As a little boy taking piano lessons, Luca Rodoni had such terrible stage fright he would run away and hide behind a compost pile rather than perform at his music teacher's home recitals.
That went on for years. The teacher told his parents not to force him to perform. “When he's ready, he'll come and play,” she assured them.
“Now I'm ready,” Rodoni said, smiling. “Now it's what I love to do.”
Today the 16-year-old Bozeman High School student is a dedicated trumpet player with ambitions to launch a career as a professional jazz musician.
“In my 20 years of teaching, he is the best jazz improviser I've had,” said Kelly Berdahl, high school band director.
Though only a sophomore, Rodoni has been selected to perform with the Jazz Band of America this March in Indianapolis. Only 18 students from across the country were chosen, based on their taped auditions. He is one of just four trumpeters.
Rodoni said he took up the trumpet in fifth grade, when most Bozeman students start learning a band or orchestra instrument. By seventh grade, he started his own band. He quit ski racing and dreams of the Olympics to dedicate himself to music.
“I hated to perform. I had terrible stage fright – until I started the trumpet and was just having a blast.”
On school days he practices three or four hours a day. On vacations and weekends, he said he practices eight to 12 hours. That includes arranging and composing on the piano as well as playing the trumpet.
“I really believe in ‘Will over skill' — hard work, hard work,” Rodoni said. “It's kind of my motto.”
Rodoni has written out his goals and plastered them to his bed, wall, phone and computer. One goal was to play in the Jazz Band of America — someday. “It's something I never thought I'd do as a sophomore,” he said.
“He's extremely driven and focused,” Berdahl said.
Rodoni loves playing with local professional jazz musicians, and counts among his mentors Craig Hall, Jake Fleming, Kelly Roberti and the Platt brothers. He sometimes plays gigs at the Plonk wine bar downtown. He nicknamed his trumpet Milo after one of his jazz heroes, Miles Davis.
Last summer he attended the Stanford Jazz Institute to play with other top young musicians.
“My goal is I really want to be a jazz performer and band leader with my own arrangements and composition,” he said. “I'm hoping to have a prolific performing career, tour the world, spread my music across the world, and get the younger generation (excited about jazz). I'd love to teach.”
Rodoni said he owes a lot to his Bozeman school music teachers — Berdahl, Laurie Hickman and Debi Biegel — and his professional mentors.
“The Bozeman music scene, though it's in Montana, is very strong,” he said. “The best way I can learn the language is when I play with people. There's nothing better.”
Rodoni said neither of his parents is a musician. His dad, Doro, the son of Italian Swiss immigrants, works in a tile shop and his mother, Martina, has a home skin care business.
“Their biggest regret is they were not able to play music,” Rodoni said, so his parents “forced” him and his older brother, Diego, to take piano lessons as children.
“It's hands-on the best decision they made,” he said.
Gail Schontzler can be reched at firstname.lastname@example.org or 582-2633.