Vinnie Colaiuta: Heroes and Humility

David talks to Vinnie, one of the greatest--and most thoughtful--drummers and musicians of our time.


Vinnie Colaiuta is a new friend, and a very wonderful guy. We had a great chat about music, touching on a lot of different topics.

Every drummer who’s even half serious knows and worships Vinnie Colaiuta. From his bio on the Remo Drums site:

He has won a total of 18 'Drummer of the Year' awards from Modern Drummer magazine's annual reader polls. These include 10 awards in the 'Best Overall' category. Colaiuta was inducted into the Modern Drummer "Hall of Fame" in 1996. The publication also cited Colaiuta as being the most important drummer of our time.

So naturally I wanted to ask him, first, about meeting his own heroes, like Elvin Jones and Tony Williams. From there, the conversation led to modern music and technology, America’s appreciation for foreign cultures, and more. Make sure you check out his great podcast, Breakfast with Vinnie.

I first saw Vinnie’s name on the cover of a classic bootleg, Sting: The Chicago Sessions. It was an acoustic show, something like Unplugged, and it was recorded beautifully for broadcast. This is one of those pristine and enjoyable bootlegs you’d enjoy listening to even if you’re not crazy about the artist.

It’s funny: the people who design album covers—even bootlegs!—end up influencing people (and, maybe even their lives) in a weird variety of ways. Putting the players’ names on the cover was pretty much unheard of for pop music, but was customary in a jazz context. (This practice goes a long way toward explaining how people get into jazz—via particular players, often sidemen—as opposed to other types of music. Hmm. Would be interesting to talk and think this through.)

Anyway, Vinnie’s playing knocked us out, and I’ve been a fan since. I’m glad I got to ask him about this gig and others. He mentioned opening up for the Grateful Dead with Sting in 1993, where the band was able to really stretch out and turn up the volume and intensity. One of those killer shows was captured in fantastic quality, and embedded below.

Episode 3: Vinnie Colaiuta

Vinnie Colaiuta is a highly regarded drummer based in Los Angeles.

His break came in April 1978 at the age of 22, when he auditioned for Frank Zappa, an audition that involved performing the notoriously difficult piece entitled “The Black Page.” The audition was successful and Colaiuta went on to work with Zappa as his principal drummer for studio and live performances. Colaiuta's performances on Zappa's albums Tinsel Town Rebellion, Joe's Garage and Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar are considered by many drummers to be among the most astounding ever recorded. Joe's Garage was named one of the top-25 drumming performances of all time in a 1993 Modern Drummer article.

After leaving Zappa, Colaiuta went on to work with a long list of notable rock and pop artists, including Gino Vannelli, Joni Mitchell, Barbra Streisand, Sandy & Junior, Clannad, Wang Chung, and Chaka Khan. He has also appeared with many notable jazz musicians, including Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Jimmy Haslip, Quincy Jones, the Buddy Rich Big Band and Buell Neidlinger.

In 1990, Colaiuta successfully auditioned for the drum spot in Sting's touring band in support of his album The Soul Cages. Colaiuta remained as a member of Sting's band for the next seven years. His studio work with Sting can be heard on Ten Summoner's Tales (1993), Mercury Falling (1996) and more.

More recently, Colaiuta recorded and toured with Faith Hill, recorded with the thrash metal outfit Megadeth on their album The System Has Failed, and has most recently toured with Jeff Beck and Herbie Hancock.

—Bio stolen and adapted from Remo Drums.

Intro Music

Ted Curson’s “Straight Ice,” the opening track from the late trumpeter’s brilliant Atlantic album, The New Thing and the Blue Thing. It’s too bad that Curson isn’t better known; most jazz heads know him through his time with Charles Mingus—and it’s a shame, as his records as a leader in the mid-60s are so compelling. After this one, you might want to dig Fire Down Below, Urge, and Tears for Dolphy. Urge is so good—and unavailable—I had to upload it to YouTube myself.