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Jeff & Wendy Pucillo Lamont Parent Profile

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Ian Wisekal

by Ian Wisekal

Profile  •

Jeff and Wendy Pucillo, of Hastings-on-Hudson, north of New York City, reached me by phone on their vacation in Chicago. It was a coincidental but fitting halfway point between Jeff’s stomping grounds on Staten Island and Wendy’s hometown in Northern California. Their pride of their daughter, Ruby, a junior double-majoring in vocal jazz performance and English with a possible minor in French, was obvious, and stories about her childhood came fast and lucid.

“She was a little performer coming out of the womb,” Wendy said of Ruby, and the Pucillos were keen to support her creative development. Showing an early interest in ballet, Ruby started dance lessons when she was three and wrote her own ballet at five. Wendy’s love of jazz struck another early chord: by the time Ruby was four years old, her parents recounted, she could identify all the jazz greats whose records they played in the background at dinner parties.

Wendy came to jazz through her grandfather, who loved sharing with her his collection of big-band records and inspired her to dig deeper into the genre. When it was her turn to “reign over the record player,” according to Jeff, Wendy played lots of jazz and classical records in the house, like Clifford Brown with Strings. “Ruby grew up in a musical household because of Wendy,” he said.

Jeff, as a boy, did not embrace music at first – “I hated guitar lessons; I hated my teacher,” he remembered – but came around after receiving an electric guitar for his twelfth birthday. Eventually he formed a band and, early in his career, found work as an assistant audio engineer for Greene St. Recording, recording and mixing records by hip-hop artists like Nas and Afrika Bambaataa and jazz legends like Roy Ayers.

The moment Ruby decided she wanted to pursue jazz, the Pucillos told me, was when she first heard Charles Mingus, specifically the tune “Fables of Faubus” from his seminal album Ah Um. Precocious socially, musically and academically, Ruby wanted to find a school in a vibrant city where she could study not only jazz, but also literary criticism and French at a high level. That was when DU and Lamont entered the conversation.

In the Pucillos’ Westchester County milieu, Ivy-League schools dominate the college search, they said. But none could provide a strong undergraduate program in music performance. After doing some research, the family flew to Denver and were wowed. “We loved the city,” Jeff explained, “and when Ruby saw Lamont, she said, ‘This is the real deal.’” Wendy described their conversations with faculty and staff: “Everyone at DU made us feel welcome, and they made Ruby really feel wanted.”

Joining the Lamont Society was an easy decision from the Pucillos’ point of view. “The faculty is incredible, the building is incredible,” Jeff said, “and the people who made the building had vision and were dreamers. I’m a dreamer.” He and Wendy have been very impressed with the students they have met, and they want to support the goal of attracting a more diverse student body. “I hope Ruby will be similarly inspired when her days at DU are over,” Jeff continued, “which will be too soon, in my opinion.”

The school’s streaming concerts were a lifeline during the past year for the Pucillos. “Those Lamont live-streams have helped us get through the pandemic,” Jeff confessed. “It was like a drink of cold water after walking through the desert.”

The Pucillos are excited for the future of DU and Lamont, and they will be able to view some of it personally even after Ruby graduates: their younger daughter, Hazel, after taking a gap year, will enroll at DU in the fall of 2022.