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Joseph Guastafeste in 1998 (Image courtesy: CSO)

Double Bassist Joseph Guastafeste has Died, Aged 93

Guastafeste served 49 years the as principal double bass for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra


A native of Brooklyn, New York, Joseph Guastafeste was born in 1930 and started learning music from a young age — he took his first lessons on mandolin for two years and switched to violin before playing the double bass.

Guastafeste was greatly encouraged by his brother Eddie — who then needed a bass player for his jazz band and who also set up an audition for him with Fred Zimmerman of the New York Philharmonic and The Juilliard School

Accepted to Juilliard on scholarship, Guastafeste landed his first orchestra job in 1949 at age 19, playing with the New Orleans Symphony. From 1950 to 1961, he served as principal bass of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.

In 1961, Guastafeste joined the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) as principal bass, a role he held for the following 49 years — he retired in 2010.

During his CSO tenure, he appeared as a soloist various times, including the world premiere of Elias Tanenbaum’s First Bassman — commissioned for him by the CSO — with Daniel Barenboim conducting. 

Additionally, he performed solo with the Joffrey Ballet, as well as in the Chautauqua Festival Orchestra, the Casals Festival, and with groups such as the New York Wind Quintet; plus the Vermeer, Emerson, and Juilliard string quartets.

He was also a member of the Music of the Baroque, American Composers Ensemble, and the GRAMMY Award-winning Chicago Pro Music.

Among his other projects included a 2001 collaboration with multiple artists to create a monument to music and the bass, entitled Basshenge. Located in Birchdale, Minnesota, the installation is a collection of 21 representations of the bass all made from thin steel plating. 

He is survived by his two daughters, son-in-law, grandchildren, younger brother, nephew Edward Guastafeste, and his wife Joan, and many grand-nieces and nephews. A private memorial will be held by the family at a later date.

Our condolences to Mr. Guastafeste’s family, friends, and colleagues.

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