Al progressed from bugle to the trumpet in junior high and high school. His father also taught him mandolin and clarinet. By age 16, he was playing with some of the big bands, including Louie Prima. But all that changed when Al turned 17, and volunteered for the army. He auditioned for, and made, the First Division Army Band. It was a 100-piece band that traveled and played all over Europe. “I have the gift of languages,” said Al in the telling of his army story. “I speak five.” He then proceeds to rattle off full, fluent paragraphs in Italian, German, Spanish, and Yiddish. He says a couple of phrases in French, noting that he’s not as fluent in that anymore. “I learned German because I had a German girlfriend,” he noted. “The Italian I got from my parents. My mom taught me Yiddish.” Al’s mother wasn’t Jewish, but her sister had married a Jewish man so she too had learned the language. She passed it on to her children, which would come in handy for Al later in life. After two stints in the army, Al finally was able to earn his master’s in music education from New York University. He taught instrumental music at Gompers and Truman High Schools in the Bronx, inspiring generations of students to pursue a career in music. (Many, now in their 50s, keep in touch and even stop by and visit.) During summers, he’d perform with his band, Taste of Brass, at the Concord Hotel in the Catskills. It was a kosher hotel that attracted a Jewish clientele, and it was there that Al’s Yiddish came in handy. “They called me the Italian Yiddisher or the Yiddish-speaking Italiano,” he said. “They even hired me to entertain during the Jewish holidays because I could speak Yiddish.” Al remembers many a guest who would take bets on whether or not he was Jewish. “What does it matter?” he’d say in response. And they would go away forming their own opinions. At the Concord, Al played alongside such talent as Johnny Mathis, Jerry Seinfeld, Willie Nelson, Paul Anka, and Chazz Palminteri. He played at the wedding of Buddy Hackett’s daughter. He was a sought-after dance companion for the female guests. He even danced the mambo backstage with Mitzi Gaynor. It was at the Concord that he met his wife, Lorraine. She was there with her girlfriend on location and remembers the first encounter. “We were sitting on the chaise lounge chairs, and he walked by and said, ‘Hi, Dimples,’ to my friend, Rita.” Then Al stopped and looked at Lorraine. “Sophia Loren, what are you doing here?” The two remained friends for the first three years, and then their relationship blossomed. They married in 1973, a union that ultimately resulted in four children: Alex, Danielle, Christine, and John. Al taught them all to play instruments and three of the four pursued, or are pursuing musical careers. Al and Lorraine moved to South Jersey in 2003 after they became empty nesters. It hasn’t slowed them down one bit. Al keeps active with his music — playing with the South Jersey Wind Ensemble and at the Four Seasons in Smithville. He’s working on a pep song for a contest for Stockton University. And he and Lorraine still regularly entertain former students who visit. “They’re inspired by him,” said Lorraine. “He has students who have gone on to play in symphony orchestras.” Al smiles and shares one of the many plaques that adorn his walls. “For Loyal and Dedicated Service,” it reads. “Still Remembered by Students After 50 Years.” The next generation of music is in good hands, thanks to Music Man Al Altieri. n
Pictured from top to bottom, Altieri’s trumpet; Al and Lorraine Altieri; Al playing the trumpet.
LIFESTYLE | Summer 2016