FB: Hello, once again, out there in Berklee Land. This is Fred Bouchard with Volume 30-something of the Berklee Oral History Project. And today we have our first European-born subject, Marcello Pellitteri, a wonderful drummer from Sicili, came to Berklee a long time ago, and has been on the faculty a long time. And, Marcello, I know you're gonna have some great stories for us about the whole panoply of Euro-American Jazz. Great to have you.
MP: Good to be here, thank you for inviting me.
FB: Perhaps we should go back to your early childhood in Palermo, give people a sense of what it was like growing up in that amazing Sicilian city.
MP: I went to Catholic schools, my entire school-time, 13 years, and I became a Jazz musician out of that, so how about that. During my early teens I started to get into music with some local young players, playing English Rock, primarily, Deep Purple, Yes, Genesis-the early Genesis.
FB: Great Stuff.
MP: And then, little by little there was this transition into Jazz towards my, maybe, late teens. The reason was, I got given by my- my aunt gave me an Oscar Peterson LP and I said, wow, that's fun. It was so different from everything that I have known up to that point, in music. So, got into Jazz, and the Jazz scene, back then, in the city, it wasn't as developed as it is now. There were a handful of players, mainly the old-school, what we call the old-school. Enzo Rondisi, vibraphone player, Claudio Rocassio, piano player, Gianni Cavolaro, drummer, and there was this brand new Jazz club called the 'Brass Group' which is still active today. Bringing in town, the big names. Mingus, Dexter Gordon, Lee Konitz, Clark Terry, Bill Evans. So I got to see those guys, and in a small club this place was in a basement, maybe 50, 60 people could get to it. It was the days when clubs were filled with smoke, there was pizza of course, an Italian Jazz club, why not? So, that was the scene when I got into Jazz.
FB: So this was the same circuit that the American Jazz greats would play along with like Ronnie Scotts and (Kipeche?) and Jazz Monmartre (?), they would make the circuit.
MP: Yes. The brass group was one of the venues where a lot of the big names came. Sometimes even in a exclusive day in Italy, for instance. I've heard, I think Milt Jackson, maybe, the year I saw him, came for just one concert, in Palermo, played for the Brass Group. Of course, when they had those kind of names they were having the concert in a theater, renting a theater, otherwise, Dexter, those guys, guys like Dexter, or Charlie Mingus, they're no less of a name than Milt Jackson, but for some reason you were able to see them in the Jazz club, and then Bill Evans or Milt Jackson, they were renting bigger venues.
FB: With a lot of these players, I remember living in London and in Rome, a lot of these people would come on their own and they'd pick up a house rhythm section.
MP: Lee Konitz was one of them.
FB: Who were the cats in Palermo who were like the Ray Santisi, Alan Dawson group here?
MP: Ignacio Garcia was a piano player, he's the president of the Brass Group. He was the main pianist playing for all the soloists when they required a band from Palermo. Some of them, for instance Lee Konitz, I remember came with some Roman musicians. Roberto Gatto, Pierra Nunci. Chet Baker came to town and Ignacio Garcia was playing with him, and he is such a great player. Chet wanted him to go on tour with him. I don't know if that ever happened. Ignacio might have refused, I forgot the details.
FB: Chet really had a whole career in Europe. He was there for years. So when you were playing as a teenager with the guys you mentioned, what were the gigs like? Would you play at a party or a dance or like a-
MP: Oh, no no. There were gigs in theaters, outdoor concerts during the summertime, or small cultural venues, where they had their concert seasons, mixing up Jazz and classical and then some TV as well. Late 70s was the time when in Italy, all over Italy, private TVs started blossoming and in Palermo there were two main ones. One was called TRM- Telleradio de Mai Terranio- May Terranium Radio TV. And another one was TGS which was the television station of Giornale di Sicilia which is the main daily newspaper in Sicily. So-
FB: Great to have government support behind good music.
MP: Well those were privately owned.
FB: Oh okay.
MP: This is not right. It was private TV stations. So I was playing a weekly show in one of those TV stations I mentioned and one night I played with the queen of Italian song- Nilla Pizzi which she won the San Remo festival for so many years. That was the only time my father told me later, my father cried in front of the TV set. I could have played with Miles, my father wouldn't have known anything. But because I played with this lady, who was the one that many times we're listening to, at the time, just via radio, it was so much for him. Maybe that's when he realized, this guy, you know, my son is good, he could do something with music.
FB: So Sicilian pop music was what she sang.
MP: No no no. She was singing Italian pop music.
FB: More broadly based.
MP: Yeah, yeah.
FB: But what was a normal gig for you at the time like what kind of material were you doing, mainstream Jazz, pop tunes, Volare?
MP: Yeah, it was old Jazz, in the Swing tradition, those two players I was working with Enzo Rondisi, vibrophone player, very much into the Lionel Hampton, Milt Jackson, kind of music. So his band was called Swing Ensemble and we were doing repertoire from classical stuff to (what) Lionel Hampton could do. And then we had the band with Claudio Rocassio, that was a tribute to the modern Jazz quartet. We were doing all the classical John Louis's repertoire.
