Last of ‘da Nort Side’ group gone
Now they’re all gone.
Biaggio Colavecchi’s obituary punctuated the passing of that special group of Italian kids from “da Nort Side” who grew up through the Great Depression. Through innate talent, study and hard work, they became highly skilled jazz and popular musicians; national class, all of them.
Ray Amicangelo was the best of the best. He was the finest keyboard man that I as a career trombonist have ever “played against.” I first played with him at Pine Mountain. He put me through the wringer, playing tunes in five sharps, five flats, and Tommy Dorsey things in absurdly high keys. I stayed with him, and that began a long, close friendship.
Paul “Popie” Amicangelo, Ray’s brother, was a guitarist with great technique and a wonderful harmonic vocabulary. Popie was easily the equal of Bobby Christian, Wes Montgomery, Laurindo Almeida, Ed Bickert, or any of the guitar greats.
Fritz Spera, trumpet. His wife Dorothy’s recent obituary launched this letter. Fritz had “good chops” and knew every tune, including Italian pop songs. Sometimes he’d assemble his own 16-piece band, in which I played lead tbone. We played the Florence 100th Anniversary celebration at the old Riverside Hall in Spread Eagle. With his music and the large amount of time he spent with special needs citizens, teaching them to make and enjoy music, Fritz Spera has to have been Iron Mountain’s most beloved citizen. But as a postal service employee, Fritz never explained how the Post Office Jeep ended up in the lake.
Fonzie the Barber, a good clarinetist. His shop downtown on Stephenson Avenue never had a sign. It didn’t need one.
The String Bass player (I need help with his name) who worked at Rocconi’s Hardware. A good bass player, he once fell asleep while playing a number.
These lads, and more, made music in this fair city a memorable experience. And they all stayed here-even Ray-to make their music at places like the Coachlight on Hughitt Street, which was jammed on Friday nights. Players from other cities would come and try to join in. They never lasted long. Couldn’t match up. Other venues included the Chippewa Club, Pine Mountain Lodge, the Knights of Columbus, and even the Last Chance Saloon. I found playing with them just as enjoyable as donning my white tie and tails to play Beethoven and Stravinsky with a symphony orchestra.
But, since these lads are all gone, music-making in this area will never be the same. I miss them all.
Dr. Wesley L. Hanson
Spread Eagle, Wis.