Meet the Band: Gaetano Letizia (guitar), Donny Patterson (drummer), Lenny Gray (bass), Dan Meyer (keyboards)
All That Jazz: A native of Northeast Ohio, guitarist Gaetano Letizia started playing when he was 15. "I played all the classic rock stuff, Hendrix and Clapton, which was happening back then," he says. "Hendrix was close to jazz anyway. When Mahavishnu Orchestra and Chick Corea came out, I gravitated to that. I was heavy into composition. Rock was becoming more pop oriented and teeny bop and pasteurized so I said the heck with it. I couldn't write stuff like that." He studied music at Kent State and went to Baldwin Wallace on a composition scholarship. "I've circled around and realized that blues and funk relate to what I do as well. With both my jazz quartet and the Underworld Blues Band, we rip blues, rock and funk in addition to jazz." Letizia also cites jazz greats such as Jim Hall, Wes Montgomery and Grant Green as influences.
Why You Should Hear Him: Mike Bishop, a local guy who's recorded orchestras, helped Letizia design a studio in his basement about 10 years ago, so he's able to record at home. "I have a control room and a recording room," he says. Last year, the musician took a rhythm lesson with Mike Clark, a famous jazz drummer who's played with Herbie Hancock. "I've been working on my rhythm," he explains. "As a jazz player, you have to work on polyrhythms and all kinds of stuff. Someone suggested we do an album together. Mike Clark is the most sampled drummer in hip-hop. He was into it and I took Wilbur Krebs, who plays all over the world with Bob James and was on the road with Willie Nelson. He's a cool fusion and funk and blues guy." For the resulting album, Froggy & the Toads, Letizia went with a theme. When Clark gave him the dates he was available, Letizia only had two weeks to write the songs. "When we got together, there was no rehearsal. We just ripped it out. Sometimes when you rehearse it, you kill it. I just wanted to write something silly instead of 10 of my jazz funk favorites. I wanted to go Zappa and write songs about toads. It's just off the wall. Toads are my favorite creature in my world; they eat flies and don't bother anyone."
Where You Can Hear Him: gaetanoletizia.com
Where You Can See Him: Letizia's quartet performs at 8 p.m. on Thursday, at the Freeway Lanes entertainment complex in Solon.