FB: John based so much of his thematic material on, you know, the Comedia del Arte, you know, all that great stuff, Fontessa. Yeah, sure.
FB: So, you also said that some of the guys were dabbling with folk traditions. They were adapting Jazz to Sicilian folk music, which, to me was fascinating.
MP: Yes, Claudio Rocassio was, at the time, one of the first maybe two guys to implement folk traditions in Jazz. There was another guy, Giorgio Cassellini, doing it at a more national level, meaning that he was using folk tunes from all over Italy. Claudio was more into Sicilian folk songs and making them into Jazz, with Jazz arrangements. And that was pretty big at that time. There was a period three or four years where it was really going strong.
FB: This seems to be a really natural way for Americans to really personalize their Jazz. Yes, the Americans come over and give all kinds of influences and they bring the American stuff and the blues. But when the Europeans get it, then they start bringing their own traditions in. Bruno Rayburg with his Swedish folk songs, John Sermon with the English tradition. Cassellini, everybody can have their own little corner of the world. Some of the Neopolitan guys were adapting, was it Tina Fricana?
MP: I'm not sure about that.
FB: Some of those other horn players- Claudio Fazzoli?
MP: Claudio Fazzoli was with Benny Jao (?), which was a prominent band in the 70s, mixing up Jazz, Rock, Blues. That was a great brand with Bruno Berriaco on drums, who was one of my teachers in some of my clinics that I've done as a late teenager. Franco D'Andrea was the piano player, Giovani Del Maso bass player. They were so big they toured the States, Canada, they came here to record. At the time for an Italian band to cross the ocean and being recognized in here was quite a big deal.
FB: Absolutely. You mentioned a big Jazz Seminar in '77 in Montegatini put on by Acte?
MP: Archi. Archi was a cultural organization. And they put together this first Jazz seminar in Italy, first one of its kind. 1977. The teachers were young lions of the Italian Jazz scene. My first drum teacher, Andrea Chantatzo was there, Enrico Pierranunci on piano, they had Giancarlos Chiaffini.
FB: The Roman trombonist, about six foot six, very pale, looked like a ghost, had big glasses, and played like crazy.
MP: Crazy, I remember. I still remember this concert that he did, it was played by himself and pre-recorded reel-to-reel tape, so we're talking about some ancient stuff. And in this pre-recorded tape he had some crazy sounds- electronic music and he was improvising on top of that. And it was quite amazing, what he did. Gianluigi Travesi was teaching bass clarinet and saxophones. Eugenia Colombo, if I remember correctly, it's been so long ago. I think I mentioned everybody. And that was quite an experience for me. I took a train from Palermo with six or seven other young Sicilian players. We all slept in one wagon, for a trip that lasted almost 22 hours. Strikes were going on very strong at that time as well. But we finally got there and it was such an experience for us, because it was the first time we could be next to professional playaers, who we could understand. Because going to see the guys at the brass group in Palermo, I didn't speak English, they didn't speak Italian, and so it was very hard to communicate. Although once, that's a nice thing, Max Roach came to town. I was 18, and he played for the Brass Group, they took him to dinner after the gig, and I was following all the entourage. I sat at the end of the table and then when the dinner was finished, everybody was leaving, I finally got the courage to introduce myself to Max, and there was another guy kind of translating as well. I told him I was a drummer and I asked him for, I was crazy about him, and I asked him for some exercise to develop my independence, I wanted to work on independence. So he sat down- now everybody else was leaving and they were calling him, Max the car is waiting- he took the time to sit down in front of me, five minutes, he puts his hands like this, and he said "put your hands like this, so you can feel me" and he starts tapping on my hands. Something for the ride, something for the snare, and he was tapping his feet and he gave me this exercise that I'm still practicing. Max, he spent five minutes. So going back to Montegatini, it was good to now be able to talk and ask questions and have time to develop a relationship and go through some material longer than five minutes. Those seminars were lasting for a about a week.
FB: It reminds me of the keenness of mind that I noted when I saw groups of young Italian students coming to the Berklee workshops at the Umbria Jazz in '86 and '88 when I was there, also with Manhattan School of Music, up at Bassano del Grapa, guys coming in with a lot of music history- Classical, Jazz, with a little bit of Rock, but they keyed right into what was being taught and they were like sponges, picking up all that John Riley or Ron Savage or whoever was happening to have to teach them. You come from a rich tradition of music, whether it be band music, military music, opera, Folk music, and this is all part of your background. Then when you find yourself playing Rock and Jazz, you can put it into the big cauldron in your brain and make it really into something new.
MP: It's what open musicians do. Getting elements from all over the world, musically speaking, and trying to put them together. Sonny Rollins did this recording with this Sardinian bagpiper. He was just a shepherd. He didn't know Sonny Rollins and I don't think Sonny knew about him or what he was going to play. But they just said, let's play, and Sonny said, "you play your thing, I'll just follow you, then I'll play my thing" and an LP came out some time in the 70s, or yeah, Coltrane did it with the Oriental influence.
