Joseph Alessi, Jr. was born in 1959 in Detroit, Michigan and attended high school in San Rafael, California. His father, Joseph Alessi, Sr., was a professional trumpet player and his mother sang in the Metropolitan Opera chorus. His younger brother Ralph Alessi is a jazz trumpeter. Displaying notable talent himself from an early age, Alessi graduated early from high school at age 16 and successfully auditioned to join the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra. During this time he appeared as a soloist with the San Francisco Symphony. In 1976-77, following a previous unsuccessful audition, Alessi gained entry to the Curtis Institute of Music (in Philadelphia), where he studied until 1980.
During his third year at Curtis, Alessi joined the Philadelphia Orchestra as caretaker Second Trombone; he later won the job permanently and performed with the orchestra for four seasons. Following one season as Principal Trombone at the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Alessi joined the New York Philharmonic as Principal Trombone in the Spring of 1985.
Alessi made his solo debut with the New York Philharmonic in 1990 when he performed the Fantasy for Trombone by Paul Creston. In 1992, he performed with the New York Philharmonic in the world premiere of the Trombone Concerto by Christopher Rouse, which later received the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Music. Alessi has since developed an increasingly active solo career, performing throughout the United States and internationally. His discography consists of over 14 full-length albums, in addition to guest appearances on albums by other artists. Recordings of the Rouse Concerto have been released by the New York Philharmonic and the Colorado Symphony, both featuring Alessi as soloist. His 1999 recording of Star-Child, by George Crumb, was voted Best Classical Contemporary Composition at the 43rd Grammy Awards in 2001.
Alessi joined the faculty of The Juilliard School in 1986, shortly after his joining the New York Philharmonic. The Juilliard trombone studio has since furthered its international reputation as one of the finest trombone college programs, and the Juilliard Trombone Choir has regularly performed with Alessi on his recording projects. Since 1999 Alessi has conducted the Alessi Seminar; a biennial trombone workshop that attracts trombonists from around the world to spend time with him in lessons, masterclasses, and recitals. Several of his past students now occupy senior positions in major orchestras throughout the world.
Joseph Alessi and Swedish trombone virtuoso Christian Lindberg are widely regarded as the finest players of the instrument today, arguably the finest in history. In recognition of Alessi's immense contributions to the world of trombone music and trombone playing, he was awarded the 2002 ITA Award; the most prestigious award offered by the International Trombone Association.
Joseph Alessi's playing is often noted for refined musicianship, a particularly rich sound quality and complete technical control. He embodies the American style: a clean, singing tone with occasional vibrato, and consistent sound throughout the instrument's entire register. The music he chooses to play is mainly romantic and modern (but mainly tonal) music, while also developing his jazz playing.
Alessi currently performs on a .547" B♭/F Tenor Trombone (T396-A) made by the Edwards Instrument Company, for whom Alessi is an Artist-Clinician. He uses a custom-designed range of mouthpieces, The Alessi Series, made in conjunction with Christan Griego.
The recordings that Joseph Alessi has made include the following:
- Mahler:Symphonie No. 3 in D Minor, New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein
- Return to Sorrento, Naxos Records
- Illuminations, Joe Alessi with the University of New Mexico Wind Symphony, Summit Records DCD-367
- Four of a Kind 2, Take me out to the ball game, Joe Alessi, Blair Bollinger, Scott Hartman, and Mark Lawrence, Summit Records, DCD-345
- Trombonastics, Summit Records, DCD-314
- An American Celebration; Volume II' including live recording of Rouse Concerto with the New York Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic Special Editions
- New York Legends, Joseph Alessi, Principal Trombone, New York Philharmonic, 1998, Cala Records, Ltd
- Slide Area, Joe Alessi with Jonathan Feldman (piano) 1992, Summit Records
- Fandango Joseph Alessi, Jr with Philip Smith (trumpet) of the New York Philharmonic, performed with the University of New Mexico Wind Symphony, Summit Records, DCD-271
- Four of a Kind, Music for Trombone Quartet, Joe Alessi, Blair Bollinger, Scott Hartman, and Mark Lawrence, Summit Records, DCD-123
- Beyond the End of the Century by Joseph Alessi and Jonathan Feldman (piano), Summit Records, DCD-309
- Trombones Under the Tree, Summit Records. DCD-146
- Song of Exuberance, 2001, Metro Brass
- Collage, the New York Trombone Quartet Plays!, by Joseph Alessi, Edward Neumeister, and James E. Pugh
- Bone-A-Fide Brass by Joseph Alessi and Imperial Brass, Summit Records. DCD-480
- Visions of Light with the Columbus State University Wind Ensemble, Summit Records. DCD-486