Gatto’s groove

The All Stars Band from Italy pays tribute to Miles Davis.

Gatto (photo credit: DAN CODAZZI)
(photo credit: DAN CODAZZI)
It is no secret that the state budget for arts and culture is in constant decline, which makes life difficult for anyone looking to bring over artists from abroad. Barak Weiss, known, inter alia, as artistic director of the Tel Aviv Jazz Festival and the annual jazz and world music showcase, responded to the deteriorating funding predicament by going for a communal option. The idea was to create a sort of jazz devotee collective, whereby the members decide which artist to bring over and undertake to purchase tickets for the show. It is a concept that appears to be bearing fruit.
The group now includes some 700 members. The idea is that the community circumnavigates the festivals and other official events by joining forces to bring artists here that the aforementioned enterprises, including heavily state- and municipal-funded festivals, do not consider. This year’s Israel Festival, for example, has nary a jazz slot in its 19-day program.
First up in the collective performance agenda are 57-year-old Italian jazz drummer Roberto Gatto and 38-year-old compatriot pianist Roberto Tarenzi. They will front their own bands – a quintet and a trio, respectively – at the Tel Aviv Zappa Club on June 18 (doors open 7:30 p.m.).
Weiss’s supporters in the initial undertaking include the local Embassy of Italy and the Italian Cultural Institute in Tel Aviv. Gatto’s slot, with his All Stars Band of trumpeter Dino Rubino, saxophonist Max Ionata, and bassist Luca Bulgarelli, with Tarenzi on piano, will take the form of a tribute to Miles Davis.
Gatto’s first avenue of musical interest was sparked by family ties.
“My uncle was a rock drummer in the 1960s,” he notes, adding that it paved the youngster’s way to some of the industry greats of the time. “One time, my uncle opened for Jimi Hendrix, so I got to see Hendrix play. I saw lots of people. My uncle drove me everywhere, to loads of rock shows. I saw The Beatles with him. I was very lucky to have an uncle like that.”
Gatto’s other musical objects of admiration of the time included prog rock acts like King Crimson and Genesis, as well as Led Zeppelin and Cream. Ultimately, someone closer to home than his uncle pointed him in the jazz direction.
“My father was a big jazz fan. He had lots of records, and sometimes I would take out an LP, like Duke Ellington or Sinatra or the Count Basie Orchestra,” he says.
The avuncular influence came into play again, at least in favored instrumental terms.
“There was this amazing jazz drummer called Buddy Rich, and I was really impressed with him. I discovered something really different from the rock drummers I had been listening to,” he says.
It was a life changer for young Gatto.
“When I heard the Buddy Rich album, I realized that I liked jazz music,” he declares. “Then I discovered [pianist] Bill Evans.”
As the youngster dug deeper into his father’s vinyl collection, he came across an album that has been cited by many as the launching pad for their lifelong devotion to jazz.
“I heard A Love Supreme by John Coltrane. That was very important for me. There was something mystical about it. A lot of other jazz musicians talk about how A Love Supreme was important to them. I don’t know. There is something magic about it,” he says.
Gatto was drawn ever further into the mysteries and intricacies of improvisational music and became enamored with Davis’s oeuvre when a friend pointed him in the direction of the iconic trumpeter’s 1963 release Seven Steps to Heaven.
“That had Tony Williams, who is a great drummer,” says Gatto. “That really impressed me.”
Over the years, Gatto has played with many of the titans of the global jazz community, including the likes of trumpeters Chet Baker and Lester Bowie, saxophonists Lee Konitz and Joe Lovano, and keyboardists Tommy Flanagan and Joe Zawinul.
The drummer says he found the VIP-synergies, which cover a wide range of musical mindsets, highly enlightening, and that they propelled him along a rewarding educational continuum.
“I started playing with Chet Baker when I was very young, and I started understanding a lot more about jazz music after that,” he says.
Baker was known as one of the most lyrical and romantic trumpeters ever to grace a jazz concert, but doing the business with the maverick Bowie was an entirely different experience.
“When I started playing with Lester, I discovered something I had never played before. I played more avantgarde, more free. That really helped me to open my mind,” he says.
The latter is a lesson that has stayed with Gatto.
“It is important to know the tradition of jazz but also to know that jazz did not end in the 1940s. The music is so wide. It is important for a musician to remain open,” he asserts.
Gatto certainly does that. He mixes his improvisational offerings with forays into rock and pop music and writes the odd soundtrack. Over the years, he collaborated frequently with compatriot singer-songwriter Pino Daniele, who died last year at the age of 59.
“I enjoy rock and pop, too,” he says. “You know, it’s all just music. You’ve got to keep on learning. I try to do that."
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