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New album from Gaetano Letizia

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    Posted: 17 Aug 2021 at 8:03pm
Coming August 20, 2021

GAETANO LETIZIA does not like labels. The guitarist, composer, and vocalist (whom friends and fans know as “Tom”) fronts a jazz band, whose music is inflected with reggae, R&B, blues, funk, and soul. Letizia also fronts another band, a popular blues trio, called Underworld Blues Band, that features his blazing electric solos, and slide and nylon string guitar mastery.
Letizia’s newest project, CHARTREUSE, featuring the Gaetano Letizia Jazz Quintet, his eleventh album as a leader, is a multi-genre jazz suite of original compositions that showcases his expansive creativity and serious guitar chops.
Letizia was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, where he still resides. A regular on the Midwest music scene with both his jazz and blues bands, his itinerary often includes concerts and clinics on both the East and West Coasts, as well as internationally. He has been playing and teaching music for over 50 years.
Letizia wanted to be a musician since he was four years old and heard his aunt play the accordion. He became transfixed and asked his father to buy him one. His father, however, was a pragmatic entrepreneur who was building his own business and didn’t want to spend the money for an instrument he thought his son would abandon in no time. Although Letizia was disappointed, he never lost his love of music, and when he was 15 years old, he heard Jimi Hendrix play “Purple Haze” and decided he would get a guitar or leave home. His father relented, but being a very practical person, he made sure that young Tom had the best teacher in town.

Letizia went on to Kent State University where he majored in both Music and Business Management. He also joined a rock n’ roll band when he was 17 years old. When he was about 20, a friend introduced him to George Benson, who was just at the beginning of his career. The two became friends, and Letizia once took an all-day lesson with him. Letizia says, “George tried teaching me things that I’m just figuring out now.”
While in school, he studied The Schillinger System of Musical Composition. Named after Joseph Schillinger, it is a method of musical composition based on mathematical processes that offer a systematic and non-genre approach to music analysis and composition. After Kent State, Letizia received a scholarship to the Baldwin-Wallace University, Conservatory of Music, where he studied composition and classical guitar. While at the conservatory, he formed a jazz combo that performed small gigs and casuals.
After he was done with his schooling, Letizia played in several rock bands, including a short stint with Tiny Alice, which had a national following for a while. Letizia’s musicianship was already far outpacing most of his contemporaries, and a promoter told him he could be the next Joe Walsh, another Kent State alumnus. Letizia was offered a contract as a rock guitarist, but he turned it down because in his heart, he wanted to be a jazz guitarist.
All the while he was becoming a master musician and playing with all types of jazz and rock ensembles, he was also working in his father’s business. His father had invented an effective material for permanently repairing potholes. When Letizia traveled to Europe and Japan for his dad’s pothole business, he always brought along his guitar and found opportunities to perform.
Letizia released his first blues album in 2010 and his first jazz fusion album, The Tom Letizia Album, in 1981. Then in 2015, he collaborated with drummer Mike Clark of Herbie Hancock fame on a jazz trio CD, Froggy & The Toads. Now he’s composed a jazz suite comprising nine tunes, CHARTREUSE, which is a beautiful and thoroughly hip expression of the many musical influences that have informed Letizia’s artistry.
The band is made up of old friends with whom Letizia has performed over the years. Saxophonist BOB ESTERLE has performed with Bob James, Bobby Caldwell, Olivia Newton-John, Ray Charles, The Four Tops, The Temptations, and many others. BILL RANSOM is an accomplished drummer who has played with some of the biggest names in jazz, blues and pop, including Dianne Reeves, Mary Wilson and Gerald Levert. He and Letizia have been friends for 40 years. MATTHEW DERUBERTIS is an electric bass player who performs with a host of Ohio-based bands. This is the first time Letizia has worked with B3 player and pianist THERON BROWN, who has worked in different genres with artists as diverse as The Cleveland Orchestra, The Jazz Heritage Orchestra, The Cleveland Jazz Orchestra, The Glenn Miller Orchestra, Snarky Puppy, Donny McCasslin, Walter Beasley, Christian McBride, Ken Peplowski, and Gary Smulyan. Brown was cast as young Herbie Hancock in the 2016 film, Miles Ahead, directed by and starring Don Cheadle.
The music on CHARTREUSE is modern and pleasantly unpredictable. “I prefer to not try and fit in to any particular genre,” says Letizia. “I make extensive use of jazz harmonies and leave plenty of room for improvisation, but I like the freedom to explore whatever style or musical idea crosses my mind at the time.” Indeed, if you listen carefully, you can hear the influence of jazz greats like Wes Montgomery, perhaps Letizia’s favorite, as well as George Benson, Jim Hall, Grant Green, and especially Pat Martino, with whom Letizia was friends and took some lessons with while staying at Martino’s house.
Letizia opens the album with the title track, “Chartreuse.” The name comes from a chartreuse ’57 Chevy that his aunt owned. Bach is Letizia’s favorite composer, and the tune is based on how Bach varied a central theme throughout a composition. “Expanding Reality” is a simple theme to which Letizia employs an augmentation technique, which lengthens the time values and/or the size of the intervals of the notes of a melody. Using multiple key centers, the piece is replete with interesting colors. “Back and Blue” starts out as a straight-ahead number but moves into a blues riff. The composition was influenced by Jaco Pastorius’ “Chicken.” “Paradise Found” features extended arpeggios with unusual chords. The tune flirts with the atonal, but Letizia pulls it back to keep it more accessible. “Genrecide” is a humorously named composition that moves from funk to hip hop to Latin to Reggae. “Blue Ionosphere,” featuring Letizia on a nylon string guitar, moves through different genres before settling down into a Latin tune. “Punch Drunk” is a funky piece on which Letizia uses a classical technique of moving down a scale, but Letizia reharmonizes every single chord in the scale. “Wandering” is a ballad with romantic feel. “Orange Sunset” is based on a progression of unusual Maj7(b5) chords.
With influences of jazz, blues, funk, reggae, and classical, the music on CHARTREUSE does not fit easily into one category. But that is precisely what makes it so engaging. Letizia’s fluent guitar playing, improvisations and creative compositions are the work of an artist at the peak of his powers.
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CHARTREUSE is set for release on August 20, 2021 and will be available everywhere.

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