Remembering Roland Paolucci

Photo courtesy of the Roland Paolucci Facebook page.

Photo courtesy of the Roland Paolucci Facebook page.

Recently, The University of Akron community mourned the death of one of its greatest educators and advocates: Roland Paolucci.  If you were fortunate enough to have known Paolucci or seen him perform, you would know that he was one of the greatest musical forces to cultivate jazz in Akron and Northeast Ohio.  But you would also know that he was just a polite and very cool guy. He was also greatly admired and respected by many of the top names in jazz.

Paolucci retired from UA in 2000 after a long and distinguished teaching career. He joined UA in 1977 as a part-time lecturer in music and began his full-time employment as an instructor in 1978.

In addition to founding the Jazz Studies Program and serving as its coordinator, Paolucci was the director of UA’s Jazz Ensemble. Under his direction, the UA Jazz Ensemble was invited to perform at the distinguished Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. Many of Paolucci’s students maintained close friendships with him and are celebrated in today’s jazz world.

He also served as the director-conductor of the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra from 1986 to 1993, earning the orchestra its national reputation while playing behind legends such as Sarah Vaughn and Tony Bennett.

Mr. Paolucci earned a bachelor’s in music at The University of the State of New York, Albany, and a master’s in theatre arts at UA in 1985. His wife, Marci, along with children Ilya, Anna and 12 grandchildren, survive him.

An event for a remembrance of his life will be announced at a later date.

Here is what some people had to say about him:

“When I first became director of the School of Music, I had the opportunity to work with Roland more closely than I had before.  There’s no question about his contributions to the jazz program. He cared not only about his students and the jazz program, but he also was concerned that the administration of the school be handled in a very organized and detailed manner.”  

  • William K. Guegold, PhD, Professor Emeritus and former director of the School of Music at UA

“Roland Paolucci was an enormous influence on my life. Almost everything I know about big band rehearsal technique I learned from him. He exposed me to the giants of jazz through recordings at a time when I was very receptive to those influences. He illustrated through his actions that to serve the cause of our music, to endeavor to master its concepts, to preserve it, to foster its growth, to struggle and persevere in order to present concerts, commission new works, and to teach its principles to everyone who expressed an interest was a very high calling indeed. The list of people who he touched is vast.  He made a lasting impression on everyone who had the good fortune to study with him, perform with him, or work behind the scenes with him.  I had the honor of succeeding him as both Artistic Director of the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra and as Coordinator of Jazz Studies at The University of Akron, and I can say that anything that I accomplished in those two capacities I did standing on his shoulders.  He was in the front row of every concert I presented at the University.  We talked after every performance and he gave me encouragement and suggestions about how to improve. “ 

  • Professor Jack Schantz, director of Jazz Studies at UA

“Roland was first and foremost one of the gentlest human beings I have ever known. He always wanted to treat people kindly and to help them if he could. I remember a trip Roland and I made to the Akron City Court system at 8:00 one morning to talk with a judge about a student of ours who had had a minor scrape with the law. The judge remarked that it was impressive that we would take the time to come and plead for leniency for a student, to which Roland replied, “this student is a good-hearted person who deserves a long career in music. We’re (this student’s) teachers, and we’re trying to see this student have that opportunity.”   

  • Rich Shanklin,  Professor Emeritus, Saxophone Performance and Jazz Education at UA

“When Roland became contractor for the Sultan’s cabaret at the Tangier restaurant around 1979, it opened a floodgate of opportunities for younger musicians. Thanks to him, I got to play for Frank Gorshin (“The Riddler”) and many other fine professional acts – Frankie Avalon, Charo, Patti Page, the Mills Brothers…It was great experience and it helped cover tuition and rent. Roland always hired good bands, which, luckily, usually involved his students. He hired the band for Tony Bennett at the short lived “Gateway” in 1983. Tony, ever positive, gave us the thumbs up and touchdown signal halfway through the rehearsal. Roland was a rich, complex mix of performer, educator, encourager, facilitator, booster and friend. The right man at the right place at the right time.”

  • Paul Ferguson, Artistic Director of Cleveland Jazz Orchestra, Professor of Jazz Studies at Case Western Reserve University 

“I remember Mr. Paolucci coming to my grade school every year to put on a performance with a combo of UA jazz students. He made quite an impression on me. He wore thick glasses, a dark suit jacket and sported a goatee. I remember thinking to myself, ‘this guy is a real Beatnik!’ He would explain jazz and musical ideas to us ‘kids’ so that we could better understand what they were playing and why. Music by jazz legends such as Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, and Dave Brubeck, just to name a few. It was almost as interesting just listening to his ‘hip’ way of conversing about jazz and observing his mannerisms as it was listening to him actually play it! He was as genuine as they came. Later, as an undergraduate music student at UA, I was fortunate enough to study jazz improv under him and the effect was still the same. He exuded an intense and honest conviction for music that I will always greatly admire. Mr. Paolucci loved sharing music; whether it was with an audience, other musicians, or his students. Thank you Roland!”

  • Thomas Guarino, music graduate student