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Bob Lanzetti: Snarky Guitars, Part 2

Mike Jacobs By

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AAJ: What's the minimum amount of keyboards you generally have?

BL: We usually have at least two keyboards but Justin usually plays keys and trumpet. If we have a gig where it's only Justin and another keyboard, Mike will usually try to bring in a second guitarist or a third keyboard if possible.

AAJ: It's funny because in the rest of the world, two keyboard players in a band is generally the real anomaly.

BL: (laughs) Yeah, our band has a lot of anomalies...

AAJ: You also play with Bokanté, which also has some interesting instrumental dynamics. How do you alter your approach for that band?

BL: Well, whatever band you're in, you're going to try and serve the song—that's first and foremost. The instrumentation changes what you are going to do. Bokanté has three guitars all the time so I end up being freed up to play textural and effects stuff. I do a lot of those kinds of things in that band, in addition to [playing] parts— which is really fun. In Snarky, most of the time there's just one guitarist onstage so you're just covering a lot of parts— sometimes more than what one guitar should be playing. That's the main difference between the two. But then in Bokanté, we also have [lap steel player] Roosevelt Collier.

AAJ: So, in effect, there are actually four guitars in Bokanté...

BL: Yeah, it is four really. Rosie is playing a lot of parts and soloistic stuff, like I said even that role isn't open to me sometimes. It's actually kind of fun because it makes me try and reach for things I wouldn't normally do.

AAJ: So you have the four guitarists and a bassist on one side of the stage with three percussionists on the other, flanking [singer] Malika Tirolien.

BL: Yeah, I'm sure it's a similarly strange gig for them. I'm sure none of them ever get to play in a band with two other percussionists.

AAJ: Do any of them play an actual drum kit onstage?

BL: Well, Andre [Ferrari] is playing a percussion set up that's closest to a kit. He has a bass drum. That's kind of it though. I don't think anybody has any cymbals or toms or anything. He has a frame drum that he kind of uses like a snare in back-beats, but...

AAJ: I have to ask. What is the thing that he has in his mouth all the time?

BL: It's a grouse pipe. Some kind of bird call thing. If you blow into it a certain way it will make a bird sound. Andre does this thing where it sounds like a backwards drum. It's pretty amazing.

AAJ: So I understand Bokanté is up for a Grammy this year for What Heat? (Real World, 2018)...

BL: Yeah, it's exciting. I'm going to have to dust off my tux again.

AAJ: Let's go back a little. Before North Texas, You studied with Vic Juris, David Fiuczynski and Chris Buono —all players with very different styles. What did you take away from your time with each of them?

BL: Well, Chris Buono and I grew up in the same town on the Jersey shore. He's a little bit older than me, but not that much older. When we met I was 16 and he was 22, and I thought he was like the best guitarist in the world. He's a fantastic player and a great teacher. He was really the guy that showed me what it was going to be like to do this for a living, for real. Before then I had no idea. I wanted to be Jimmy Page or something. He was the one who showed me it was possible to be a professional musician and not be a superstar. Seems like a simple thing now but when you're that age, with no experience... You don't realize all the stuff behind the scenes and session work and all [those] kinds of things. So he was great in showing me the path. Chris also introduced me to Vic and Fiuczynski.

Fiuczynski I only got a few lessons with actually. He and Chris are good friends so he subbed for Chris a couple of times and I also went up and got some lessons from him separately. Fuczynski was very influential on me in the way he would fuse punk rock and elements of free jazz, like Eric Dolphy. That combination of worlds really opened my eyes to the notion that you don't have to play an archtop like Joe Pass to play jazz. He made me realize there are so many things you can do. I loved that 1995 [Screaming Headless Torsos] record (Discovery WEA, 1995). It was such a great combination of things and him just being able to use all of the guitar and bend strings. Jazz guys weren't supposed to bend strings! He showed there's no reason you can't use all those things.

Vic Juris was the guy I studied with right before college. His knowledge of tunes and harmony and his lines are just so deep. It was really great studying with someone like that. We would play Wayne Shorter and George Benson tunes and transcribe things. It was pretty heavy.*

[*Interviewer's note: Vic Juris passed away on 12/31/19, shortly after this interview was conducted. Lanzetti adds a postscript below:

I have probably about 15 cassette tapes and probably 3 manuscript books filled with inspiring information from Vic. I used to drive about an hour and a half to his house and back with a crappy car once a week, every week, for that experience and it was worth every second. One of the best teachers I ever had and a fantastic player and guy. RIP Vic.]

AAJ: You flat-out jazz side isn't often directly evident in your playing.

BL: There was a period where I was playing a lot of jazz, a lot of bebop, especially in school. I've always been into other things though—Prince, Sly and the Family Stone, Radiohead—so all that stuff was always there too. I definitely spent a lot of time playing jazz though.

