Pat Rizzo: A Lifetime of Music Well-Lived

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Pat “The Riz” Rizzo

By Tommy Acosta, Nina Joy Rizzo & Dr. Rosemarie Rizzo – Tolk

There are musicians who see playing music as a mere pastime. For others, it is simply a passion, perhaps a fleeting one. Then, for a rare few, it is a life-long passion and deep dedication, laced together with a performance-driven imperative.

Such is the case for saxophonist and entertainer, Pat Rizzo. That’s why on November 30th, Pat, also known as “The Riz,” celebrates his 75th birthday, which also marks his 63rd year as a musician and performer.  Imminently, he will take his rightful place, along with countless other notables, receiving his very own star on the “Palm Springs Walk of Stars,” in southern California.

Pat’s “star” joins luminaries such as Gerald Ford, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Trini Lopez and Darci Daniels, whose names and legends have become household names around the world for almost a century. It is a rightful place for The Riz, the latest recipient.

You may already know, Pat has played with Frank Sinatra, Tito Puente, Sly & The Family Stone, Ry Cooder, War and many more including The Cuff Links, an iconic group Pat founded in the 1960’s. The Cuff Links had a number of songs that reached the Top 100’s on the Billboard Charts when he was just a youngster starting out in the business.

Today, at the 75th milestone, The Riz is still going strong, playing every Friday and Saturday night at Club 360 North, a popular jazz venue in the heart of Palm Spring.

When asked why he continues to perform in show business, he says he loves performing to an audience. He’s also made it clear he has NO intention of ever stopping.

“Why would I want to stop performing?” he said. “I’m still very much alive and it gives me great pleasure to play to a live audience.  I look forward to it every week.”

Pat Rizzo

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Pat became interested in playing the piano before the age of 12 after listening and watching his talented mother play.  Pat’s mother, Mary Rizzo, born Maria Grande in Gioia Del Colle, Italia, was a concert pianist before coming to the United States.

“I watched her as she played.  I was so fascinated by her that I began imitating her, playing the keys neither knowing notes nor how to read music,” he said.

“As I grew up, I learned to play the clarinet and sax—instruments my maternal uncles played,” he said. “In the end, I decided to concentrate on the saxophone because I fell in love with the sound. It was sound that flowed in my veins and pumped my heart. I fell and it was swell.”

Getting acquainted with the sound of the sax, he started his first band called, The Cavaliers, playing for dances at Junior High School 141 and Bryant High School in Queens. The band was really good, and even appeared on a TV show called The Herb Shelton Dance Studio. It aired prior to Dick Clark’s American Band Stand which became an American musical staple for teens after school.

Pat Rizzo belts it out

The Riz belts it out

In his twenties, he hooked up with Tito Puente who played in a few clubs in Queens, near where Pat lived. He played on and off with Tito for about ten years.  During that time Pat founded The Cuff Links offering a softer rock ‘n’ roll. But, his musical path took him in different venues.

He began to diversify and try different grooves. He found himself playing jazz at a nightclub called Jilly’s in New York. That’s where he met Jilly Rizzo, Sinatra’s right hand man, who informally adopted Pat as his own.

And his musical horizons just kept on expanding!

“A guy I went to high school with had been working with Sly &The Family Stone. He told me Sly was looking for a replacement saxophone player,” Riz recalled. “So a meeting was arranged.  It was a bit strange because when I met Sly, he auditioned me in a bathroom! I passed the test and was hired on the spot.”

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Sly with Pat and Peter Rizzo

It was a musical odyssey with Sly from then on, with The Riz playing on numerous hit records, including, If You Want México Me to Stay.” Pat wrote Ha Ha Hee Hee, which appeared on the Back On the Right Track album, co-written with fellow band member, Jerri Martini.
“Every Sly & the Family Stone concert was so outrageous; almost stirring up a riot at each performance,” Riz said. “Especially when we missed a plane. Fans wouldn’t stop screaming until we arrived. We flew more than 50,000 miles a month, performing across the globe.  I don’t think I would ever be able to live through that again.”

After touring with Sly & The Family Stone, Pat joined War, another great band that recorded hits such as Cisco Kid, Low Rider and Summer.  He recorded numerous albums for other artists including The Temptations.

Frank Sinatra was a neighbor of his and Riz was the regular Maestro at almost all of Sinatra’s extravagant parties.  Pat rubbed elbows with the industry’s elite.  “It was a BLAST!” he remembers.

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Fronting the orchestra

“Sinatra lived around the corner from me, on the other side of the golf course.”  Riz said. “After hearing me play, Frank asked me to play for his house parties and to play with him in Las Vegas. At his parties, I met all kinds of musical stars and many famous Hollywood actors. I met Ava Gardner, Lucille Ball, Dean Martin, Johnny Carson, Morgana King, Spiro Agnew and his family. I even got to dance with Ginger Rogers!” Now THAT was a highlight in my life.”

