Pianist James Madden and
Vocalist Marilyn Livosky
Article by: Al Lubiejewski, JazzErie Contributing Writer


The creative rush drives Jim Madden like a leased Maserati on the German autobahn. In fact, Madden's so artistic that he even ties his shoes with a jumble of intricate sailor's knots. Whatever he tackles, though, from slapping on his shoes to making music to broadcasting jazz to writing sonnets to building houses, he brands each with his ingenuity.

Madden was born in Erie and took his first piano lesson when he was eight. Although Madden liked the piano, he didn't dig his regimented lessons. "The teacher wasn't very good because she didn't allow me to be creative. I wanted to bang out some new chords but that wasn't part of her plan".

But Madden continued plodding through routine lessons until his
freshman year at McDowell when
he was struck by musical lightening. One night, while attending a school concert, he chanced upon the inspired revelry of pianist John Novello and his band C.J. Bri - a rock band similar to Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Madden was so wowed by Novello's technique - which included a big dose of improvisation - that he begged John to show him the ropes. Over the next few years, Madden not only soaked up everything Novello taught but had a ball doing it. But one day Novello broke to Madden the bittersweet news that he was moving to Boston to attend the Berklee School of Music. Madden was stunned at losing his mentor. "But John told me not to worry. He told me to go see Basil Ronzitti, the man who had been teaching him for years. So I went. My first lesson with Basil, I felt right at home. I knew I had done the right thing".

From Novello to Ronzitti, however, Madden learned more than just how to play, write and arrange music - he grasped the worth of sharing his talent with others. "I'm now doing for others what Basil did for me". "In order to keep it, you must give it away". Madden has been teaching piano over 15 years, and he beams when he tells of his own students competing in music events and of former students returning to sing their successes. However, Madden's creativity isn't sapped by music and teaching. He also does woodworking and remodeled his attic at his former house into a music studio, and subsequently completely remodeled his current digs

into a space out of Architectural Digest. He works hard on a college textbook that will someday help students learn to play the piano. And he has written a comedy play about the ironies of studying music. In addition, some years back, Madden and his long-time friend, Chuck Suerken, hosted WQLN FM's Friday night "Jazz Club". Under their direction, the 90 minute show, in addition to sporting some great recorded jazz, showcased some witty banter between them on topics from Erie City Council's skunk and woodchuck nightmares and Penndot's pothole hot line to Bogart's wry characters in "Mutiny on the Bounty" and "The African Queen." Their banter was pretty much all improvised - a kind of Ken Nordine "word jazz," tongue-deep-in-cheek, relentless comedy routine. Basically, it was smooth jazz for the tonsils.

But Madden's always learned from everything he's done, stored it on his clipboard, and moved on to new challenges. Some years back, he married vocalist Marilyn Livosky, who helped him remodel his life and their beautiful home, we've just mentioned. Madden is not only busy teaching music, but he performs regularly at various venues, from outdoor concerts to private clubs to area establishments. The Jim Madden Jazz Quartet appears each Friday night at the Papermoon Restaurant
and Jazz Club in downtown Erie, one of the rare places that pays homage to the art of jazz. Madden couldn't be
more thrilled to work there, especially with such consummate musicians as Dave Blaetz on bass, Matt Ferguson on drums, and Alan Zurcher on saxophone. Madden is equally skilled playing classical piano. He has performed with chamber orchestras and, most recently, as the guest pianist with the Erie Philharmonic Orchestra.

It seems everything Madden touches turns into either prose, poetry, rhythm, harmony, laughter, or a pile of sawdust, but usually all of the above. Fortunately, whatever he touches also frequently turns into a work
of art.