass in Ira Sullivan’s group with Joe, Toni Castelano-Piano and Steve Bagby-drums playing in the Miami area. This was a huge step for me and it was during this period that Joe and the other musicians were so nurturing.

Around that time period which was 1973-74, Joe was also playing with Ira Sullivan in an electric group with Jaco Pastorius-bass, Alex Darky-El piano and Bobby Conomo-drums at a club in Ft Lauderdale called the Lion’s Share. I especially remember the chemistry between Jaco and Joe as it was electrifying and inspiring. Jaco absorbed a lot from Joe’s playing.

Joe eventually moved to California to play and teach at GIT and I moved to New York so we didn’t get to play very often after that time period. I did stay in touch with him and when Joe was back in Connecticut we recently reunited.

I visited him for a theory/harmony/improvising lesson and what I thought would be an hour or so turned into an afternoon/early evening and dinner at a local Italian restaurant. It was a very inspiring day and he gave me enough ideas to work on for many years ahead.

Joe was one of the most pure and honest musicians that I have ever known. He was completely dedicated to playing creative improvisational music and was one of the kindest spirits that I have ever met. Whenever I think of Joe it gives me inspiration to keep moving forward and experimenting.

Thank you Joe Diorio!

Scott Baekeland: I took lessons from Joe when I was in Miami in 1975 at 25 years old. I was living with my mother and saving to go West. Joe was always gracious and humble around me regardless of his immense talent and musical superiority. I was working at a place loading large glass tables onto trucks and making crates for shipping as well as doing tile work. My hands would be shot by the end of the day. Joe told me I should quit that job. When I mentioned that then I wouldn’t be able to pay him the $15 (which seemed high in those days – he had an ad in the paper) for the lessons the subject was dropped. He was always excited about music and the guitar and very inspiring, brimming with ideas and concepts to share.

I would ask him to show me stuff like Sunny and Lullaby of Birdland and he would reluctantly show approaches to the ‘old corny’ tunes eventually adding substitutions and ideas until he had destroyed them. Usually by the end he would comment that the tune had more possibilities than he’d thought. He got me onto the Jerry Coker book. There wasn’t the plethora of information that we have now back then. He was a fountain of creativity.

He lived in a small apartment that was close to a pancake house. The AC was broken and there was a gold Cadillac in the driveway that didn’t run. One time after I paid him for the lesson he said ” I’m going to grab some food next door, Come on along.” He got a tuna fish sandwich which he attacked like a starving man. Halfway through he sheepishly looked up and asked me if I wanted a bite. I told him I was fine but thanks. I was so amazed at his empathy and couldn’t understand how a player of his caliber was struggling to survive. He was playing the hotel tourist bars with Wally Cirillo and Ira Sullivan at that time I believe. He would complain about how he couldn’t really open up in these gigs.

Even though he was my musical superior I gave him two pieces of advice:

1) try to play the tunes fairly straight until you got going so the audience had a fighting chance to be drawn in. Remember who you’re playing for, these aren’t jazz clubs

2) Get out to California where there was a much better chance you would be understood and appreciated.

I left for the West coast first and then a few years later saw Joe featured in magazines and indeed he had made the trek. His enthusiasm was boundless. He was the first person I had ever met that was what they call wall-eyed. It took me a minute to figure out which eye was the one to look at when he spoke That might be related to how he could see something from so many angles.I still am working on some of Joe’s concepts 50 years later.

He transmitted more than notes and ideas, he got you into the spirit of exploring the unknown with savage glee. I still have a picture of him in my music room from an interview with the quote ” Life is really boring without the guitar “

Joe Giglio: In Memory Of Joe Diorio

When I was in high school I started purchasing and listening to Jazz records.

My hometown, New Rochelle, NY was big for a town, tiny for a city, which it was classified as.

We had three movie theaters, and three music stores – real music stores. They all carried records, sheet music, and musical instruments. My Dad’s Army Band-mate owned Caruso’s Music Store. It was my home away from home. Everything I ever wanted was in that store.

Records.

My favorite bin was the ‘cut-out’ section. Great, out of print LPs. George Van Eps, Charlie Parker, Jimmy Giuffre feat. Jim Hall, Mose Allison. Balm for my ‘tortured’ teenage soul.

Eddie Harris – ‘Exodus To Jazz’ – 99¢…Sold!

A great record by a great tenor saxophonist, but who is that super cool guitar player? Budget record album – no liner notes – mystery. I just listened and listened.

I learned about Joe Diorio from his ‘Solo’ album on Spitball Records’. It contained the best jazz guitar playing I’d ever heard. So henceforth, I never stopped buying and listening to Joe Diorio records.

I also dug his method books and instructional videos. One day I mentioned to Jack Wilkins that I loved the guitar playing on ‘Exodus To Jazz’. He said: ‘that’s Joe Diorio on that album, it’s his first recording’.

Mystery solved, sense made.

