Bari, Italy’s renown saxophonist Rocco Ventrella says that he wants to move to Los Angeles, California after having fallen in love with its ambience while recording his latest album Give Me The Groove in Hollywood. The smooth jazz maker, and aficionado, found America to be very welcoming towards his music, and in return, American jazz has stimulated his creative urges. His debut disc Tribute To Grover Washington, Jr. is a testament to his love of American jazz. It was made in reverence to the late sax man and pays homage to Grover Washington, Jr., inevitably putting Ventrella on the path to making solo albums.
Ventrella’s road to becoming Washington’s protege began in 1975 when he started studying the clarinet at the Conservatory of Music in his howetown of Bari. But it would be the dynamic movements that Grover Washington, Jr. made with the saxophone, which would touch Ventrella the deepest and cause him to change his course, and put up the saxophone. Later, he would learn to play the keyboards to help him compose songs.
Ventrella’s professional experience has come to include playing in Big Bands like J.S.O. (Jazz Studio Orchestra) and the Teatro Petruzzelli Orchestra, and performing with Italian vocalist Fred Bongusto. Going into his third decade as a professional saxophonist, Ventrella has collaborated with a number of luminaries including Joy Garrison, Renato Falaschi, Joanna Rimmer, Crystal White, Wendy Lewis, Orlando Johnson, Mike Francis, and Bruce Nazarian. His experience in J.S.O. also gave him the opportunity to back up such jazzeratti’s as Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Benny Bailey, Chet Baker, Enrico Rava, Tony Scott, Bob Mintzer, and a number of others, especially the late, amazing Dizzy Gillespie, which Ventrella remembers fondly.
Rocco Ventrella has not only explored the realms of studio recording and live performances, but he has also invaded jazz music’s domain on the Internet being featured in netcasts at youtube.com and sky.fm. Ventrella says that he is presently looking for work in America so he can file for a VISA to stay in The States. It is his love of soul, R&B, funk, and jazz, which is in tune with America’s likings, as he discusses his desire to channel amore through his music.
Jazzreview: What is it about soul, rhythm and blues, funk and jazz that moved you? What is it about these genres that made you want to be a part of them, not just as a fan, but as an active participant?
Ventrella: When I heard this kind of music for the first time, I was able to feel the soul, spirit and the heart of the music speak from musicians, and this created interest in me--the desire to express what I had inside of me by this kind of music.
Jazzreview: How would you describe the music of Bari when you were growing up?
Ventrella: Well, in that time there was not a lot of possibilities to play jazz, soul, funk, etc., but just pop or popular music.
Jazzreview: What were some places that you went to in Bari so you could listen to music? How did these performances affect you?
Ventrella: The first place where I listened to live music was a small club. I was surprised and curious to see a saxophone. I was 13-years old. I was very interested to see these musicians play this kind of music, and something about their playing affected me a lot.
Jazzreview: At what age did you begin playing the saxophone?
Ventrella: 14-years old.
Jazzreview: Are you self-taught on the saxophone or did you have lessons?
Ventrella: I had just six months of private lessons. The rest is self-taught.
Jazzreview: How did you work through any early frustrations you had while learning to play the sax?
Ventrella: I heard many saxophone records and when I found that was my idol, I tried to look like the same sound of him, but was very, very hard the first time!
Jazzreview: At what age did you learn how to play the keyboards?
Ventrella: I learned to play the keyboards at the age of 24.
Jazzreview: Why did you want to learn how to play the keyboards?
Ventrella: I needed to learn the keyboards to study jazz harmony and to compose, as well.
Jazzreview: What programs do you like using when you are composing songs?
Ventrella: I use the Logic Audio program. (note - Logic Pro from Apple, Inc.)
Jazzreview: How did attending the Conservatory of Music in Bari discipline you to be the best musician you can be?
Ventrella: Well, I studied classical music and clarinet in the Conservatory because there wasn’t a jazz music school at that time. I obtained good things from my conservatory experience.
Jazzreview: Who were some memorable teachers that opened you up to new ways of playing?
Ventrella: Dave Sanborn and Grover Washington, Jr were my first but "virtual" teachers! I love their music!
Jazzreview: Was anyone in your family a musician or an artist? Did your family also encourage you to become a musician?
Ventrella: No, no one in my family was a musician or artist. At the beginning, my father was not happy about this, but just after some months...yes! He gave me a LP of Duke Ellington to encourage me. He loved Benny Goodman and when he listened to Benny he told me, "Rocco you have to play the clarinet. This is a nice instrument!" I hated the clarinet in that time because I was very young.
Jazzreview: When did you play for Fred Bongusto? How did he discover you?
Ventrella: I played with him from 1989 to 1992 and he discovered me while I was opening his show with my band in Bari. Just after his show, he and his manager asked me if I could play with him on tour, and on television. I was very happy for this proposal! Thanks to him, I began to fly in Brasil, Argentina, Venezuela. It was a very nice experience.
Jazzreview: Did the experience playing for Bongusto help you to feel comfortable being filmed for television, since many of his performances were televised for different European networks?
Ventrella: Yes. I was excited the first time when I appeared on television with him and in seeing many artists there. I had only seen them on television in my home before!
Jazzreview: Did people make you feel self-conscious about your appearance on TV?
Ventrella: Yes, but just the first time. It was incredible for me to be in television!
Jazzreview: Playing with the big band J.S.O. has consumed a lot of your musical experience according to your bio. Why?
Ventrella: Well, playing in the J.S.O. gave me the opportunity to play with great artists and tour with them in a lot of beautiful Italian places like Rome, Florence, Venice, etc.
