Vito Rezza: Drums and Colossal Passion

Rome wasn’t built in a day, but Vito Rezza’s skill-laden compositions on his 2011 release with the 5 after 4 quartet _ appropriately named Rome In A Day _ make it seem so. On the band’s first trans-Atlantic tour, all it took were 12 hours to visit the eternal city: “Suddenly, I get to Rome and all of these sites are popping up; the Colosseum, Pantheon, Piazza di Spagna.” says Rezza, whose personality and Italian heritage are major influences on the the Peter Cardinali-produced recording.

Born in Modugno, Bari, it was Rezza’s third visit to Italy since immigrating to Canada as a two-year old. At the time, his father was a professional soccer player, invited to Toronto by Steve Stavros, former owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs. As work endeavors were slim, the family found difficulty fitting into the Canadian landscape.

The young musician would later find solace in music, despite being labeled “too heavy handed” when learning piano at five years old. After visiting a music store on Corso Italia, Vito discovered his true calling: the drums.

From the early age of seven, Rezza would begin playing to Toronto’s Italian community in afterhours clubs and bars. He recalls rough memories of performing in adult situations and trauma brought on by his first drum teacher, who hit Rezza when he made mistakes.

In spite of this hazardous learning environment, Rezza claims that the drums have always been his sanctuary. “When I play, it’s the most safe I ever feel,” he says. “It’s reflective of my character and who I am inside, allowing me to do and be the best I can be.”

In the 1970s, Rezza performed live in Italy, impressing the audience with a familiar surname, similar mannerisms and a sound reminiscent of the foreign Elvin Jones or Art Blakey. Rezza’s Italian fans have the utmost respect for his work because of his strong authority behind the kit. His fellow drummers from Italy lovingly say he has “la Grinta,” a term dubbed to describe the soul and grit they believe makes North American music stand out.

Rezza feels that he is “out on the front lines” representing Italian-Canadian artists. He is proud of his accomplishments and plans to do more with the help of his strong values. “There is a great passion that Italians show,” he says. “Loyalty, a sense of family, food, how we eat – it’s very important to eat and share moments together as a band.”

Staying true to his modus operandi, Rezza is drawn to real life stories of struggle when writing and sharing music. His favourite song from Rome In A Day, “Mr. Govindas”, is inspired by a story Deepak Chopra wrote about a destitute alcoholic outside a hospital in Mumbai, India. Rezza is motivated by these experiences to help others.

At the 2004 Montreal Drum Festival, a father and son approached the artist at an autograph session. The father, restricted to a wheelchair with cerebral palsy, lamented that he would “never be able to do what you can” to Rezza. “I’m playing for you,” he replied optimistically.

“Music is medicine; you can’t measure the power of music financially,” says the guru of Canadian jazz drumming, who regards his instrument as his “ashram, temple and church.”

And though it seems that his success has grown at a rapid rate, his musicianship has been built on dedication. “People don’t know that I have spent 10 hours a day developing my craft as a drummer,” he says of a half-century long career. “When I perform, you’re going to be the recipient of what I have to offer, through my sentiments, emotion and music as an extension of me.”

The drum stool is Rezza’s workbench, and like Rome, the construction of his monumental talent took much more than just a day.

This piece was first published in the February 2012 issue of Panoram Italia Magazine


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