Jim Snidero: A Tale Of Taste
Snidero arrived in New York in 1981 and it didn't take him long to find his way; within a year's time he was sharing the bandstand with organist Jack McDuff. Looking back on how his first big break came to be, Snidero notes, "Someone that I met in New York was playing with Brother Jack McDuff, and he was out of town for a time. So, I got a call from Jack in the afternoon one day, and he said, 'Can you come to the recording studio right now?' I was 23 years old, so I say 'yeah, yeah,' and he asked me if I had ever played funk before, which I really hadn't; at least, probably not what he meant, but I lied and I said 'yeah.' Then I took out a David Sanborn record that I had and listened to some of that before I split, but it turned out, when I got to the recording studio he wanted me to just play jazz. It was just basically over straight eighth notes. Then he hired me for the band. That was in 1982. I came [to New York] in the Fall of '81 and I started playing with Jack in the beginning of '82."
With McDuff, Snidero became a road warrior for a spell and learned the ins-and-outs of the musician's life. He notes, "We toured the country; we criss-crossed back and forth two or three times. I really felt like I was going to graduate school. It really had that feeling because there was no way that I was going to learn what I was learning from Jack in school, as far as playing every night with guys that had such great time and are very professional and polished. We were climbing in the van and driving four hours and doing the same thing [night after night]. I think, in a year, we had about 150 gigs."
While Snidero was being indoctrinated in the ways of the touring musician, he was also getting invaluable experience in the studio. He notes, "That was a great, great experience with Jack. I did three recordings, which was really unusual then. You have to understand that jazz, at that point, had really just bottomed out. The thing that was really the catalyst for a new scene was Wynton [Marsalis]. Marsalis coming on the scene and playing with Blakey, and playing with Herbie [Hancock]'s group, and making a record for Columbia was important. He was the first guy of our age that we could point to that was getting a lot of press. Right when I started to play with Jack was kind of right at that time, and things had just bottomed out, so doing three records at that time wasn't that easy. There wasn't a lot of major label recording activity." He rightly states that "to have that gig with Brother Jack McDuff and to do those records at that time was pretty prestigious, and it meant something."
As word of Snidero's skills spread, other leaders brought him aboard. Associations with the Mingus Big Band and saxophone legend Frank Wess developed, but one of the most important sideman jobs Snidero took early on was with pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi's Jazz Orchestra. His connection to Akiyoshi would ultimately help him launch his solo career, but this relationship almost never happened; Snidero wasn't sure if he could handle the job at first. He recalls, "[Akiyoshi's husband/partner, saxophonist] Lew [Tabackin] had called me to play in the band in 1983, and I said I hadn't been playing my doubles. I didn't think I could do it. So I said that maybe I shouldn't make the rehearsal he was talking about. I didn't turn it down, so to speak, but I didn't think I was qualified; I had not been playing flute and I was not a good clarinetist. He said 'ok,' but then he called me back a couple of weeks later, and he said, 'just come down.' So, I did."