saxophonist, arranger and composer
Born in 1956, he started his professional career in Rome in 1977 conducting his own big band at FOLKSTUDIO Festival.
He graduated in 1979 at the Rome Conservatory, where he studied with Baldo Maestri. In 1983 he won the place as first tenor saxophone in the RAI television big band and joined it. After one year he left the orchestra to be able to teach and play.
In 1988 he founded his own orchestra, “MARIO RAJA BIG BANG”, with some of the best known italian jazz players. With the orchestra he played in several international festivals, radio and TV broadcasts, won prizes and acknowledgments.
Some member of the band in recent years have been: Flavio Boltro, Fabrizio Bosso, Mimmo Cafiero, Giampaolo Casati, Chiara Civello, Alberto Corvini, Claudio Corvini, Maria Pia De Vito, Stefano Di Battista, Furio Di Castri, Rossano Emili, Paolo Fresu, Roberto Gatto, Maurizio Giammarco.
In 1996 he formed the saxophone quartet ARUNDO DONAX with Pasquale Laino, Pietro Tonolo e Rossano Emili.
In 2002 he formed the trio LIGHEA with Marvi La Spina and Bruno Tommaso, with a program of original compositions inspired by the Sicilian folk tradition. He and Marvi La Spina also play in their sax/piano DuouD.
Since 2004 he is conductor of "Federico II Jazz Orchestra", the first jazz orchestra from Napoli University.
In 2006 he formed the MARIO RAJA QUARTETTO with Enrico Bracco, Stefano Nunzi and Armando Sciommeri.
Raja has played with many great artists such as Muhal Richard Abrams, Luciano Berio, Bob Brookmeyer, Hal Crook, Rachel Gould, Mel Lewis, Jerry Lewis, Joe Lovano, Mango, Bob Mintzer, Sal Nistico, Daniel Oren, George Pretre, Enrico Rava, Giuseppe Sinopoli, Gary Smulyan, Bruno Tommaso, Giovanni Tommaso, Gianluigi Trovesi, Massimo Urbani, Stevie Wonder, Phil Woods.
He has composed and arranged for movies, television, commercials and for a great number of groups, from jazz combos to symphonic orchestras. He has also worked for the New York "Mingus Big Band" and the Peking Big Band.
He has been first alto sax and arranger of the "Grande Orchestra Nazionale di Jazz" conducted by Giorgio Gaslini.
From '96 to '98 he has been conductor of the "Orchestra Nazionale di Jazz" of AMJ. With ONJ he played at Torino Lingotto together with the "Orchestra Nationale de France" and in many festivals.
In '91 has been assistant to Gunther Schuller for the first European performance of Charlie Mingus “Epitaph”.
In '93 he did an orchestration of Scott Joplin's Opera "Treemonisha", conducting it at Umbria Jazz Festival.
In 2003 has conducted the Perugia Jazz Orchestra with the original scores of the Ellington/Strayhorn versions of Grieg's “Peer Gynt” and Tchaikovsky's “Nutcracker Suite” for the “Amici della Musica” of Perugia.
in 2008 he has started again to work with the PJO, performing the Ellington’s Sacred Concert with Gregory Hopkins in Umbria Jazz Winter.
Since 2007 he is arranger and conductor of the "Orchestra Napoletana di Jazz" of the association of the Napoli jazz festivals, a big band collecting all the best talents of Napoli area musical scene. With this orchestra he is working at a very personal reinterpretation of the old and new neapolitan music, regularly performing alongside major soloists as Mauro Negri, Franco Cerri, Tullio De Piscopo, Alice Ricciardi. At Pomigliano Jazz Festival 2008 O.N.J. has presented a “Double Neapolitan Concert” together with Randy Weston, Don Moye, Maria Pia De Vito, Raiz and Meg.
In November 2007 he has opened the Padova Jazz Festival conducting “Tempo composto”, a suite of his arrangements of music from Ellington to Stravinsky, Strayhorn and Mozart for string orchestra and big band, featuring as soloists Marcello Tonolo and Achille Succi.
In 2007 he conducted the "Orchestra Jazz della Sardegna" in the Ellington and Strayhorn classical suites.
Since 2008 he conducts the SNAP Band, an orchestra that features Italian movie and theatre actors musicians leaded by Silvio Orlando. With this orchestra he has played at the 2008 Rome Cinema Festival.
He has taught and organized orchestral workshops for the Brass Group, OMC and Open Jazz Club in Palermo; for the Viggiano Jazz Festival, for the Izmir Jazz Festival, for the Newcastle University and for the Brussels Conservatory.
He published in ‘96, as co-author with Pietro Tonolo, the "Scuola di Sax" method (Ricordi).
Since ‘94 he has been teaching at Siena Jazz, conducting the Orchestra Laboratorio, a big ensemble formed with many students from all the levels of courses.
He teaches at the Conservatory since ‘83. Since '89 is a member of the faculty of Perugia Conservatory.