I’ve had the pleasure of writing articles as a jazz musician and educator about several topics, including jazz improvisation. But for this article, I get to write about myself a little. It feels kind of weird to write about myself, so I thought the best way to handle that is to write an article about the life of a working jazz musician and the various stages of my life I’ve experienced throughout my career to achieve specific goals.
I think the first and most important thing about doing anything in life is finding the passion to want to do something. I first found my passion with jazz music through my father, Pete Selvaggio. My father passed many years ago, but he lived a full, active life within world of jazz. After touring with bands like Guy Lombardo and the Four Lads, he came back to the northeast Ohio area and continued to perform pretty much every night until the day he passed. Because he worked so much with so many different great musicians in northeast Ohio, I had the luxury of hearing great jazz growing up. This included local musicians like Bob Frazier, Ernie Krivda, Kenny Davis, Val Kent, Bob “Skeets” Ross, John Klayman, as well as many others. This gave me a wonderful foundation in the sounds and history of jazz. Though I played a lot of sports growing up, as much as I played music, the jazz bug bit me the summer before I went off to Kent State for my undergrad degree.
“The point of our practice is to be able to unburden ourselves and return to reality moment by moment.”
— SOJUN MEL WEITSMAN
Hearing Cannonball Adderley at Kent State for the first time literally changed my life. One of my major mentors is my now good friend Chas Baker, who ran the jazz classes at Kent State for over 30 years. He hipped me to Cannonball and that was it. I was off running, chasing down those sounds I heard, practicing them still to this day. I’ve heard from many musicians that it always comes back to one jazz musician you hear and that initial experience will change everything for you. There are always more that will help shape you into a more complete player, but there’s always the first one. After four to five hours a day practicing while studying at Kent State and building the much needed foundation in all the concepts of jazz through practice, rehearsals, performances, and sessions, I went to New York City to further my education at the Manhattan School of Music. This was the second of my life-changing experiences.
“One of the few, young saxophonists on the scene today that captures you with his strong presence, focus, and sound.” — JOE LOVANO
The one thing my first jazz teacher, John Klayman, told me was that my time in New York has to be about music first and everything else second. It’s a good thing Chelsea, my now wife of 22 years, is also a musician and an understanding woman, because I spent the next few years practicing, rehearsing, performing, going to sessions, and being a music entrepreneur for myself for 12 plus hours about every day. That’s what I learned, above all else during that time of my life; dedica-tion to your craft means putting that much time in. Period. You can’t skirt your way around that concept. You have to either be all-in or all-out if you want to be respected as someone at the highest level. I also started to learn the importance of networking and building a good reputation as a player. My third life-changing event was getting asked to play with the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra (VJO) as a sub. Another teacher and mentor was Dick Oatts, the lead alto player for the VJO and he put me on the sub list for one of the great jazz orchestras on the planet. That’s a gig I had the pleasure of doing several times my last year in New York. Plus, it gave me the opportunity to perform at one of the most revered jazz clubs in the world, the Vanguard; a venue where jazz legends John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Bill Evans, and countless others have performed.
“Bobby is among the best of players out there.” — KENNY WERNER
Once my wife Chelsea and I started thinking about starting a family, we decided to move back home to northeast Ohio and make that our home base. This was the stage of my life that puts me where I am today. One of the main things I’ve learned being a full-time, working musician is no one will do your work for you. To get to a place of recording CDs, putting tours together, composing -and performing original music, performing with world class, respected, internationally recognized, jazz musicians and educating the jazz youth, I had to put myself in a position to succeed at that, with an understanding that you need to learn about the business world as much as you do the jazz world. For me, I learned it in the real world, through trial and error (mostly error). But because I put the time in to get my playing mostly together, networked and built relationships with incredible musicians and venues, and have taken all I’ve learned from my experiences to come up with a process to educate, I’m now getting ready to release my ninth CD as a leader on Dot Time Records. I’ve done countless tours around the globe, I’ve performed and recorded with great jazz musicians today like Kenny Werner, Aaron Goldberg, Sean Jones, Carl Allen, Dave Liebman, Joe Lovano, Nir Felder, as well as many others, and I’m now the Director of Jazz Studies at Kent State.
Being a musician is a continuous thing that never stops evolving. Without growth and innovation, the arts would not survive. We must continue to inspire and educate the people around us to live a life of passion and tolerance so that we all can experience the things that really move us.