Cat's a Bear
(Cat's a Bear performing as Tito)
Tito: They Really ARE That Good
By John Biggie
Good contemporary jazz in Erie...somehow, that sounds so wrong--but it's true. What's more it's some of the best 90s jazz you'll hear anywhere. It's done by a band called Tito (a.k.a. the Tito Experience, Tito Ronzitti and His Banditti...) which is probably the most exciting addition to Erie's music scene in recent memory. Tito is a six-members band that combines original jazz-fusion with Latin rhythms (heavy on the percussion) creating a very unique sound. Members of the band also make up two other local bands worth attention, but more about them later. Really, these guys have so much going for them I hardly know where to begin...so, I guess the beginning is the logical choice here:
About 10 or 11 months ago, Joe Dorris (drums) and Frank Singer (guitar, sax, keyboards) moved to Erie from Boston, where they had been playing extensively at jazz clubs and special events and opening for top-name acts at concerts. They met up with Tony Stefanelli (fretless electric bass), he had just arrived from Detroit, and they "just started jamming"...3 weeks later they had gigs and decided it was time to get serious. They then got together with Tito "Nick" "Poppo" Ronzitti (congas.. and man with many names) who has been a local musician for a long time and has produced many successful drummers, both locally and nationally. Later, Tony's son Anthony Stefanelli (percussion) and "Phil the Man" (saxophone) were added to complete the line-up. They then began writing songs--and writing, and writing--and, of course, jamming and jamming.
What they've come up with as a result of all that writing and jamming, besides learning how to deal with each other's different technical backgrounds, is a blend of original ideas and a variety of colors set to some pretty intense music that has a Latin feel, but also has a fusion feel--a music that has a life of it's own, constantly changing, evolving, emerging. Singer described it as "...a process ...it keeps growing and changing--nobody knows what it's going to become, but it keeps getting more focused. The Latin rhythm remains; it hasn't changed percussion-wise...but the tunes and the writing have changed so we're able to get a bit more intricate and involved with different forms. The sax and horns have added a lot more 'open space' (which helps) because if you have all these chords and all this heavy stuff going on on top with just the percussion underneath, it's like a freight train looking for a wreck... so it makes for a better flow."
Tony Stefanelli added, "I think that because everything is so original our music is not really based on anything specific--so it does change. Every time I go out and play I'm surprised at the different band I played with that night. It really changes that much...it's just coming together so well."
As I'm writing this, I'm listening to a tape of the band titled, "Blue Tito"...it's definitely not what people in Erie are accustomed to hearing from a local jazz band (i.e. guys that have been around for 50 years playing "wedding music"). This is serious music of very high quality performed by competent professionals--"top shelf" 90s jazz. I can't say enough good things about this band. Ronzitti, a music teacher himself, also has great respect for the musicians he works with in Tito. He told me, "They are great musicians...equivalent to anyone playing in the country today and able to do anything any top musician in the country can do. They really make you work so that everything's together, everybody feels their best. What I like most is the creativity. The ideas are so unique it's not like anything else. If people have the opportunity to hear these unique new sounds they'll see what's happening in music today--and in the future."
People who have had the opportunity to hear Tito's music seem to agree, commenting on the "life of the music," its "spontaneity," the "quality of the sound and the musicianship." The one statement from and audience members that summed it up best, I think, was, "I couldn't imagine a band like this playing in Erie!"
You can experience the hot new sounds of Tito for yourself. They play regularly (twice a month) at Smuggler's Wharf. Just to avoid any confusion: the band is usually listed as "The Tito Ronzitti Quartet," which is a band that has been defunct for years. Somebody just can't seem to get it right. Rest assured though, that any band with "Tito" in it's name is comprised of these guys and they're well worth your attention. And there's not even a cover charge at Smugg's!