Marcello Pellitteri: Overcoming Tragedy Through Music

Q: When did you start playing the drums?

A: I started banging on my mother’s pots and pans when I was 4-years-old. I destroyed quite a number of wooden spoons and kitchen utensils before my parents bought me toy drums. I was five then. All day I was playing along my first 45 record, "Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane" by the Beatles. My father decided to get me a real drums set for my eighth birthday. I still remember the excitement is seeing it. It was a Hollywood by Meazzi, amazing Italian-made drums which in the '60s was used by master drummers such as Max Roach and Art Blakey. Sparkling gray. I still have it, and it sounds great.

Q: Did you receive any formal training as a drummer, and when did you become interested in jazz?

A: I started as self-taught. I was listening to records, trying to reproduce what the drummers were doing. At the beginning I had a small collection of pop and rock records. My favorite bands were all English: Deep Purple, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Yes, Gentle Giant, Genesis, Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express. I also liked a Dutch band, Ekseption, which was mixing classical music to rock. I have their entire discography. Then when I was 16 I got an Oscar Peterson record from my aunt, and I got hooked on jazz. For this reason I decided to attend some jazz master classes in Italy where I was living at that time. I started learning about swing, be-bop and hard-bop. I also got a few lessons from a great Brazilian drummer living in Rome, Afonso Vieira, who taught me a lot about Brazilian rhythms. I lived the first 21 years of my life in Italy before moving to Boston, MA where I attended Berklee College of Music and the New England Conservatory. There I studied with Alain Dawson, Bob Kaufman, and Bob Moses. My studies with these three master drummers broadened my horizons, and I started getting into contemporary jazz, fusion, and avant-garde.  While in Boston I met and played with several great local percussionists who were essential in getting my Latin jazz chops up. I am still working every day in refining my skills as a drummer.  

Q: What artists have had the greatest impact on you creatively?

A: Billy Cobham, Carl Palmer, Max Roach, and Tony Williams are strong influences in my playing as well as all the drummers I mentioned earlier whom I have studied with. Creativity is something that I feel is also impacted by the people I play with. During a performance when I establish a connection with other musicians I listen to their ideas and I respond to them in a way that hopefully can develop an intense musical conversation.  
As far as writing music my Berklee teachers Herb Pomeroy, Jeronimas Kačinskas, and Jan Jarczyk, as well as some of my favorite film composers such as Henry Mancini, Bernard Herrmann and Jerry Goldsmith, have been shaping my compositional creativity. I love composing and orchestrating as much as I love playing.

Q: What songs on Acceptance are the most personal to you and why?

A: Acceptance is a very special project for me. It is a tribute to the memory of my 23-year-old daughter Veronica, who passed away 18 months ago in a car accident. She has taught me that acceptance of unfortunate life experiences is the way to overcome their consequences. Acceptance has transformed my deepest sorrow into the music in my CD. All the songs are special to me, but if there is one that tops the others it would be "Silent Song." My daughter Veronica sings in it humming the melody. "Silent Song"  was originally recorded by Veronica as the main theme of an original theater play I wrote music for, The Silent Song of Genjer Flower by Indonesian playwright/theater producer/director Faiza Mardzoeki. I extracted Veronica’s vocal tracks and rewrote everything around her voice for a 12-piece string orchestra and an acoustic rhythm section. It contrasts with the rest of the music in the CD, which is electric. I put out "Silent Song" also a single. The sale profits of the single and the CD will go towards the Veronica Pellitteri Memorial Fund, which this year will given for the first time a scholarship to a student from the Fiorello LaGuardia Performing Arts High School in NYC where my daughter graduated from in 2009.  From this year on there will always be a scholarship under Veronica’s name.

Q: How would you say your music has evolved over the years?

A: As I evolve as a human being, my music evolves with me. Life experiences, personal relationships, and socio-political issues are all factors that play a big role in the development of an artist’s work. I try to serve music as best as i can as a performer, as a composer, and as a teacher. I don’t try to force an evolution on my music. I just try to make it respond true to the emotions of the moment.  

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Artist Marcello Pellitteri
Other tags alt-jazz