FB: Um, what was your next step after high school? How did you get to the states? How did that come about?
MP: After high school I was a student, I went to study at the University in Palermo. I did one year of Political Science, and I realized it wasn't for me, then I switched into foreign languages and literature, which I liked, but at the same time, somebody put a bug in my ear about Berklee. So I started to do the Berklee correspondance course, which took forever, back in the day, I remember I had to send a check, they were sending me a booklet with some exercise, lessons that I had to return all the homework back in here. The professor who was correcting my homework was Dean Earle, which, I didn't know who he was, but I read his bio on the Berklee brochure. And he played with Charlie Parker so I was in heaven. A guy that played with Parker was saying to me the right things to do. So I did 8 or more correspondance courses. That took a long time, I think about maybe 1 and a half, 2 years time. So after that I decided to let my father know that I really wanted to come here, because I was getting more and more interested in the study of arranging, composition, Jazz composition, and my career in Sicily was at the highest level it could have been and I really felt the need to move forward.
FB: Some of those topics you mentioned were covered at least initially in some of the correspondence courses you had with Dean Earle. And so it piqued your interested. What was your father's response?
MP: Ah, at first it was shock. Because in Italian culture, usually, kids stay with their families until they are grown up, and even some of them when they get married, they still live close by.
FB: That's true of Italian Americans as well.
MP: So it was something difficult to be digested but he was very supportive. And he said 'if that's what is gonna make you happy, go for it.'
FB: That's a very different response than Tiger Okoshi got from his father.
MP: Oh, what he get?
FB: He split on his honeymoon and he didn't come back.
MP: So I applied to Berklee and I got accepted, so I moved here, I arrived here December 7th, of 1981, which is a couple days from now, it's the anniversary of it.
FB: Pearl Harbor.
MP: Pearl Harbor, yeah. I didn't know about Pearl Harbor until a few years later. I got here, and it was after a huge snowstorm, and in Palermo I never saw snow. I didn't know what 0 celsius meant. 32 fahrenheit. So it was a big culture shock of course. And the following day I went to the performance center, because I lived on Newbury Street. My cousin was a student at Northeastern University, so we shared a studio for the first month or so, on Newbury street. I was scheduled to start my first semester of Berklee in January of '82. So on December of the following day I arrived, I go to hear this concert given by some faculty members. I step in, and I am in heaven because I hear this great piano player, swinging like crazy, great rhythm section, and I can't remember who the rest of the guys were, but the piano player I remember, Alex (inaudible). And I said, I made the right choice to be here because this environment was missing from the place where I was in Palermo. This diversity also, in Palermo you had very limited amount of great players, and once you play with them for a while, you look for something else, and it wasn't there. I could have gone to Rome, they probably had great players there, but I said to myself, once I leave here, I might as well go where Jazz was born.
FB: What do you remember of your first classes here. Who were the important teachers for you?
MP: Everybody was important, because for me, they were all opening up my ears and my eyes and giving me so much. Yann Yartzik, great Polish pianist, trombonist, composer, Tony Lada was my arranging 2 teacher, Bob Kaufman was my drum teacher. I remember I decided to study with him because in December of 1981 I went to this bar which was around the corner from here, Tomfoolery, it was a small Irish bar. At a corner they had a little stage, and Combrio was playing there once or twice a week, Bergonzy (?), Bruce Gertz (?), and Bob Kaufman. And so they bring me to see this band I am like, what are they playing? Bob Kaufman was into the Elvin stuff, which was new to me, because up to that point I was only exposed to Swing repertoire. So, to me, Max Roach, I was familiar with this stuff. Blakey. The Bebop-ers. But Elvin and Coltrane were new to me. Nobody was playing their music in Palermo.
FB: No. Bob was using mallets and all that stuff?
MP: Yes. So I just went up to him and I said, 'I want to study with you.' So he was my first drum teacher, my only drum teacher as a matter of fact, here. Although I took some lessons also with Joe Hunt.
FB: Joe Hunt, of course. The brush-meister.
MP: Everything-meister. He had the touch. He could make the drums sing and whisper. And he still does.
FB: A lot of people missed him when he left town, but he's back. Cool. So then you started meeting some of your fellow students, hanging out, developing things.
MP: Let's see, there was Makoro Ozone, there was Dave Kakowsky, Ira Coleman, Jilda (inaudible), who later became Gary Burton's bass player for three years, played with (inaudible). With Jilda, we played with the Gypsy Kings. What a connection that was, what an experience that was. Basically, I met and I was hanging out with those guys that, then they become part of your network when you leave college.
FB: You're always trying to recapture those riveting seminal experiences you had as teenagers. So you perpetuate it in your professional career, one way or another.
