Dominick Farinacci: Sharing Stories

R.J. DeLuke By

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I love bringing music and real stories together to help make a difference. Not only through the music, but bring people of different cultures and walks of life together.
—Dominick Farinacci
Dominick Farinacci, a trumpeter from Cleveland, is a strong improviser with a wide, round tone. It's suited for his predilection for the melodic side of the music. But his vision of music extends beyond the act of playing and the art of performing—something he has done around the globe for years, carving out a successful career after being mentored by Wynton Marsalis.

Farinacci truly envisions music as something that can bring people in a community, from diverse backgrounds and different musical interests, together. He isn't just paying it lip service. Community programs he is involved in have educated people about music and also aim to improve the human condition. Even the recording of his latest album, Short Stories (Mack Avenue, 2016), recorded in his home town was enveloped with an educational component for kids in Cleveland.

At the same time, the trumpeter is interested in music that tells stories, an offshoot. He is very much putting his money where his mouth is along those lines as well, providing music that accompanies videos that tell stories he feels are important.

"It's a musical reflection of my journeys over the past few years," says Farinacci of Short Stories. "I get to travel all around the world and experience different cultures. I look for special things from each culture and each genre of music and bring it into my own thing and export it through the lens of jazz. I have had a lot of different musical interests over the years, but it's all rooted in jazz. But I wanted to find some of my favorite songs that I've come across over the years. Different genres and generations. Different cultures. And bring them into this project, as well as write a few songs that reflect the time that I spent in a couple different places in the world."

Short Stories has originals, and songs done by Dianne Reeves, the rock band Cream, Horace Silver and Tom Waits.

"The unifying thread is what we decided to do with the songs. A great melody is a great melody. We like to bring in all different kinds of cultural influences and genre influences into the music... it's the biggest project of my life. I'm happy with every note of it and every hour that went into planning, executing, pre-production, the session itself, and post-production. I stand by every single note and every single section of it."

It was produced by Tommy LiPuma, another mentor of Farinacci. The union with the renowned producer—also from Cleveland—was something the trumpeter had wanted for years. The timing was right. "He's been a mentor of mine since my college days. I used to go up to his place, bring him my albums and see what he had to say. He's always been very helpful and gracious to me," says Farinacci.

LiPuma has 29 gold and platinum records to his credit, three Grammy awards and has produced people including Miles Davis, Diana Krall and Barbra Streisand. The pair selected the players, including bassist Christian McBride, drummer Steve Gadd, and keyboard Larry Goldings. But when they gathered in Cleveland, is wasn't just to produce a CD.

"We thought to surround it with an educational component and get the students from the community college and high schools and grade schools involved. Get them helping out. Let them check out the session. Get master classes and workshops with the artists," he says. "So we built an entire educational curriculum around the making of the album. We have every minute of it documented. We had the journalism students take part. We had the recording arts students shadow Al Schmitt, the engineer. We had the jazz students from the area involved. That was substantial and we're continuing to do things based around that production."

Throughout the recording, naturally, is the distinctive, lush sound of Farinacci's horn, thick, strong and emotive.

"I had a great teacher when I was growing up who stressed the importance of having a great sound," he says. "Listening to all my influences from Louis Armstrong to Clifford Brown, Blue Mitchell, Miles Davis. A lot of vocalists I love. Dinah Washington. Dianne Reeves. Carmen McRae. Their sound and their delivery of the melody is something that resonated with me. I love beautiful, lyrical players that tell melodic stories through their music."

Telling stories is a paramount concept in the trumpeter's music.

"Some of the stories on my album reflect true stories. I love bringing music and real stories together to help make a difference. Not only through the music, but bring people of different cultures and walks of life together, all through the music."

His most striking move in that direction involves his handling of "Soldier's Things," a Tom Waits song from his Swordfishtrombones album. It's a cut on Short Stories, but has a life of its own—a more meaningful life.

"Lyrically, one can interpret the lyric as a soldier coming back from war, after being away, and going through that transition to civilian life," explains Farinacci. "It might be a metaphor for that. When I heard the melody and lyric, I reacted emotionally to it and was brought into a world I knew nothing about. I was trying to get closer to the song."

Through a friend, he met a young man, Staff Sgt. Jaymes Poling, who served tours in Afghanistan as an infantryman in the 82nd Airborne Division. Influenced by the song, Farinacci engaged the man in a discussion, wanting to know more about his journey.

"He was so gracious in giving me insight into his journey home. An unimaginable struggle from Afghanistan back to Cleveland. The process of transitioning was a miraculous story. I noticed that through all his struggles, which he still has, he has this unflagging optimism. He recently got back into school and he's the president of the Veteran's Association. He's active in helping several vets successfully make this transition.

As a result, a story was built around the music and a video was made. It is the start of a collaborative series in an effort to spur a constructive and empathetic dialogue leading to better support for returning veterans.

"The video gives a glimpse into his journey through this transition. We're unfolding this in a regular recurring series that's going to come up in a couple months. Talking in detail about different parts of his struggle. We want to help to give him a voice. He hopes to inspire somebody, even just one or two veterans out there that maybe haven't been able to talk about their story openly. So many veterans are gong through difficult times."

