First Published by 50+ Magazine
On the surface, Jeff Resnick seems lucky. Lucky that he was asked 40 years ago to compose songs for a recruiting film promoting the Rochester Institute of Technology, and lucky that the rare LP made from those jazz songs currently fetches $650 among record collectors. Resnick bristles, however, at being called “lucky.” That isn’t surprising, given that Resnick doesn’t benefit from the high prices paid for his album; the record collectors who held onto the album do. When describing the project, he said, “Maybe it was meant to be, but it wasn’t luck.”
What, then, enabled Resnick to create music that has endured the test of time, win an award for his teaching, develop a successful advertising agency, and self-publish 20 books? It can only be luck if you call to mind the quote attributed to author Coleman Cox: “I am a great believer in luck. The harder I work, the more of it I seem to have.” Resnick’s passion for music, teaching, writing and people has seeped into everything he has done. He describes passion as “the essence of life.”
“If you don’t have passion for something, don’t bother doing it,” said Resnick, who is 70 and now lives in Virginia. A passion for music gripped Resnick early in life, and he played for much of his youth, including professional gigs starting at age 12. Though his father wanted him to study engineering rather than music in college, he couldn’t help but follow his passion, and he thrived once he did. Resnick’s music degrees led him to a teaching position at Genesee Community College in Batavia, New York, from 1973 to 1978. While there, he made a name for himself, and led a student jazz ensemble. After he conducted the ensemble one night, a young filmmaker approached and asked that he compose a score for a recruiting film for the Rochester Institute of Technology. Resnick agreed, and asked his musician friends to help him produce the album on a minuscule budget.
Resnick composed different tone poems to represent each department in RIT’s School for American Craftsmen and School of Art & Design, nine in all, including Wood, Metal, Weaving, Glass, Clay, Painting, Printmaking, Foundations, and Communications Design. Although the late arrival of the sound engineer almost derailed the album production, Resnick and the other musicians dedicated their day to recording the music, even blowing off their night gigs to get it done. Now, 40 years later, record label Outernational Sounds is re-releasing the album on vinyl to serve an ongoing demand for what European record collectors describe as “The Holy Grail.” The new release went on sale Dec. 4, 2017, with an initial run of 500 copies. Once these have sold, they will press 500 more.
Why do collectors covet the album? “Frankly, it was way ahead of its time,” Resnick says. “Raw. Unexpected. Fusion. One of the first to successfully combine traditional instrumentation with the modern world of music electronics - synthesizers. The European collectors are both avid and rabid!” The resurgence of the album has gotten Resnick thinking about how his love of music has impacted his life. “Early passions grab us early in life, but life takes us in other directions,” he said. “It’s interesting how these early passions come full circle.”
Resnick recently self-published a book about these resurfacing passions, Our Earliest Passions Shape Our Future. Multiple friends and colleagues contributed stores, including a former student, Bill Mancuso, and Resnick’s 17-year-old granddaughter, a talented artist in her own right. The book is a natural evolution of the re-release of the album, and Resnick hopes it will help bring about interest in the music. This is not his first writing endeavor, however; throughout his career he has self-published 20 books. “I can’t stop…It’s like an addiction,” Resnick said about writing. “Sometimes it feels like too much, but then the next day, I start up again and keep going.”
That ability to start up again and keep going has served Resnick well at multiple times in his life. Just after the album was released, Resnick found himself in an interesting predicament. He was called in to the college president’s office in the morning to receive the New York State Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. Just a few hours later, however, the president called him in again to tell him he was one of many teachers being let go. That was a shock. One year away from being tenured, Resnick was the unlucky victim of finance-driven layoffs. “I was pretty depressed for a while about my teaching job ending,” he said. He had two young daughters, and he and his wife were paying a mortgage on a new house.
His tenacity kept him going, however. “You dig in and make things happen,” he said, and he was happy to have the album and music ability in his back pocket. To keep his family financially afloat, Resnick used his experience recoding music to develop ads and jingles for local businesses. Even though he had no advertising training or experience, he built up a solid client roster because he spent time talking to business owners and learning about their stores. Eventually, his endeavor became a successful national advertising agency. Mancuso said about Resnick, “Whatever he does - writing, playing music, voice-over, advertising, teaching, whatever-he will absolutely do the best he can possibly do, and do it with love. Love of the process and love of the people.”
Another friend, artist Alan Hailston, added, “What strikes me the most about Jeff is his kind, articulate and helpful demeanor, his great sense of humor, and his ability to quickly connect ideas with others. Jeff is extremely intuitive and creative, both in writing and music, not to mention his advertising flair.” In 1997, Resnick sold his ad agency, and he and his wife moved to Williamsburg, Virginia. While living there, Resnick performed a one-man show that was a tribute to American music. That concert led to a series of 10 CDs of American standards.
Resnick also has a podcast called The Jazz Storyteller - “a finely woven tapestry of colorful characters brought together in the world of improvisational jazz and the richness that accompanies the Jazz lifestyle,” according to one of the many glowing reviews on his website. The first five of 57 chapters can be accessed free on his site, www.jeffresnick.com. He and his wife recently moved to Midlothian, Virginia to be closer to their daughter and her family, but Resnick has not stopped working. He continues to write, and is developing a stage play and TV pilots. “In about 10 years, maybe an agent will see one and want to pick it up,” he joked. With is passion and hard work, Resnick will likely continue to stumble upon some good luck.