Influential Instruction


By Teresa Adams ’21

“Wanna hear something funny?” said Hollywood musician Buddy Greco.

He motioned for James Argiro to join him on stage.

“So I told the joke, and I got a huge laugh,” recalls Argiro, an adjunct professor of music at Westfield State for 20 years. “Each night thereafter, he invited me up again. He would leave the stage and I had control, a wonderful feeling that I can’t describe.”

Born in Springfield and a long-time resident of Agawam, Argiro reflected on his many years working in Hollywood’s music industry with legends—such as The Drifters, Frank Sinatra, Jr.; Barbara Streisand, and Mickey Rooney—in his music career as composer, producer, singer, and pianist.

“It’s interesting,” Argiro laughs. “I look back at
things I’ve been a part of, and I can’t believe that they happened. It’s like when they are happening, it’s routine, but now as I have time to think back, it’s like wow, that really happened!”

He laughs about a close encounter with a chimpanzee during a “Three Stooges” performance, a funny restroom encounter with Mickey Rooney, and the time he was asked to perform standup comedy in front of the televised world.

He reflected on his time working with comedians Rodney Dangerfield, Milton Berle, Skip Stephenson, and John Byner, just to name a few. “I’ve always been moved by comedy,” he says.

Although Argiro has a fondness for humor, his career began at age 14 when he played the accordion at The Music Club in Springfield, Mass. His work evolved into writing music for movies, television, and live shows, acting, teaching, and writing books like Maxime: A discovery of love in 19th Century Paris. He also served as music director for “The Sonny and Cher Show.”

He laughs, “When I look back, there isn’t any area in entertainment or music that I can think of that I haven’t done.”

He spoke of his dear friend, composer of feature films and television movies, Fred Karlin. “One day he said, ‘You know what? I go to Hollywood and no matter who I talk to, everybody knows you!”

Although Argiro bumped elbows with many stars, even a true professional becomes starstruck at times, and he shares a special moment while he was working as the music coordinator for a television special starring Ray Charles. They shared a piano bench. “And I’ll never forget it as long as I live,” says Argiro, speaking of Charles’ friendly demeanor, “because he meant so much to me and he talked to me like he’d known me my whole life.”

Although his focus has primarily been on music, acting is a challenge he has enjoyed. He has appeared in three award-winning feature films, Twice (2019), Past Tense (2015), and Chasing Rainbows (2014), the latter for which he and his good friend, Robert Fritz, won a Global Music Award (GMA) for the musical score.

He shared how he became completely invested in the characters he was playing. “You want to talk about a change from being who I am and suddenly becoming someone else. I was that person. I couldn’t believe it,”
he says.

Argiro’s professional life is not limited to entertainment. He reflects on his time in the 384th Army band in Fort Eustis, Va., during the Vietnam War, where he played the saxophone, and he laughed while he told stories about some of the practical jokes he and his fellow soldiers would play while performing their official duties. His voice lowers as he says, “There’s a comradeship you develop in the Army, in the service with your fellow soldiers. It’s really deep.”

He also spoke of one of his greatest triumphs, serving as a professor for two decades at Westfield State University, where he teaches Jazz Ensemble, Functional Jazz Piano, Jazz Theory, Jazz Composition and Arranging, and Jazz Improvisation.

He talked about his love of teaching music, the talented students, and the warm faculty at Westfield. “This place is so wonderful,” he sighs. “It has this family kind of feeling about it.”

“Jim is an inspiring musician, colleague, mentor, and teacher who brings with him a Hollywood pedigree and a passion for pedagogy,” says Andrew Bonacci, D.M.A, professor and chair of the Department of Music. “Always ready with a smile and infectious positive attitude, he cares genuinely about each of his students – not only for their musical and academic development, but for their well-being and success in navigating the world.” 

Professor Argiro has much to offer the students at Westfield State. A talented musician, he’s played the saxophone, the accordion, percussion, and slide trombone, but his true love and companion is the piano. He makes it clear, however, that although music is his life, it is not him, it’s just something he does, and he wants to share that advice with all.

“You have your personal values and all your attributes as a human being,” he says quietly. “You have all the people you love, everything that is not music. If you don’t play well at any given moment, the most important things in life don’t disappear.”


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