Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Libby native rocks with Lt. Dan

| November 29, 2007 11:00 PM

Born in the small mountain town of Libby, Mitch Paliga first heard music when his father would play the harmonica around the house. Paliga's father liked to play old cowboy/folk tunes like "Red River Valley." Mitch's father, Nick, learned how to play the harmonica as a young boy from his childhood friend Lido Vizuti. Lido is the father of the well known trumpet player Alan Vizuti. Mitch's mother, Joyce, also played trumpet when she was in high school so Mitch was doubly inspired to play the trumpet but changed his mind to the saxophone at the last minute for reasons he still doesn't know.

Paliga now plays with the Lt. Dan Band, which is led by actor Gary Sinise and is named after his character from the movie Forest Gump. Paliga had worked and recorded with Sinise in 2002 with the band Kimotion, led by Kimo Williams. Kimo is the musical director for Lt Dan Band. Most of the shows are USO related with an occasional performance to keep the band working.

Paliga joined the Lt. Dan Band in October, with the first gig at the Walter Reed Army Hospital.

"I didn't know that the first weekend was actually my audition, I thought I was just subbing for Carol Williams who is a friend of mine," Paliga admitted.

Williams decided to stop and focus on her own music. Paliga's first six jobs were: Walter Reed Army Hospital, Illinois USO Ball in Chicago, Big Brothers Big Sisters fund-raiser at the Beverly Hills Hilton, a private Halloween party in Chicago for the retail chain Party City a and CSI:NY party on the CBS lot in Studio City. Sinise apparently has been throwing this party for a few years now.

Paliga lived in Libby until he went to college in 1980. Paliga's mother is Joyce Powell, who remarried after Paliga's father Nick passed away from cancer in 1997.

Nick's brother George also lived in Libby. Paliga's mother's brother and family are also in Libby, Clint and Ella Hagen, and cousins Ivan Hagen, Cindy Williams and Cheryl Abrahamson.

Paliga worked at the Lincoln County Library in high school and he really misses Inez and Bob Herig who were very special people. When he was growing up in Libby, they always had excellent band programs which was a big influence on Paliga's interest in music.

He first played the soprano saxophone in high school when the school bought one his junior year, which turned out to be quite important to him, as he has made that his specialty.

"Libby was a great place to grow up, I miss it and think about it often," Paliga said.

In 1972 Paliga joined the public school band program, started on alto saxophone and was hooked. His first teacher, who was a wonderful sax/clarinet educator, was Ken Berg. While in high school, Paliga encountered the soprano saxophone and became fascinated with it. After high school he went to Rocky Mountain College in Billings for one year. He then transferred to Eastern New Mexico University where he bought his first soprano saxophone and found that this was his voice.

He earned a Bachelor of Music degree at Eastern New Mexico University where he studied with Dr. Duane J. Bowen, a personal hero to Paliga. He then went to the University of Illinois for a brief period but soon decided that he was not interested in more of the conventional academic way of learning. Paliga stayed around the central Illinois area and played in several groups such as the West African Highlife band Bontuku and the pop/rock/funk band Modern Humans as well as working in a variety of small jazz groups at the fabled Nature's Table. Eventually he became restless and decided to move to Chicago.

Moving to Chicago in 1990 has offered Paliga many opportunities and experiences. As a performer he's worked with Randy Brecker, Vinnie Colaiuta, Gary Sinise, Rudy Linka, Victor Kraus, Fred Simon, Dave Easley, Akio Sasajima, Damon Short, Jo Ann Daugherty, Deanna Witkowski, Danny Gottlieb, John Elmquist's "Hard Art Groop," Kimotion, The Nelson Riddle Orchestra, the Temptations and Bob Newhart.

In 1993 Paliga was awarded the now defunct National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Study Grant to study with David Liebman. Liebman's influence was not limited to the soprano saxophone and jazz improvisation but also composition. In 1998 Paliga went back to college at Northwestern University and received a master's degree in jazz pedagogy. In 2000 he received a City of Chicago Community Arts Assistance Program Grant to record some of his original compositions. He's also a member of the Chicago Jazz Composers Collective as well as a teacher at North Central College in the jazz studies department and Lake Forest College.

Of beoming a member of the Lt. Dan Band, Paliga said, "I really enjoy the band, it's a chance for me to do what I wanted to at age 16, play rock and roll on the big stage. I've done just about everything now that I set out to when I left Libby after high school except come home and play a concert in Libby."

Paliga currently teaches as a WebCT Instructor at Governors State University in University Park, Ill. and he teaches Afro-American music course via WebCT. He's also a jazz saxophone instructor and a combo instructor in North Central College in Naperville, Ill. In addition, Paliga is a lecturer, saxophone instructor and adjunct faculty member at Benedictine University in Lisle, Ill. He also instructs saxophone and clarinet at Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago and lectures at Lake Forest College in Lake Forest, Ill.

Paliga is currently working on a Web page and he also has a Myspace page at: myspace.com/mitchpaliga . The Web site for the Lt. Dan Band is: www.ltdanband.com/ . Paliga also has a second CD under under his name coming out in February on the Seattle based jazz label Origin. It is called "Fall Night" and is all of his own original music more in the modern jazz vein.