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Roberto Gatto isn't what one would call a conventional jazz musician. The Italian drummer, who will perform here between November 22-26 as part of the Hot Jazz Series, has spread his energies across wide musical terrain over the last 30 years.
Forty-seven year-old Gatto has a perfectly simple explanation for his frequent forays into non-jazz domains, which include soundtracks and even pop and rock. "My generation grew up with the music of people like Jimi Hendrix, Cream and Led Zeppelin. After that I discovered some English jazz bands, like Soft Machine and that brought me to American jazz. The first American jazz record I heard was John Coltrane's A Love Supreme." Gatto certainly has good grounding in the vernacular.
The drummer also proffers some objective cultural reasons for his barrier-crossing artistic endeavors. "We have a lot of great music in Italy - not just Neapolitan songs. We have opera and a lot of great composers from the fifties and sixties who wrote music for movies, like Armando Trovaioli. Many Italian jazz musicians from my generation were influenced by these great musicians."
Gatto was born in Rome in 1958 and made his professional debut in 1975 with Trio di Roma. Since then Gatto has travelled all over the world, playing anchor for such jazz giants as saxophonists James Moody and Phil Woods and pianists Tommy Flanagan and Cedar Walton. In the process he has gained a reputation for a polished percussion technique with a distinctive Mediterranean coating. Gatto puts the latter down to geography.
"Italians and French and other jazz musicians from southern Europe have that warmth and the melodies you get from the Mediterranean region. Jazz from northern European countries, like Germany, Sweden and Norway is very different."
Still, as any European jazz musician would readily admit, America is the natural home of jazz. On the day of our interview Gatto had a gig in Rome devoted to the repertoire of the great mid-Sixties Miles Davis Quintet.
"The tribute to Miles is a reflection of my love for American music," he says, adding that does not necessarily mean keeping to the jazz straight and narrow. "I like playing straight-ahead jazz but I also really like playing free or avant garde music. I will play anything with good musicians. When I was 18, I played with [late free jazz trumpeter] Lester Bowie and [German free jazz trombonist] Albert Mangelsdorf, so I am able to play and think in a modern way. Sometimes I like to play very open but I also like melodies, and even straight-ahead swing. I suppose, in the end, I just like to play good music. When the music is good I'm happy."
Gatto will appear here with an all-Italian quartet with a commensurately wide-ranging repertoire. Besides some of his compositions - both jazz-based and soundtrack oriented - Gatto et al will perform some numbers by iconic free jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman. "I really like Ornette's music and I am in touch and, maybe, we are going to do something together in the fall. I'd like to do something in a trio or quartet setting, with Enrico Rava on trumpet, and I'm not sure who'll be on bass yet. I'm working on that. Ornette is a genius."
For Gatto, it is not only the music he plays but with whom he performs the music that defines his direction and the extent of his pleasure zone. "I really like to play my music, but not just because it's mine but I like the people I'm playing with. My special guest for the shows in Israel is Danilo Rea. He's not my regular pianist. I've played with Danilo for 25 years and I'm very happy to bring him to Israel because he likes Israel a lot. I think the audiences in Israel can expect to have fun."
Roberto Gatto will perform at the Camelot Club in Herzilya on November 22 at 9 p.m., the Gerard Behar Center in Jerusalem on November 23 at 8:30 p.m., Tel Aviv Museum on November 24 at 9 p.m. and November 25 at 9:30 p.m., and at Abba Hushi House in Haifa on November 26 at 9 p.m.