From 2001 – 2009, I had a weekly duo gig at a small club in my NYC neighborhood. To my delight, my weekly playing partners were some of the best jazz guitarists on the planet.

In Spring of 2004, I received a call from Jazz Journalist Bill Milkowski, asking if I had an open spot a month  down the road for Joe Diorio. I did, and a month later Joe walked into the club with his recent bride Tina. He arrived about 15 minuted before the hit.

We greeted, he had an orange juice, we sat down, we played. I asked Joe what he felt like playing and he in turn, asked me the same question. “The Days Of Wine & Roses”.

We played for and hour plus, ate some dinner, and went back for another 75 minutes. Joe Diorio played with no agenda, and played brilliantly. We shared an evening of great music, and great fun, though we spoke very little.

As Joe left the club he said: ‘I’ll call you on Wednesday’.

He called, we spoke for an hour or so. Joe was kind and encouraging.

He wanted to know about my life. He complimented my playing, mentioning some things I had played on the gig. He had really listened – I felt so honored. That was the beginning of our 18 year friendship.

About a year later Joe Diorio suffered a stroke. He worked hard in his rehabilitation and made a remarkable recovery. The stroke resulted in a weakened left side, which affected his guitar playing.

He lived every day to the fullest, and played the hand he was dealt masterfully. He will always be a champion in my opinion.

A few years later I found the recording I had made the evening we played together.

Joe’s birthday was looming ahead, and I decided to clean up the recording and I edited out the in-between-song chatter, EQ’d it a bit and sent him the first set. Unfortunately, the second set was somehow misplaced. Joe dug the disk and said we should release is as a CD. The result was Rainbow Shards by Joe Diorio & Joe Giglio.

Our friendship continued mostly via the telephone. As little as we spoke on that first gig, our phone calls were semi-marathons. Time though, can be sinister and quietly slip by, and away.

I feel extremely sad as I write this remembrance of Joe Diorio. The memories are precious and joyful, but they are sadly from bygone days. Joe Diorio was above all else, a sweet and wonderful human being.

That he was one of the all-time greatest Jazz Guitarist/Musicians, is unquestionable.

That he was my friend was my very good fortune.

Ciao Caro Amico Mio – Grazie Per La Musica e´ La Gioia.

Joe Giglio

George Ceres: When I moved to LA in 1978, I made a beeline for Donte’s jazz club in the Valley. Joe Diorio was on the bandstand, and I was seated alone. This really nice lady invited me to join her and her friend at the next table. She asked me if I was one of Joe’s students. I was accepted at the Musician’s Institute by Pat Hicks the founder. She introduced her friend as Jennifer Batten one of Joe’s students and the first woman to attend MI. I always wanted to get a horn like sound on guitar, and that describes Joe’s sound to me. Later I saw him in a totally different vein with chord melody master Ron Eschete. The audience went crazy over their duets. My condolences to his family, friends, and students. He was a force of nature.

Pino Marrone: I just learned that my dear mentor and friend Joe Diorio passed away today. I’m speechless, saddened beyond words, and I can’t even believe I’m writing this. I met Joe 40 years ago and he had a profound effect in my life, both as a musician and a person. I can’t begin to describe what being around an improviser of that caliber, with that imagination and command of the instrument did to my musical mind…it was like visiting another planet, a unique one, with totally different yet familiar sounding notes and feelings. Having the privilege of being invited to make music with him in live performances for years is something that I will treasure as long as I live. Those were some of my highest musical moments. He was also an incredibly significant mentor in my career—I can’t begin to describe that yet.

During the past 10 years, we spoke on the phone periodically and I visited him in Connecticut every time I was in the East Coast, and, despite his uphill battle with enduring health issues, the man’s potent spirit and wisdom were intact. His soul was present in every note he played and the intervals between them. Dearest Joe, all my love and eternal thanks. Your music and teachings will stay with me forever, deeply. Have a “Peaceful Journey.”

Gabriela: Joe Diorio was part of our lives for many, many years, Pino’s mentor, his guru, his biggest influence. He played guitar like a God, wrote music books admired by the best guitar players on earth, was an exquisite painter, his picassesque drawings full of art and inspiration. Talented and impatient, he was filled with an obscure vitality that cut through everything and always found its light. Chatting with Joe made you feel he had lived many lives. Hearing him play was an astounding experience. His combination of notes and sense of harmony didn’t sound like anything you had ever heard, he was an original. Joe had serious health problems for many years. He did return home, to Connecticut, to the woods like he used to say, and died there today. His essence is and will remain intact. I love you dearly, Joe.

