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Prepared for the September 5, 2000 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper.

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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

teaching

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

teaches."

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

Triumph

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

Project,"

a quartet comprising Federico, Lenz, pianist Eric Olsen, and bassist

Dan Fabricatore. Adding to the mix is the fact that on any given

performing

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

approach

to drumming, as well as a little bit about playing Latin percussion

instruments. He’s an amazing musician, top caliber, and a great

guy."

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

a lesson."

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

Midwestern

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

picture

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

surprise.

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

encouragement

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

"Epilogue

(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

envelope,"

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

considers

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

Greg Federico Trio, Triumph Brewing, 138 Nassau

Street, 609-924-7855. Federico with Steve Girardi, guitar; Eric Olsen,

piano; and Ron Velosky, bass. Wednesday, September 6, 9 p.m.

Mediterra, 29 Hulfish Street, 609-252-9680. Federico with

B.D. Lenz, guitar, and Ron Velosky, bass. Wednesday, September

13, 6:30 p.m.

Tap Room, Nassau Inn, 10 Palmer Square, 609-921-7500.

Federico with Steve Girardi, guitar; Eric Olsen, piano; and Ron

Velosky,

bass. Friday, September 15, 9:30 p.m.

Borders Books, 601 Nassau Park, 609-514-0040. Greg

Federico

Trio. Free. Saturday, September 16, 7:30 p.m.

Delta’s, 19 Dennis Street, New Brunswick, 732-249-1551.

Federico with B.D. Lenz; Eric Olsen; Dan Fabricatore. Saturday,

September 23, 9:30 p.m.

Kavehaz, 123 Mercer Street, New York, 212-343-0612.

Federico

with Olsen and Velosky. Sunday, September 24, 4 p.m.

The Urban Word, 449 South Broad, Trenton, 609-989-7777.

CD Release Party. Friday, November 3, 9 p.m.

Joe’s Mill Hill Saloon, 300 South Broad, Trenton,

609-394-7222.

Federico with B.D. Lenz, guitar; Eric Olsen, piano; and Ron Velosky,

bass. Saturday, December 2, 8:30 p.m.


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