Corrections or additions?
Prepared for the September 5, 2000 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper.
All rights reserved.
An Upbeat for Greg Federico
If philosophy, as Webster’s dictionary describes,
is the "love and pursuit of wisdom by intellectual investigation
and moral self-discipline," then jazz musician, composer, and
part-time music teacher Greg Federico is certainly putting his college
degree in philosophy to good use. While some musical wannabes may
pin their dreams of success on pie-in-the-sky notions of fame and
fortune, Federico keeps his ambitions solidly grounded on hard work
and hard facts.
In an interview at a diner amongst clattering dishes, idle chit-chat,
and piped in Muzak, Federico describes his dream. "I’m hoping
where someday — and it may take 20 years — but someday I hope
I can make my living entirely from performing. There are very few
people who actually get to do that."
Federico estimates that about one-fourth of his current income comes
from performing, while the remaining three-fourths derives from
piano and drums. "Even my teacher, John Riley, who has played
with Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones, and Michael Brecker, and who now
plays in the Mel Lewis Orchestra and the Bob Mintzer Big Band —
he’s played with people all over the world — and he still
Although performing is his first love, teaching is often what pays
the bills, including the expense of putting out his new CD of original
compositions called "Live to Love, Love to Live." Due for
release in late October, the album will be issued on his own Nile
Blue Records label that carries the motto, "contemporary jazz
for the new millennium."
"The album has actually been done for about a year," says
Federico. "It’s been really about the financial issue of putting
it out." Hoping to land a contract with a commercial label that
has national distribution, he has spent much of the past year shopping
around a three-song demo from the album to almost 30 record companies.
Turned down by some of the biggest, he has passed the first hurdle
with one interested independent. ("Keep your fingers crossed,"
is Federico’s philosophy here.)
In the meantime, Federico and his band are paving the
way for the album’s release with 14 area appearances in the coming
months, beginning this Wednesday, September 6, with a gig at the
Brewing Company on Nassau Street. This is followed by his regular
monthly appearance at Mediterra Restaurant and Bar on Hulfish Street,
as well as series of Borders Books appearances including one at Nassau
Park. All this leads up to a CD release party he has scheduled for
Friday, November 3, at the Urban Word Cafe in Trenton.
Federico has several different versions of his band. First, there
is the "Greg Federico Trio," which features Federico on drums,
with guitarist Steve Girardi, and Ron Velosky on bass. Then there
is "The Other Greg Federico Trio," in which B.D. Lenz replaces
Girardi on guitar. Then again, there is the "Greg Federico
a quartet comprising Federico, Lenz, pianist Eric Olsen, and bassist
Dan Fabricatore. Adding to the mix is the fact that on any given
night one or more band members may be replaced by any other. The one
constant, of course, is Greg Federico himself.
Born in Huntsville, Alabama, 32 years ago, Federico’s family moved
to Maryland, before settling in New Jersey when he was seven years
old. "My dad used to listen to jazz a lot in the car," he
explains. "He also had a few jazz albums that were inspirational
to me. One was the soundtrack to the movie `Pal Joey’ starring Frank
Sinatra, along with some Dave Brubeck albums. My dad played a little
bit of piano, too."
After taking piano lessons as a boy, Federico began his formal drum
training at age 16, studying with the longtime drummer for the Harry
James Orchestra, Tony DeNicola. "Tony gave me a great foundation
in the basics and straight-ahead jazz."
After receiving his bachelor’s in philosophy from Villanova University
in 1991, Federico pursued music education at Trenton State, but he
abandoned that idea after two years. "I wanted to perform, get
out there, meet people and make connections," he says. He then
studied with Joe Meckler. "Joe taught me a more contemporary
to drumming, as well as a little bit about playing Latin percussion
instruments. He’s an amazing musician, top caliber, and a great
Federico met his current music mentor, John Riley, via former Spyro
Gyra drummer Richie Morales. "I hooked up with John Riley, sort
of in a vague way. I’d gone to see fusion guitarist Mike Stern play
at the 55 Bar in the Village where he played with Richie Morales.
So I went up to Richie in between sets and I asked if he gave lessons.