Giuseppe Continenza: About Joe Diorio! Joe is the greatest guitarist of all the time in my opinion, he got it all, melody, taste, modern phrasing, more and more… I’ve so many memories of him! I remember the first time we met at Musician Institute in Hollywood, he smiled at me with such a sweetness and we went to his room and for me it was a dream come true since I had his records and I loved is music. We started with a cappuccino in the bar downstairs and it continue with a fantastic flight into music! I’ve memories when he came visiting Italy and I was playing with him some concerts and it was fantastic! He always was positive in everything he does! From the beginning of my study with him he always says: it takes time to be a great jazz musician but if you love it you’ll get it! I talked to him last time last year and he loved the music I did with Biréli Lagrène and he told me so many nice things like that he want to come to see us in concert if we’ll come to U.S. and I just say to him we’ll make it and you’ll be with us playing. I miss so much Joe, he was like a father for me and the most humble and wise person I ever met. His departure left me speechless and I still can believe it! Last memory I have of him it was when after the concert we did together we went to the hotel and we was telling stories, talking about great Italian food and laughing so much that we forgot what time it was! Thanks Joe you’ll be always in my heart and there is not a day that I don’t think about you! You are my blessing and my guide! Thanks, thanks, thanks for all you did for the music!

David Becker: “… Joe is not only my dear friend and mentor, but he is like a musical father figure to me! His presence in my life at the time I was seeking a way to understand this music was so important. He recognized my strengths and weaknesses and helped me follow my passion. We never did one on one lessons per se, I just hung and watched, listened and learned. I also went to all of his gigs from about 1980-1982 and recorded everything on my little cassette player! Joe once said, “I know you have your influences, but you always sound like David Becker and that’s a good thing”.

Bob Thompson: A sad day for me and thousands of other jazz guitarists around the world. Joe Diorio, one of the most respected jazz guitarist / educators in the history of the instrument, has passed away, alas. Joe was from my own hometown of Waterbury, CT, and we younger players were in awe of Joe-almost intimidated to be near him, his skills were so formidable. Back in my early years, as a fledgling guitarist, I had the honor of meeting with Joe a couple of times, through the connection of my friend Fred Lembo, another older player and highly respected jazz guitarist, who had taken me under his wing for weekly convos at Dominic and Pia’s Pizza, relating his insights on the intricacies of jazz guitar and the genre itself. It’s a long story for another time, but he brought me to meet Joe and hear him play, and it was a life changing experience. I sucked SO bad, and was scared out if my wits to even hold a guitar when he was in the room, and yet Joe was incredibly complimentary and supportive, and gave me some potent words of wisdom that still ring in my ear to this day. Deep condolences to his family, friends, and the thousands of guitarists who loved him for his passion, creativity, innovation and generosity. The guitar world has lost a cherished icon. Thank you, Joe, for your kind, supporting words to me all of those years ago. Peaceful journey, Maestro.

Jennifer Batten: I was mesmerized by Joe Diorio’s playing since I first saw him in 1977 playing in an alley behind one of the first incarnations of M.I. in Hollywood as part of a concert conclusion of a weekend GIT symposium.  He was connected to some other ethereal source I wanted to get access to!  I then proceeded to take a test to get into the school and failed.  I had to work super hard to get up to par just to get in. I went to every show he did during my GIT school year 78/79 and was sleep deprived/trashed at school the next day from the late nights. It was well worth it.  After graduation, I moved back to San Diego but still drove up to LA for every gig for a few years. He let me sleep in his meditation room and we’d listen to my recording of the gig from the night before during breakfast.  He read a book about the dancer Najinski and spoke of him “being the dance” vs dancing. I felt Joe WAS music vs playing music.  His intense immersion into creativity can be summed up by a story he told me. One day he was deep into playing at home and his step son’s school called due to having some trouble with the kid. Joe couldn’t handle the intrusion into his creative space and replied “What’s THAT got to do with Bird?!”

Jennifer and Joe – GIT graduation in 1979

Ron Thompson: As I was reflecting on the passing of the great Joe Diorio, I recalled an amazing day back in the late 80’s. My first wife Karen and I had purchased tickets months prior to see the Joffrey Ballet dance the original choreography to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring at the SF Opera house with a live orchestra. It was so amazing to experience. After the show I suggested we go to Kimball’s Jazzclub behind the Opera House across the street. The sign said Fred Hersch was playing. So we walked in and there’s a sign at the host counter saying Special Guest Joe Diorio! I was already amped up from seeing the Joffrey and now my teacher is playing with Fred Hersch!

It was awesome! Two incredible musicians laying it down.

After the set Joe came over and sat with us for the entire break. He was in his element. Playing with another master musician who could do the dance with Him. People in the audience were listening and enjoying the music, it was crowded and so very appreciative of the music. We talked about Stravinsky, Nijinsky and guitar! What an evening!

Makes my heart sing to write this, hope yours sings a bit too!

Wes Montgomery Mentions Joe Diorio: It’s not a long clip, and Wes doesn’t go into any detail, but how cool is it to be mentioned by Wes. That was the power of Joe 🙂

George Benson talks about Wes Montgomery and Joe Diorio:

More remembrances to come.

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About Lyle Robinson 265 Articles
Lyle Robinson is the owner/creator/publisher and editor of Jazz Guitar Life, an online magazine dedicated to the Jazz Guitar and its community of fine players worldwide.

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