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John Pietaro

Writer, Percussionist, Spoken Word Artist

About Me

JOHN PIETARO is a writer, poet, spoken word artist and musician from Brooklyn NY. Columnist/critic of the NYC Jazz Record and curator of the West Village Word series at Café Bohemia, NYC, in 2020 he was commissioned by the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice for Shifting the Jazz Narrative: photo essays of women instrumentalists, with photographer Sherry Rubel. The pair are also working on Beneath the Underground, a book focusing on NYC’s downtown free jazz, avant garde and post-punk musicians and poets. In November 2019, Pietaro launched poetry chapbook Smoke Rings. He is currently writing a novel.

Other recent credits include poetry for international anthology Poems from the Lockdown (UK: Willowdown, 2020) and works published by Rye the Whiskey Review, Ovunque Siamo, International Human Rights Arts Festival, Harbinger Asylum, and Italian-language anthology, Il Biglietto 2 edited/translated by Erika Dagnino (Genoa Italy: Sibello, 2018). Pietaro also penned short fiction collection Night People and Other Tales of Working New York (2013) and contributed a chapter to Paul Buhle and Harvey Pekar’s SDS: A Graphic History (NY: Hill & Wang 2007). Pietaro is a contributing writer to Z, the Nation, the Wire (UK), CounterPunch, People's World, AllAboutJazz, Struggle and other progressive and arts periodicals.

Pietaro is director and host of the annual Dissident Arts Festival and has been a guest speaker at Left Forum and the Vision Festival. As a percussionist, he’s collaborated with Allen Ginsberg, Amina Baraka, Karl Berger, Steve Dalachinsky, Ras Moshe Burnett, Erika Dagnino, Pete Seeger, Matt Lavelle and many others. He also fronts post-punk/neo-Beat duo Shadows and spoken word/free jazz quartet the Red Microphone; the latter collaborated with Ms. Baraka on the recording Amina Baraka & the Red Microphone (ESP-Disk, 2017). Ms. Baraka also performed Pietaro’s “Her Side of the Road” as a dramatic reading with music, Dissident Arts Festival, 2017.

Pietaro is a member of the Author’s Guild, the Jazz Journalists Association, Academy of American Poets, National Writers Union and the International Society of Improvised Music. LITERATURE AS A WEAPON OF SOCIAL JUSTICE is at the core of John Pietaro’s arts philosophy. A primary influence remains the work of Leftist writers, the bold auteurs of literary fiction, poetry, essays, theatre works, reportage and screen- and teleplays as well as New York’s downtown avant garde and punk movements that forged a new day.

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My Jazz Story

I love jazz because...This music moves me so deeply! There's no other western form that makes as much use of improvisation and is also founded on a traditional music (the Blues) and the traditions of the people who created and fostered it. I was first exposed to a child. My formative years were in the '60s: the jazz of the late 50s/early '60s was still the fabric of pop music and it hung on through the decade, so I was surrounded by it on radio, TV, everywhere. My father also listened to various LPs of standards and then my older brother, a big fan of swing and traditional jazz, started studying the trombone at age 12. He plays till today. When I was a young teen and studying drumset he constantly introduced me to various jazz drummers and my interest moved from rock to every school of jazz: Eddie Condon's Chicagoans to A Love Supreme, Duke Ellington to Coltrane Live at the Village Vanguard Again to Weather Report. I still listen to the full swath of various genres associated with jazz but am focused on the most creative sounds: some call this the avant garde, others New Jazz but its the music that brings instant composition to contemporary composition and allows the full breadth of human emotion to live within it. I met [musician name] many! I guess one that stands out for me, as a vibes player, was Lionel Hampton: Around 1991-2 I was working as the percussion tech at a noted rehearsal hall and percussion service in midtown Manhattan. I maintained this massive percussion collection and also set the instruments up for the various musicians who rehearsed there. One Saturday afternoon I had set up the big room for a rehearsal of Lionel Hampton's orchestra and hoped to get up there to say 'hello', but the lousy boss frowned on that. So I was in the dungeon trying to repair timps when I got the call that "Mr Hampton needs some mallets, John". Well, I frantically got an assortment of the best vibraphone mallets we had (there were many) and ran upstairs, puffing, to bring them to him. He smiled as I introduced myself and reached for the two hard mallets, leaving the rest in my hands. I got in a few more words to him and then let him get to work. He was aged by then, not in the best of health, but what a great moment for me. And regardless of the boss's annoyed looks, I never left the room, watching the full rehearsal and drinking in the history of this man. Over the years, especially when I was young, I'd spent many an hour listening to his recordings with the Benny Goodman Quartet, and found him to be a massive influence. He had a manic energy on those records and burning chops! He brought the vibes to the attention of the public and of course other musicians and laid the groundwork. He made it possible for guys like Red Norvo, Milt Jackson, Bobby Hutcherson, Gary Burton and all of the later greats. We are all indebted to Hamp for this. A couple of years later he released an autobiography and revealed that he was a Republican! Ohhhhh, only Hampton could be forgiven for that! The best show I ever attended was...Hmmmm, very hard to choose. Possibly the Don Cherry Quartet at the Village Vanguard, early '80s. He had Carlos Ward, Cameron Brown and the master, Ed Blackwell. Whew. I was sitting right up front and still feel the vibrations. But I also have deep, fond memories of seeing Dexter Gordon at the Vanguard ('79?), Jaco Pastorious' Word of Mouth Big Band at Avery Fisher, experimental rock guitarist Adrian Belew at the Bottom Line ('82?), Gary Burton at Queens College, Weather Report as part of the Newport Jazz Fest, Daniel Carter, George Russel, the Art Ensemble!, Zoot Sims ('80), David Friedman, Dizzy Gillespie ('78), Karl Berger, the League of Crafty Guitarists, Buddy Rich ('77), Chicago ('78), oh, so many! The first jazz record I bought was...I cannot recall. Might have been something by Gene Krupa who was a big influence on me when I was in high school. Soon after the first purchase I became a crazed collector, buying everything from LPs to old 78RPMs, trad, swing, bop, west coast, hot, cool, experimental, fusion. Once CDs developed and older material was being released, my passion for the history and heritage grew more intently. And once I began to seriously perform this music, I happily became the portal anytime possible! My advice to new listeners...Listen to EVERYTHING and allow it to envelop you. And please reach out to the performers, especially the older ones who made such important statements. Lastly, do not be afraid to follow this music into the revolutionary direction. Jazz was always "radical" but some of it has been a part of Black Liberation, the anti-war movement, women's and gay rights, labor, social causes that require a soundtrack that can be heard and felt. Because the people playing it have to feel it that deeply and it inspires us to move further, further. Or whatever else you have in mind. Jazz, improvisational music in general, is the release, the brain, the technical, the heart, the muscle, the intellect, the passion, the scream, the whisper, the hurt, the fight, the political statement. It IS because we ARE and because of all of the people who have spoken its language, or listened to it, through the generations.

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