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Bearded Ladies, Corporate Blobs and New? Music
An Interview With Dysfunctional New Age Pianist Tony Macaroni
By D.C. Ruiz
(more articles from this author)
2004-11-30
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Labels, categories, classifications - these are essential in our daily lives and certainly makes life easier when communicating to someone. Much of the music that has been created since the beginning of civilization can be labeled and fit into nice, neat little packages, at least in hindsight. In our own time, we see this continue thanks to the mass marketing influence of the mega-media corporations and the need to target specific demographics. And, one may argue, for the business of music this is a good thing.

But what about the music? There are musicians who just create simply out of a love for sounds and the emotional depth of one's psyche that music alone can touch, and are not concerned with producing a hit record or getting their video on MTV. An eclectic composition of sounds (music) that in the end, cannot be reduced to one or two words, and does not have a pre-installed fan base.

Who will present their voice to the world? Who will market this "strange" music?

Corporate Blob Records is a new label co-owned and operated by Tony Macaroni. The label's main mission is to produce and promote artists whose music does not fit into any one genre or style, the opposite philosophy that any major record company would follow.

Tony is also a very accomplished pianist, with a style of music he calls "Dysfunctional New Age."

I caught up with Tony during his recent solo piano tour through Western Europe.

[ D.C. Ruiz] First of all, tell me a bit about your background, music or otherwise.

Tony Macaroni I grew up in New York City and come from a very musical family. My mother was an opera singer and instructor, and my father was a Jazz clarinetist/saxophonist. Music was playing nonstop in my house, literally 24/7. And I mean all kinds. From Italian Neapolitan tenors such as Carlo Buti and Claudio Villa to Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor to Stravinsky and Charles Ives to whatever. Even some of the Pop music of the day, since my father played weddings and other social functions and needed to learn the Top 40 stuff. I started piano when I was around five years old. My father showed me some things, taught me to read music, but I am primarily self-taught.

[ D.C. Ruiz] So you never attended a music school or subjected yourself to formal training of the sort?

Tony Macaroni No. I learned from records and from an early age, I played in all kinds of bands: Rock, Jazz, Disco, Salsa. This was my conservatory. When you go on the road with a band, it's like boot camp or something, a real learning experience, not just musically but socially as well.

[ D.C. Ruiz] How so?

Tony Macaroni Well, I'll give you an example. I was in this Top 40 band touring around the South. For the gig, I had to learn a few Country music tunes. At the time, I hated Country music. Don't ask me why, maybe because these four chord tunes were very easy to play, and boring too. Well, one Friday night at a Holiday Inn lounge, one of two in Dalton, Georgia, we were playing our usual set list. Whenever we would play the Top 40 Pop stuff, people would dance and get into it. But when we played a tune called "Rocky Top Tennessee", a classic Country tune if you didn't know, it was like a religious experience. The whole place was up on the dance floor, which emanated with this profound energy. This happened every night to a degree, but this particular night, I was just awed and lost in the moment. For some metaphysical reason and my state of mind, something magical took place. I thought to myself 'wow, this is some powerful stuff.'

I have other stories like the time a bearded lady in overalls in a dive in Rossville, Tennessee wanted to dance with me, but I won't go into that.

[ D.C. Ruiz] How did you get from playing Michael Jackson hits for bearded ladies to performing solo piano concerts?

Tony Macaroni After playing on the road for seven years, I decided I had enough and stayed in New York. I found work as a freelance pianist working in a variety of situations, even a Country band. My attitude towards Country music had changed by then.

A friend of mine used to organize promotional parties at downtown after-hours clubs. One of the clubs was called Save The Robots. One night after a gig, I went to this club and saw this band called The Bastard Children of Bozo. They were doing free improvisation, but mixing all kinds of other music with it and it sounded fantastic. I was blown away. I met the members and they invited me to sit in next week. It was there that I met Paul Minotto, the lead arranger for the group.

Paul had written some pieces that featured solo piano sections. Though I had played solo piano gigs before, this involved improvisation in a controlled setting and made me think about other possibilities for solo improvisation.

[ D.C. Ruiz] Just what is "Dysfunctional New Age" music? Your music is not New Age as in George Winston or Yanni, not at all. And I don't find it dysfunctional, though I guess that depends on one's perspective of life.

Tony Macaroni Nothing really. Just a mockery of music labels in general. When I play solo, it's more of an Avant-garde Jazz/Classical mix with some "New Agey" elements thrown in.

After sitting in with The Bastards, I became more interested in Free Jazz improvisation and just immersed myself in this music. I was aware of people like Cecil Taylor, Anthony Braxton and others from my father, but never really got into it. I was hung up on music being structured on a melody with a supporting harmony. With free improvisation, one can explore other aspects of music: timbre (sound), rhythm, texture, time, etc., and not be limited by a harmonic structure.

[ D.C. Ruiz] Did you start performing solo at this point?

Tony Macaroni Well like I said, I had done solo cocktail lounge gigs, no cheesy singing, but never a situation that expanded the basic harmonic/melodic structure of a song. So, even though there was no money in it, I would play solo improv whenever and wherever I could.

[ D.C. Ruiz] How long did you perform with The Bastard Children of Bozo?

Tony Macaroni Not long. We broke up for reasons I won't go into. Paul invited me to join his next project called the primeTime sublime Community Orchestra. It is a Classical orchestra augmented with computers, synthesizers, electric guitars and of course piano. Paul had connections through one of the violinists to do some concerts in Amsterdam. So we rehearsed, played the concerts and the response was so good, we decided to make a record.

