Podcast 514: Tommaso Cappellato

A truly unique new school jazz artist shines a light on some of his favorite records.
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Tommaso Cappellato is an Italian musician, producer, DJ, and composer—and an all-around musical maverick. Having been introduced to music at an early age, he's gone on to become an exciting and intriguing figure for jazz enthusiasts the world over. His material—ranging from free‐form hip-hop, techno, and house to pretty much any sub-genre of jazz one can conceive—has been channeled through various projects and bands, the result of which is a rich and stylistically diverse catalog of musical works.

Initially encouraged to learn classical piano, Cappellato’s musical focus took a pivot when a passion for drums was ignited at age 11. By his teenage years, this concentration caught full flame as he dove into a deepening love of the instrument, studying with two professional local drummers before leaving Italy to further his studies in New York. Time at Drummers Collective in New York City and a scholarship with New School University placed Cappellato under the tutelage of several noted musicians, including Michael Carvin, Joe Chambers, Jimmy Cobb, Bob Cranshaw, Billy Hart, and Reggie Workman. It was this fine musical foundation that nourished a seemingly unorthodox breadth of style and vision, thus creating a truly unique new school artist.

Building his jazz chops in New York while paying dues, Cappellato embraced the grind, taking on several projects to sharpen his musical vocabulary. He performed for two years six nights a week at the Rainbow Room in Rockefeller Center as Trio65 alongside pianist Ehud Asherie and bassist Joseph Lepore. The trio made the record, Vol. 1: Music by Billy Strayhorn for Nujazzcity Records in 2001. Soon after he involved himself in collaborations with leading New York City musicians: joining Vibes Trio with vibraphonist Bill Ware and bass player Brad Jones; with the Jazz Passengers featuring artists Debbie Harry (Blondie), Marc Ribot, and Roy Nathanson; and co-founding the Brohemian hip-hop/neo-soul band with MC Yah Supreme, with whom he produced the album, Post Modern Garden. Yet it was a stint in Senegal that Cappellato notes as the most significant part of his trajectory to this point, traveling from village to village, jamming and recording with local music masters (including Guinean percussionist and singer Salif Bangoura). It was a time where Cappellato unlocked his musical voice before bringing it all back to where his journey began, working on countless other projects, including the beginning of what would become an ongoing collaboration with pianist, producer, and DJ Mark de Clive-Lowe, performing together on a diverse number of projects both in the U.S. and Europe.

A veritable well of experience, Cappellato is a special breed. Distilling his dynamic musical journey, he debuted as a bandleader with his own quartet, releasing the album Open in 2009, later followed by his award-winning spiritual jazz project, Astral Travel, and collaborations with experimental electronica and techno artists Rabih Beaini and Donato Dozzy, and visionary Egyptian producer Maurice Louca. More recently, he presented his solo artist project Aforemention, further proving himself as the modern renaissance man, bringing together a lifetime of artistic exploration and exposure to form his own concept of jazz-informed experimental electronic soundscapes. His projects and vision have been endorsed by Gilles Peterson both on his Worldwide FM radio programs and festivals; and in 2014 Cappellato was granted the JAJ Award by Shuya Okino, acknowledging him as the year's best new artist.

Cappellato is currently touring Aforemention and preparing a new album with his cosmic jazz ensemble, Astral Travel, featuring legendary vocalist, Dwight Trible. Last month, he took time out of his busy schedule to compile a mix for the XLR8R podcast series.

His submission is an eclectic and diverse as one would expect, encompassing African, tribal, techno, and, of course, some jazz—with lots of unreleased gems included. It's a smooth and enjoyable journey that's both uplifting and soothing; grab it now via the WeTransfer button below.

What was your path into music?

I was introduced to music at an early age by my parents and family. My Dad used to be a professional singer and bass player in the '60s, while my aunt sang in a madrigal choir and I would often go see their rehearsals.

Did you come from a particularly musical background?

All genres of music were being played in the house while growing up, from soul to jazz to classical music, and I was always encouraged to explore whatever I'd like.

Where does your love of jazz originate?

Jazz has always been in my ears. My dad would take me to some relevant concerts. I remember seeing Lester Bowie (Art Ensemble Of Chicago) when I was 12 years old, and when I experienced the atmosphere in a real jazz club, a few years later, I felt the urge to become a jazz musician. Looking back it probably had to do with being allowed to misbehave, when instead I had to learn the art of discipline.

I hear you were mentored by jazz visionaries Harry Whitaker (Black Renaissance) and Michael Carvin (Pharoah Sanders). How did this come about?

I moved to New York when I was 20 and attended the jazz program at New School University where I got the chance to study privately with Michael Carvin for about two consecutive years. I met Harry Whitaker at the legendary Smalls Jazz Club and we ended up playing many gigs around town, soon becoming really close friends. They both taught me how to build self-confidence, to think outside of the box and to have an original inner vision. I'm still in touch with Michael to this day, while Harry passed away in 2010. Everyone in the New York jazz community still misses him very much.

Where are you based nowadays?

Mostly in Italy, although I spend a lot of time in the U.S, especially Los Angeles, often working with Mark de Clive-Lowe and his many projects.

You developed your skills in New York, I understand. Talk to me about this period, how formative was it?

New York is by far the most challenging place I've been living in. The level of musicianship all around is incredible. Studying at the New School in the late '90s (along with fellow musicians Robert Glasper, Bilal, Casey Benjamin, Marcus Strickland and many other talents) as well as experiencing what was going on around town in different venues or just on the streets has been an incredible opportunity to absorb countless lessons on all kinds of music and, for the most part, coming from the original sources. When I entered the professional world I was also confronted with the harshness of the industry and the many frustrations all artists have to face, especially trying to keep it up in such a competitive place.