MP: And there's nothing better than playing with somebody you really know, you've known for years. I have very recently got back in touch with Verner Gehrig, which is now, now he's known as Vanna. We were in school together, same time, and he moved to New York and became very well established and we just did this concert with Paquito de Rivera in Mexico City and Vanna plays with Uta Lempur. Great composer. So all those things, sometimes come back to you. I haven't played with Verner since our school days, now we're back playing together. That's great. It's one thing that I always tell my students about. Guys, make sure you make friends, drummers makes friends with bass players, bass players make friends with drummers, because those are gonna be the guys you'll be sharing stages with.
FB: Yeah, absolutely. Um, you had a big list of people that you worked with and studied with. Faculty members that you played with included Alex Yulenowski, Jimmy Mosher, Jean Destasio, Ray Santisi, Teddy Codec, Gordon Brisker, all top level cats, here and elsewhere, some of them.
MP: And it was a great thrill for me, when a teacher was calling me, then, a student, to play, I remember Gordon Brisker asked me to join his quintet. Which, at the time, was with Tim Hagens on trumpet, Bob Dogan on piano, who I just ran into in Chicago not so long ago.
FB: I just saw him in Berlin with Heiner's Hein Sauer, they played duets, an old German saxophone player, exquisite.
MP: Jilda (inaudible) was the bass player, and we had a quintet doing all the stuff that Gordon wrote. He was an amazing writer.
FB: Fabulous writer. (Inaudible) Herb's bigband? And other people too.
MP: Yeah. Anita O'Day. And he was an amazing clarinet player. In our quintet he never played clarinet but once he played clarinet in this guy we were playing with Ray Santisi. At the Copley Plaza Ray was calling me every now and then to play with him. I had to kind of be under the table, because the union guys were coming to check out...
FB: Oh yes, Al Natalie was (inaudible)
MP: Yes. So, since I wasn't in the union, Ray was saying to me, 'they come to you, just say you don't speak English.' And officially I wasn't getting paid. But those were, to me, extremely beneficial experiences. Because although if you think about it, when you play in a lounge it's not really great for the position because basically the number of people listening to you were not great. And there's a lot of people at the bar, so you were kind of like, the radio, in the background. But, nonetheless, it was amazing for me to be a part of it.
FB: Absolutely. Do you want to talk some more about the Berklee experience, the people that you worked with or fellow students that you...
MP: Fellow students that I worked with, the ones I mentioned earlier for instance, Ira Coleman, great bassist for Tony Williams, and Herbie, we had this ensemble that we put together, all the students that wanted to play together, decided to ask Greg Batolato, who was an ensemble teacher back then, to teach this ensemble. The guys I can remember, it was me, Ira, Frank (?) on piano, who is a great pianist now, back in Paris. Greg was on tenor, Rick Holland was on trumpet- he now lives in Rochester New York, great trumpet player. Anyway, we enjoyed eachother playing, and we played so long in class, then Ira started calling me for some big gigs that he was in need for a drummer, and thanks to him I got to play with Margo Miller, recorded with him, and I did this project by this other student David Klein, great saxophonist, who when he was in school, he was from Switzerland, came originally, as a guitar player, as a drummer, talented player. We recorded this album called 'My Marilyn' - all songs that Marilyn Monroe sang, for (inaudible) - and that sold over 40,000 copies, which, for a Jazz record, that's quite a bit.
FB: Who was on the cover? Not Dave?
MP: Marilyn. It's a beautiful black and white cover. It's almost like a deluxe box set. Gorgeous.
FB: She sells a lot of Merlot in California too. What a great idea, though. And she was a good singer. Great idea.
MP: So, Dave Kewkowski was another guy, and I remember one night we were playing at Riles, trio, Dave Kewkowski, Ira Coleman and myself, Jaco Pastorius comes to Riles. And he's not doing well. It was the birthday of his twins, he was accompanied by his lady, sits at the table, towards the end of our set, starts getting closer and closer. By the time the set is over he has reached the bottom of the stage and (he's) talking to Ira. He looked like a bum, unfortunately I have to say, red eyes, dirty, and I didn't recognize him. And then he said, "hey Ira, it's Jaco"- that's when I realized, wow, this is really Jaco. So, he said, can I play your bass? So he goes up and starts to play the bass, not too much sound comes out of it, could barely stand up, so he puts the bass down and sits down at the piano. And while I'm breaking down my drums, he starts playing the piano, and he was such a soulful player, I had no idea that he was a great piano player. And he starts singing. So while he's doing that, I'm just a little drumming from behind. And the owner of Riles, since it was past closing time-
FB: Jack Riley
MP: Jack. Complained about music still going on. And he said to Jaco, stop it or I'm gonna call the police. Jaco kept on playing, so Jack called the police. So Jaco stopped playing, and he said, you don't do that to me. I heard that, you don't call the police. He was very pissed about it. So he stepped back towards the exit, before going on, Riles has all those window glasses, took a chair and just threw it against the glass. Luckily nothing broke. The chair just bounced back. Maybe it wasn't real glass, or maybe he wasn't strong enough to smash the window. And then, at that point, his lady took over and just dragged him out, one minute before police came. So that's a sad story. But it happened with Dave and Ira. I have toured with Dave, we have done a couple of things lately in Italy, and he's such an amazing player.
