listing the vast accomplishments of my friend and mentor CLEM DEROSA does not carry the day. this larger-than-life human being shed his motral coil peacefully in his sleep after a long bout with cancer. he had recently moved to Denton, TX to be closer to his son, arranger, drummer, educator Richard. Clem was 86. there was snow on the roof but jazz fires were burning in the boiler.

Clem was a drummer, bandleader, arranger, composer, educator, organizer, author and just about anything else you could ask from a jazz person. he organized concerts for schools making sure the musicians got some but not he. his last venture was American Jazz Venues an organization dedicated to bringing big band jazz to schools, middle, high and higher. he called me to join their board some years ago; my response was an enthusiastic “yes” just to be in his, dare i say august, presence.

Clem and i met sometime in the 1970s at Sonny’s Place a small oasis serving jazz with their booze in the otherwise cultural desert of Merrick, LI, NY. i knew of him of course; his legerdemain was always in the pages of down beat, the jazz neophytes’ bible. he was among the 1st Presidents of the organization which became the National Association of Jazz Educators (NAJE), which morphed into the International Association For Jazz Education (IAJE), then passed into ignominy. (it was at Sonny’s that Clem first proudly introduced me to Rich. DeRosa fil and my paths were to cross many times thereafter whether he as a sideman for Jackie & Roy or arranger for Jazz At Lincoln Center and the crossroads in between.)

Clem led by intimation; he never said that you “should” do something, but rather that “you might consider this.” he was keen to give exposure to instrumentalists and vocalists some of dubious talent, but never embarrassing. his ultimate band endeavor was our American Jazz Repertory Orchestra made up of talent culled from studio and other performers from our own board and elsewhere. the charts were re-enactments of the masters giving the kids in the audiences a glimpse into jazz’s glorious history.

you may find a compleat obit at

Russell Procope and Cootie Williams were “Reminiscing In Tempo” about their former boss, Duke Ellngton. they had just left the successor band led by Duke’s son Mercer. they each intoned their devotion to Duke by saying, “We signed on to play with Duke Ellington not anyone else.” i tend to be having similar pangs about Clem DeRosa.

- © arnold jay smith
December 2011

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