Frank Potenza (guitarist)

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Frank Potenza
Performing at Brand Library & Art Center 2014
Performing at Brand Library & Art Center 2014
Background information
Born (1950-02-10) February 10, 1950 (age 70)
Providence, Rhode Island
Occupation(s)Guitarist, arranger, composer, educator
LabelsAzica, CAPRI Records Ltd.
Associated actsGene Harris

Frank Potenza (born February 10, 1950) is an American jazz guitarist. A protégé of the late guitarist Joe Pass, he is a longtime performer and educator on the Southern California scene and beyond. Potenza is included in The Great Jazz Guitarists: The Ultimate Guide,[1] by jazz critic and historian, Scott Yanow. He is a regular at “John Pisano's Guitar Night," which, for over two decades, has showcased jazz guitarists in various venues throughout the Los Angeles area.[2]

Early life[edit]

Growing up in Providence, Rhode Island, Frank Potenza started out playing his sister Norma's acoustic guitar. Later, at age 12, he fell under the influence of his cousin, Jimmy Gagliardi, who “played and sang in rock and roll shows and nightclubs,” drove a convertible, smoked Lucky Strikes, and was “the epitome of cool.”[1] Gagliardi taught Potenza guitar parts from the great R&B songs of the day, especially Duane Eddy and Bill Doggett tunes. He was initially exposed to jazz via his father's record collection, but by his early teens, Potenza was hooked on the electric guitar sounds of rock and roll.[1]

By the early 70s, Potenza found his way back to jazz, particularly on first hearing the bluesy virtuosity of George Benson, which led him to other jazz guitarists like Pat Martino and Wes Montgomery.[1] After high school, he attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston, graduating in 1972 with a Bachelor's in music. Over the remainder of the 70s, Potenza performed with a variety of jazz bands at clubs around New England, including a stint with local jazz multi-instrumentalist, Diamond Centofanti.[1]

Association with Joe Pass[edit]

In 1974, Potenza took his father to see Joe Pass perform a solo engagement at the Jazz Workshop in Boston.[1] Pass albums such as Intercontinental, Virtuoso, and The Trio (featuring Pass with Oscar Peterson and Neils Pedersen), had by then made Potenza a big fan. After the concert, Potenza made his way to Pass' dressing room, shook his hand, and asked if he was giving lessons while in town. According to Potenza, "I had my first lesson with him the very next day, and that was the beginning of a 20-year friendship with him. It was a great blessing to be able to spend as much time as I got to spend with Joe."[1] Their friendship lasted until May 1994, when Pass succumbed to liver cancer.[3]

Jazz educator[edit]

In 1981, Potenza moved to Los Angeles. From 1981 to 1995, he was an adjunct instructor on the Commercial Music Program faculty at Long Beach City College. During this time, the Commercial Music Program was directed by Dr. George Shaw, who was instrumental in bringing in a series of guest artists to play with the student big band.[1] These artists, according to Potenza, “commonly asked for a professional rhythm section to play for them, and I was fortunate to get the chance to play with Dizzy Gillespie, Bill Watrous, Wilton Felder, Ronnie Laws, Joe Pass, and others.”[1]    

In 1995, Potenza joined the faculty of the Studio/Jazz Guitar Department at the University of Southern California's Flora L. Thornton School of Music.[4] In 2000, he completed his Masters in Music at California State University in Los Angeles. Shortly after, Potenza was promoted to the rank of Full Professor with tenure at USC. In 2006, he became chair of the Studio/Jazz Guitar Department at USC, stepping down in 2018. Potenza remains part of the program's faculty lineup.[5]


Throughout the 1980s, Potenza recorded a cluster of jazz albums for TBA Records as a solo artist,[6] one of which, Soft & Warm,[7] rose to the Top 10 in Billboard magazine's Contemporary Jazz listings, while Sand Dance[8] made the Top 15. From 1984 - 1985, he toured with jazz saxophonist Ronnie Laws (younger brother of flautist, Hubert Laws).

In 1996, in the midst of recording contemporary jazz albums, both as a sideman and bandleader, he became a touring member of the Gene Harris Quartet,[1] which lasted until Harris’ death in 2000 due to complications from kidney failure.[9] Potenza is a featured soloist on Alley Cats, Harris’ final recording for Concord Records.[10]

About playing with Harris, Potenza said, “Gene inspired me with his soulful, heartfelt playing, and his amazing ability to rise above the health problems he was having. Some nights he would have to be helped to the stage and even to the piano bench, but Gene would summon up his energy, and in no time he was swinging and jubilant, leading the quartet with a vitality that could only be attributed to the healing power of music itself.”[1]    

The guitarist has also been featured in collaborative performances with such artists as George Van Eps, Mose Allison, Joe Diorio, Joe Sample, John Pisano, Mundell Lowe, Bud Shank, and Dr. Lonnie Smith.[11][12]

His most recent recording, For Joe (CAPRI Records Ltd.), is a tribute to Joe Pass, who remains one of Potenza's greatest musical influences. For the recording, Potenza was able to pull together the exact same rhythm section Pass used on his classic 1964 album, For Django (Pacific Jazz). The lineup features: John Pisano (guitar), Jim Hughart (bass), and Colin Bailey (drums).[13] For Joe showcases signature Pass originals, such as “A Foxy Chick and a Cool Cat,” “Catch Me,” and such standards as “Beautiful Love” and “Rosetta” that Pass often covered.[13]

"On this superb album, (Potenza) pays homage to the master . . . Potenza and Pisano are, of course, celebrated guitarists . . . and their singular musical personalities and glorious tones infuse every note. Outstanding in every respect, this is one of the best straight-ahead jazz albums I’ve heard in years."[14]Guitar Player (Jan. 2014 issue) review of For Joe

"An accomplished player, Potenza reveals touches of his mentor’s brilliance throughout this heartfelt project."[15]Downbeat (Jan. 2014 issue) review of For Joe

"[Potenza's guitar] possesses one of those sweet singing sounds that stays in your ear long after the notes have faded."[16]Los Angeles Times (Oct. 30, 1997) profile

In 2017, the guitarist's career came full circle when he was inducted into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame.[17] Potenza continues to perform at jazz venues and festivals across the country.



