Monongahela band jazzing up the Mon Valley
They may only be in their 20s, but a group of Monongahela-area musicians is bringing the cool sounds of 1950s-era jazz back to center stage.
4R Jazz Quartet is composed of Rich Pantaleo on piano and trumpet, Nate Repp on drums, Ryan Mocniak on saxophone and Ryan Scanlon on bass. With the exception of Scanlon, of West Mifflin, the other members live in the Monongahela/Carroll Township area.
Mocniak and Pantaleo, both 2005 Ringgold High School graduates, began playing together in the marching band. Repp, a 2007 Ringgold graduate, also played in the band. Scanlon, an Indiana, Pa., native, met the other musicians while attending Penn State University.
The group has been performing together for about six months, but their musical journeys began when they were young boys.
Mocniak, 26, began playing the saxophone in fourth grade and the guitar in seventh grade. He keeps his love for both instruments separate, as his guitar playing is dedicated to rock music and his saxophone only for jazz.
Throughout the past decade, he has been a member of multiple rock bands as well as numerous big bands and small jazz groups.
In 2009, Mocniak was the lead alto sax player in Penn State's premier big band, Centre Dimensions. While at Penn State, he acquired a minor in music and spent countless hours studying the art of jazz saxophone. He continues to stay active in jazz by performing with 4R Jazz on a regular basis. He also runs his own big band, the Mocniak Jazz Orchestra, and plays with a few other groups routinely around the area.
Pantaleo, 26, plays both piano and trumpet for 4R Jazz. At age 5, he started taking piano lessons from his father, Rich Pantaleo, a long-time school band director. He learned to break away from a reliance on sheet music when Mocniak invited him over to play keyboards in a rock band jam session in high school.
They soon formed a rock band with some friends that lasted through their college days. It was during these years of playing rock music that Pantaleo began to build the foundation needed to play improvisational music, he says.
His piano style is “greatly influenced” by Vince Guaraldi, the first jazz artist he ever listened to. For his trumpet style, he cites Miles Davis and Freddie Hubbard as inspirations. When he's not playing music, Pantaleo, a Carnegie Mellon University graduate, works as a mechanical engineer building robots at a Pittsburgh company.
Repp, 24, began playing drums in fourth grade and says he “hasn't had a boring moment since.” After four years in the Ringgold High School band, he went on to Indiana University of Pennsylvania to study music education. While at IUP, Repp played in every ensemble ranging from classic percussion and symphonic band ensembles to steel and Taiko drumming ensembles as well as arranging for and marching in the IUP drumline.
Since graduating from IUP in 2011, Repp has been a steady substitute teacher in the Ringgold School District as well as working as a long-term substitute as the elementary instrumental music director. He is also in charge of the Ringgold Indoor Marching Percussion Ensemble.
Scanlon, 24, has been playing music nearly since he began school in first grade. Starting with learning piano, playing saxophone for nine years, guitar and bass for 10 more, Scanlon continues playing music now with 4R Jazz. He has played with a variety of musicians, from full jazz ensembles to blues and southern rock bands.
He works as an electrical engineer by day, providing design and maintenance services on instrumentation and controls systems for power plants. He also puts those electrical engineering skills to work by designing, constructing and modifying various types of musical equipment.
While they all have their “day jobs,” the musicians are passionate about the new band.
Scanlon says they attribute their love for jazz music back to their days in high school.
“We were all introduced to it with the jazz bands at school,” Scanlon says. “We all just really enjoy the music and performing it together.”
The band performs many jazz standards, including such classics as “Don't Mean a Thing,” “How High the Moon,” “The Girl from Impanema,” “Cotton Tail” and “Broadway.” The band says they pay homage to the jazz trios and quartets of the 1950s and 1960s, while adding their own sound to it. They also infuse jazz from the 1970s into their sound.
The group admits they have been met with surprise by some of those who have booked them for special events.
“We had one lady who booked us said she was expecting a 50-year-old man,” Scanlon says with a laugh. “I think our ages do surprise some people.”
But, once they start performing, their talents take over.
Pantaleo says that while there are many jazz bands and performers in the Pittsburgh area, 4R Jazz is unique to the Mon Valley.
“There are a lot of rock bands in the Mon Valley, but as far as small jazz combination bands, we think we are one-of-a-kind,” Pantaleo says.
For now, the band is solely instrumental, but they are considering bringing a singer to the group in the near future.
Stacy Wolford is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.