Clarinetist/saxophonist Joe Torregano, a dedicated musician and teacher, and altogether a nice guy, died on Tuesday, October 6, 2015. He was 63 years old.
Whether he was wearing a black and white brass band uniform or a blue uniform as a reserve member of the New Orleans Police Department, Torregano met everyone with the same mild manner.
“Whatever role he played, he always wanted to support and assist you,” says trumpeter Gregg Stafford, who performed with Torregano on the frontline of numerous brass bands. Perhaps most significant was Torregano’s decades-long tenure with the Young Tuxedo Brass Band. He acted as band assistant when it was led by clarinetist/saxophonist Herman Sherman and continued with the group under Stafford’s direction. Through their careers the two worked together in Leroy Jones’ Hurricane Brass Band, the Fairview Baptist Church Brass Band, Doc Paulin’s brass band and the Olympia Brass Band.
“He was very serious about preserving brass band music and very dedicated on whatever instrument he played,” Stafford says. As an example of Torregano’s commitment to the music’s tradition, Stafford points out that he learned to play the mournful “West Lawn Dirge” in the style of saxophonist Emanuel Paul in order that the song would live on.
Like fellow clarinetist Pete Fountain, whose style he was known to emulate, Torregano took up the clarinet at age 12 when a doctor recommended that he play a woodwind instrument to help with his asthma. A denizen of New Orleans’ Sixth Ward, Torregano performed with the marching and concert bands at Andrew J. Bell and John McDonogh High School. In an interesting twist, Torregano later returned to Bell as an assistant band director after receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree in music education from Southern University of New Orleans. He used his degree well, teaching in an amazing 23 different area schools in his almost 30 years as an educator.
“He taught a lot of musicians that are on the streets today,” says Stafford, mentioning Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and trombonist Corey Henry.
A much-appreciated sideman, Torregano didn’t release an album as a leader until 2003. Celebrating his half-century birthday, the album was appropriately titled Joseph Torregano… A Jazzman at 50! He is joined on the release by his brother, pianist Michael Torregano with special guest trumpeter Dave Bartholomew.
“I was in the right place at the right time because there were no clarinetists around when I was playing in 1970,” said Torregano in a 2003 interview. He recalled that the clarinet was then considered the “forgotten instrument” and he appreciated the opportunity to listen to and sit in with an older generation of musicians and study with the great clarinetist Willie Humphrey.