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January 1998

Bobby Militello
Blows His Horn For Buffalo

by Maria SCRIVANI

When you’ve lived your childhood dreams, what do you do for an encore? Musician Bobby Militello knows all about encore performances. The world-renowned saxophonist (and much more: his bio lists among his musical talents alto, tenor and soprano saxophones, flute, alto flute, piccolo, clarinet and vocals) is a legend in jazz circles. He’s also legendary in his hometown of Buffalo, where he dreamed of one day performing solos a la Maynard Ferguson and Dave Brubeck while listening to his idols’ recordings on the Sears Silvertone Stereo in his West Side home.

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The young Militello’s:
Mike, Bea, Charlie, Donna and Bobby in front.

Baby Bobby and neighbor.

Today he’s on the road 180 days a year. Not only is he performing those solos but he’s appeared and recorded with Ferguson, and is currently touring with Brubeck. They played with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. in late October, a show that was taped for ABC-TV broadcast on December 27th. He performed with the Moscow Symphony in Moscow Cathedral over Thanksgiving, and was back home in Western New York for a brief hiatus before resuming a show schedule that includes California, Arizona, New Mexico and Hawaii, with a European tour slated for spring. He also tours with Doc Severinsen and the Tonight Show Band “whenever I can.”

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Christmas cowboy Bobby Militello 6 years old.

Heady stuff for a guy who once thought he might make his career in electrical engineering. In fact, Bobby is still a tinkerer and analyst at heart. Pop into the Tralfamadore Cafe, long known as the area’s premier music venue and reopened last September under his stewardship...between shows you’re likelier to catch Bobby changing a lightbulb or fine-tuning a computer program. Certainly not resting—repose is not in this man’s vocabulary.

“I’m a workaholic, always have been,” he says. In addition to being a performer he is a producer of records, videos, sound design and more, through his production company, RPM Entertainment Productions, Inc. “When I’m home I work 10 to 16 hours a day, every day of the week. Sometimes me and my uncle Ang go around fixing things—there’s always a list of things that need to be done around the Tralf, from changing bulbs to washing floors. Everything has to be comfortable here. My bars and my kitchen are clean. I like all things working...I try to anticipate needs and address them.”

Some say it’s all in the timing, but for Bobby Militello it is clearly all in the details. That predilection suits him well for our technological age. “What I can do with computers fascinates me,” he says. “They’re great tools. I’ve run my business on computers for 15 years.” He also writes music and designs ads on-line. Soon he expects to purchase a laptop computer so he can use his on-the-road downtime to design graphics.

Running the Tralf, a more than full-time job for mere mortals, is another gig for Bobby, albeit a consuming one. So why’d he buy the place when he’s clearly got enough to keep him busy elsewhere? “My whole life I’ve always had the hassles of business, with my family in the restaurant business,” he says, noting that he, his sister Bea and brother Mike are currently partners in downtown’s other popular restaurant/jazz club, The Bijou Grille.

“I like this. I’m good at what I do, with my analytical and people skills. I care about the customers’ satisfaction, their comfort and the quality of product around here. Everyone around here feels that way, or they don’t last.”

“I’ve been playing this room since it opened (founded 1974, the Tralf’s original location was on Main Street near Fillmore) and I’ve always had ideas about how it could be better. I heard through the grapevine that bids were being sought to take over the Tralf. It was a one-day decision for me. I knew what to do with it.” Last January Bobby Militello was awarded a long-term lease on the cabaret, which has been located in Theater Place downtown since 1982.

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“The Velvetomes” in 1968. Ray Masterangelo, Bobby Militello and Dennis Mahoney.

Careful not to criticize his predecessors, Bobby says he’s turned the cafe into “my image of what this place should be. As a musician my first thought, of course, was the acoustics. I wanted this room to sound like a concert hall—within this structure’s capabilities.” Most of the money he’s sunk into the Tralf has gone into the sound system, to enhance the listening experience as well as suit any performer’s style. Time-delayed speakers around the room increase or decrease the depth of sound, making it seem like a big hall or a “down and dirty” blues club.

The result is a place where musicians enjoy performing—and that, as Bobby the performer and promoter knows so well— keeps music fans coming in. “No less than 300 people shook my hand after the Leon Redbone show in October,” he recalls. “I heard more comments about what a wonderful show it was and how great this is for Buffalo. There’s an ego trip there that’s great. It’s like a standing ovation after a performance.”

He can take another bow for rejuvenating the local jazz scene and joining the downtown renaissance, but Bobby Militello isn’t through yet. As a Baby Boomer, not by a long shot. He’s passionate on any number of topical issues, including restoring arts programs to schools. “We have to fight for it because it is important,” he says, recalling the music mentoring he received at School 77 and Lafayette High School.

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Bobby’s eighth grade graduation picture P.S. 77, 1964.

“Every teacher I had saw something extra in me and nurtured it. We have to nurture the souls and spirits of our children. Kids who have the opportunity to express themselves will grow. We need the kind of vision that comes from the soul and the arts feed the soul.”

A fervent advocate of strong family life, he talks about his plans to make the Tralf more than a music venue. It is already in use as a business conference center and Bobby wants to expand its offerings to include family events. This winter he’s planning an art show with performance art on stage and a graffiti wall for kids. “I think they’ll love it,” he says, looking around the great room on a recent weekday morning when the speakers were silent and the lights dark. “I want children in this room.”

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The grown Militello’s:
Back row: Bobby, Mike and Charlie, Front row: Donna, Mother Bea and Bea.

He says he’s never made a personal goal he hasn’t met, so look for the Tralf to become a popular family attraction. And in about eight years, you can look for Bobby Militello somewhere along the Lake Erie shoreline.

That’s where he is planning to “semi-retire” one day, to play on his computer, blow his horn and look out at the lake. “I’d be very, very happy,” he says.

The question is what will he do for an encore?


Maria Scrivani is a freelance writer.

Photos Courtesy of Bobby Militello.

 

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