You also delved into hip-hop during your time in the States, I believe?

If you lived in New York around the mid/late '90s, you couldn't avoid being influenced by that language in some way or another. I fell in love with all the neo-soul scene as it was happening right there and then all around Brooklyn. Personalities like Erykah Badu, Common, Mos Def, Questlove, Q-Tip, The Roots, and Jay Dilla ended up paving a new direction for jazz, which people in my generation (such as Robert Glasper and many others) have taken to the next level. Later on, I met a wonderful collective of people gravitating around the figure of MC Yah Supreme and I ended up producing his album Post Modern Garden(2006). He used to define his style as "atmospheric hip-hop".

How did you begin working with Donato Dozzy and Rabih Beaini?

Around the same time Post Modern Garden came out, I started spending more time in Europe and once there I met Rabih Beaini who used to live in Venice at the time. We soon became good friends and I joined his band Upperground Orchestra. Rabih produced my first official single "The Knight" and the full album Open on his (now deceased) Elefante Rosso label. He also exposed me to other scenes such as techno and experimental electronic music and introduced to many artists I later collaborated with. I'm so thankful to him for opening so many doors.

While on the road with Upperground Orchestra, Donato was on the same bill with his project Voices From The Lake featuring his longtime collaborator Neel. That time the two bands jammed together and Donato and I have been in touch ever since. He recently mixed my last album Aforemention (Mashibeats Records) and did a beautiful rework of one of my compositions —"World Traveller"—released on Ambiwa Records in 2016.

When and where was this mix recorded?

During the last couple of months on my computer always traveling with me.

What equipment did you record the mix on?

Logic Express on a Macbook Pro.

Was there a particular idea or mood you were looking to convey?

I've been inspired by many new albums lately and by music other musicians and producers have given me ready to be released. The idea is to build bridges between experimental, techno, and beat music journeying through all the spectrum of sonic colors in between.

How did you choose the tracks you wanted to include in the mix?

Like most of the work I do, the process is always intuitive. I'm often curious to see what's happening around me. Lately, I've been very inspired by different scenes, such as the one in Los Angeles, or by music coming from different avant-garde Arab artists. I feel good with supporting other musicians, especially through Bandcamp, a platform where independent artists and labels make the most income. Many of the tunes included in this mixtape were recently downloaded from that platform.

How did you weave them together — is there a clear narrative in your mind?

If I decide to "sculpt" a mixtape, like in this case, what I would do is listen back to the flow like it's always the first time and as if it was compiled by someone else. If the blend and the songs choice move me on an emotional level, it means I'm on the right path and I'd keep building until I'm completely satisfied.

Where do you envisage the mix being listened to?

In your headphones while traveling or at a club before a very anticipated concert.

How does it differ from a regular festival set?

You don't have to get high to enjoy it, lol!

What else are you working on this year?

A series of remixes done on my recent solo release Aforemention is due sometime before the end of the year on Mashibeats Records (Mark de Clive-Lowe's imprint), while next year I'll be releasing a second full album with my spiritual jazz project Astral Travel featuring Dwight Trible. Other collaborative releases are also on the way such as the one with fellow drummer and electronic artist Daniele De Santis. We have a two drums and electronics project called Ancestral Memories, soon out on his label Dromoscope.


01. Introduction aux Musiques Africaines "Chant De Filage Des Jeunes Filles Dorze" (Ethiopie)
02. Tommaso Cappellato #Aforemention "Shuttle Session M1" (Unreleased)
03. Hobby Horse "Amundsen" (Unreleased)
04. Linafornia "Nagchampa"
05. Carlos Niño & Friends "Metamaravilla" (ft. Luis Pérez Ixoneztli & Christopher Garcia, with strings by Miguel Atwood-Ferguson)
06. Ancestral Memories & Vincent Moon "Live at Euganea Film Festival" (Unreleased)
07. TIYG "Color" (Unreleased)
08. Georgia Anne Muldrow "Roses"
09. Hermeto Pasqual "Casinha Pequenina"
10. Astral Travel "You're From This Planet" (Unreleased)
11. MDF "Seth I Rec 5" (Unreleased)
12. Tommaso Cappellato "Pastlife Flashbacks" (Afrikan Sciences Remix) (Unreleased)
13. Nadah El Shazly "Afqid Adh-Dhakira (I Lose Memory)"
14. Hunee "The World"
15. Emanative "Black Enchantment"
16. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith "Until I Remember"
17. Low Leaf "Dreaming Awake"
18. Tommaso Cappellato "Aforemention" (Emanative's Affirmation Remix) (Unreleased)
19. Dexter Story "Easter Prayer" (feat. Nia Andrews)
20. Jimetta Rose "Rhythm Of Life"
21. Versis "Progress"
22. Mndsgn "Overture"
23. Carlos Niño & Friends "Organic Self" (with Deantoni Parks, Dexter Story, Josh Johnson and Miguel Atwood-Ferguson)
24. Upperground Orchestra "Live at Golena San Massimo" (Unreleased)
25. Swarvy "T. Valentine"
26. Micki Miller "Fearless"
27. Georgia Anne Muldrow "In The Chambers Of Her Goodness"
28. Donato Dozzy "K1"
29. Charles Cohen "Mankind And Mannequins"