FB: He is really marvelous, I saw him with Chris Potter, a few years ago in Portugal, and then somewhere else in the States. Beautiful player. Is he in New York?
MP: He's in New York, yes.
FB: Do you guys get together occasionally?
MP: Uh, I haven't seen him in awhile.
FB: And then, after you got out of here, you went to the conservatory.
MP: New England Conservatory I went there for my Master's Degree. The reason I went there was because I wanted to study with Bob Moses. I saw Bob playing at The Willow with this band called Open Sky, Eddie Gomez and Dave Libman. And I was impressed by the way Moses was playing so loose, and at the same time, so intense, and you could still feel the pulse, although he wasn't playing. So I went to him and I said, "Bob, I want to study with you, I want to learn how to play like you play." And he said "Well, I'm going to be teaching at New England next year, so why don't you come." And it worked out for me, because at the time I needed a Visa to stay, so after my (inaudible) ran out, my student visa from Berklee ran out, after my graduation. I applied to New England Conservatory, to study with Bob, gave me the new Visa, so I decided, okay, I'm just gonna go for the Master and see what happens. And then eventually it did help because it got me a job here.
FB: Did you ever join the union?
MP: Musician's union? No.
FB: But you still managed to gig under the cover.
MP: Well the gigs that were union gigs were mainly the ones at those hotels.
MP: I've never done any theaters, just hotels. The Copley Plaza, where Dave McKenna was playing, or Ray Santisi, but as far as the clubs, Riles, 1369, (Inaudible) Pub, do you remember (...) Pub?
FB: Sure. Zurcheim. Those little places.
MP: Those were not union gigs. I had a student, Dave Douglas, we did some (...) Pub gigs.
FB: I probably saw you there, it would be early 80's.
MP: Yep, '83, '84.
FB: Yeah I'm sure I saw you there. I definitely remember San Davis' group and Tiger Okoshi's group, Tiger's Bakku (?) and a lot of cool bands, I know I saw Dave there, you were there too.
MP: So at New England I did 2 years, my experience was Bob Moses changed my way of playing, radically.
FB: Tell me how. Just, in a few words.
MP: Because he made me aware of rhythmic concepts that I wasn't aware of, and it made my playing better and I could, basically I was able to free myself from playing time, and still keep the idea of the pulse going, which is a way of, let's say, it's a more modern way of playing the drums. Difference between say, Max Roach or Jack DeJohnette.
FB: And Paul Moshen (?).
MP: Paul Moshen, yes.
FB: What do you mean, what kind of rhythmic concepts, I mean, just for the laymen, what can you say?
MP: The non-independent style, for instance, which was a way to play using your limbs and when a limb is playing the other one doesn't play. In a way you can call it linear drumming, but studying with Bob it was more than just linear, because it wasn't just one line, but sometimes playing in harmony as he called it. So you play something that doesn't require independence because sometimes the figures are in unison, therefore creating harmonies. More than one sound.
FB: This includes the feet as well. Hi-hat, bass drum.
MP: Yes, all four limbs. So the overall sound that you get out of the drums, it's a four part musical thing that sounds like it's played all at once. But really, when one plays the other one doesn't play, and sometimes something could be in unison, so it gives almost an illusion to be playing at the same time with some sort of independence. But there's no independence involved. So that was quite new to me.
FB: I see, I get a vague idea, that's all we need for the general public. Is it too soon to talk about how you apply your drum style to ensemble? Should we do that later or do you want to get into that a little bit?
MP: We can do it. Basically, drum style, uh, in my ensembles I do basically what I play, I teach the music that I play, so stylistically, if there is something that I don't know, or I don't play, it won't be something I'll be presenting to my students. So if I know something for a drummer to play to support a band in a certain style I will demonstrate that to him or her. And the rest of the players in the ensembles, I might be specific for some players, telling them what part to play, the pianist, the bass, and some of the time, the instruments that I don't know, maybe guitar, I might refer the students to their private teacher. So, my experience as a performer, is basically what I try to bring to the class. So it doesn't really limit myself just to the drum style but it's more, it's a wider concept as a musician from the things that I hear, that I've heard in my career, mentioned by players I play with when sometimes the piano player is saying something to the horns, or the horn player is saying something to the rhythm section. All those things that stick into my memory, and might make a difference for young student like it did for me.
FB: So you were at the conservatory for 2 years, you studied with Moses, you met and worked with other people like (Inaudible) Miroslav, the great Czech bass player who was not only a terrific musician, but was also a dean on the faculty there.
MP: He was the chairman of the Jazz department, Jazz Studies department. Miroslav, I was thrilled of course to be with him. I studied with him one semester, he was conducting this big band, but then I finally got the call to play with him in '87, so that was after my years at New England Conservatory. And he called me, and Aidan Essen. Terrific Turkish pianist.
