Patch writer Liz Miller talks with Fort Hunt's Frank Cocuzzi, premiere drummer and band leader, about life as a successful musician and what it's like to play for the President of the United States.
Q: When were you performing in the White House?
A: I played drums in the United States Marine Band during the (John F.) Kennedy and (Lyndon B.) Johnson administrations, from 1962 to 1970. Kennedy and Johnson liked to have a lot of parties. Whenever the Social Secretary wanted music in the White House, the Marine Band would provide it. At each party there were a couple hundred guests in the East Room.
Q: What were the presidents like?
A: Kennedy always made a point to say hello and thank us for being there. He was very gracious. And Johnson usually made it a long evening. He danced with all the ladies. I think that these days, events in the White House are a little more serious.
Q: What kinds of work have you had since then? Do you play mostly at weddings?
A: Recently I did a wedding where the bride and groom really enjoyed swing dancing. Weddings are just a small part of my business, though. I play at ballroom dances too. The Family - that's my quartet - we play for a group called The Friday Nighters. That's a public dance. And we do private parties. The other night there was a 20's theme, and we performed music from that era. The ladies all had flapper dresses on. It was great. We play whatever style of music people want.
Q: So are you pretty busy, despite the current situation in the economy?
A: I'm as busy as I want to be!
Q: So, you not only provide music for events, you also do all the management and booking?
A: That's right. I started FJC Music in 1982, when a lot of people really wanted the oldies-style music from the 40's and 50's. Things grew from there. These days it's mostly personal referrals. I've been around so long that everyone knows me.
Q: What does the J. stand for?
Q: Do you have to practice?
A: Most musicians don't enjoy rehearsals. They take time, and there's no money. You only have to practice when you're learning new songs. In the 1970's and 80's I had a regular job with a band playing three nights a week at The Officer's Club on 21st and R streets. I don't think it's there anymore. That was when everyone was really into Top 40. So we'd have to learn the new popular songs every week. FBI personnel from Quantico and from all over the world would come to that club. There were hostesses they could dance with. We packed the place every Friday and Saturday night.
Q: There must be a certain culture among musicians, too. What is it like?
A: It's great connect with different musicians, play different styles, adapt to the number of players. When someone else is leading the band, you have to do things his way. Sometimes I think, if this were my job, I'd do it a different way, but I'm always learning how to adjust. When you're the drummer, you have to keep the beat very steady for everyone in the band.
Q: So how did you get your start as a musician?
A: I started playing piano in the Rochester, NY public school system when I was 8, but I switched to drums soon after that. I played my first gig when I was 13. I went to college at the Eastman Conservatory.
Q: Sounds like you have been a drummer almost all your life! Is it fun to have a job in which you're always at parties?
A: People accept the band as part of the party. It's a fun way to make a living.
Q: I listened to some of your CD online. Who was playing piano?
A: That's my son, John. He lives out in San Francisco now, but he travels all over the place. He's getting ready to go play in The Czech Republic and Poland for three weeks. It's great when they pay for your ticket, and your hotel room, and you're making money on top of that.
Q: Do you have other children as well?
A: My wife and I have another son and a daughter. The son's family is in Raleigh and our daughter's family is in Colorado. We have five grandchildren.
Q: Do you currently have any special projects or ambitions?
A: I would really like to promote The Swing Professors a little more. Sometimes we play at swing dances, like the ones in Glen Echo Park. But these days it's hard for people to afford a seven-piece band. I'm happy, though. I have a lot of fun doing what I do.