Aldo MazzaInterview by Sean Mitchell // June 19 2012
There are so many great people around, great ideas, and great things going on. I love collaboration and I love connecting people; sometimes just facilitating that is phenomenal.
He is an innovator, a facilitator and a visionary. For 18 years he has brought cultures, countries and players together to expand the boundaries of our industry and to allow the spread of knowledge.
I first met Aldo back in 2008 at the Cape Breton drum fest. That year he and Ed Mann played a piece of music that epitomized drumming and its possibilities. That brilliant performance encompassed almost every conceivable drumming soundscape and style between drum set, concert percussion, hand percussion and electronic percussion. Incidentally by the grace of modern technology you can actually watch that very performance in this interview.
As we enter the age of the Facebook, Skype and the semantic web, it would seem that technology has finally caught up to Aldo and we can only imagine what he will accomplish in the years to come. Stay tuned.
Aldo, I have always known you as a man who wears many hats. I recently heard that you also used to build drums as well?
Back in 1972, I designed a series of drums. They were clear drums you could never see me—I’m not a big person—but I saw acrylic drums somewhere, so I decided to make my drums out of Plexiglas. I went to a plastic factory to make out these forms for me. I was experimenting, and I found by making not big drums—cause I had never liked huge drums—but making them smaller in diameter and also the length (I experimented with different sizes) I found that by adding two inches to the length, it really deepened the drum. That was huge for me and I thought, Oh man, I don’t need a 22-inch bass drum, so I made mine an 18 by 18 inch drum and 10 by 12. So I just made small drums. The floor tom was 14 inches but by 16 or by 14 rather than by 10. I made them longer small drums and they sounded huge.
When I did my first set I was experimenting. When I started doing sessions I showed up with a kit like this and the engineer looked at me and said, “How long do you expect to be doing this as a living?” He knew me and I convinced him. I said, “Don’t let anybody into the drum booth. But check these out.” I went in early enough and he miced them and he couldn’t believe it. He said, “I can’t believe it! I can’t believe what I’m hearing!” It was amazing; those small drums they sounded huge. I had a mechanism that you changed your head in 10 seconds. These were designs that I had way back then.
But the problem was that I had gone to a big drum camp and I was so inspired to learn and so into learning. I wanted to be a player. After awhile, you know, I had to make the decision, do I design and build them or do I play them? So I said, “I can always come back and design and build them but I can’t miss this opportunity.” So I stopped.
What do you do away from your passion for drumming?
I just enjoy people’s company, good food. I love travelling, I love meeting people who are interesting, so I have to make myself interesting so that people can feel the same way. I get interested in lots of things. I’ve always been an inventor so I’m always inventing something, designing something. I just love everything—life in general, and turning people’s lights on. Of course, I have my views of politics or how the world should be run and I try not to be the negative part of it, but I try to inspire people to think that they can make a difference. So whatever I do is really based on that.
Music takes up so much of my time, but I am also aware of economics and political stuff that is going on in the world. I think it’s important that we not be naïve about what’s going on out there so that when we have to make decisions we make very strong and positive decisions about our beliefs and our own strengths, but by example.
There are so many great people around, great ideas, and great things going on. I love collaboration and I love connecting people; sometimes just facilitating that is phenomenal. Everybody benefits from it. When I look at this whole KoSA thing it was all about that—how do you bring people together to take them to another place; how do you facilitate that? Putting together a program. When we put together a camp, for example like KoSA, (it’s been going on for seventeen years), I don’t necessarily think of putting 18 or 20 of the great drummers and percussionists on the planet together in one place. It’s really a program; it’s a thought-out program and these are the personalities that will be part of that program. It’s all there by design. The other part of it is not just the musical and the performance and the educational, but also for people who are really serious. This is a great way to connect, to network with these people as a second step and that’s an important part of the element. And if you’re serious, we’re all there to be helpful. That was my experience—a lot of great people who really, really helped me out or showed me kindness or showed me things that I would have never been able to do. As I was studying, I used to go to New York every month to do some extra studying with different people with the idea that I wanted to be a studio musician. So I was going to New York and meeting people and being introduced to people; I had a chance even to hang out with Steve Gadd for the longest time. He used to take me to his sessions and I just watched the guys work. Other people did the same, so I learned so much. I mean, it was unbelievable the opportunities I had.
Can you give us some highlights of KoSA Italy 2012?
It was a three day event where people came to study. The first two days was a really intensive hands-on with myself and Sergio Bellotti. We beamed in John Riley from New York and did a Skype class. We beamed in Ndugu Chancler from Los Angeles to give a class.
Then on the third day it was totally dedicated to the business of music—how to be professional, how to take care of business things. And this is a very, very important part that people neglect. On that particular day, we had also with us Dom Famularo. We had Liberty DeVitto, and the folks from Sticks ‘n’ Skins (who brought out that really great book) were there and that was their day. They had this thing called Sessions, which is built on teaching people about the music business. We had Paul Quin who’s a lawyer, Sue Quin a singer from England, Joe Hibbs from Mapex. These are all professionals from their own points of view how to think about how to raise the level of our industry. People should be educated. You know, the lawyers and the doctors and the other industries have their structures, and we could be a lot more structured than we are and take our own industry to another height—and it starts from us. So that worked out really, really well.
I was invited at the Salerno Conservatory of Music, just south of Naples, and I was giving a workshop in Cuban drumming and African drumming and how they apply to the drum set; this was the topic there. I found the level of performance from these classical musicians and classical percussionists, learning world music [techniques] was great at a higher level than I had anticipated. There’s a light going on there and I’m glad that I’m making this kind of connection. There are other people who are going to Italy and doing workshops and clinics so we are getting a much bigger connect globally.