As leader[edit]

  • For Joe (Capri 2012)[18]
  • Old, New, Borrowed & Blue (Capri, 2009)[18]
  • First Takes, Frank Potenza/Shelly Berg Duo (Azica, 2005)[19]
  • The Legacy (Azica, 2003)[19]
  • In My Dreams (Azica, 1999)[19]
  • Express Delivery (TBA, 1990)
  • When We're Alone (TBA, 1988)
  • Soft & Warm (TBA, 1987)
  • Sand Dance (TBA, 1986)

As sideman[edit]

  • Alley Cats, Gene Harris (Concord, 1999)[20]
  • Flutopia, Holly Hofmann (Azica, 1999)[21]
  • High Wire, Sunny Wilkinson (Chartmaker Jazz, 1999)[22]
  • Sunny Wilkinson, Sunny Wilkinson (Positive Music, 1993)[23]
  • Love is a Rush, Wilton Felder (MCA, 1987)[24]
  • Quiet Time, Tim Heintz (TBA, 1987)
  • Encounters, George Shaw (TBA, 1986)
  • Secret Fantasy, Daline Jones (TBA, 1986)
  • Don't Look Back, Damon Rentie (TBA, 1986)
  • Flight 2201, George Shaw & Century 21 (TBA, 1985)
  • Designated Hitter, Damon Rentie (TBA, 1985)
  • High Rise, Scheer Music (TBA, 1984)
  • Rappin' It Up, Scheer Music (TBA, 1982)


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Yanow, Scott (April 1, 2013). The Great Jazz Guitarists: The Ultimate Guide. Backbeat. pp. 154–155. ISBN 9781617130236.
  2. ^ Gladstone, Michael. "John Pisano's Guitar Night". All About Jazz. All About Jazz. Retrieved May 8, 2019.
  3. ^ Oliver, Myrna. "Joe Pass, Versatile Virtuoso of Jazz Guitar, Dies at 65" (May 24, 1994). Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 3, 2019.
  4. ^ "About Thornton". USC Thornton School of Music. University of Southern California. Retrieved May 4, 2019.
  5. ^ "Studio Guitar Faculty". USC Thornton School of Music. University of Southern California. Retrieved May 4, 2019.
  6. ^ Birchmeier, Jason. "Frank Potenza". All Music Guide. AllMusic. Retrieved May 6, 2019.
  7. ^ "Billboard - Top Jazz Albums" (PDF). American Radio History. Billboard. Retrieved May 4, 2019.
  8. ^ "Billboard - Top Jazz Albums" (PDF). American Radio History. Billboard. Retrieved May 6, 2019.
  9. ^ Ratliff, Ben. "Gene Harris, 66, a Jazz Pianist Who Played Bebop and Soul" (Jan. 18, 2000). New York Times. Retrieved May 6, 2019.
  10. ^ Harris, Gene. "Alley Cats / Credits". All Music Guide. AllMusic. Retrieved May 7, 2019.
  11. ^ "Faculty / Frank Potenza". USC Thornton School of Music. University of Southern California. Retrieved May 7, 2019.
  12. ^ Birchmeier, Jason. "Frank Potenza / Biography". All Music Guide. AllMusic. Retrieved May 7, 2019.
  13. ^ a b "Frank Potenza - For Joe". Capri Records. Capri Records Ltd. Retrieved May 7, 2019.
  14. ^ Cleveland, Barry. "Frank Potenza: For Joe". Guitar Player. NewBay's Music Group. Retrieved May 7, 2019.
  15. ^ Milkowski, Bill. "Six-String Theorists". DownBeat. Maher Publications. Retrieved May 7, 2019.
  16. ^ Stewart, Zan. "Career Tune-Up" (Oct. 1997, Page 241). The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 8, 2019.
  17. ^ "Frank Potenza - 2017". Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame. Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame. Retrieved May 8, 2019.
  18. ^ a b "Artist - Potenza, Frank". CAPRI Records Ltd. CAPRI Records Ltd. Retrieved May 14, 2019.
  19. ^ a b c "Frank Potenza". Azica Records. Retrieved May 14, 2019.
  20. ^ "Alley Cats - Gene Harris". AllMusic. Retrieved May 15, 2019.
  21. ^ "Flutopia - Holly Hofmann". AllMusic. Retrieved May 15, 2019.
  22. ^ "High Wire - Sunny Wilkinson". AllMusic. Retrieved May 15, 2019.
  23. ^ "Sunny Wilkinson". AllMusic. Retrieved May 16, 2019.
  24. ^ "Love Is a Rush - Wilton Felder". AllMusic. Retrieved May 16, 2019.

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