Grabbing the Listener from Beat One: New Music from Robert Castelli

Robert Castelli comes blazing out with his polyrhythmic self in the latest offering “Party at One World Plaza.” It’s what he’s been doing since last interviewed here. “Vamos” is an energetic body-shaker and the funk weaves throughout “Your Lucky Number,” both contrasting heavily against the dreamier and more somber “For the Fallen.” Castelli is versatile and passionate, on and off the stage (with definite feelings towards streaming entities, see below).

The world changed since your 2017 interview. What changes have you made as a musician? 

Man, did it! I know or am acquainted with musicians who have had to move house, scale down, were taken in by friends or became homeless. And I mean people who tour with well-known, international musicians in jazz and pop.

I’ve realized that the digital economy is here to stay and as a musician, I’m trying to get 15-20 seconds of my music used for advertising, websites, games, whatever. Also to compose specifically for that. But jazz musicians always made the majority of their income from live performance. So it’s been really bad for everyone. But I have gotten involved with more communities/groups like Jazzfuel and we have all helped, supported and commiserated with each other to further the cause.

How long was the new release, “Party at One World Plaza,” in the making?

All of these are original tracks. Three have been in my live repertoire for years, two were written last year and one this year. I had an unsuccessful crowdfunding campaign last year for this project or it would’ve been here sooner, minus “Vamos” which came this year. As a jazz musician, I was poor before COVID so without finance for recording, promo, etc. it’s hard for an independent artist. Sometimes things come to fruition later than hoped. The key is to keep going.

What do you wish to convey or communicate with the new music? 

To the general public and the jazz police/snobs, I want to convey that we’re in the 21st century!!! One jazz journalist in Canada said this music was like fresh air because all he was asked to review were the same old standards. Jazz is an ever-evolving art form and can have elements from outside jazz, e.g., rhythms and melodies from outside the jazz realm and electric instruments.

I also want to convey to the drumming community that you can come out from behind the kit. Lead a band and yes, even compose music. 

Has your personnel stayed the same? 

It’s funny. I was only in Barcelona a short time when we last spoke. I had a line-up for “Boom” that was the same group of musicians. The only original left is Gilles Estoppey on keys. What happened was that I had gotten a regular gig at Jamboree in Barcelona. It was a “concept” gig called “NY Nights at Jamboree.” The idea was to reflect the eclecticism and cultural diversity of NYC, while featuring one established player on the scene and one young musician. Barcelona is full of very good, young musicians and very good “seniors.” So one night was supposed to be “American Songbook” with a singer.  a bop night, a funk night, a Latin night, an all original, contemporary jazz night, etc. But the conditions kept getting worse & worse & I couldn’t get all the musicians I wanted. So the line-up agreed to continue and we did several nights together and I recorded the existing and new music with them as BOOM!

How was the production process different with this new CD? 

Actually it wasn’t that different. I originally wanted the title track to be like a Zawinul tune with sounds and voices from different countries. Since I recorded just before lockdown with a very small budget, it was just a typical jazz recording, meaning just live, with very little post-production tweaking. 

What have you been doing to stay active in the music community during lockdown?

I was lucky that from June to November I had a regular Thursday night gig with an organ trio I play with here. The band, friends and fans all posted videos to get the music out there and to help the club attract people. Other than that and giving and posting drum lessons and guitar videos, I’ve been involved in many Zoom conferences with people like Jazzfuel, Act Records, Moonjune, Drum Community, etc. Sometimes just listening to the main guest, other times we are all brainstorming on taking Spotify down, getting better conditions on platforms and at gigs, finding ways to pressure local and regional governments to tax big business more and use some of that money to fund the arts. When great, hard-working artists are losing everything while Besos and other billionaires are making more billions and asking for bailouts, I’m hoping that we are starting a much-needed revolution. Otherwise a certain form of live performance is going to die.

Your favorite track here, or a track that has a great backstory. 

I think “Vamos” because it states a motif, then just comes out strong and the band plays really well on it. And it’s my newest composition so everything is fresh. But I also like the “Floatin'” vibe. It’s a little dark and not for everyone. “Vamos” really is like “Okay! Let’s go!”

Plans for performing in the short-term and for 2021?

One thing I’ve been hearing in all these Zoom conferences, and this is from musicians from Spain, the UK, Austria and Germany, The Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, Denmark, Brazil, Puerto Rico, the States…well, you get the picture (and it is grim!). Basically, no short-term live performances. I am provisionally booked for November 2021 at Porgy & Bess in Vienna with this line-up. So I’m contacting clubs in the UK, Switzerland, the Netherlands and of course here in Spain to build a reasonable tour around it. Last year I did nine concerts in 16 days in July in four countries. I’m trying for a Fall 2021 tour of this music. If the smaller clubs open up fully before summer, then I hope to be gigging with all my friends again. We all need it and so do the people.

Biggest teachable moment coming out of the pandemic and how do musicians move forward successfully?

Well, most musicians have more time to practice now but teaching drums online is hard because you need cameras for the feet & for the top, plus decent sound. Many people just do it with a phone or small zoom video camera. But if you mean what has been taught by the pandemic, it’s that music is a necessary, even divine, part of human experience.

Moving forward successfully? &**!!@# Spotify and any platform that doesn’t compensate the artist or you won’t move forward or make a living. And ironically after saying that, embrace the digital economy. Teach online, get your music placed on sites, do some live-streaming performances…but again, jazz is a live art form. You need to be in the room to feel the energy properly.

Other comments?

The whole music community and all the audiences that want music have to really galvanize a new movement to bring back quality, better conditions, support for music in schools and as something the people can share (as an experience) not sharing artists’ music for free! Live music is a social event so it supports not only the musicians but the community as a whole.

And please do not use Spotify for anything other than public domain music. Anything else is stealing. Literally. People want live music. Be responsible, wear a mask, think of others so we can bring back all live performances. We all need it!

For more information visit https://robertcastelliboom.bandcamp.com/releases.

Photos courtesy of and with permission of the artist.

(c) 2020 Debbie Burke

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