I get the feeling that the drumming industry in Italy is quite different from North America.
It’s very creative. It’s a whole different level from here. People have been building instruments for a very long time over there. In fact, there’s a company over there called Vibe Drums, and [the drums] are made of aluminum and they are unbelievable. They made a snare drum for me that every time somebody plays on it in my studio, they play and then they look at it and say, “My God, what is this?” Seriously, it’s beautiful! They’re passionate about what they do. These are people that build Ferrari and these are people who build all those great cars. These are minds that are so creative. I ran into some other instrument makers in the past who have come up with some incredible designs. In fact, at a conference recently I ran into a vibraphone that was made by a small company in Italy. It was a portable vibraphone made in the late 1950s. If they were to release it today it would go through the roof. I mean, they are so far ahead; they’re really thinking about design—everything. Really unbelievable! They don’t have huge commercial success, necessarily, just because of what it would take to put on that machine, but on a small scale there are hundreds of them and I know my personal experience with these folks making their drums. I mean, they’re beautiful.
Do you see KoSA expanding into other countries?
Yes, now that we’ve built this kind of international network. We want people to be more interactive. We have our Facebook page now that we’re getting people to be more interactive with, to interconnect. It’s an international program, and so far, as I said, as far as the countries—Cuba, Italy, China, US and Canada and the next one, most obvious, would be Brazil and then India. Those are lurking in the background waiting for the right time in the calendar as everything else settles and time will tell us when it’s the right moment. Technology has a lot to do with it; it facilitates certain things. I think now that we’ve established an international reputation, having a program. We’ll be getting to that too so that people understand exactly that you’re not just going to a drum camp or just going to a workshop; it’s really KoSA designed with a specific idea in mind.
We do specific things which are part of a larger picture perhaps. For example, in China we’re helping them with curriculum. We’re working on a number of things, so they’re coming towards our way of doing things now and learning all about jazz, world music, more the rock and funk, which was not in their tradition, so they’re coming this way. We are also learning things about them. As the world becomes smaller we become a better connect and speaking the language of drums and rhythms. It doesn’t get better than that.
What does the term KoSA mean?
The idea behind that was when we sat down about 18 years ago. In this design I sat down with a good friend Peter Wilder and I was sitting in Vermont at his house and I said, “You know I’ve been touring around the world with my group, I play with all these people—definitely not finished—but now I have a pretty good idea and I’ve got some really good friends in the world and I’ve always wanted to do this—have a camp where people come in from all over the world to just live and work and study with all the best.” I actually described what the physical environment would look like. Then we went to see a college nearby. They fit exactly my description. It was like it was meant to happen and six months later we started KoSA. That was the first one. I wanted it to be the ultimate—the thing—and the thing in Italian is la cosa with a c. Then, as we were working on the logo, I said, “You know we need to change it to something that won’t give any kind of a connotation to any other thing (laughs), so we changed the c to a k and those hands in the O are my hands.
What can we expect from KoSA this year?
In Vermont, the faculty is going to be Alex Acuna, Vinny Appice, M’Bembe Bangoura with Michael Markus. M’Bembe is from Guinea in West Africa (an African drummer) and Michael Markus is kind of collaborator in New York and they have all this dance and drumming thing together (this is going to be absolutely great). Sergio Bellotti is a jazz drummer that teaches at Berklee. Mario DeCiutiis is the owner of KAT. He’ll be talking about electronic percussion or electronic mallet or mallets in general. Dom Famularo, of course he needs no introduction, he’s been with us since the beginning. We also have Hannah Ford, who is an incredible drummer. You know, one of these young ladies who is just persistent and is so good, and she is not only a great person but really an incredible drummer—a real model for some of those folks. Then Richie Garcia a percussionist. He’s been out before. He’s a percussionist and has played with Phil Collins, Diana Ross, and Christopher Cross. His son came out to KoSA in the past and now his son is the percussionist for “American Idol.” We have Arnie Lang, who is the percussionist; he was with the New York Philharmonic for a long time. He teaches at the Brooklyn College, at the Lehman College. He is a great classical percussionist.
I’ll be out there teaching my hybrid performance, techniques and concepts. Allan Molnar teaches music technology, also ensemble and mallet. We have Jim Royal who is a master steel drum player; he does the steel drum ensemble. Jeff Salisbury, who teaches at the University of Vermont, he’ll be teaching you reading in all of that. Marcus Santos, from Brazil, he’ll be teaching Brazilian drumming and percussion and Brazilian ensemble. Glen Velez, the great hand drummer and frame drummer, he was my teacher also. He’s probably the world’s greatest frame drum player; he’s got like five Grammy’s or something. Lenny White, who was the drummer for Chick Corea’s “Return to Forever,” he doesn’t do these very often himself but I’ve always been a big fan of his. We have John Wittman from Yamaha doing some special workshop and we’ll have some surprises.
How would a reader go about getting signed-up to go to KoSa?
Going on our website. You can register and pay right online or if you want to call us, go to kosamusic.com or our telephone number is another way—800-541-8401. But if they go on our website it’s very easy; the whole program is there and there will be special sessions on different things.
It’s a real full program, hands on. Every class has two drum kits plus percussion, so everyone plays. The classes are small, say five or six people at the most to a class. It’s a really intimate hands-on and it’s fairly intense. There’s time to practise; the participants have also the opportunity to perform. Friday night is the participant’s concert (public). It’s a life changing experience.
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About the Author
Sean Mitchell has been an active participant in the drumming industry for over 20 years. He has studied under Crash Test Dummies drummer Mitch Dorge and Drumming's Global Ambassador Dom Famularo. Sean is also a songwriter and regularly performs with his wife (and singer) Jill Mitchell. Sean proudly endorses Aquarian Drumheads.
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