Pure Pulse Delivered in Delicious Layers: Michele Bazzani

When a percussionist can add a bit of swirl and funk (but lightly) to a classic like “Naima” that serves the song in a surprisingly new and pretty way, it’s true instinct.

Drummer Michele Bazzani has a sixth sense, providing a voice that belongs in the foreground. Largely influenced by the Afro-Latin vibe, Bazzani’s drums always add, never overpower, leaving plenty of room for the beautiful vocals of Tonia Ray (in “Saturday Night”) or for a hot, sweet trumpet in “My Dream.” These songs and others are on the 2019 CD titled Journey Through Existence.

What was the first jazz song you remember hearing?

My mom used to play Errol Garner at home along with Duke Ellington and other jazz but I wanna say the first time I registered what I was hearing was jazz was with “Take Five.”

Why did you decide to become a musician, and what did your early training look like?

I decided to be a musician when I was 20. I had started four years earlier but only by looking at different options such as becoming a financial worker did I get to clearly see what I wanted.

My early training was playing in a jazz workshop created by a saxophonist, Ferdinando Tenerani. We used to get together once a week with piano and bass players and practice jazz standards.

What was your first public performance like?

It was a blast. I got to play in a town theater and I had the chance to be seen by a lot of peers and other people playing with a workshop quartet called First Level. I remember I played an arrangement of “The Girl From Ipanema” where I was able to put out my style and I loved it.

What types of instrumentation do you prefer?

I like playing a modern jazz/fusion kit. I like playing in a sextet with piano, bass, drums, sax, trumpet and percussion.

How is the jazz scene where you live and what is it like getting gigs today?

I live in the New York area. The jazz scene here is high-level, extremely competitive, but also rewarding. And the best thing is that you get to see the best, you can enjoy it and learn from it. Getting gigs today is difficult. You are always asked about your following, and many times you don’t get to be even heard. But when you get to play, you also get a lot of appreciation down here. 

Do you start with the idea for a melody, a chord progression or something else?

The heartbeat.

When I was younger, I had the fortune to meet and interact with a fantastic musician (Arlen Cardenas), who was deeply immersed in African drumming. We played together a couple of times and he showed me a lot of things but one I never forgot. African drumming, he said, is comparable to the heartbeat, so “listen to yours and get the rhythm out of it.” All my compositions come from that kind of rhythm.

While visiting the Bahamas, I saw a limbo show and they were comping it with a beat, that kind of beat. It got into me and once I got home, I wanted to reproduce it. When I did, it inspired me to compose “Roundtrip To Bahamas” (from my album Journey Through Existence).

It’s always rhythm first, then the melody and then the chords and modulations.

Favorite venues?

The Groove and Silvana in NYC, Papillon 25 in NJ, The Cricket in NJ. I would love to play in all the renowned jazz clubs in NYC. One of the most desirable is Minton’s in Harlem. I had a gig over there in 2005.

Talk about your Afro-Caribbean influences.

In 1993, I was invited to be part of the Latino community in Milan, Italy. One of the most influential characters in the Latino scene (Oswaldo Ugueto) saw me playing Afro-Latin rhythms on congas and gave me an offer to work for him in Milan. I was happy to accept and that was the beginning of an eight-years full immersion into the Afro-Latin culture.

In 1996, I got an offer to play with my Latin band, La Maquina Amarilla, in the most popular Cuban club in Milan, Havana Café. That was, for me, an incredibly enriching experience since I had the chance to share the stage with and be taught by really deep-into-the-culture Cuban musicians.

When I came to New York, I kept having exchanges and playing with other Afro-Latin musicians. I actually brought my band to NYC and played in some of the most famous venues in there, such as Latin Quarter and Copacabana.

What do audiences want today out of a night out of jazz?

They wanna be impressed. But also want the music to be “speaking” to them. They wanna be “brought to places.” Of course, melodic music is always more popular.

What are the biggest challenges in production today?

The biggest rewards and biggest challenges are always getting the musicians you want and getting them to rehearse. The costs represent a big challenge and the biggest of all, I’d say, is promotion.

For more information, visit www.bazzaniband.com.

Photos courtesy of and with permission of the artist.

© 2022 Debbie Burke

Debbie Burke jazz author
Debbie Burke jazz author

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