Vince (Vinnie) Colaiuta is a versatile and well-rounded musician. A drummer by profession, Colaiuta’s collaborations involve many of the great names in pop, rock, and jazz: Al Kooper, Chick Corea, John Patitucci, Herbie Hancock, the late Frank Zappa, and countless others. Colaiuta—a solo, studio, and live tour drummer—is the antithesis of flamboyance. He is not only content with the anonymous quality of studio session drumming, but Colaiuta lowered his visibility further during an early phase of his career when he habitually sawed several inches off the legs of his drummer’s chair—not from shyness, but in order to get better leverage on the drum pedals.
Colaiuta grew up in Pennsylvania and decided at a young age to be a drummer. His original instruments were pots and pans from his parents’ kitchen. He was only in grade school when his parents surrendered to his passion and gave their son his first set of drums. Colaiuta’s musical talent was always evident. He exhibited a natural talent for playing his drums and he also took organ lessons and played electric guitar as well. Summer vacations were spent in music camp at West Virginia University.
In junior high school he added yet another instrument to his repertoire when he joined the junior high school band as a flutist for one year because the drummer’s chair was already taken. Eventually the band’s drummer vacated the spot and Colaiuta moved into the slot. At age 14, Colaiuta acquired a professional quality drum set and expanded his drum lessons and summer camp curriculum well beyond basic snare drum lessons. Colaiuta, by his own admission, was already very comfortable with a full set of drums at that point in time. He played every drum in the set and improvised with ease. He truly loved to play.
As a teenager Colaiuta’s zeal for his drums and for music in general bordered on the fanatical. He practiced incessantly, everywhere—even at school, even during class, “I learned real fast because I was always practicing. I would go into English class and sit in the back of the room with a practice pad and practice double-stroke rolls and get kicked out of class,” he confided to Modern Drummer’s Robyn Flans.
After high school, Colaiuta played his drums professionally with various bands around his home town. The following year he moved to Boston to attend Berkley School of Music. By then his technical interest in music including theory, notation, and technique was piqued. He loved the “nuts and bolts” music classes and he absorbed theory tirelessly. Colaiuta, in his eagerness to play, eventually lost enthusiasm for his classes at Berkley because it was too much like school. According to Colaiuta who said to himself at the time, “I ’m not going to do this…. I’m a player.” As a result he stayed only two semesters and the following year he accepted an opportunity to tour with organist/pianist Al Kooper, after which Colaiuta moved from Boston to California.
By January of 1978 Colaiuta settled permanently in Los Angeles. The following April he auditioned for the legendary musician and composer Frank Zappa who by that time had dissolved his band (Mothers of Invention) and was experimenting with new styles as a solo act. At the audition Colaiuta adeptly interpreted every strange and awkward rhythm that the eccentric Zappa threw the drummer’s way. In the end Zappa was impressed with Colaiuta’s drumming talent and the two worked together for over two years. Colaiuta experienced significant artistic growth during those years with Zappa. Zappa, for one thing, was drawn to odd rhythms of songs such as “Keep it Greasy” which switches from the off-beat meter of 19/16 to even more eccentric timing of 21/16. Colaiuta also developed the ability during his association with Zappa to play on a drum set with two bass drums without sacrificing other pieces of equipment. Colaiuta’s extensive work with Zappa is best characterized on the 1979 album Joe’s Garage.
According to Colaiuta, his inspiration to work hard professionally was essentially a matter of necessity, a
Born Vince Colaiuta, grew up in Pennsylvania; studied organ, electric guitar, flute, and drums; Education: attended Berkley School of Music, (Boston), studied with Gary Chaffee.
Toured with organist/pianist Al Kooper; played with the late Frank Zappa; was a regular feature on comedienne Joan Rivers’s television talk show; 1994, directed Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC ’94) clinic; featured headliner at the “World Drum Festival, Paradiso Van Slag,” (Netherlands) March of 1995; collaborated increasingly with Sting during the mid-1990s, toured and recorded with Sting, 1996; solo debut album, Vinnie Colaiuta 1997; contributing artist on Songs from West Side Story, for the NARAS Foundation, 1996.