Jazzreview: What was it about this band that kept you with them?
Ventrella: The director of the J.S.O. was proud to keep me with him because I was his pupil! He liked my sound and jazz impro way.
Jazzreview: What is J.S.O. an abbreviation for?
Ventrella: Jazz Studio Orchestra
Jazzreview: What was it like playing in J.S.O. for Dizzy Gillespie?
Ventrella: Wow, that was a great experience for me! Dizzy was a very gentleman with us and playing with him was an enjoyment!!!
Jazzreview: How did he treat the players in the band?
Ventrella: He was very gentle with us (meaning, with respect).
Jazzreview: When and where was that performance?
Ventrella: The performance was on the 20th of November 1985 at "Teatro Petruzzelli" of Bari.
Jazzreview: Which artist or artists that J.S.O. has played with left the deepest impression on you?
Ventrella: Dizzy Gillespie, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Paolo Fresu, Tullio De Piscopo and Tony Scott.
Jazzreview: When did you play in the Teatro Petruzzelli Orchestra?
Ventrella: The first time was with the Symphonic Orchestra where I played the soprano saxophone for Ravel&&&s composition, "Bolero."
Jazzreview: Where did you perform with the orchestra and what was the experience like playing in the orchestra?
Ventrella: I played in different places with T. P. Orchestra like Florence, Arezzo, Rome, Milan and...of course Bari! The great experience was to play with the "Three Tenors": Luciano Pavarotti, Josè ƒarreras and Placido Domingo, also Katia Ricciarelli.
Jazzreview: Did you have long hours of practice and rehearsal or form a camaraderie with any of the musicians in the orchestra?
Ventrella: Of course, I practiced five hours per day. In that time, and I made a lot of friends with other members of the orchestra.
Jazzreview: What was the turning point in your life that made you want to release your first solo album "Tribute To Grover Washington, Jr."?
Ventrella: It was terrible news when I heard that Grover Washington, Jr. died. I cried also. I wanted to make something to remember Grover and for that, I thought to record the CD.
Jazzreview: What motivated you to do an album of Grover Washington Jr.&&&s material?
Ventrella: I wanted to record the album to remember this great artist and also because I was proposing the "Tribute To Grover" - live show to the jazz festivals and jazz clubs.
Jazzreview: Who worked with you on the tribute album to Grover Washington Jr.?
Ventrella: I worked on my computer for all instruments except the saxophone that I added in the studio recording. I just invited a dear friend of mine to play, a guitar player.
Jazzreview: What was the songwriting process for your album "Give Me The Groove?"
Ventrella: I wrote the songs with my computer and sent the files to my producer in Burbank, California, Bruce Nazarian. Bruce made some arrangements as well, and added others instruments like the bass parts, synbrass, some drums parts and of course guitar parts and solo. He is a great musician and person.
Jazzreview: What was the musical dialogue like between you, Bruce Nazarian and Renato Falaschi?
Ventrella: A-ha,ha!! This is a fun story. Renato doesn’t speak English and I [tried] to translate for Bruce in English...but sometimes Renato spoke to Bruce in a mix of French and just a little bit of English. I was not able to translate in English to Bruce. I spoke in Portuguese to him because Bruce knows this language. It was a very funny and sometimes embarrassing situation.
Jazzreview: How did you meet Bruce Nazarian?
Ventrella: This is a very long history. Bruce discovered me after listening to my "Winelight" version on Sky.FM Internet radio station. He sent me a message of congratulations. In [the] meantime, I was going to the USA because I had been invited to play in the James Brown Festival in Augusta, GA in May 2006. I told to Bruce, "Hey Bruce, I am coming in USA and when I finish playing in Georgia, I have to fly to LA. We could meet there." I met Bruce in Beverly Hills at the The Camden House and I was very pleased to meet him!
Jazzreview: How did you meet Renato Falaschi?
Ventrella: I know Renato Falaschi from when we were very young in Bari and we played together for over 20 years. In 2000, Renato moved to France and in the meantime, I stopped playing with him for two years. When I spoke to Renato about my new CD project and proposed to him to come in LA to record with me, he was very happy and bought a ticket to fly from Paris to Los Angeles, and stayed 10 days with me. Renato is a real friend and gentle person and I&&&m very grateful to him. He&&&s a great musician!
Jazzreview: Will you be going on tour as a trio?
Ventrella: I would love to make this happen and I am hoping and praying to find management in USA for this. Bruce is helping me, as well. Moreover, I would love to move in Los Angeles, but I would like to find someone for a VISA work permission for one year. I love the LA music scene. In Italy, it is very hard to play this kind of music!
Jazzreview: How did you get the emotive phrasing on the saxophone and bass combo on "Sensuality?" What was the inspiration for the way you played on this melody?
Ventrella: Nice question! I was thinking about being on the beach with red wine, a beautiful woman and the sunset! What do you want more from life?
Jazzreview: There is a video of you and Bruce on YouTube.com being interviewed on SKY.FM. Do you like how interview clips and music videos can be played on the Internet or do you prefer being on television instead?
Ventrella: Of course! The internet is a great thing, if used with intelligence. I would like the television as well.
Jazzreview: Have you found lots of opportunities on the Internet?
Ventrella: Yes, I had a good opportunity on the Internet. I found Bruce Nazarian!
Jazzreview: What impression do you hope your music makes on people?
Ventrella: I hope that people will capture what I want to say with my music and playing. I hope they enjoy my music and that I bring joy to them. I love that I am able to express my state of soul and feelings to the public, and have them understand me. If I&&&m able to transmit all of this to the public, I would be the most happy man in the world! I hope.