Writer, Percussionist, Spoken Word Artist
JOHN PIETARO is a writer, poet, musician and jazz radio host from Brooklyn NY.
Columnist/critic of the NYC Jazz Record, Pietaro is a contributing writer to
the Wire (UK), Z, AllAboutJazz, the Nation, Please Kill Me, the Village Sun, Counter Punch,
People's World and others. Starting January 5, 2021, he will host the 'Jazz Just After Dark'
radio program (makerparkradio.nyc). Pietaro is the director of the annual Dissident Arts
Festival (founded 2006) and curates West Village Word at Café Bohemia. His latest
published work is The Mercer Stands Burning: Night Poems (Atmosphere Press 2020) and in
partnership with photographer Sherry Rubel, Pietaro is currently engaged in a study of NYC’s
downtown experimental and post-punk underground arts, Beneath the Underground. He is
also in the final stage of long-term project On the Creative Front: Essays on the Culture of
Liberation. In 2019, he launched poetry chapbook Smoke Rings.
Other recent credits include several entries in the upcoming edition of The Encyclopedia of
the American Left (Verso 2021), poetry or fiction for the anthologies Who Are We? (UK:
Willowdown 2020), Father and I (Wingless Dreamer, 2020) and Poems from the Lockdown
(UK: Willowdown, 2020), and journals Sensitive Skin, Lucent Dreaming, Headline Press, Rye,
Genre: Urban Arts, Ovunque Siamo, International Human Rights Arts Festival, Harbinger
Asylum, and Il Biglietto 2 translated by Erika Dagnino (Italy: Sibello, 2018). Pietaro also
penned contemporary proletarian fiction collection Night People & Other Tales of Working
New York (2013) and contributed a chapter to Paul Buhle and Harvey Pekar’s SDS: A Graphic
History (Hill & Wang 2007).
A guest speaker at Left Forum and the Vision Festival, Pietaro has been a featured reader at
Great Weather for Media’s Spoken Word Sundays, the Workers United Film Festival, the
UpSurge JazzPoetry Festival and numerous other venues. As a percussionist, guitarist and/or
spoken word artist, he’s collaborated with Allen Ginsberg, Pete Seeger, Amina Baraka, Karl
Berger, Steve Dalachinsky, Nora Guthrie, Erika Dagnino, Ras Moshe, Ngoma Hill, Ivan Julian,
historian Paul Buhle, record producer Kramer and many more. 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. Most recently the Red Microphone, in an expanded form, recorded And I
Became of the Dark, to be released in 2021. Pietaro is a member of the Author’s Guild, the
Jazz Journalists Association, Academy of American Poets, the 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.
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
a traditional music (the Blues) and the traditions of the people who created and fostered it.
I was first exposed to jazz...as 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
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]...on...so many! I guess one that stands out for me, as a vibes player, was Lionel Hampton: Around 1991-2 I was working as
percussion tech at a noted rehearsal hall and percussion service in midtown Manhattan. I maintained this massive percussion collection and also
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Belew at the Bottom Line ('82?), Gary Burton at Queens College, Weather Report as part of the Newport Jazz Fest, Daniel Carter, George Russel,
Art Ensemble!, Zoot Sims ('80), David Friedman, Dizzy Gillespie ('78), Karl Berger, the League of Crafty Guitarists, Buddy Rich ('77), Chicago ('78),
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,
experimental, fusion. Once CDs developed and older material was being released, my passion for the history and heritage grew more intently.
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
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
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
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.