Awards: Modern Drummer, #1 All Around Drummer, 1996; Drumbeat Drummie Award, Best Studio Drummer, 1998.
need to make music on the drums as well as basic logistics: “Once I left… Berkley, I couldn’t really practice… still can’t out here…. I can’t play drums in my apartment. [So,] I practice when I work,…” and he works very hard. It is a fact that Colaiuta has been heard on over 600 recordings made between 1983 and 1993. Despite a professed preference for jazz, his popularity and reputation was never confined to one solitary musical style; he played for and with an assortment of singers and instrumentalists: Natalie Cole, Billy Joel, Jose Feliciano, Judy Collins and Joni Mitchell. Additionally Colaiuta was a regular feature on comedienne Joan Rivers’s television talk show.
In March of 1995, Colaiuta was a featured headliner at the “World Drum Festival, Paradiso Van Slag,” in the Netherlands. He collaborated increasingly with Sting during the mid-1990s and they went on tour together in 1996. In 1997, the song “The Wind Cries Mary” by Colaiuta, Sting, John McLaughlin, and Dominic Miller was nominated for a Grammy award for the best pop collaboration with vocals.
His solo debut in 1997, an album aptly called Vinnie Colaiuta, featured guest spots by Colaiuta’s professed idol, Herbie Hancock, as well as Chick Corea, Sting, and John Patitucci. Colaiuta always maintained a strong jazz influence and modeled himself artistically after Steve Gadd, the legendary session drummer of pop, jazz, and folk idols of the 1970s and 1980s. Stylistically Colaiuta is unpredictable and hard to categorize. His eccentric drum-playing posture with his hard-hitting, foot-stomping bass style has caused some back problems and even a fractured foot from hitting the pedals too hard.
Colaiuta was named the number one All Around Drummer of 1996 by a readers’ poll in Modern Drummer. He also received the Drumbeat Drummie Award for Best Studio Drummer in 1998. He is not at all enamored by success; instead he is pre-occupied with self-improvement. His friends respect him not only for his talent, but for his eagerness to help others. In 1994, he directed a clinic sponsored by the Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC ’94), and in 1996 he played behind pop legend Little Richard’s “I Feel Pretty,” as a contributing artist on Songs from West Side Story, a CD whose proceeds benefit the NARAS Foundation, an organization dedicated to fostering music among school children throughout the United States.
Colaiuta’s musical likes and dislikes hinge on personal taste, and in general bear no relevance to his passion for drumming. His favorite songs are “Martha My Dear” by the Beatles and Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.” He just likes them, he said.
(with Frank Zappa) Joe’s Garage, (includes “Keep it Greasy), 1979.
(with Joni Mitchell) Dog Eat Dog, Geffen Records, 1985.
(with Temptations) To Be Continued, Motown Records, 1986.
(with Nik Kershaw) The Works, MCA 1989.
(with Alan Holdsworth) Secrets, Intima Records, 1989.
(with Bunny Brunel) Dedication, Musidisc, 1992.
(with Leonard Cohen) The Future, Columbia, November 17, 1992. (with Rodney Crowell) Life is Messy, Columbia, May 19, 1992.
(with Sting) Ten Summoner’s Tales, A&M Records, March 9, 1993. (with Tim Weston and Shelby Flint) Providence, Soul Coast, 1994. (with SMAP) SMAP 007 Gold Singer, (Japanese) 1995.
(with Joni Mitchell) Misses, Reprise, October 29, 1996.
(with Little Richard) “I Feel Pretty” The Songs of West Side Story, RCA Victor, January 30, 1996.
(with Eric Marienthal) Collection, GRP Records, January 28, 1997.
Vinnie Colaiuta, Stretch Records, February 18, 1997.
Live from the Blue Note Tokyo, Stretch Records, 1997.
(with Joni Mitchell) Wild Things Run Fast, 1982.
(with Al Kooper), “Championship Wrestling,” 1982.
Flans, Robyn, Modern Drummer, November 1982; May 1987; October 1993.
Hartford Courant, 8 January 1997.
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