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ORANGE COUNTY CALENDAR: ARTS, ENTERTAINMENT, LEISURE

Musician, Deli Owner Joe Massimino Dies

May 31, 2000|RANDY LEWIS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Joe Massimino, the longtime "The Mike Douglas Show" bandleader and pianist who became as well known in Orange County later in life for the Italian food he offered at his Tustin deli, has died of complications of stomach cancer. He was 64.

Massimino, who died May 24, had been a regular in Orange County jazz spots for almost the last two decades, since "The Mike Douglas Show" went off the air in 1982. When he wasn't playing music, Massimino spent much of his post-Douglas career running an Italian deli, the San Remo Italian Market.

"I don't feel I've come down 12 notches selling salami," Massimino told The Times in 1987. "I know food and I know how to cook it."

He also thought there was a better future in feeding hungry customers' appetites than television executives' demands. "I was tired of all the red tape and bureaucracy of television," he said after the Douglas show ended.

He grew up in an Italian neighborhood in Providence, R.I., and was attracted to music early listening to his parents' big band records.

At 17, he was hired to play in Tommy Dorsey's band after an audition in which he impressed the big-band leader by ripping through "T.D. Boogie," a Dorsey tune Massimino had committed to memory. He toured with Dorsey for three years, and went on to musical associations with "Tonight Show" bandleader Doc Severinsen, singer Joe Williams and the big bands of Buddy Rich and Louis Bellson, among others.

He won an Emmy during his 15 years leading the band behind talk-show host Douglas, a job that often tapped his improvisational talents.

"An act might drop out an hour before air time," he told The Times in 1994, "and I'd have to write an arrangement of a medley of songs for Mike to sing."

Massimino was known as a bebop-based improviser who usually worked at an acoustic piano, but also knew his way around electronic keyboards. Electronics can be a turn-off for jazz purists, but during a 1993 performance in Costa Mesa with woodwind player Ray Pizzi, Bill Kohlhaase, reviewing for The Times, praised Massimino for summoning "bell-like tones [that] gave the performance glistening, sometimes celestial airs that, for once in this acoustic piano-less setting, made you not miss the real thing."

He developed a second reputation for his cooking, especially his fresh Italian sausages, when he opened the San Remo market in the early '80s. He combined those two passions on Sunday afternoons with free jazz shows in the market's parking lot, his attempt "to put a little excitement and culture in the city of Tustin."

Massimino sold the store in the early '90s and focused on the Tustin recording studio he opened, periodic gigs at area nightclubs and restaurants and helping his wife, Paula, run her homeowner association management firm. He also befriended and helped rising young singers, including Micki Rhyne and Darvey Traylor, with whom he recorded in recent years.

He is survived by Paula, three married daughters--Liana Frayne, Lore Copeland and Jennifer Johnson; a stepson, Paul Taylor; his mother, Vera, a brother, Ron and seven grandchildren.

A service for Massimino will be held at 2 p.m. June 16 at Saddleback Mortuary Chapel, 220 E. Main St., Tustin.

Massimino's family has requested that in lieu of flowers, donations may be made either to the American Cancer Society or the American Diabetes Assn.

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