Jazzed in Cleveland
a jazz history by Joe Mosbrook
Jazzed in Cleveland Complete Index

Part 118 - Three Generations of Trzcinskis
Story filed February 18, 2008

It’s not often that you can point to three generations of one family who are all very busy playing music at a high level at the same time. That is exactly what is happening with one Greater Cleveland family – the Trzcinski family.

Trumpeter Joe Trzcinski, in his 70s, plays trumpet with the Cleveland TOPs Swingband. His son, John, is a pianist and performs with a variety of groups in Cleveland. And John’s son, Chris, is a drummer who is playing with some top jazz groups in China.

The Trzcinski family musical dynasty began 60 years ago when Joe, then a young trumpeter from Troy, New York, tried out for the U.S. Army Band that played at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. "I put in two years there," he said, "and when the Korean War broke out, I thought I was going to Korea, but wound up playing in General Douglas MacArthur’s Army band in Tokyo."

Before shipping out for Tokyo, Joe had married a girl from Cleveland. When He was discharged, he immediately came here, started raising a family, and began working as one of Cleveland’s busiest professional trumpeters. He decided not to specialize in any one style of music. He said, "It’s a job and I’m trying to earn a living. I did everything. Some of the jazz musicians would play only two nights a week. I wound up playing seven nights – everything from theatre musicals to circuses, ice shows and even with the Cleveland Orchestra.

Joe played for years in the pit bands at the Hanna Theatre, Musicarnival and the Front Row. Eventually, he became the music contractor at the Front Row and hired local musicians to back touring acts.

Joe’s son, John Trzcinski, played drums at Cathedral Latin High School, but eventually switched to piano. As he began to work professionally, he followed his father’s philosophy of not limiting himself to any one style of music. Recently, he has been the music director for touring jazz singer Debbie Gifford.

And John’s son, Chris Trzcinski, studied at Youngstown State University and toured for about two years with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra led by Buddy Morrow. After getting off the road, Chris returned to Cleveland and played with a group led by Andy Hunter. In 2006, they decided to move to China. "There is so much work over there," says John, "that he’s playing six or seven nights a week."

Chris plays drums with the band that backs one of China’s leading singers, Coco Zhao. The group was the first Chinese group to perform at the Montreal Jazz Festival.

During the fall of 2007, John went to Shanghai to visit his son. "I couldn’t believe what I saw over there," he said. "At a big jazz festival, all these young kids just loved the music – all kinds: fusion, straight-ahead, avant garde, even free-form jazz. They loved it. They were singing and dancing. It was amazing!"

Chris Trzcinski, like his father and grandfather, has refused to pigeon-hole himself into one tight niche; he’s playing drums in a wide variety of musical styles.

John now hopes to get all three generations of the Trzcinski family together on one recording. He and his father have recorded some trumpet-piano duets and John says, "I hope I can send it to Chris and he can put down his drum tracks and send it back to me."

It may not be long before all three generations of the Trzcinski family – Joe, John and Chris – are playing together on one compact disc.

Copyright 2008 Joe Mosbrook

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