Denis DiBlasio is a burly guy whose personality bursts with effervescence. And that’s the way he plays his baritone saxophone. The “bari,” as DiBlasio calls his primary instrument, suits him to a tee, even though he came to it later in life, at age 27.
What happened was, DiBlasio heard there was an opening in Maynard Ferguson’s band for a baritone sax. DiBlasio took the gig thinking he’d eventually switch back to his then- beloved tenor, but that never happened. “Manny Albam once told me the instrument that best suits your personality has nothing to do with the instrument you pick to play,” DiBlasio recalls. “I didn’t want to believe it. I wanted to be a tenor player, but eventually I realized the bari was kind of my voice.”
DiBlasio’s early heroes were all artists who knew how to have fun with the music: Ella Fitzgerald, Clark Terry, Dizzy Gillespie. All of those folks scatted too. So does Denis, with like-minded ebullience. “I always enjoyed scatting because it’s happy by nature,” he says.
DiBlasio worked with Ferguson for five years, then left the band because he wanted to have a home life. Which he now has, in Pitman, New Jersey, where he lives with his wife and young daughter, Natalie. He heads the jazz department at nearby Rowan College.
Natalie is the inspiration behind one-half of DiBlasio’s new two-CD set, Reflections of Childhood/Duets. On the Reflections disc DiBlasio and his band, Jim Ridl, Darryl Hall and Jim Miller, play around with tunes titled “Wacky Logic,” “Imaginary Friends” and “Tell Me A Story.”
“The project revolved around me reliving my childhood through my kid,” DiBlasio explains, noting he enjoyed the liberties his bandmates took with those tunes. “I write my music so it’s open to interpretation. I don’t want things to be all rigid. I want players to take a left turn with it.”