Friday, August 8, 2008

R.I.P.: Joe Cocuzzo

Joe Cocuzzo, Drummer for Rosemary Clooney
by Jay Levin
Bergen Record, August 6, 2008

Joe Cocuzzo of Washington Township, a drummer whom Rosemary Clooney called "the best in the business," died Thursday. He was 70.

The cause was lung disease, said his wife Holly.

Mr. Cocuzzo was Clooney's personal drummer from the mid-'80s until shortly before the singer's death in 2002. He previously backed up Tony Bennett and also toured and recorded with Vic Damone, Michael Feinstein, Debby Boone and Diahann Carroll. He played at the White House before three presidents -- Ford, Reagan and Clinton.

John Oddo, Clooney's music director, said "sensitivity" was Mr. Cocuzzo's hallmark.

"Joe could play with a trio, or with 100 people in a symphony, and he knew how to make every musician on that stage feel comfortable," said the New York-based Oddo.

"He played every style of music, and it always sounded great. He had that instinct."

Oddo said Mr. Cocuzzo, being of Clooney's generation, clicked with the star.

"Rosie understood Joe, both as a player and a person," he said. "She loved him on every level. She knew that he got it.... She once said to me, 'He keeps perfect time.'"

Joseph Cocuzzo grew up in the Boston area, took up the drums at age 10 and began touring with big-band leader Ralph Marterie while still a teenager, Holly Cocuzzo said.

He settled in New York City in the 1960's but found himself on the road with Tony Bennett for much of the '70s.

"Joe was every vocalist's dream because when he played for them, it was like a painting," his wife of 24 years said. "He could tune his drums like no one else."

Mr. Cocuzzo, guitarist Lenny Argese of Paterson and midi-accordionist Eddie Monteiro of East Hanover played club dates throughout northern New Jersey for many years. They called themselves The Trio and had a standing Friday night engagement at the Hilton at Short Hills.

"We're three guys conversing," Mr. Cocuzzo once told an interviewer. The Trio last performed at William Paterson University's Summer Jazz Week in 2007.

Monteiro, a music teacher at the Ann Street School in Newark, said vocalists loved working with Mr. Cocuzzo because "he paid attention to the song's lyrics. He firmly believed the drummer should also know the lyrics, because that affects the way you approach the tune."

Mr. Cocuzzo moved to Washington Township in 1987. He appreciated the proximity to Manhattan, where he often played, "but loved coming home to the beautiful trees and birds," his wife said.

Mr. Cocuzzo also is survived by his son, Nick Cocuzzo of Milford, Mass.; stepson Morgan Patrick of Washington Township; and three sisters, Carmela Izzo of Newton Mass., Laura Donisi of Brookline, Mass., and Mary Curley of Centerville, Mass.
Graveside services were Tuesday at Calvary Cemetery in Waltham, Mass.

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