[ D.C. Ruiz] So this is how Corporate Blob Records was born?

Tony Macaroni Yes, that's part of it. The other impetus is that it became apparent to Paul and I that most of the interesting music that we like cannot easily be categorized or labeled. We want to record musicians whose work would never get the attention of a major label since their "style" of music has no ready-made market.

This is less of a problem in Europe. For some reason, Americans seem to be more jaded when it comes to stylistic cross-breeding in music; they want their Jazz to sound like Jazz, Rock to sound like Rock and nothing more. In Europe, there's an openness and at times, a desire for music that straddles a fence of one or more styles.

[ D.C. Ruiz] American Jazz musicians have been more appreciated in Europe. Jazz and New Classical music is supported enthusiastically, in some instances, by the government through funding. Some countries even have tax-exempt status for artists. Americans don't support their art forms unless there are dollars attached.

Tony Macaroni Well, I think Jazz, whatever that is these days, has been viewed as a classically dead art form since the ‘70s. One may argue that it died when Rock became the new Pop music in the ‘50s, or one may claim that it never died and has become something else, now embracing any and all stylistic influences of music.

Whatever one thinks, the reality is that you can surf the radio dial in any American city and you'll be lucky to find a 24 hour all-Jazz station playing all kinds of Jazz, and I mean all kinds, not just "Smooth Jazz" which is really nothing more than R&B instrumentals.

[ D.C. Ruiz] One doesn't necessarily find more Jazz on European radio though.

Tony Macaroni That's right. But the support and interest is in concerts and in the media. The situation reminds me of the great Italian music of the first half of the 20th century and Italian radio today.

I've toured around Italy and whenever I would turn on the radio, ninety percent of the time I would hear either American Pop or Italian Pop hits of the day. Very rarely would I hear any of the great tenors such as Giuseppe di Stefano, Claudio Villa, even Enrico Caruso, or other music of this time. I could never understand this. This was such great music. Much of this music influenced and inspired America's first Pop stars: Sinatra, Dean Martin and others. I guess it goes back to how a culture views it's past products. This music, just as Jazz, is just another dead, classical art form.

[ D.C. Ruiz] Who are some of the other artists that will record on the Corporate Blob Records label?

Tony Macaroni Heaven's Whores is an all-girl rock band that mixes atonal melodies with Pop Rock beats, as if the Go-Go's had an orgy with Arnold Schönberg. The Jane Parker Fruitcake Experience, which is lead by primeTime sublime harpist Jane Parker, mixes World music with Free Jazz/ Classical Improvisations. Then there's Baritone Bob Schmucklehead (not his real name) who mixes Avant-garde vocalizations with an acoustic Country/Jazz/ Rock band. And alto saxophonist Luigi Minotta from Rome and Paul's cousin. He sounds like an Italian Eric Dolphy. Paul's last name was spelled with an "a" at the end, but his grandfather from Sicily changed it to an "o" thinking it sounded more American.

[ D.C. Ruiz] What CD releases are planned for the near future?

Tony Macaroni Well, I will have a CD coming out called Live Somewhere in Europe which will be the best pieces from the solo concerts on this tour. Luigi Minotta's first CD will be out sometime next year. Right now, we are concentrating on the primeTime sublime Community Orchestra's next CD to be called Songs That Will Never Win A Grammy. It will be mostly Pop songs sung by computers with orchestral accompaniment.

[ D.C. Ruiz] Songs? That's somewhat of a departure from the first two CDs.

Tony Macaroni Yes and no. The first CD was strictly about music, the second dealt with theater and the third will be songs, all just different dimensions of the primeTime sublime, as Paul would say.

[ D.C. Ruiz] I read somewhere that Sir George Martin, the fifth Beatle, was going to produce it.

Tony Macaroni Yes I heard that one, too. Actually, I have a friend, more of an acquaintance, that knows him, and after hearing bits from the upcoming CD, he said Sir George would really love our stuff and want to work with us and that he will arrange a meeting. We had an intern doing some PR work for us over the summer and he misinterpreted this and sent out a press release informing the world that Sir George was going to work with us. We ended up firing him and I still haven't heard from my 'friend.'

[ D.C. Ruiz] That would be quite an experience. I bet he could teach you some things.

Tony Macaroni Yeah.

[ D.C. Ruiz] Tell me more about Songs That Will Never Win a Grammy.

Tony Macaroni The idea or challenge behind this record is to take the Pop song as a form and most of it's stylistic manifestations, and expand upon it. The result subverts its commercial function leaving a music which is both commercial sounding and not at all commercial. At one point, one thinks one is listening to a song written by Samuel Beckett for a Disney cartoon and at another point, one is listening to a Charles Ives or Luciano Berio composition, all in the same piece of music.

Stylistically, the songs range from cheesy lounge Jazz to a Pop ballad to Classical Rock. There's even going to be a Country tune on it called "Just Give Me One More Twinkie and I'll Love You."

[ D.C. Ruiz] I've heard a computer talk but never sing. Is he/she a member of the musician's union?

Tony Macaroni I don't think so. At least we won't have any superstar egos to deal with.

You can hear excerpts of the music from the primeTime sublime Community Orchestra and Tony's upcoming CD, Live Somewhere In Europe, at www.primetimesublime.com

Download: "Holy War In Your Pants" from the CD( )
Holy War in Your Pants

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