FB: Who also went to school here for awhile, a couple years.
MP: Yes. And we toured Europe, playing Miroslav's music, played with Woody Shaw. And I feel so lucky about that because it was maybe 10 months or a year before he died and he's always been one of my favorite musicans.
FB: Remarkable sound and compositions.
MP: Compositions. I think Miroslav's gig was my first big gig that I got. Big name. ANd that was also an effect of recording it, we recorded our own, it's my only record as a leader, co-leader, with Eddie Gomez, who I got in touch with through Bob Moses, that's another great thing he did for me. Since I saw Bob playing with Eddie, I said to Bob, I'd like to do a recording with my friend Eidan, and we'd like to call Eddie Gomez. Do you think he'll be available, can you get me in touch with him? And he said, yeah, he wouldn't do this with somebody he doesn't know, but I'll make sure that he's gonna do it with you because I'm going to talk highly about you, and he did. So Bob was a great help for that production of that record. So when Miroslav heard that record I think he got jealous. So there's no way I'm gonna have those guys playing with Gomez, I'm gonna steal them. We weren't playing with Eddie Gomez Trio anyway, but he liked what he heard, and he called us right after that. It was nice.
FB: Thinking back about your student years at Berklee and then at the Conservatory, your studies were mostly geared to individual teachers, but what about the general pedagogical style or mood or outlook from both schools? Could you compare and contrast them at that given time?
MP: Well at Berklee I came specifically for arranging, composition, and I don't think there was anything equal to that at that time. And I just mentioned one name that is gonna explain why. Herb Pomeroy. I was lucky to be in Herb's classes- all of them. Line writing, Duke Ellington class, and the last one, writing for composition, composition for orchestra I forgot what it was named. And I was a film scoring major also, so Herb got me into writing every week, and it got easier and easier and easier. The Duke Ellington was so enlightening to me, all of those details that he had in his music which Herb knew, like it was his. And then the final one, being a drummer, I always wrote rhythmical stuff, so as my final project, Herb says to me, okay, now write something for this. And he gives me this tune that he wrote, his original tune, based on 'How Deep is the Ocean'.
FB: Oh, so like a smooth ballad, not rhythmic.
MP: He called it 'Rock Bottom' and I said, Herb, I, this is like something- (and Herb says), Well, now's the (time).
FB: Where are the hooks and the angles in this one, right? Chelsea bridge.
MP: So it was quite something.
FB: So what did you do? How did you solve it?
MP: Well I did my best and he liked what I did. Of course, there was room for improvement but it was something, again, so strong about it that I didn't experience in the conservatory. When I went to the conservatory and wrote myself in those classes with Tom McKinley, orchestration and composition, there was another guy I forgot his name...
FB: Hank Kisnetsky?
MP: No, (inaudibly lists names) I forgot.
FB: Bob Brookmeyer?
MP: No no no, some contemporary way of writing, like 20th century music way of writing. Or another course called advanced arranging, nothing came close to what Herb had to say, and what I learned from Herb. And I actually think maybe, because of what I learned from Herb, those things were easy for me. Maybe if I hadn't had that opportunity, maybe I would have appreciated more those courses, but Herb was the man.
FB: He made everything else look simple.
MP: Now, on the other side, I give creativity to the Conservatory for the instrumental part of it because Berklee, I was so much into the writing, with only half an hour private lessons, there wasn't much time that I could spend on the instrument. Although I was playing sessions at night, but the Conservatory with Moses, less theory courses to do more practical music, to be played. It was a different environment, which I think it benefitted me more on a musical level, for my instrument. So I had a more, let's say, rewarding experience in there. Maybe also because it was a graduate program, so you get deeply more into what my studies were, which was performance studies.
FB: Um, maybe we should talk about your career, post school, because you've had so many rich experiences with all kinds of different ethnic world group across the board, I mean, just a couple that come off your resume, here, are like Gypsy Kings, which was European flamenco...
MP: It's a Rumba-Flamenco. Their music is like what they call Rumba from Camargue, which is this French southern region.
FB: Yeah, La Midi.
MP: They originally come from Catalonia, but their father moved away from Raiesse, that's their family name, so they moved away from Spain, settled in Southern France, and they are in between Arles and Montpelier.
FB: Close to the Pyrenees.
MP: Yes, yes. And the two families that are part of the Gypsy Kings are the Raiesses and the Balliardo family. Cousins. Now, what distinguished from one another was the Raiesses were more of a singing family, where the Balliardos were more of a playing family. So, guitar Bertozzo (?), the Raiesses were the amazing Gypsy singers. Uh, the father of the Gypsy Kings, the original Raiesse, was brought here to Carnegie Hall with this guitar player, his name slipped my mind, Manolo...
FB: Manolo, yes. Famous guy.