And he said he’s pretty busy but once in a while he could work in
About two months later, Federico took his first lesson with Morales.
"In the lesson he was telling me that he really likes what this
guy John Riley has done with this new book called `The Art of Bop
Drumming’ and he showed it to me. I wanted to get another lesson with
Richie [Morales], but he was busy touring around with a lot of people
and he said that even though John plays with many people, he’s really
big on the educational aspect of things, and you might want to give
him a call."
A few months later, Federico tried to contact Riley through William
Patterson College, where he teaches. The college, in turn, helped
him reach Riley at home in upstate New York who accepted Federico
as his student.
Federico believes in making the most of his time and money. "I
might see John once every four to six months and I’ll go up for a
two-hour lesson ’cause its about a two-hour drive. And he’s pretty
expensive. So I figure, if I’m going to do it, and I’m not going to
do it that often, I’ll get a real chunky lesson out of it. Even if
I see him infrequently, he gives me enough stuff to work on. These
concepts are kind of endless. There’s always more stuff to talk about
the next time."
Federico’s "Live to Love, Love to Live" album is his fourth
release in eight years. It contains 13 original songs, 9 of which
are by Federico. It is a collection of jazzy hybrids mixed with
folk impressionism, world, Latin, classical, and pop. Despite its
multifarious nature, and its length (over 77 minutes long), the album
is astoundingly well constructed. It is a kind of musical motion
in which each track seems to tell its own story before flowing easily
into the next. And like a good movie, it is filled with wonder and
With songs written for his mother, his niece, as well as a song called
"The Promise" that he composed for his own wedding in May,
1999, Federico calls "Live to Love, Love to Live" his most
vivid album to date and the one dearest to him.
Dedicated to his wife, Karen, Federico singles out special people
and places in his dedication, such as "immersing oneself deep
within the majestic grandeur of the Grand Canyon is one example of
`loving to live.’" And he describes his wife’s love and
as "the embodiment of `living to love,’" He’s quick to point
out that because a life in music is not easy, without her support,
and that of his parents and brothers, he wouldn’t be able to live
the life he does. He and Karen, an office specialist in Princeton
University’s politics department, live in Hamilton.
The new album’s final song is a short string quartet called
(A Final Prayer)." Originally written as a background for another
track "Lullaby For Alexis," upon hearing it, Federico decided
to squeeze it on to the album. "We were really pushing the
he says, "because CDs are typically 74 minutes or less, and we
were already over 75 minutes."
Although only two minutes long, the inclusion of "Epilogue (A
Final Prayer)" does represent a risk because some older CD players
may have difficulty reading such a long playing disc. "But you
know, you go into it with that risk," Federico says. "I just
felt like it unified the whole thing. To me it’s worth it."
Although he is well aware of the difficulties a life in jazz may hold
for him, and he is not about to quit his day job giving music lessons,
Federico considers himself lucky to be able to express what he
his calling to the world.
"These songs are not really my ideas," he says. "They
come from somewhere out there, somewhere in the universe. For those
who believe in God, or the Holy Spirit, they come from there. It’s
my calling to transcribe them and share them with everybody. It’s
the way some human beings are channeled by which a lot of wonderful
things can happen; music, art, the way you treat people. There are
different ways you can expand your experiences into the world. For
me, I feel lucky that it’s music."
— Jack Florek
Street, 609-924-7855. Federico with Steve Girardi, guitar; Eric Olsen,
piano; and Ron Velosky, bass. Wednesday, September 6, 9 p.m.
B.D. Lenz, guitar, and Ron Velosky, bass. Wednesday, September
13, 6:30 p.m.
Federico with Steve Girardi, guitar; Eric Olsen, piano; and Ron
bass. Friday, September 15, 9:30 p.m.
Trio. Free. Saturday, September 16, 7:30 p.m.
Federico with B.D. Lenz; Eric Olsen; Dan Fabricatore. Saturday,
September 23, 9:30 p.m.
with Olsen and Velosky. Sunday, September 24, 4 p.m.
CD Release Party. Friday, November 3, 9 p.m.
Federico with B.D. Lenz, guitar; Eric Olsen, piano; and Ron Velosky,
bass. Saturday, December 2, 8:30 p.m.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.