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Beyond the Office: Tony Piazza plays the jazz trombone

Special Counsel performing at the VLSP Art of Lawyering reception. Nora A. Jones

As a high school student in the 1970s, Anthony J. Piazza played trombone in the school band, taught by an enthusiastic teacher who took his students to Europe — four years in a row. Yes, before Piazza even started college, he’d been to Dublin, London, Nice and Rome, playing trombone as part of the Bishop Kearney Marching Band.

Where it started

Growing up in Irondequoit, Piazza took piano lessons at Hochstein School of Music, starting at age five or six.

“I was taught piano, music theory and music appreciation, and performed in recitals,” he said. “I loved the atmosphere at Hochstein. There were different sounds coming from every room.”

By middle school, the trombone was the next challenge.

Anthony Piazza

“In the ’70s, Bishop Kearney had an amazing band, directed by Ray Shahin,” Piazza said. “He was one of those people you remember; very encouraging. He took us to Europe every year, and we performed in the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin, and for the pope at the Vatican. The students went for free, since we raised the money with pancake breakfasts and car washes. It was such an incredible opportunity.”

By the time he was senior in high school, Piazza competed on a statewide level, and was chosen to play in the New York State All-State Jazz Ensemble.

At SUNY Binghamton, Piazza continued his musical pursuits while completing his Bachelor of Arts in political science. He entered college knowing that he wanted to become a lawyer. While there, he served as student director of the SUNY Binghamton Jazz Ensemble.

All that jazz

While at Villanova University School of Law in suburban Philadelphia, Piazza’s trombone remained in its case. And, it was pretty much untouched for the next dozen or more years.

Around 2004, he volunteered to put together a jazz quartet for a Monroe County Bar Association event, Battle of the Bands. That group included several local attorneys including Jonathan Feldman (Empire Justice) on piano, Mike Cooney (Nixon Peabody) on bass, and Tom Hampson (Harris Beach) on drums.

Jack Allen’s Big Band at the 2009 Rochester International Jazz Festival. Frank DeBlase

Piazza had so much fun playing again, that he decided to join Jack Allen’s Big Band, a Rochester-based ensemble that includes up to 18 instruments and a vocalist. Many of the band’s bookings are for an eight- or 10-piece ensemble. In 2007, Jack Allen’s Big Band was one of the street acts during the Rochester International Jazz Festival. In 2010, they were asked to return to the Rochester Jazz Festival as a club venue attraction.

“What great fun,” Piazza said, sharing his jazz festival experience. He was a featured soloist on a few songs. “We attracted a pretty good-sized crowd, and got a good write-up” in the City Paper.

Piazza is also a regular at a local jam session, during which 20-some musicians get together for two hours on Saturdays, whenever their schedules permit.

“This was started by a local retired physician, Jack Presberg, who is an excellent piano player. It’s a great outlet for improvising,” Piazza said. “Sometimes there are only a few players available, other times we have fuller ranks and play to an audience of some sort, such as at the Elwanger House near the U of R.”

Having created Special Counsel for the MCBA Battle of the Bands, Piazza was able to pull together the same act for the opening reception of the inaugural Art of Lawyering exhibit in 2007. University of Rochester attorney Rick Crummins subbed for Feldman for the 2007 gig.

Special Counsel came back in 2009 for the second Art of Lawyering reception. And, if you attended the recent 2011 VLSP reception, you saw Feldman and Piazza, playing with a couple of musicians from the Saturday jam sessions.

Career and family

As an active Volunteer Legal Services Project volunteer, Piazza makes calls for Campaign for Justice.

A 1982 graduate of Villanova University School of Law, Piazza started his career in Philadelphia, with his college-sweetheart, now-wife, Marigrace Barone at his side. She also had Rochester roots, so as they started a family, relocating to Rochester suited both of them.

While in Philadelphia, Piazza worked as in-house counsel for Firemans Fund Insurance Co. When an opportunity arose at Saperston & Day’s Rochester office, Piazza relocated, continuing his concentration in insurance law. A few years after that, Hiscock Barclay merged with Saperston, expanding the overall reach of the combined firms.

Piazza was appointed the first managing director of Hiscock’s Rochester office. The current Rochester team includes 35 attorneys, and the firm also has offices in Syracuse, Albany, Buffalo, New York and Boston. Piazza is chair of Hiscock & Barclay’s Insurance Coverage & Regulation Practice Area. His experience has prompted national insurance companies to retain him on a regional and statewide basis.

A member of the MCBA and the New York State Bar Association, Piazza is also a former president of the Volunteer Legal Services Project, and an active volunteer for that organization. In order to help pay back his debt to Hochstein School of Music and Dance, he joined its board of directors in 2010.

Daughters Elise and Nina are both pursuing advanced degrees at this point in their lives. Elise is in a doctoral program at the University of California at Berkeley, studying vision science. Nina, majoring in Chinese and biology, is a senior at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., and will be returning to the University of Rochester for medical school. Both girls learned to play piano as children and Elise went on to play clarinet; Nina plays percussion.

As part of her studies, Nina has been to China more than once, and Piazza and his wife visited her in China just a few months ago.

“It’s a 12-hour flight over the North Pole,” Piazza said. “The sights were beautiful, and the food was great. It was a trip of a lifetime.” 

Other interests

Piazza also puts a lot of miles on his bicycle. Modestly talking about riding once or twice a week, he mentions participating in 40- to 50-mile rides, and having done at least one 100-mile trek. On a couple of occasions, he participated in the annual bike ride that takes place the first Sunday in May, traveling through all five boroughs of New York City.

“There are 30,000 cyclists who participate in Bike New York; its crazy,” he said, with a hint of playfulness. “There’s a big party on Staten Island at the end of the ride. It is an amazing way to see New York City.” 

For a number of years, Piazza sailed in the Finger Lakes and on Lake Ontario. He also enjoys reading non-fiction books on his Kindle.