Peter Giancola made everyone and everything around him better, friends said last Friday.
Giancola died last week at the end of a more than 10-year battle with brain cancer. He departed with a reputation as one of the area’s best musicians and one of the community’s most active boosters.
“We called him ‘Mr. Excitement,’” said Be Music owner Brian Hobbs, who played in six different bands with Giancola. “He always brought everything up a couple notches, if not 10. ... He’s just one of the greatest human beings on the planet — generous, smart, talented. ... He’ll be sorely missed in the music community and the whole Rutland community. He was a big part of this town.”
The son of developer Joe Giancola and brother of local movie mogul David Giancola, Peter Giancola began to make his mark as a musician in high school. He was one of two Vermonters selected to march with the McDonald’s All-American High School Band in the 1984 Tournament of Roses Parade. In 1986, he got to play back-up for Martha and the Vandellas at a Fourth of July show at the Vermont State Fairgrounds.
In the mid-’90s, he joined the revived Satin & Steel. It was the band he would be most identified with locally, but far from his only musical effort.
“He was in the middle of several different bands all in the swing to jazz to rock area, on top of having a family and four kids and helping run the family business,” Satin & Steel bandmate Brad Morgan said. “I don’t think I ever saw somebody who had as much energy as he did before he got sick.”
People who played music with him said that energy was infectious.
“I’d play something, and he would play something and he knew when he was pushing me to the top of my game,” bandmate Robby Henrichon said. “He would look at me and say ‘Holy smokes, Robster, that was incredible.’ Then he’d get jacked and play a solo. He always inspired everybody to play like it was their last time on stage.”
Local musician and radio personality Terry Jaye met Giancola in 1983 when he arrived at MSJ to do a spot on the young musician’s forthcoming participation in the Tournament of Roses parade.
“I put him on the air,” Jaye said. “He had the big grin on his face, the big stupid grin. When he smiled, he smiled ear to ear, and he smiled a lot.”
Decades later, the two would be bandmates, playing together at Gov. Phil Scott’s inauguration.
“From a musician standpoint, he made everyone on the stage better because he’d get us all pumped up,” Jaye said. “If anybody did anything, he would always notice and was very generous in giving praise. Everyone up there, he brought them up a level.”
Friends said Giancola showed the same enthusiasm for his alma mater, serving twice as the chairman of the Rutland Catholic Schools Board and doing all manner of troubleshooting.
“He looked after the facilities side of things, tackling anything from a new roof to a new boiler,” said Paul Gallo. “We went through a lot of physical improvements during his time. ... He had a plan and he had many things he wanted to get through.”
Thomas Valente, who was head of the board between Giancola’s two stints, said Giancola was always there for whatever Mount St. Joseph Academy needed.
“MSJ faced some difficulties with enrollment and finances,” he said. “Pete navigated them through that time very well. ... I can never remember anyone asking anything of him, at MSJ or otherwise, and him saying ‘no.’”
That involvement extended to other corners of the community as well.
“I’d just known him since our kids were little,” Karl Anderson said. “They are all kind of the same age. We did a lot of school stuff together, Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Knights of Columbus.”
Giancola was heavily involved in projects for all those groups.
“Any sort of construction project that needed to be done around the school, Camp Sunrise in Benson, anywhere he was involved ... he had a lot of expertise and skill as opposed to the rest of us, who were dumb labor.” Anderson said.
The tasks he’d oversee ranged from putting up a fence around the Christ the King Playground to organizing school barbecues.
“There was no end,” Anderson said. “He was an engineer, so he knew what he was doing and could make the project go well and accomplish the goal. ... Even when he was in the middle of dying, he was cheerful.”
Jaye said the last time he performed with Giancola was a summer concert in Fair Haven last year.
“He only played a couple songs, but he sat on stage with his sax and smiled for the rest of the show,” Jaye said. “That was good enough for us. ... We loved him.”