The Soul of Jazz Fest
The heart of the Syracuse music man
By Ashley Iaconetti (SYRACUSE) - I intended to do a character piece on the director of the Syracuse Jazz Fest, Frank Malfitano, but I didn’t expect to learn his character in the way I did.
I call my car my best inanimate friend. For example, when “we” go to a concert, I feel bad she has to “listen” from the parking lot. And when “we” first moved to Syracuse, I tapped the wheel and said, “Idol (that’s her name), we’re not in D.C. anymore.” Okay, I probably didn’t have to go on that strange diatribe in order to say, I’m very attached to my car.
So, yesterday when “Idol” got rammed into by a Syracuse City truck and her front left door and fender looked as if was grabbed by The Hulk, I cried. Obviously. It was my first accident. I had no idea what to do in that situation. Call AAA? Acura dealer? Body shop? Insurance? What?
Frank Malfitano, the man I was on my way to interview at the time of the accident, was there to help. I had met him for the first time just an hour before at his press conference for this July’s Syracuse Jazz Fest. It was as simple as shaking hands, exchanging pleasantries, and arranging a time for a sit down interview. The man knew nothing about me. But when he saw me next to my crushed car, he decided to stay with me for over an hour talking, comforting, and explaining what we should do with my car. Then I followed him to the body shop where he spoke for me when inexperience left me at a loss for words.
As I rambled, “Thank you. You really don’t have to do this” and “I’m so sorry. I’m ruining your whole day,” he just said, “My day is yours.”
I sat in the passenger’s seat of his black SUV as we went to conduct the interview two hours later than planned. Jazz, of course, played in the background as he narrated what buildings used to be what when he grew up in the house that is now his office in the Eastwood area of Syracuse.
He offered me lunch when we walked through the door. I scanned the walls that are lined with music festival posters, plaques, and photos of Malfitano with celebrities, such as Ray Charles and Tony Bennett.
After taking hours out of his day to aid this flustered girl, he took out 40 more minutes just to talk about music and his life. I heard so many stories. I heard about the rain, mud, and magic at Woodstock and his friendship with Aretha Franklin. I learned that Bill Cosby believes Malfitano quit playing the saxophone not because he could never be as great as John Coltrane as he claimed, but because “he didn’t want it badly enough.” But the one story I was upset about not being able to fit into the video package was generated from the question: “How did you meet your wife?”
Malfitano lit up. “I was running the Landmark Theatre and once a week I would go over to her radio station (Syracuse’s Y94 FM) and on her program I’d talk about what was coming up at the theatre. We got to know each other professionally for 10 years…and then our first date was a jazz concert!”
It gets better…
“I actually saw her one night before that at a club. I was in a relationship at the time that was coming apart at the seams. I was out on a date with that person. And Kathy [Rowe] was out there on the dance floor with her girlfriends dancing across the room. In the back of my mind, I said ‘Gee, I wish I was dancing with her.’ Now, I’m dancing with her for the rest of my life.”
I think the best love stories are set to music…and I’m pretty sure Malfitano has enough albums in his collection to dance for lifetimes.