Joseph Torregano, jazz musician, educator and police reserve officer, has died
Joseph Torregano, a clarinetist and retired New Orleans music teacher, who, over the years, was a mainstay of traditional brass bands, such as the Young Tuxedo, the Olympia, the Excelsior and the Original Royal Players, died Tuesday (Oct. 6) of cancer at his house in La Place, said his brother Michael Torregano. He was 63.
Torregano was the third of four children, all boys, of Louis Torregano and Anna Malarcher Torregano who lived in New Orleans' 6th Ward. He began taking piano lessons at age 5, his brother Michael said. Torregano took up the clarinet, which would become his signature instrument, while attending Andrew J. Bell Junior High School.
He attended John McDonogh High School and received a degree in music education from Southern University of New Orleans in 1975. He eventually became a band instructor teaching musicians, such as Christian Scott and Victor Goines during more than 30 years working in New Orleans area schools, such as Gregory Junior High, John McDonogh and East St. John High School in La Place. Most recently, he taught at the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music in the 9th Ward.
Fellow reed player Dr. Michael White said that he and Torregano met as teenagers taking private lessons at the Crescent City Music Center on Saturdays. At age 18, Torregano was playing in Ernest "Doc" Paulin's Dixieland Jazz Band and not much later in Danny Barker's Fairview Baptist Church Band.
As a teacher, White said, Torregano impressed on his students the traditional values of good music, and the discipline of marching. Friend and band mate Greg Stafford said that in their prime, the brass bands he and Torregano played in would "march for almost 12 hours on a Mardi Gras Day."
Both White and Stafford recalled that Torregano's clarinet playing favored the style of Pete Fountain, who was a friend and hero. White and Stafford traveled with Torregano, delivering traditional jazz around the globe, to Japan, Switzerland and Germany, as well as the Smithsonian Institution and The White House.
In the midst of his music and teaching career, Torregano enlisted as a reserve New Orleans Police Department officer, rising to the rank of lieutenant. For roughly two decades, Torregano spent part of each week on patrol or engaged in other NOPD assignments, his brother Michael said. His favorite role, Michael said, was keeping the peace during Carnival at the corner of St. Charles Avenue and Poydras Street.
Torregano has had cancer since at least 2010. His 2011 appearance at Jazz Fest was a triumphant return from a hospital bed. Bass drummer Anthony Bennett, leader of the Original Royal Players shared the stage with Torregano that day, as they had time and again since they met in seventh grade.
"We had a ball," he said of the performance. The audience was "really glad to see him."
A NOLA.com commentor calling himself woodwind70, left this note on a story about Torregano's 2011 Jazz Fest appearance: "This guy taught Kirk Joseph of the Dirty Dozen, most of the Soul Rebels Brass Band, Trombone Shorty, Christian Scott, Herman LeBeau, Shannon Powell, Victor Goines and Gerald French."
In the early 2010s, Bennett said, the Original Royal Players would perform at The American Cancer Society's Patrick F. Taylor Hope Lodge, a cancer treatment center on River Road, where Torregano was "an inspiration to a lot of those people."
Thinking back on their decades of friendship, Bennett said Torregano didn't change much from seventh grade on.
"He was pretty much the same spirit. He was all about the music," Bennett said.
Torregano and his quartet played the 2015 Jazz Fest in April.
Torregano is survived by his wife Dr. Jacqueline Langie Torregano, two children Joseph Torregano of State College Pennsylvania and Jennifer Torregano of New Orleans, and brother Michael.
Funeral arrangements have not yet been finalized.