Bethel Park vibrator pays tribute to his brother with new album

When considering a musical instrument to pursue, many young men’s thoughts turn to percussion, especially the primary allure of beating on a drum set.

It was Lou Lucarelli’s selection at the time. But eventually he decided to study a second, lesser-known percussion instrument.

“I played drums half my life, then I started bringing my drums and vibraphone to work,” the Bethel Park resident said. “If someone came, they could play drums and I would play vibes. I did this for a number of years and then the battery kind of gave up. And I’m a vibista now.

His skill in using mallets to coax the bright sounds of tuned metal bars is evident on “Alone Again, Unnaturally,” a new album of a dozen original jazz compositions performed by the Louis Lucarelli Jazz Quintet. Along with the 10 songs Lou wrote, there are two by his older brother, Jerry, a keyboardist and saxophonist who died in 2016.

“One was for his wife. It’s called ‘Blues for Sally’,” Lucarelli said, and his combo often performs the piece live, especially when the subject matter is present. Jerry’s other song on the album is “Anna’s Bossa Newva”, named after his granddaughter.

A CD launch event is scheduled from 2-5 p.m. on Nov. 6 at Giant Oaks Winery in Finleyville. Lucarelli will be joined by the other members of his quintet: Andy Yalch, piano; Johnny Vann, saxophone; Bob Patterson, bass; and Rich Scampone, drums.

Jerry and Lou Lucarelli collaborated on a 2004 album, “The Mushroom Queen,” a jazz-rock fusion exploration credited to the New Millennium Jazz Project, with the brothers splitting songwriting credits down the middle.

Originally from Carrick, the two Lucarellis had the opportunity to perform with the US Army Band, Lou while serving in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968. Jerry served in Germany and performed there during the “Ich Bin Ein Berliner” by John F. Kennedy in 1963.

Both attended West Liberty College in West Virginia after their military service. Lou majored in teaching percussion and went on to a long career teaching for Pittsburgh Public Schools.

He also pursued his own training in percussion, studying with drummer Eugene “Babe” Fabrizi (1916-1996), who owned a music store in Wilkinsburg and had accompanied Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Les Paul and Mary Ford.

On vibrations, Lou received lessons from Al Secen (1933-2020), who played the instrument for the Lawrenceville-based band The Silhouettes.

“And obviously my brother helped me too,” he said.

His vibraphone influences include jazz luminaries Milt Jackson, Gary Burton and Bobby Hutcherson, as well as Lionel Hampton, the vibist who shot the instrument to international prominence while performing with Benny Goodman’s band.

Lucarelli recalls having the opportunity to meet Hampton at a long-closed venue called the Flying Carpet Motor Lodge near the former Greater Pittsburgh International Airport.

“They used to bring people for gigs, and I was playing drums there in their living room. Lionel Hampton came in, and the drummer who played with him, I was in the army with him,” he said. “So he brought me back. Lionel Hampton was eating in the kitchen, and he introduced me to him. The nicest guy in the world.

Returning to the heyday of jazz, the cover of “Alone Again, Unnaturally” is reminiscent of many releases of the genre from the 1950s and 1960s, featuring Lucarelli dressed elegantly in an overcoat, jacket and tie all holding four mallets. Judit Martinez’s photography also features an industrial backdrop in Pittsburgh’s Station Square which further contributes to the nostalgic vibe.

Inside the CD packaging is a photo collage showing Lou with his brother. Combined with the inclusion of Jerry’s compositions and the superb quality of the musicianship, the overall project is a beautiful tribute to a much missed member of the family.

For more information, visit www.facebook.com/lucarellijazz.

Harry Funk is a news editor for Tribune-Review. You can contact Harry at [email protected]

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