It will be found on YouTube and through Farinacci's FaceBook page.

"That concept of bringing together music and real-life stories, which is the concept of Short Stories, is something that I'm very passionate about. I'm also working with a foundation based in Lebanon that's run by Arwa Damon who is a CNN international correspondent. He started a foundation that helps kids from Syria, who were injured in war, get treatment. It's based in Beirut. The last song on the album, 'Parlour Song,' is the theme song for the foundation. I've been working closely with them on different things."

Yet another project Farinacci is involved in, to bring communities and cultures together and inspire change, is called Spirit of the Groove, also in Cleveland.

"Its an effort I'm passionate about, bringing together the jazz and gospel community in Cleveland. There's so much talent and hidden talent. I want the two communities to work together, to learn from each other, to help create more performance opportunities, educational initiatives and ultimately bring our audiences together. That's something I put together, through Tri-C Jazz Fest [an annual Cleveland event], which is an initiative I'm excited about. It's nothing new in terms of jazz and gospel coming together. There are many consistencies between the two communities. But it is kind of a new thing in terms of how we're approaching it in Cleveland on a local level, which I'm thrilled about."

The roots in Cleveland grow deep. It was there, in the sixth grade, he started playing trumpet. At first, he admits, he wanted to play drums, but there were percussionists o' plenty. As happens in many school districts, if one section is crowded and one is lacking, kids are moved to the area of need. It was fortuitous. He didn't grow up listening to jazz, but he heard Armstrong recordings and it opened the door. "By the time I was 14, I knew this was what I wanted to spend my life doing. Playing and creating music."

While in high school, at the Tri-C festival, the band Farinacci was a part of played in front of Marsalis. There was a meeting that would prove forever fruitful.

"He was so gracious with me and gracious with my whole generation, in terms of education and nurturing. A couple years later in high school he invited me to perform with him on PBS for a Louis Armstrong special with Trombone Shorty and Brandon Lee, two great trumpet players. A year later, I was invited to audition for Julliard, which is a program he helped to get off the ground. He's been a wonderful mentor over the years," says Farinacci. "He's done such miraculous things with the music, not only with performance, but education and advocacy. He continues to have an impact on my musical journey and where I want to take things. Not only through the music, but in terms of helping to make the music the fabric of certain parts of life. Stories to tell."

From Cleveland, Farinacci moved to New York City at the age of 18. He attended the Julliard jazz program when it first started. Like most young musicians at music school in the city, he was busy hustling gigs here and there when not studying. He stayed in the city, building a career slowly, but steadily. "I found my network of guys I enjoyed playing with. I also had a recording contract I got with a Japanese label. I recorded nine albums for them. We tried to get as many gigs as we could across the country with our band we put together in New York. It's always an ongoing process of getting out there as much as possible and work on new music. Find great musicians to collaborate with."

The trumpeter has done sideman gigs, but over the last dozen years has pushed his own bands and music more. It's a career built step by step.

"There wasn't one steady gig that put me out there. I had experiences working with artists like Joe Lovano, Christian McBride, Ira Sullivan, Monty Alexander. I got to play a little bit with Jimmy Heath in different contexts. Artists from different generations. But no big extensive tour that I did for a year with one particular artist. It was always a few things here and there. I try to get around as many older artists as possible.

One thing he brings to the table is that fat sound and his strong sense of melody and harmony.

"Sound, to me, is extremely important. It's the first thing people hear," he says. "The sound is an extension of your inner soul. Everything else comes around that. If guys don't have a good sound, I'm not really interested in listening to them. I think that goes for the general public as well. That sound is the first link that's going to connect your music with your audience... It's such a personal thing. As long as you're confident your sound is a reflection of your inner soul and the identity of who you are, then I think: Mission accomplished."

Farinacci strives to take jazz music, and the career path he has chosen, and make it more meaningful; something beyond getting his name around, getting gigs and honing strong performances.

He says, "I was talking with a friend the other day about the constant challenges we're faced with building a career in music. I'm very fortunate and I'm grateful I've had so many opportunities. But it is a grind, from start to finish. The challenges building a career in music are healthy for our music, because it brings those who are truly passionate, 110 percent committed too what they're trying to do. They rise to the top. It may take a year, or 10 years, or 30 or 40. It doesn't really matter how long it takes. I try to surround myself with guys who have an unwavering confidence and belief that it's gong to work out. Ultimately, that commitment is reflected in their music."

"What I really love about it is what an individual and, at the same time, community-based music it is. I love how it involves people of different cultures and music of different cultures and brings it all together. The swing rhythm is such a powerful thing. There's nothing like great swinging thing. There's nothing in the world that feels as good as that, to me. "Although a lot of my music isn't swing in the literal sense, I try to bring the spirit of what that is about into everything I do. I try to make everything I do feel as good as possible. I love the feel. I love the community aspect. I love the cultural diversity and I love the power it has to connect with not only musicians of different walks of life, but also audiences of different walks of life. I want my audience to leave feeling great and inspired. I want to capture the full range of emotion in a concert. I want people to have a good time. Go through some contemplative things. Some serious pieces. What I don't go for is more of the academic approach; of it being more like a science project. That never really appealed to me."

Photo Credit: Alejandra Barragán

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