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Alex Bedini remembered for many talents

Alex Bedini was a well-known musician from Coeur d'Alene. This picture was taken in 1972.
 (The Spokesman-Review)
Alex Bedini was a well-known musician from Coeur d'Alene. This picture was taken in 1972. (The Spokesman-Review)

Alex Bedini has been described as a musician’s musician. Born in Rochester, N.Y., to Italian parents, Bedini died Aug. 10 at the age of 82.

He had a very large, loving and close family. He also had a large family of fellow musicians and a family of former patrons from the Italian restaurant, Papino’s, which he and his family ran from 1977 to 1998.

Angelina “Angie” Bedini was Bedini’s wife of 35 years. It was the second marriage for both Bedini had three children – sons John and Gary Bedini and daughter Sheryl Edgington.Angie had two daughters, Andrea Brooks and Susie Hite. Both Italians, Angie and Alex combined families, and both sides think of Angie and Alex as mom and dad.

“Alex has been our dad longer than our dad was our dad,” Hite said.

Angie and Alex met two years after her first husband died. They met in Granada Hills, Calif., when she was selling cosmetics. They were married in 1972.

Alex Bedini’s rich musical legacy started when he began playing violin at age 14. He later switched to guitar.

“I think he tried to make a guitar out of a cigar box,” Angie said. “Then he started listening to different recordings of Django (Reinhart), and that’s who he really learned a lot from. That’s how he got started on the guitar. He was really into it.”

Bedini was 17 when he was in his first band, the Charles Spinner Band. Spinner was a music teacher at Cornell University. Bedini stayed in New York until he was drafted in 1942. After the war, he was back in New York City by 1945.

“I was playing at the Downbeat Club on 52nd Street in New York City, which was the jazz street,” Bedini said in an earlier interview. “Charlie Parker was there, Dizzy Gillespie and all those cats, were all in the scene.”

Bedini played with the likes of Billie Holiday, Mel Torme, Edie Gorme and Doris Day throughout his career. He came to Coeur d’Alene with Angie in 1977 to be closer to four of their children who had already relocated to the area.

“He was very, very outstanding,” Angie said. “Alex loved his music – it’s a God-given gift. He did as much as he could do. He had a lot of musician friends.”

The restaurant on Government Way began as a sandwich shop. Hite gave it its original name – the Wop Shop – after immigrants who’d arrived at Ellis Island with no identification, “without papers” – Wops.

“For some reason it stuck on the Italian people,” Hite said. But to the Bedini family, it also meant “with our pleasure.”

They changed the name to Papino’s, because granddaughter Jenny always said, “because Papa knows,” which evolved into Papino’s. They moved from Government Way to a tiny building on Walnut Street off North Fourth Street, which now is the home of Anthony’s Midtown Bistro.

Alex, Angie, Susie Hite and her husband, Jim, and Andrea Brooks all did the cooking. No question, it was a family business.

“Dad figured the building was blessed,” Hite said. This was due to the fact that the “blue army,” a group of nuns, who were also known as the silent order, previously occupied the building.

Angie had all the old Italian recipes from her mother, and Alex used to watch his mother cook, so they both had extensive experience in authentic Italian cooking. Everything was made from scratch, and they developed a following from across the country. People came from New York and California to dine at Papino’s and to purchase their Italian dressing, which they made and sold.

“We had so many regulars – quite a following – all so wonderful,” Angie said. “I thank them very much.”

Brooks said that even after leaving Coeur d’Alene for 18 years, people still come up to her and say, “You were one of the Papino’s girls!”

When he could, Bedini would travel from table to table at the restaurant, playing his violin. There were jam sessions at Papino’s on Sundays.

“My mom and dad were the backbone of the restaurant,” Hite said. “The thing is, she got diabetes and it affected her eyesight … she’s legally blind, so when she got to the point where she couldn’t read the tickets anymore …”

The decision was made. They closed Papino’s in 1998 due to Angie’s failing health.

“We both loved the business; we worked together from the time we were married until the day time he passed on,” Angie said. “We worked together day in and day out. We have a very deep love, very deep. He was the love of my life.”

Fellow musicians also reminisced about their leader.

“I felt so honored to have played with him,” said Sharon Burkland, the lead singer in Alex Bedini and All That Jazz, Bedini’s last band. “He is a singer’s dream. He would follow you so beautifully.

“He could play in any key,” Burkland continued, “and he knew everything! He loved that guitar. He played up until the last month of his life.” Pearl Harwood, 85, a self-taught pianist who had been the pianist for All That Jazz for about five years, said she and Bedini were on the same wavelength.

“He was one of my favorite musicians to work with,” she said. “It’s wonderful when you can play with someone who thinks like you. We clicked together, and when that happens it’s a joy to play.

“He was a very sensitive and caring person and that quality showed through in his playing,” Harwood said. “It was pleasure and a privilege to play with him. He will be missed by his musical family.”

All That Jazz bassist Dick Kuck came to Coeur d’Alene in 1973. The World War II veteran served on a destroyer in the South Pacific and eventually arrived at the naval station at Farragut, which was the second-largest naval training facility in the United States at the time. The first musician that he worked with in Idaho was Harwood.

Kuck met Bedini when he was elected president of the musician’s Local 229 in 1974. They formed a band along with Harwood and later added Burkland after spotting her while she was performing with Tuxedo Junction. “Alex was a consummate musician, but he was also an excellent chef,” Kuck said. “He and Pearl are two of a kind; they’ll play in any key. It was true jazz – improvisation. Alex and Pearl were masters of improvisation.”

All That Jazz continues to play, mainly at the Wine Cellar in downtown Coeur d’Alene.

Bedini’s granddaughter, Jenny, now 23, is expecting her first child, a girl. She plans to name her Alexis, after her beloved grandfather. Grandson Jimmy has taken after granddad and is playing guitar. Daughter Sheryl Edgington has inherited her father’s musical ability and her youngest son, Eric, is playing guitar and piano.

For certain, Alex Bedini lived a very exceptional and interesting life, blessed by his many gifts and a great deal of love.

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