Take Five With John Armato
Meet John Armato:
For 25 years John Armato has played jazz and commercial music in Kansas City, New York City, and now, Northern California.
From concerts and shows to night clubs and private parties, from recording sessions and Russian tours to polka festivals and police circuses, from river boats and churches toof courseweddings and bar mitzvahs, he's been there and played that.
Known for his taste and sensitivity on ballads as well as his strong sense of swing, Armato is in his element on standards, straight-ahead jazz, Basie-style big band charts, and light Latin styles.
Armato is based in Sacramento and is available for gigs in the Northern California region.
Teachers and/or influences?
Armato studied privately with instructors in Kansas City, Missouri, while growing up and was significantly influenced by his friendship and lessons with John Cushon, drummer and music director for recording artist Oleta Adams. Armato studied briefly with Joe Morello while living in New York. He draws inspiration from the clean and articulate sounds of Peter Erskine as well as countless other contemporary and past jazz masters.
I knew I wanted to be a musician when...
Drums seem to have always been a part of me. I was constantly playing on pots and pans and with Lincoln Logs. I begged my parents for lessons from about the time I was six, but no teacher would take on a student under the age of eight. I turned eight on May 19, 1972. One week and one day later, I had my first lesson, and everything happened from there.
Your sound and approach to music:
I've always thought I was born a couple decades late. for whatever reason, my ears, my heart, and my hands just respond to the sounds of the cool jazz period, to those eras of great ballads and velvety, breathy tenor saxophones. I love great melodies, great lyrics, and ballads. When I was in junior high, my friends were listening to AC/DC while I was listening to Dave Brubeck, Nat King Cole, Shelly Manne, Henry Mancini, Stan Getz, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and on and on. That's about the time I discovered Kind of Blue. All I wanted to do was swish brushes, put down quarter notes on the ride cymbal and be a part of something beautiful. I play a lot of styles today, but it's still about the beautiful stuff for me. I can still play brushes all night long and love it.
Your dream band:
I'd give anything to play with Brubeck. Jazz Goes To College was such a big influence on me. I can sing every note of every tune on that album. To play with the master would be a dream come true. At the same time, I'm not exclusively into small group stuff. The Basie band is one of the best ways to feel happy there is. That would be another dream gig for me.
Road story: Your best or worst experience:
My favorite road story is about the road I never went on. I did an audition with an accordion player in Leavenworth, Kansas, when I was in college. He had a lounge band that was going to play Vegas for a few months. We played about eight bars of Satin Doll, then he immediately started talking about the gig responsibilities.
"First of all, you'll have to get fitted for the jump suits we wear on stagethey're lime green. You'll have to help drive the van. And you run the lights for the show with your feet."
I didn't like the fact that he seemed completely disinterested in the music part of the gig. It paid something awful, like $200 a week, and the rumor was this guy had once pushed his wife out of a moving car.
I figured I'd pass on the jump suit ...
One of the most remarkable experiences of my career was playing a tour of Russia in 1994 with a cultural exchange group from the State of Kansas. Our first night in St. Petersburg we were taken to a jazz club. Who knew there were jazz clubs in Russia? I believe it's still there. It's called the New Jazz Philharmonic Hall, and it was inspired by the old Norman Granz Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts.
There's a house band there that plays six nights a week. Four or five of us from the band were invited to sit in with the house band. They didn't speak any English except to call tunes. And, not surprisingly, we didn't speak any Russian. But these guys were serious players and we played things like Autumn Leaves, and Kansas City and I was struck by two things. First, this was a LISTENING room. The club was packed and no one said a word. They were there to listen and they took jazz very seriously. Second, when we were done playing, they went insane. They were on their feet and rushing the stage, and following us out to our van. Turns out word had gotten around that "real jazz musicians from Kansas CityCharlie Parker's home town!"were playing right there in St. Petersburg and they treated us like celebrities. Now THAT was a jazz club I wouldn't mind playing again.
Your favorite recording in your discography and why?
I have a couple of dozen tunes on my online demo on my site, from a variety of recording sessions over about 20 years, but by far the one I'm proudest of is a demo recording I did with Lisa Henry in 1994.
Lisa is a fabulous singer from Kansas City, Missouri. She had decided to enter the Thelonious Monk Institute vocal jazz competition and put together this killer trio for her submission tape. Dan Deluca on piano, Gerald Spaits on bass, andmy good fortuneme.
We went into the studio without any prep. Ran the tunes once to work out endings, and then recorded, and it was the best session I've ever been a part of. Everything clicked. Lisa was happy to. The judges at the competition specifically called out the quality of her players. She ended up placing second and toured Africa and other parts of the world not long after that. Thinking of that and listening to those tunes makes me smile.
The first Jazz album I bought was:
Kind of Blue. I bought it because of that great cover. I hadn't heard it before, but looking at it, I just knew there had to be beautiful sounds slipped inside that sleeve.
What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?
Drummers are, of course, supposed to be all about the time, and I think I do a pretty good job of making the time comfortable for people. But what I want to do more than anything else is make the other players feel like they have a sonic cushion they can kind of float and dance on. That starts with good time, but it goes beyond that. There are so many colors and voices available to a drummer. I try to play textures, provide forward motion, and make clear distinctions between the parts of the form to keep things interesting. I think I'm pretty successful at that, but you'd have to ask the people I've played with.
Did you know...
Music is a huge part of my life. Drums have been a part of my life longer than any other passion, but I have a lot of interests and they all seem to be related to creative pursuits. By profession, I'm a public relations executive. I do a lot of writing and developing communications strategies for clients and help them figure out what they're messages are. But I've also done a lot of freelance writing of feature stories. I was a freelance graphic designer right out of college. And for a while in high school and college, I was a magician. That's rightmagician.
CDs you are listening to now: Desert Island picks: How would you describe the state of jazz today?
Tierney Sutton - Blue In Green
Sophie Millman - Take Love Easy
Duke Ellington - The Far East Suite
The Chris Walden Big Band - Home of My Heart
The Three Sounds - Blue Genes
Miles Davis - Kind of Blue
Dave Brubeck - Jazz Goes to College
Anne Phillips - Born to be Blue
Buddy Rich - Big Swing Face
Pat Metheny - First Circle
Eclectic, encouraging, more appreciative of the Great American Song Book than it once was.
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Desert Island picks: How would you describe the state of jazz today?
How would you describe the state of jazz today?