Pat’s own star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars is a crowning achievement to his auspicious career.

STAR Recipients are reserved for Palm Springs residents who distinguished themselves for their special talents and for their unique contributions to the charm and Cheap Jordans Sale world recognition of this generous, artful and elegant hamlet that has grown into the City of Palm Springs.

“Everybody knows Pat,” said Palm Springs Walk of Stars President, Robert Alexander. He recalls the years passed as he lists some of Pat’s contributions: “Pat has played with Frank Sinatra, dozens of other world-class acts and has performed for hundreds of charities benefiting the Greater Palm Springs area. He’s been a regular performer at the Idyllwild Jazz Festival benefiting The Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts (ISOMATA) School in the Mountains above Palm Springs.”

Pat said that the WALK OF STARS organization has been asking him for twenty-five years to accept his own star. A bit shy, it took years for him to agree. But finally, he did.

He added, “I now feel really good about it. The time is right,” he said. “I guess I needed to prepare myself to accept such a wonderful honor and tribute. The time and effort I spent organizing the music and musicians and leading and playing at so many charity events here in the desert adds up to a lifetime of good feelings that I will forever cherish.”

The Riz conducting!

The Riz commands the stage!

During his incredibly busy years of playing non-stop concerts, he found the time to raise a family: his two daughters: Nina, Lori and a son, Peter Joshua, a son he sired at the age of 50.

“My daughter Nina is an Osteopathic Manual Therapist helping many people and a wonderful visual artist, applying her art into interior designs and clothing construction. She lives in Sedona,” he said. “She has a great eye for color and patterns making her fractal art sing of their own volition. Nina has a beautiful and loving daughter named Samantha.

“My daughter, Lori is the kindest person I know. She practices and applies her religious beliefs to day-to-day situations, applying them without fail. A true beauty! She has a beautiful daughter named Michele.

“My son, Peter Joshua (PJ) is a young sound engineer who also plays, guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and works with musical recordings. He has his own recording and mixing studio called Riz Music in Las Vegas. Because he’s just opened his own studio, I want to wish him lots of good luck. He’s a “chip off the old block.

“In short, I’m proud of my children for their accomplishments, their resilience through crisis, their struggles through adolescences and for growing stronger every day as adults.”
For Nina, having a father who is a famous musician she’ll tell you “it was a blast being the daughter of a rock star!”

“I remember going to recording studios when I was really young. still living in New York,” she said. “I met Mama and Frank Sinatra for a Christmas party at the age of 10, in Palm Springs, California. Sly Stone loaned me an outrageous long leather beaded top for a Halloween costume when I was 11 and would play the piano and sing with me when he came over to the house. I hung out with my father’s musician friends over the cheap football jerseys years, especially in Hollywood. Lee Oskar was like a second dad to me back then. Lee and my dad are great friends to this day. Oh yeah, backstage passes to rock concerts, not a problem. I would do it again, just better this time!”

Pat Rizzo

Click photo to purchase/download album and listen to excerpts from the CD.

So, is The Riz slowing down after having lived three-quarters of a century, mostly playing music? The answer is, “Heck no!” The world awaits his soon-to-be released album on Hindsight Records entitled, The Tokyo Blues – Sharing The Love. 

“It’s a really good album,” said Hindsight Records President Tom Gramuglia. “He did a great job. It’s a mix of original tunes and standards like I Got You Under My Skin by Frank Sinatra, with some of the songs on the album Fake Ray Bans written by Pat. He’s a great guy and great singer who has not gotten the recognition he deserves for his rich voice. He has had a relationship with our record company for many years and was great friends with cheap jerseys china one of our long-time employees with a long history in the field of jazz, Dom Mupo. The Tokyo Blues album Is currently available on I-Tunes and Amazon digital for downloading. The physical product is scheduled for later release.”

Pat Rizzo With Band

The Riz playing with the boys.

Make it a point when you’re in Palm Springs on the weekends to catch Pat Rizzo with his fellow musicians Kelly Smith and Dennis Michaels on Friday and Saturday nights from 7-10 PM at CLUB 360 North.” Pat not only plays Cheap Football Jerseys but also sings. People say he sounds like Tony Bennett.

“I’ve been compared to Tony Bennett for years,” he said. “Maybe it’s because we lived on the same little street in Astoria. But then again, I believe everyone in my neighborhood sang like Tony Bennett!”

Well, SING ON, Pat Rizzo. Your many fans are waiting!

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