Jim Rotondi: ‘Trumpet Player Extraordinaire’

July 10, 2024

At the recent Rochester International Jazz Festival, trumpeter Jim Rotondi led his own quintet on June 28 and played with the One For All sextet (of which he was a founding member) on June 29. Eight days later, the 61-year-old Rotondi passed away in Graz, Austria.

To another One For All founding member, trombonist Steve Davis, posting on Facebook, Rotondi’s death “has been devastating to absorb. Jim was the epitome of decency…a soulful straight-up guy who possessed a wonderfully dry sense of humor. He was a brilliant musician, virtuoso trumpeter, composer, arranger, educator…a total, complete bad cat on and off the bandstand. I am grateful and honored to have known and played with him for over 30 years, especially with the group, One For All…Man, that flugelhorn sound-forget about it…No one could touch him.”

Rotondi’s death was announced by his wife, Julie, but no cause of death was given. Since 2010, Rotondi lived in Austria, teaching at the University for Music and Dramatic Arts. His most recent album as a leader, Finesse, was released in February by Cellar Music, and it featured big band arrangements of Rotondi compositions by Vienna-based trumpeter/composer/arranger Jakob Helling. In his review for Jersey Jazz, Joe Lang wrote: “The music is eclectic, ranging from slow ballads to selections with a more spirited feeling. Rotondi is his usual fluent self, and he has some cohorts from his New York City days along for the musical ride with the solo presence of Dick Oatts on soprano sax and Steve Davis on trombone on one track.”

The One For All sextet premiered in 1996 at the New York jazz club, Augie’s (now Smoke). Current members, in addition to Davis, are tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, pianist David Hazeltine, bassist John Webber, and drummer Joe Farnsworth. Sometimes legendary older artists such as tenor saxophonist George Coleman and pianist Harold Mabern have made guest appearances with the group.

Rotondi grew up in Butte, MT, and switched from piano to trumpet when he heard Clifford Brown for the first time. He studied jazz trumpet at the University of North Texas, and, in 1984, won first place in the International Trumpet Guild’s jazz trumpet competition. In 1991, he joined Ray Charles’ band and subsequently played in big bands led by Lionel Hampton, Toshiko Akiyoshi, and Bob Mintzer. He also played in small groups led by organist Charles Earland, alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson, trombonist Curtis Fuller, and drummer Joe Chambers.

On Facebook, keyboardist Mike LeDonne described Rotondi, as a “trumpet player extraordinaire….one of the greatest trumpet players of our time. Saddened and shocked beyond words…You totally rocked it.”

In addition to his wife, Julie, Rotondi is survived by two brothers, Douglas and Frank Rotondi; two sisters, Susan Rotondi and Mary Ann Rotondi Heus; and several nieces and nephews.

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