by Len Lear
About 300 attendees at the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s annual fundraiser, the Black and White Gala, on Saturday, Oct 14, under a tent in front of Chestnut Hill Hospital, enjoyed the music of Rich Posmontier and his jazzy ensemble, and everyone present survived the event.
I mention that because it has not always been the case. In an interview the week after the Gala, Rich, who has lived in Wyndmoor for the last 23 years with his wife Leigh Ann and son Andrew, told us that he has played music at an astonishing 2,500 weddings over the last 30 years. Most have faded from memory, of course, but there were two he will definitely never forget.
“We played at two different weddings where someone has had a heart attack and died on the dance floor,” he recalled. “It’s quite disturbing, and I hope it wasn’t a response to our band. At one wedding the father of the bride told us to keep playing. I didn’t know what to play, so we stopped and waited for the paramedics to come!
“On a lighter note, we often have brides and grooms and friends who want to sit in and sing or play with the band. The guests get a kick out of it, and we enjoy it, but every once in a while someone can actually sing! We used to play for weddings frequently at the Wharton-Sinkler estate in Wyndmoor. A number of years ago, a small tornado whipped through the area (before we came to play), and knocked out the power. We played that day as an acoustic group, and made a great party! When the Pope came to Philadelphia a couple of years ago, the bride’s father surprised the bride by coming out dressed as the Pope in full regalia and did a 10-minute stand-up comedy routine.”
When asked his age, Rich fudged. “I’m old enough to have played in the Catskills when I was a teenager during the summers at the New York Jewish resorts, also known as the Borscht Belt, and young enough to stay on top of new music and trends.”
Rich grew up in the Oxford Circle section of Northeast Philadelphia and attended Northeast High School. He then went to Temple University but did not major in music. He has two older brothers who are also musicians and who went to Temple and Drexel, respectively, but also did not major in music.
“Although we all played music through college and beyond, my mother always told us to major in something else so we’d have something to fall back on,” said Rich. “So far, my brother Dave and I have not had to fall back!” Rich’s oldest brother, has for many years been a computer consultant for small businesses. Rich was a radio and television major at Temple, but even while going to school, he was playing music six nights a week in clubs and traveling.
“I decided that since I knew what I was going to do for a living I didn’t need to finish college, so I left in my third year and never looked back! The only ‘day job’ I ever had was for a couple of months at Christmas time back in the ’80s selling audio equipment at a now-defunct electronics chain called Silo. I wasn’t a very good salesman because I didn’t push people into buying things they didn’t need.”
Rich started playing music at about 8 years old. “I think the reason I wanted to do it is because my older brothers played music and were making money from it as teenagers. It looked like fun, and every young boy wants to do with their older siblings are doing so they can feel more grown up.”
Rich studied classical music as a young boy and still does. “I firmly believe that the only way to become proficient on an instrument is to study classical music and learn how to read and write music and really be articulate on your instrument. It can only help in everything else that you do, no matter what style or form of music. Having said that, I was always drawn to jazz, even as a young boy. When my friends were listening to the pop hits of the day, I would only listen to Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Cannonball Adderley and only to jazz.
“When I was young, my father was a classical music aficionado and listened for many hours a day to classical music. He liked modern composers like Stravinsky and Mahler and also the old masters like Beethoven, Brahms and Bach. He tried to steer us into playing more classical music, but late at night when he was in the basement tinkering in his shop, he would listen to jazz. It seemed so illicit that naturally we gravitated toward that.”
As a child, Rich took classes at Settlement Music School. Several years ago, Settlement honored their most famous alumni, and Dave and Rich were among them. They held a gala to honor “The Settlement 100” and presented each one with a plaque. “The 100 included many notables,” said Rich, “including Kevin Bacon and Albert Einstein. I was in good company!”
Rich started out playing trumpet and did that until his mid-20s, when he switched to drums and percussion because of an abdominal injury. He then studied with several drum and percussion teachers and began playing congas, timbales and Latin percussion. He and Dave started an original jazz group in the 80s called The Posmontier Brothers Quintet, and released a vinyl album!
“It’s still available! It’s all original music and is a mix of traditional jazz, Latin and funky jazz. We had a great response doing concerts, clubs and live radio broadcasts on WHYY-FM for Bob Perkins as well as live concerts broadcast on WRTI. For a couple of weeks in 1985, our album was the number one played album on Philadelphia jazz radio!”
TO BE CONTINUED