AAJ: So you and most of the guys in Snarky Puppy went through the UNT jazz program, correct?

BL: About half of us.

AAJ: Are there any detectable signs that you can tell if a player has been through the UNT program? Or by contrast, does a player from say, Berklee have a tell that you can hear?

BL: That's an interesting question. I think so. It's more like if you find out later that a player is from a certain school, it's like, "Yeah, that makes sense." I guess Berklee has a certain sound just like North Texas has a sound. Maybe that's as much a product of being in the school as it is being in the scene that surrounds it.

AAJ: You mention on your website that you have participated in some sort of musical outreach programs at Carnegie Hall. Can you tell a little about what those were like?

BL: Carnegie Hall had these programs, and I would assume they still do, that work with kids in juvenile hall. We would write songs with the kids— some of them would rap, some of them would sing—and then we would hold a concert. I did one of those and then another that was sort of the same thing, but for older people who were incarcerated at Sing Sing.

It was a pretty special experience to work with these people, especially the kids. I only did two of them but it's an ongoing program. It's pretty awesome.

AAJ: Did you find that kids today have a different view of music than when you grew up?

BL: That's a good question. When I first moved to New York around 2006, I taught a lot. I was teaching at music stores and smaller music schools. Then later, around when Youtube became a thing I started teaching online. Now when I teach, it's mostly to people who are into Snarky Puppy and have contacted me directly, through the internet. Most of them are in their 20's and I don't get a sense that they are much different in the way they view music, because we are into the same things. But, I will say that many people who are younger, especially in their teens, seem like they learn so much from Youtube or Instagram. They build careers there too. There's the keyboardist, Domi Degalle, she's amazing. She plays with Ghost Note sometimes and JD Beck and tons of others. She posts tons on Instagram. Then there's guys like Jacob Collier, who started by making videos on Youtube.

When I was growing up, none of that even existed. The way we learned, yeah it was very different but I don't know if it was better or worse necessarily. The kids I hear today are great, but great in a totally different way. Some have these amazing chops and I'm just like, "Damn, I can't do any of that..." (laughs). When I was growing up, there was no internet, there was only CDs. I would get a record with the little money that I had, and that would be all I'd have to listen to. And I would end up checking out that record so much before moving on. The good thing now is that you can access anything. The bad thing I suppose is that you might be more likely to skim past things without getting as much out of it as you could. Or skim past things because you don't like them, when you might love them if you gave them more time. It's amazing to think of the educational implications of this interesting new world.

AAJ: You mentioned at the outset that you recently completed a tour of the midwest with the Bob Lanzetti Band. Any thoughts on the bandleading experience?

BL: Well, it's so much more work than just being a sideman, it's unbelievable. It's great though. There's a lot more responsibility and a lot less free time when you're on the road. It's nice to get out there and play your own music—do your own thing, you know? This tour was the longest we've done yet. It was also the best one we've done musically, I think. I'm really happy about that. Like I said, I think I might put out a live record of it. I'm really excited about the way [the recordings] came out.

Usually the band consists of guitar, bass, drums and pedal steel but our pedal steel player, Philip Sterk , was unavailable. Our drummer Jordan Perlson lives in Nashville now and had recommended this fantastic guitarist, Mike Seal, to play a gig with us down there. It was so much fun that I asked Mike to play as second guitarist on the rest of the tour. It was a lot of fun playing that music with two guitars. I think Mike is going to be on the Bach project I'm working on too.

AAJ: Not too long ago, you also had some interesting side gigs playing with Jerry Granelli and Robben Ford was also in the band. How was that experience?

BL: That was amazing. That gig came about because Jerry and Charlie Hunter are friends. Jerry asked Charlie to do the gig but he couldn't do it so Charlie recommended me. It was a tour for a record that Jerry put out a few years ago which had Bill Frisell and Robben Ford [on it]. I was sure Robben wouldn't be on the tour. Then I was like, "Robben Ford's really on the gig? Are you kidding me?!?" (laughs) That was great playing with all those guys but, as a guitarist, to get to play with Robben was really fun. Yeah, I was a little scared but he was super cool and we got along really well. He actually came out and sat in with my band in Nashville. It's been great to have an ongoing relationship with him.

Except for one gig in Rochester, that was a ten-show Canadian tour that started in Vancouver and made its way across Canada. It was great because the core band was just two guitars, bass and drums. We had some horns too but they were pick-up horn section that was changing every night. All of the melodies were Robben and me and most of the solos were Robben and me. It was great to really play with him like that— playing harmonized guitar parts and soloing together. It was a treat for sure. Hopefully there will be more [of those gigs]. Jerry and I have been talking about it.

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