Monday, March 30, 2009

A Chance to See the World

As I boarded my flight from JFK to Frankfurt last night to attend my 10th Frankfurt Music Messe, I couldn't help but reflect on the international travel I've done over the past 10 years. Compared to many, 10-years of international, or Frankfurt Music Messe attendance is not so much, but for me it is a bit of a milestone.

Over the past 10 years, I've had the chance to visit the following countries (listed somewhat geographically as to not tax my memory too much):

New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines, Taiwan, China, South Korean, Japan, Russia, India, U.A.E., U.K., Ireland, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Poland, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay.

I've been slipped a "mickey" in Bangkok, Thailand; abandoned at the airport in Jakarta, Indonesia, and most recently I was in Siberia, Russia in November! I've also seen so many beautiful cities, met fantastic artists, outstanding businessmen, and great people! While the cultures of the world are fascinatingly different, the love and joy of music is universal.

As a young drummer (aspiring to be a percussionist) growing up in the corn field of Central Illinois (Sullivan, Illinois to be specific), I had aspirations of playing professionally and teaching at the university level. And, while that didn't work out as planned after graduating from Millikin University with a music business degree, and Northwestern with a masters in percussion, I couldn't have had a more wonderful and enriching professional life! After working for the Percussive Arts Society and Yamaha Corporation of America, my opportunity to do business internationally started in 1999 when I was at SABIAN. Since then with SABIAN, SKB, and now with D'Addario I continue to travel internationally.

As the wheels touched down last this morning, I couldn't help but reflect. There are more countries I'd love to travel too. What ones have I missed that you'd recommend?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Anecdotes from Jim D'Addario #1

Jim D’AddarioAnecdotes
My second father Mario Maccaferri

They say timing is everything in life and surely for me I have been blessed with being in the right place at the right time on more than one occasion. As a child I loved to tinker. I had a work bench in our basement with my own tools where I tinkered with building amplifiers, speaker cabinets, amateur radios and countless other do-it-yourself projects.

Attracted to music more and more, first the piano and then later the guitar in the early 60’s, I got more and more interested my family’s string business. My grandfather and Dad worked out of a tiny shop in the basement of my grand parents’ home in Jackson Heights, NY. I loved to go there in the evenings or on Saturdays with my Dad. There was always an extra machine or tools to tinker with. I recall dreaming of building automatic machinery so that my Dad wouldn’t have to work so hard hand winding strings.

Many times on a Saturday I would tag along when Dad made deliveries to his customers. My favorite place to go to with him was Mastro Industries, Inc. in the Bronx. Mastro seem like a gigantic enterprise to me and in actuality it was; a full city block in size it was the brain child of luthier, guitarist and engineer Mario Maccaferri, famous to guitarists for his Selmer Django Reinhardt guitars.

Most of the trips I tagged along on to Mastro were to deliver ukulele strings for his plastic TV Pal ukuleles. Ukulele strings are monofilament nylon with a knot on one end. With the help of TV celebrity Arthur Godfrey’s endorsement Mario made and shipped nearly seven million TV Pal ukuleles from 1949 (the year I was born) into the 1960’s. At four strings a uke, that is 28 million strings, if anyone is counting.

Our entire family knotted ukulele strings while watching TV or in between homework and chores. You really weren’t allowed to just ‘sit’ around. On those delivery trips, Mario used to stop whatever he was doing to sit down for a cup of coffee with my Dad. On most visits he would take out a classical guitar and play something he was transcribing or practicing.

Early in his career Mario was one of the most successful touring classical guitarists in Europe. He had a sweetness of tone, a romantic flare for phrasing and musicality that was truly unique. I was always mesmerized when he played for us. But even more exciting to me was walking around his monstrous factory; seeing the huge molding and packaging machines, an office full of engineers and draftsmen designing products and molds, and hundreds of workers in constant motion.

If you are interested in learning more about Mario read some of the articles on the web like these:,macc.htm

From those early visits a bond was formed between Mario and me that would grow and grow as each year passed. As his business career ebbed and mine started to get traction he took a personal interest in what we were doing at D’Addario. He would take trips to visit to see what new machines or products I was working on and he would offer some of his expert advice.

He was an old school guy and did not get along with his son Marco in business. He was not an easy person to contradict, but for some reason I was able to get away with more than he accepted from his son. After his visits I could expect daily phone calls with new ideas about everything I showed him upon his previous visit. His mind was amazing. It was my first experience getting to know a true genius. Sometimes I didn’t take his advice and pushed back. He would continue to come back at me each day until I either tried what he suggested or convinced him that his approach was not feasible. I loved the dialog even though the two Italians disagreeing can be a little volatile at times.

Many times my wife Janet and I would take our three children to his home in Rye Beach for Maria’s homemade lasagna. Both Mario and Maria were originally from Bologna; I don’t have to tell you how delicious those dinners were. Our children still talk about them today.

On one occasion we were sitting around his dinner table and of course after dinner, out comes the guitar. Mario serenaded us with some beautiful classical pieces and then thrust the guitar into my hands insisting that I play something. A folk-pop-guitarist, with no classical technique whatsoever Janet and performed a folk song of the period finger picking like Bob Dylan or Peter Yarrow. I thought it sounded pretty good. When we finished, there was silence. He looked at me and said, “You should be shot.”

This was Mario’s way of saying, ‘how could you waste your talent and not learn how to play properly. It was a classic Mario moment. We all laughed.’

In 1980 Janet and I started running a concert series at NYC Merkin Concert Hall called Debuts and Premieres. The premise of the series, sponsored by our newly formed foundation, was to debut upcoming classical guitarists and to premiere new works for the classical guitar. Mario loved to come to these concerts and because we didn’t want him driving at night, we used to pick him and Maria up at their home. We met some of the greatest guitarists and composers during this period.

One particular concert, he got the date wrong and thought it was a week earlier than it really was. Dressed in his suit and tie pacing back and forth for an hour, we never showed up. He was depressed for a week, but his Italian pride wouldn’t allow him to call me to ask what happened. On Friday the following week I called him to confirm that I would pick him up Saturday at 6 PM for dinner and the concert. Maria later told me about his sulking for a week and how his face lit up when he realized we hadn’t stood him up the week before. Of course he couldn’t confess that HE got the date wrong – again classic Mario.

On another occasion we were having a dinner party at our home with a handful of the great guitarists that either played or were going to play on our concert series. Ben Verdery was there, as was Elliot Fisk, Alice Artzt, Jorge Morel and of course I invited Mario. After dinner the guitars came out and we were treated to some great performances. Elliot, Jorge and Alice played first, and then the guitar was passed to Mario. At age 83 he just finished transcribing the second movement of Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique for classical guitar. Written in Ab he transposed it up a half step to A for this transcription. Needless to say, there were a few clinkers in there but his tone was incomparable. Our mouths dropped. Out of respect, Ben refused to play after the master finished.

There is a wealth of information on Mario Maccaferri out there. I could write pages and pages of anecdotes and stories about him and our relationship. He was truly a master musician, a brilliant inventor, a talented luthier, a reed maker and plastic industry pioneer. To me he was a second father.

Jim D’Addario