Welcome to Scooby-Sax!
The Website of Jeff Rzepiela
My first teacher was Mike Finley, a trumpeter. What I remember best about him was the first demonstration he gave to get kids to join the band. He had every horn laid out on a series of long tables from flute on one end to tuba on the other. He went down the line, said something about each instrument and then played each one. I was hooked as soon as I heard him play the flute. I begged Mom and Dad to join the band and soon I had my flute. Little did I know that being the only guy flute player was going to cause me no end of grief on the playground in elementary school. (I got even in high school when I was surrounded by all the girls).
Fast forward to high school when Frank Schalk and Tom Hilliard made a sax player out of me. Frank dragged me kicking and screaming through the Universal Method. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but that laid the foundation. Cats still comment sometimes that they can tell I studied with a legit player (one guy was surprised that I actually use the forked f# fingering in the right place!). Tom is the guy that got me thinking about jazz. He was the one that told me to just leave WBEZ on at night and when I heard a saxophone player I liked, write his name down and get some his records from the library. That’s when the world of Bird, Phil, Cannonball, Duke, etc. opened up to me!
Fast forward to college and my studies with Paul Jeffrey. Paul really straightened me out! I still remember my audition for the jazz band – I played the saddest rendition of Ornithology known to mankind, complete with a corny dotted eighth – sixteenth approximation of “swing” and playing major thirds over minor chords and vice versa. He was speechless for a minute. I’m sure he was wondering where the hell I came from and what was he going to do with me. What should have been a 5 minute audition ending in my getting thrown out of his office turned into an impromptu 2 hour lesson where he painstakingly marked all the accents in Ornithology, straightened out the accidentals, and made it clear that my concept of swing needed work! I was exhausted by the end of it, packed up my horn and figured I’d try again next year. As I’m walking out, he said rehearsal is on Tuesday – man, I levitated back to the dorm. The next four years were when I really learned how to play. He’s the one who taught me about transcription, taught me jazz history from Armstrong to Zorn, brought in a bunch of world-class artists to play with the band, etc.
I was really blessed to have had the right teachers at the right time and have always remembered their kindness.