Updated: May 12
Hi John Armato; I'm honored to speak with you today. It's an honor to speak sometime with you as well. So, the feeling is mutual.
Awe, thank you. Well, I want to apologize in advance because I've got bronchitis or something, so I'm occasionally Going to have that annoying talk, and I'm sorry for that.
Oh, that's OK. Don't worry about it. As long as I'm not being coughed on, I'm good. (laughs) Exactly. We should be safe.
So, John, I have some questions for you today. So, let’s dig in. Let's do it.
OK, so tell me a little about yourself. Where did you grow up, and how did you get started in music? I'm from Missouri, Kansas, which is also one of the birthplaces of jazz. It began in New Orleans, but Count Basie and Charlie Parker and folks like that made their homes in Kansas City, and we had a large part of doing with their development, but that was all well before me.
I'm the son of a junior high school teacher and guidance counselor who was also an incredible watercolor artist and furniture builder. My mom was a bookkeeper by day and an interior decorator. She designed windows at a furniture store and made our home quite beautiful. So, there was a lot of creativity in the house.
I'm the youngest of five, and I just always knew I wanted to be a drummer; I always knew I wanted to make music.
Awesome. So, at what age did you start drumming? I begged for drum lessons for years, so I took my first lesson at eight.
Before that, we had a little grainy Christmas home movie of me when I was about five years old getting my first little toy drum under the Christmas tree, and I don't know how to explain it, but I went nuts over it. In a sense, it's like having the X Factor. It was just in my DNA.
I remember begging for drum lessons, but my parents couldn’t find anyone to teach me before I was eight. So, I took my first lesson one week after my 8th birthday. I even remember the date; it was May 27th, 1972. The date was as important as my birthday or any other important date.
John, what other instruments do you play besides drums, or do you primarily focus on drums? I wish it were the case. One of my regrets is that I didn't spend more time studying piano along the way. But no, I saw myself as a drummer.
Occasionally people try to be friendly and say, well, you're a percussionist, and technically that's true, but that doesn't do a disservice to the people who play all the percussion instruments. I'm a good old-fashioned drummer. That’s what I do.
Awesome! Now regarding your playing style, what do you do that specifically sets you apart from other drummers? Well, I think what's unique about my album project is that it's a part of who I am as a player. I love things considered contrary to what other people might expect a drummer would love, like ballads. I love slow and quiet music that has space. Sometimes I enjoy a good funk band, like "Tower Power," but I prefer soft music with a jazz element. So, that's what the album is all about, and that's what I think I'm most comfortable with because it allows me to breathe. The Album is called” The Drummer Love’s Ballad.” There’s been positive feedback from people, so we're glad to get it.
It's always good to hear that people enjoy your creativity, especially when you've put a lot of effort into it. That's great news, John. So, tell me, over the years, what other artists have you worked with? Great question. While growing up in Kansas City as a musician, I freelanced for various artists who called me. Therefore, I played a lot of different styles of music. I played in big bands and did Country Club dates and weddings. I played at circuses, rodeos, and all sorts of things like that.
A big part of my formative years was at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, and there I worked with guest artists who visited, like Bobby McFerrin. He came to the concert. At the time, I was still a student.
I also worked with an outstanding sax player and legend, Gary Foster. Those kinds of folks were clinicians, and that was the university.
In 1986, I ended up performing with the “Disneyland All-American College Band” one summer, and we had all kinds of talented artists who came through every week. We even had guys from “The Tonight Show Band” and fellow drummers like Steve Houghton.
Professionally over the years here in Sacramento, I’ve worked with a series of smooth jazz artists like Darren Rahn, Paul Brown, Steve Oliver, and Spencer Day. There was a piano player here in town that I worked with who booked a lot of headliners, so we backed them frequently. All those shows were great experiences.
Also, when I lived in New York, I played with a talented tenor player, Bob Kindred, and a jazz singer, Anne Phillips; both were outstanding! Anne Phillips is a legendary vocalist whose album from the 50s called "Born To Be Blue" became a cult favorite. So, I was fortunate to work with her.
I've done musical theater and recorded with a Sacramento vocalist, Claudette Stone, and I'm on a handful of other CDs and singles.
The most recent is with a singer-songwriter by the name of Tony Underwood. I recorded that project with him about a year ago. So, I’ve worked with all kinds of folks with all types of music. I’ve played with good people my entire career.
What is one of your proudest moments as a musician? The release of my current album, The Drummer Loves Ballads. It's the first time I've done a project as a leader and my first full release under my name; I'm exceptionally proud of it. I brought a 40-year-old vision for life, which has been well received. The Drummer Loves Ballads began as a moment of rejection 40-plus years ago when I was playing one of my first jam sessions. The leader rebuffed my suggestion regarding which song we should play next rather harshly.
Although the album's vision was birthed out of rejection, the album strongly emphasizes our reflection on what's important in life, like the friendships I've made and the people I've loved and lost along the way. Overall, the album was five years in the making and 40 years in the incubating stage.
I'm so glad you got it out! What a fantastic accomplishment! Are you working on a new project for next year? Not right now, but I hope to have a Christmas single out, but that's up in the air. I'm going to take a little break before I decide what's next for me.
That sounds good. John, what are some of the challenges and perks of being an independent artist? I've never been on a label, so I can't compare the two directly, but here's the bottom line. If you don't do it, it doesn't get done. That means you must have confidence in your own vision and understand marketing, publicity, and the conceptualizing of your project. As the creative circle leader, you are responsible for caring for all those things. The upside is that I don't have to defend my choices to anyone. It’s my money, my time, and my vision.
My project has three narrative interludes, 16 tracks, 63 minutes of music, and 28 musicians. It involves a little classical and orchestral music. It defines everything that a label would approve. But I'm happy with my project. Plus, I was 52 when I started it, and now, I'm 58. I’m hardly a young up-and-coming.
Furthermore, it was expensive to do. I cannot imagine any label saying, yeah, let's get on board with that. Ultimately, independence provides freedom if you are willing to take responsibility for it.
I like that. Are there any wise words you want to share with up-and-coming independent artists? That's a great question. I think beginnings are everything. When you create with vulnerability, you learn to trust and share it with them. Just put it out there and market the heck out of it. Let go of it. You can't be responsible for what people think of it. It's essential to trust your instincts.
Thank you, John. It has indeed been an honor to speak with you today. I want to thank you so much for your time. You're terrific, and I can't wait to see what God does in your life in the days to come and how He begins to open doors for you. I pray that God will continue to bless you and that the works of your hands be done according to His will. I also pray that God will keep you safe and protected throughout your life's journey. Oh, thank you! Gina, I am so glad to talk to you, and thank you for all those kind words and good wishes.
All John Armato's photos are courtesy of John Armato
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