Gullotti was the drummer for the Fringe, an innovative free-jazz trio that he cofounded in 1972. The Fringe quickly became a seminal act on the Boston scene, with longstanding residencies across several clubs and other venues. In addition, he headed his own Bob Gullotti Project. Gullotti also toured with the likes of J.J. Johnson, Joe Lovano, and John Patitucci, and was known to fans of the jam band Phish for his sit-ins with the group (and work with Phish member Trey Anastasio on the latter’s project Surrender to the Air).
Perhaps most importantly, Gullotti was a beloved educator, both from his perch at Berklee and in private lessons, master classes, and workshops that he conducted around Boston and the United States with musicians at all levels.
“One of the most kind musicians I’ve ever had the pleasure of making music with, and a huge inspiration for me,” wrote drummer/composer Tyshawn Sorey on Facebook.
“He taught me a lot. On so many levels,” wrote keyboardist John Medeski. “Truly infinitely creative and supportive and always limit pushing.”
Robert Gullotti was born on November 28, 1949 in Boston, the youngest of five brothers. His father was a mechanic and owned a gas station in Waltham. Bob’s brother Steve, six years older, played guitar in a band, and Bob was inspired at the age of 11 to begin playing drums. From the moment he picked up the sticks, he recalled, he was obsessed—he worked through a lesson book each week, sometimes practicing seven hours a day. He began playing professionally at 15.
Gullotti later recalled that there was tension between his father and himself, because his father was opposed to his children making music for a living and “I was an absolute fanatic and didn’t want to do anything else.” However, he also recalled in a 2017 interview that “when we were in high school we all had to work at the gas station during the summer. I lasted three weeks before he said, ‘Go practice your drums.’”
Upon graduation from Waltham High School in 1968, Gullotti matriculated at Berklee College of Music, where he majored in music education and studied with Fred Buda and Alan Dawson—the latter whom he regarded as his most important mentor. He graduated in 1972.
“For me, the most important period of my development was the four years after Berklee,” he remarked. “I was just playing—not teaching, just playing … and I [practiced for] eight hours every day.” He also continued his studies with Dawson, and freelanced with touring musicians who came through the city as well as with the many artists who had come to teach at area universities—a period of intensive work.