MP: Yes. They came, duo, first time ever, of like a gypsy music brought to the states. Yes, and Manolo is related to the Baillardos. So that was, like, the origin of those families coming together. So they became big, I think late '80s, early '90s, I heard they were a major success back then. And when I joined them I was with two fellow Berklee students, two brothers from France. Gilda Beaucle and Jean-Baptiste Beaucle. And we auditioned for the Gypsy Kings in Arles, we prepared all the repertoire, it was hard to do because they don't have charts. They don't know music, they don't read music, everything is in gypsy culture, or tradition, let's say, everything is oral. So we had to do it the same way through CDs, I was notating all the stuff that they do, only to realize that once we get there, those guys improvise, meaning that structures of songs are not the same from time to time.
FB: They'll throw a couple of bars in, they go off on a little tangent here and there...
MP: The singers might sing over certain thins, prolonging, you know it depends on if there's somebody dancing, for instance...
FB: Like, they do a cadenza, with the dancers twirling around.
MP: And that can take forever, it can take forever.
FB: So you're just waiting with a GP, and groove.
MP: Just groove along until the call comes. And the call is given by the guitarist, the lead guitarist, to move into the outer section. It's great, and they combine Fandangos, the Rumba, Camargue, and it's amazing experience. I was thinking maybe to be more specific, Flamenco rhythms, like Bolerias, that kind of stuff, but that's not what they were into, their songs are a little easier on the ear. And constant rhythm going on.
FB: I mean it was more of a pop band, not a real ethnic thing.
MP: Although, some of their hits come from folk tunes, they just made it in a more commercial way. But I remember doing sound tracks, sessioning with the lead guitar players and doing more of that stuff, more Bolerias, I was expecting it to be more like that, but during the show it was all the steady beat songs.
FB: Yeah they knew were their audience was coming from, they were willing to adapt a little bit. So that was a big thing, you were there for a couple of years after the millenium.
MP: Couple of years, yes, toured all over the world. And I had no idea how really popular they are. I found myself on remote corners of the world on vacation, and when they asked me what do you do, I said I'm a musician. Who do you play with? If I mentioned any of the names in Jazz, of course they don't know any, but the moment I say Gypsy Kings, everywhere, everybody starts singing one of their songs. It was quite an experience. And of course, travelling, with them going on the road with them was so different than going on the road with a Jazz band. So now we're talking, traveling business class, and as a sideman, that doesn't happen. Maybe big names, Jazz stars, travel that way, but now we are in a different circuit, so five-star hotels, economically it's quite satisfying, and the crowds playing for 20,000 people who are nuts about you, it's something that you never experience in Jazz, because I've had, I mean sometimes it's something that makes me wonder, that people should get more into their life than being like this, but fans that wait for you to throw your wet towel, then once you do that they take it and they sniff it, and they just, it's like...
FB: Like teeny boppers. Screaming teenage girls.
MP: In their case, their success was a few years ago, about 20 years ago now, their fans are middle aged people. You find some younger ones as well, there are the remix of their songs for the younger generation. But those were scenes that I have only seen on TV when you see something about the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, that kind of hysteria that doesn't happen in Jazz. I mean I've seen Miles playing at the Boston Common, getting out (inaudible) after the concert, and if there's anything to go crazy about, he was the guy. Nothing of that kind was happening to him. So, quite an experience, I have to say.
FB: Musically, Marcello, maybe you could talk about some of the other interesting musical challenges that you've had, like the Indonesian violinist. Lulu Peruanto?
MP: Lulu Peruanto, she's an amazing violinist who I met in Amsterdam. She was playing with Billy (inaudible) back in Europe. We had this band with her husband, who was a Dutch pianist, and a bass player (inaudible). From New York, Art Blakey, Messengers. So in this band, who were combining elements of several cultures. Melodic elements from Indonesian music, Gamelon music, specifically Lulu being of Sondanese descent, she had all those melodies that were new to me but were so unique. Uh, her husband was reharmonizing, so bringing a lot of jazz harmonic concepts but with a European flavor to it, as well, a European approach to it. And myself bringing the New York Style of playing, high energy, which they wanted to have for the music.
FB: Did you have to expand your kit to bells and gongs and things like that?
MP: I had some Gamelan gongs, the pre-tuned ones. And I, we had an oppourtunity of playing with Gamelan orchestra players, we did this tour in 2003, Mahabarata tour, which was the shadow puppets. There was the show going on, we were touring with a stage bus...
FB: These were the Hiundu Gods and Goddess puppet theater.
MP: Yeah. There was a Gamelan Orchestra, five percussionistsand a Jazz quartet. We were touring with a stage bus, which was a creation of this visual arts from Holland, a bus that opens up on one side, and a stage comes out of it.
FB: Oh man, a travelling theater.
MP: Exactly. We did, we travelled all over Indonesia, all over Java, Bali, playing for people.
FB: Like a state department tour or something like that. Because it's all free.
MP: Yeah.It's all free. In huge sqaures, universities, some Borobudu? You know that temple? They never had music in there, we were the first, it was amazing.
