For over fifty years, Joseph D. Sefcik was highly regarded as one of the finest drum teachers in all of New England. A great number of his students commuted long distances every week just to study with him.
Long before Sefcik was known as the man who taught Joe Morello how to play drums; he had established impeccable credentials as a premier percussionist and drummer at the legendary Valley Arena in the city of Holyoke, Massachusetts.
Every major act had perfomed there at one time or another. This included The Dorsey Brothers, Lionel Hampton, Sammy Kaye, Count Basie and untold others. With all of this ongoing notoriety, Sefcik was repeatedly offered countless opportunities to travel with a host of well - known bands. Yet, Joe preferred staying close to home with his family, full time teaching practice, and steady job at the Valley Arena.
Joe studied with Morris Goldenberg who was originally from Holyoke, and a faculty member at the Julliard School of Music in New York City. Joe’s other distinguished teachers included Billy Gladstone, Alfred Friese, George Lawrence Stone, George Willets, and Charley Wilcoxon.
Joe Sefcik absolutely loved teaching the drums; it was his passion. Studying with Sefcik was a rite of passage for countless young drummers eager to learn and master the instrument. Joe knew almost everyone in the music business; including a large contingent of drummers across the United States and Canada. Every time Joe learned something new, he passed it on to his students. He always strived to incorporate the latest drum methods into his teachings. Joe taught at the Pizzitola Music Studios in Holyoke, Mass. located on the second floor above the Victory Theater at the corner of Suffolk and Chestnut Streets. Although vacant since 1979, the original building is still standing. Back in the 1960’s, the aroma of Sefcik’s cigar smoke filled the air. Joe was a very strict disciplinarian who demanded excellence from himself, and all others. If a student showed up to a lesson and hadn’t practiced; there was going to be a serious scolding ahead.
“I recall one time when a student before me hadn't practiced as much as Joe thought he should have. He grabbed his books and threw them out the second-floor window onto the street.”
- Ron Hurst (John Kay & Steppenwolf)
Studying with Joe was an adventure in itself. Sefcik and his trademark cigar would get right in your face, yelling out commands like a drill sergeant. He had absolutely no tolerance for students who didn’t practice their lessons. Joe dismissed a number of students over the years for not doing what was expected.
“You had to be a serious and self-motivated student to study with him. Sefcik knew immediately if you were bluffing your lesson. He would ask, Why did you not practice? What did I not make clear to you? The pressure was always there to be the very best you could be.”
- Greg Caputo
Of all Joe Sefcik’s many students, it was Joe Morello who achieved the greatest notoriety. Even as a teenager, Joe would practice eight hours a day. On one occasion, Sefcik took Morello to hear Louie Bellson, who was with Count Basie at the time. Louie showed Morello a fast rudimental pattern; and asked Joe to play it. Morello then played it twice as fast as Bellson. This kept happening repeatedly. No matter what Bellson played, Morello would proceed to play it faster, and more precise. It was then that an exasperated Louie Bellson acknowledged that Joe Morello was destined for greatness.
Joe was playing his drums at a family gathering when he suffered a major heart attack, from which he never recovered. Sefcik passed away at the age of 72. Years later, his storied career and legacy are still alive. Joseph D. Sefcik’s numerous contributions to the history of drumming in America will always be remembered.
Growing Up In The Shadow of Joe Morello: Part Two continues next month featuring insights and recollections of drummer Joe Sefcik by six of his former students… David Barsalou, Gregory Caputo, Jim Cote, Tim Griffin, Ron Hurst, and Chet Pasek.