Date published: November 9, 2011
Joe Riposo has had an accomplished career. He received the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra Musicians Award for Outstanding Music Educator in 2009, was recipient of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) Award for 15 years in a row, inducted to the Fine Arts Hall of Fame in 2003 and the Sammys Hall of Fame in 1997, as a performer, among a slew of others.
He served as director of music education for the Liverpool Central School District for 31 years, as the Northeastern Division coordinator for the International Association of Jazz Educators for six years, was director for the Cultural Resource Council's youth jazz programs in the early 1990s and composed and performed in bands for Diane Schuur, Harry Connick Jr. and Natalie Cole. Today, he is director of jazz studies at Syracuse University as well as a composer, performer and author. And he's still as gracious as ever.
"I've gotten many awards over the years, my walls are covered, but the award that I really value the most is right here in Syracuse because at least I know that I'm being presented that award because of my peers," he says. "That means an awful lot to me. I'm humbled as I always am. I guess it's an outgrowth of what I do, but not really my main objective. My main objective is to teach and play and that's what I love and I get a lot of gratification out of that."
Although Riposo, 78, grew up in a musical family, he was inspired to take up clarinet during his wonder years when he saw the 1945 Warner Brothers musical biography Rhapsody in Blue, with Robert Alda as George Gershwin, that opened with a silhouette playing "Rhapsody in Blue," with that iconic clarinet intro. He immediately ran home from the bijou and told his father that was the instrument. From there he moved to saxophone and all the other woodwinds.
Riposo studied music at SU, graduated in 1957 and spent a short time touring before returning to the Salt City in 1960. Although he's had offers to teach all over the world throughout his long career, he has yet to find a place he enjoys more than home.
"I found Syracuse to be a great place to live because any time an opportunity to play out of Syracuse comes up, it's not that far," he says. "You can fly out of here and play any place you want. And the opportunities for me to play here in Syracuse are great. And as far as teaching is concerned, I feel that the students I have up here at Syracuse University, many come here because of me and they work their tails off. They work hard. That to me is a lot of gratification. I'm able to get other people to enjoy what I enjoy."
The gratification has come full circle for Riposo, who revels most in talking about his many students who have succeeded in music-whether he taught them as children in Liverpool or as maturing adults at SU. Riposo especially swells with pride when he mentions Jim Spadafore, current music teacher at Liverpool High School, who will present the Music Educator Hall of Fame award to Riposo at the ceremony.
"I started him in fourth grade and now he plays in the same jazz ensemble with me," he says. "He also teaches at the high school in Liverpool and I hired him. He finished college at Buffalo State with his master's degree and came back to Liverpool, wanted to teach and he was a great candidate; now he sits right next to me."
Riposo encourages his current SU students to play out with him often, emphasizing the importance of performing as part of their education. He also encourages them to call him Joe. "It breaks down a lot of the barriers," he says. "I say my name is Joe, J-O-E."
Keeping it personal has helped keep Riposo connected to many of his students, maintaining relationships he cherishes. "A lot of my students are out there working, living, teaching; that's a good feeling. You know you've touched someone's life. Boy, that warms you inside."