FB: Talk about breaking down cultural walls. And so compact. A real roadshow. Amazing.
MP: So Lulu was one experience that kept going through the years foir ten years.
FB: You had to learn different kinds of rhythms, different kinds of patterns, how to adapt with the Gamelan...
MP: Um we had to, especially when we played with the Gamelan Orchestra, yes, I had to become familiar with some of their rhythms, some of their calls, two of the players, where one was from Java, playing a Javanese Kandun, which is a two-headed drum and the other one was from Bali. And there is a difference in concept between the Balinese Gamelan and the Javanese Gamelan. Balanese is more rhythmical were the Javanese is more calm and sweet. So it's interesting to see how the two things might interact together, and trying to get my act with them and working some stuff out. So it was quite something and I had to learn some stuff which wasn't easy.
FB: Do you have any other cross-cultural anecdotes that you could share? About having to learn something different?
MP: Let's see, well, as far as being involved in several other cross-cultural projects, you know with Bruno Rayberg doing the Nordic stuff, his music is fantastic. Spiros Exras was this great guitar player from Greece has this world Jazz ensemble, and he combines Greek rhythms and modal music. That's another thing from which I had to learn something. Bruno's music gives me enough freedom to play my stuff, although sometimes now he's getting more into Indian music...
FB: He went to India last year.
MP: Yes. So there are some new elements that he might throw at me soon that I might have to practice. But any of those experiences to me are very welcome, because I feel highly enriched by it. And I accept the challenge. If something is new to me and it's not easy, I welcome it.
FB: What are the challenges that you offer your students these days? How do you pique their interest? How do you make them listen and play sharper? Herb challenged you, the bands challenged you, you have to pass the gauntlet on to your students. What do you look for, what do you try to bring out?
MP: Through my experience I have come to realize that students coming from different backgrounds might bring to class different experiences. So I ask my students to introduce themselves, the first class, so I see where they come from, I see what their interests are their experiences musically, then I try to choose something, which is musically close to them so that they can relate to it, and at the same time it contains information, some topics that is new to them.
FB: Excellent, I like that, I do that too. I make them introduce eachother, find out information about eachother, and do a questionaire also, to get some real details. That's great.
MP: Because if I have to talk about a two five, playing a Charlie Parker song, and they don't know who Charlie Parker is, they might get bored. They might get interested, but they might get bored. So maybe wait to talk about Charlie Parker until later, but let them do something of a two five nature, using music and styles that they are familiar with. So they feel confident, they have fun, and at the same time, they're challenged to do something new. And then, from that you step backwards and say, you see what you just did? It was also done by this Jazz master. And they go, ah, interesting. So it's a way to get them interested through what they know already maybe, or they are a little bit familiar with.
FB: Cool. Um, we're running out of time, yeah, maybe you had some interesting stories about working with Toshiko when you went first went to Manhattan? When you used to go to her and Lou Tobbacan's apartment for jam sessions? What was that like?
MP: Oh that was fun. Ah, Toshiko once called me to play a gig with her, in Toronto which unfortunately I couldn't do. Ah, but then I became friendly with Lou when I first moved to New York, coming, and I was going to his place to have sessions, periodically, once twice a month, and we were playing in this basement.
FB: Who else was there?
MP: Oh Don Friedman, who else? Some young bass players, Doug Weiss maybe. It was so long ago I forgot. But you know he called some of his old friends sometimes, and sometimes young lions. Now we were playing in the basement. The basement is next to wine cellars. Toshiko and Lou are heavily into wine. They are wine connoisseurs, so I asked, so what are you gonna do with all this wine? You know we have a yearly dinner every time, right after the new year and we invite all of our friends to play and eat. It's mainly eat, then play, and drink. So that's when Toshiko opens up the bottles and she cooks up a storm. She's a gourmet chef.
FB: Like ah Italian, French...
MP: Uh it's a variety of different things.
MP: Yes. Ah and so there I met Pete LaRocka, which doesn't go, Pete LaRocka was a stage name. What was his name, Pete Simms? Anyway he's a lawyer.
FB: Yeah but he was also a legendary drummer.
MP: He was a legendary drummer. When I met him I was like (appears amazed). A lot of other New York cats were there. That was fun to do, and of course the wines, you are a wine connoisseur, the wines are amazing. Like a treasure.
FB: The last time I was talking with Lou we were talking about Barrolos from Pimonte. El Rey del Vino.
MP: I do have a very small wine collection. One of my best ones is a Barollo Stravecchio from '55, which now is probably, you cannot drink it anymore.
FB: Well, they hold up pretty well, I had some '64, '68 not too long ago, that were not bad shape, gentle old ladies. You know? But still with a little elbow, you know? Anyway, we'll have to continue this over a glass of wine.
FB: Thank you so much for joining us today and sharing your tales of your world travels in music, a real pleasure.
MP: Thank you.
FB: A la prossima.
MP: Arrivederci. Ciao.