Maurizio Russomanno is an American singer-songwriter, known for his curious lyrics, warm singing style and expressive guitar playing.
Maurizio grew up with fond memories of his mother singing him to sleep, his head on her shoulder, as she walked the second floor of their two-level home. Music was and still is a healing common thread in the family. His older brother Dominic would play all of the popular music of the 60s and 70s, (The Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones etc.) while a young Maurizio (not yet four years old) would listen, joyfully bouncing up and down on his brother’s bed. His brother called this his ‘experiment’, to see what kind of positive effects this might have. It must have had some effect, as later years would show; Maurizio had an uncanny knack for singing melodies over any type of music.
Maurizio’s mother Franceschina was a force of nature. She was an expert cook, gardener, canner, seamstress, master of needlework, lover of music, and president of the Franciscan Third Order. All of these passions were a reflection of her devotion to family and it was her faith that carried her through the toughest of times, having lost her husband and 25 year old daughter within a few years of each other. Being outdoors brought her great peace and a connection to something grand and mysterious. She would comment from time to time, how amazing the diversity of nature is – not a single blade of grass the same. It was with this sense of wonder that Maurizio was raised by his mother to be creative, to go outside and build things, to seek adventures in the woods, to draw, to run, to do all the things that would build a child’s imagination.
Maurizio was writing and singing his first songs as soon as he could talk and write. “I remember singing one of the first songs I ever wrote, to my older sister Ornella and her friend Brigid. It was in celebration of the first snow and nearly brought me to tears while singing it. The song was about a snowman who was loving the early snow, but then realized there would still be warm days before the full of winter and he would soon melt. Maybe the inspiration came from Frosty the Snowman? There was something of a sadness/sensitivity that seemed to live inside of me at even a young age. My childhood was filled with love and maybe it was love that made me feel so much, with music serving as a kind of emotional outlet.”
The death of my sister Grace when I was 8 and death of my father (Bruno) a few years later can be compared to that of a nuclear bomb going off. Nothing is ever the same again. It strikes at your very core and you move forward with what you have left, but there is always an unfillable hole. The thing is- I understand that nobody is exempt from losing the ones they love. We all experience great loss, and it affects us in ways which can’t be seen or tangibly understood. You simply know, things aren’t the way they were before. My mom said, I was on the sensitive side, so I’m guessing the combination of my mother’s passionate way of living and early loss laid the groundwork for me to become a singer-songwriter. You have all these thoughts, ideas, curiosities’ that fill you up to the point of feeling as if you might erupt and what better way than to channel and share this through writing and singing?
My mom suffered a devastating stroke at 78, on a beautiful late summer day. I remember her coming in from the garden, all sweaty and full of life. I remember her, just a few minutes later, talking to my sister Ornella on the phone and saying how great she was feeling. I was living with my mom at the time and was getting ready to go to an all-day bachelor party. We didn’t speak much that day. I didn’t realize that would be the last time she would be able to speak. As I was leaving for the party, I remember her sitting in the easy-chair and not saying much. All she said was that I should join her at my sister Rose’s later in the afternoon to play some bocce. I was short with her and went on my way to the bachelor party. The bachelor party was about an hour away and the entire time I was there, I couldn’t help this uneasy feeling that something was wrong. I had this strong urge to drive back home. The bachelor party began to wind-down around early evening, and I still couldn’t shake the feeling of needing to get home. I was giving some friends from the party a ride home and that’s when I received the call from my brother Dominic that my mom had suffered a massive stroke and might not survive. When I arrived at the hospital my mother was in a coma and the family in shock. As days passed my mother’s will to live got the upper-hand, and she began to slowly gain consciousness. She was left permanently paralyzed on her right side and lost all of her speech with the exception of one word ‘nonna’, which means grandmother in Italian.
My mother, a fiercely independent woman would now require full-time care. My sister Rose and her husband Al would take on this responsibility, and from that point on, I would visit my mom most every evening, with guitar in hand and ready to sing. If there was any silver lining to be found in such a cruel event, it was the fact my mom could still sing! I learned that music is not stored in the same place that language is. My mom loved to sing, and knew upwards of a thousand songs, comprised of mostly Italian Folk and Opera. And so it began, what I thought would be me helping and entertaining my mom would actually be a two-way street.
A tribute to my mom…
I remember in the early years of my guitar playing, I tried playing one of my mom’s favorite Italian Folk songs, ‘Santa Lucia.’ I just couldn’t get the rhythm right. It was in ¾ time and my guitar playing skills just weren’t up to the task. I still remember trying to force my simple rhythmic style onto the song, with my mom and I laughing at my futile, yet comical attempt. Fast forward a year after my mom had her stroke and although I could now play Santa Lucia pretty well, I was by no means going to get any better unless somebody or something stepped in and helped. I continued playing and singing Santa Lucia with my mom, among a few other folk songs. It brought my mom a level of joy and satisfaction to be engaged in something that she always loved. As months turned into years, I was for the most part playing the same handful of songs for my mom, and although I enjoyed playing them, I was beginning to get bored, and so as boredom is the mother of innovation, I began to play the songs in a variety of different ways. I would play Santa Lucia, ‘O Sole Mio and others – fast with flamenco arpeggiation, reggae, staccato, percussive, upside-down, backwards, improvised lyrics –whatever I could think of was getting an equal share of attention. Doing so brought new life to the songs and opened up a new road of musical adventure I never saw coming. It was soon after that I had the inevitable thought to start incorporating this ‘in the moment’, reactive – expressive style of playing, into my live performances. And at the ripe young age of my middle 40s my concerts began to take on a new life. A playful life, filled with adventure and passion that was responding to the moment. My musical canvas was wide open, choosing from a palette of thoughts that would arise and come through in song. This new found process of performing was a rebirth of sorts and I haven’t looked back. I feel much closer and authentic in what I do and hope my audience feels that same sense of sincerity and wonder.
I keep a bullet list of inspirational quotes I have come up with over these past years, which I read before my gigs – to serve as a reminder of where my head and heart should be. Here are the ones I try to keep in mind the most…
Be playful like I am with mamma
Play with Love
Make it happen in the moment – don’t let the moment control me