Twelve years after Wynton Marsalis invited Julliard bound Cleveland high school student Dominick Farinacci to be a special guest on the PBS Broadcast “Live From Lincoln Center: A Tribute To Louis Armstrong,” the 29 year old trumpeter--now a world class musician with seven recordings and countless U.S. tours and international appearances to his credit—is still filling jazz legends with awe. In 2010, the great Quincy Jones popped by the hip Los Angeles club Vibrato to check out Farinacci’s show. Jones’ classic response: “This kid is 360 degrees!”—a reference to the cosmopolitan, culturally expansive range of American and world music influences that Farinacci brings to his unique blend of traditional and contemporary jazz.
Over the years, Farinacci has won numerous awards that speak to his wide ranging impact and appeal: the International New Star Award (along with Diana Krall and Christian McBride), the Disney New Star Award and first place honors in the Carmine Caruso International Trumpet Competition. He was also invited to perform at the O2 in London opening for Jamie Cullum and Jeff Beck. Launching his recording career overseas with an incredibly prolific run of five albums from 2003-2006 on Japan’s Pony Canyon/M&I Records, the NYC based artist blossomed with his first U.S. recording Lovers, Tales and Dancers (2009, the first jazz recording produced by legendary three time Grammy winning pop/rock producer Russ Titelman (Eric Clapton, Randy Newman, Steve Winwood).
JazzMonthly: Your two U.S. releases are Lovers, Tales & Dancers and Dawn of Goodbye. Can you tell me about the concepts of these recordings and how they differ from the Japanese releases you put out from 2003-2006 on Japan’s Pony Canyon/M&I Records?
DF: Tales is a collection of songs from all around the world that inspire me, including compositions by Astor Piazzolla, Jacques Brel and a Bulgarian folk song. It’s always been my vision to bring all different kinds of music together. I also love playing ballads and that album has many of them, plus the sound of horns with strings, which led me to work with a small chamber ensemble. Kenny Barron has such a beautiful elegant touch on piano and Rich Derosa and I built the arrangements around his sound. Dawn of Goodbye was influenced by my time growing up playing Great American Songbook standards in a jazz style. It also reflects my love for vocals, and the way it’s tracked tells a specific love story from song to song based on certain events in my life at the time I recorded it. The Japanese releases have similar components, but the later albums have a more focused musical direction. My earlier works are a bit more all over the map, and their style is more straight ahead swinging jazz.
JazzMonthly: I’m most familiar with the Lovers album, which also draws from many different styles and composers—including Ornette Coleman, Billie Holiday, Puccini and Japanese film composer Ryuichi Sakamoto. Is jazz a common denominator for your or is calling you a jazz trumpeter somewhat limiting in light of all the styles you embrace?
DF: People sometimes find it useful to divide artists into genres and categories, but I don’t necessarily see myself as a jazz trumpet player only. I try to be more of a vocalist through my horn, and sometimes the inspiration for that is a well known jazz vocal recording. Having a foundational jazz vocabulary has helped me expand into other styles, but when I think of jazz trumpeters, I think of Blue Mitchell, Kenny Dorham and Clifford Brown.
JazzMonthly: How did you get your first deal in Japan and why weren’t those albums released in the U.S.? Which is your favorite of these and why?
DF: The deal I had was specific to the Japanese market and came about through different events, starting with when Wynton Marsalis invited me back to Lincoln Center to join a show paying tribute to Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard—two of my favorite trumpeters. I met the event’s producer, Todd Barkan, an integral part of the Lincoln Center Jazz circle who had produced many artists for Japanese labels. He hooked up a deal for me with M&I Records. I was still a student at Julliard at the time. That label didn’t have licensing with an American label, so that’s why they were never released in the U.S. I think I like the third one best—just the overall song choice, the sequence and the look of the album. It was also the most commercially successful.
JazzMonthly: Dawn of Goodbye was your last release in 2011. Are you currently working on a new recording project?
DF: I’m working on a music video for new song I wrote that has tango and flamenco influences. We’ve come up for the storyline and it will be my first official video clip that’s not just watching my band play live. I’m working with great young video director, Dan McKenna, who doesn’t usually work with jazz artists. The song is untitled right now, but it will be definitely be on my next EP. The project will probably feature four other tracks of mainly original music that has more South American and flamenco influences.
JazzMonthly: How old were you when you first got interested in jazz, and was there a moment of epiphany with any recording or artist that made you realize you wanted to play?
DF: I started listening to jazz at 11, when my music teacher at school gave me a recording of Louis Armstrongs’ “A Kiss To Build A Dream On.” I wanted to sound like him. I loved his voice and trumpet playing, and I’ve always been drawn to very lyrical stuff. His style was so unique and I never heard anything like it before. I had no idea that it was from many years earlier. I originally wanted to play drums because my uncle’s a drummer in Cleveland and he got me a drum set. But I had no formal training so I couldn’t audition to play in the school band. Our school music director told me they needed trumpet players so I gave it a shot, and here we are. My other jazz influences are Clifford Brown, Dexter Gordon, Errol Garner, Freddie Hubbard, Miles Davis and Chet Baker.
JazzMonthly: Your professional career began when you performed at the Tri-C JazzFest in Cleveland when you were 17 – and that headliner Wynton Marsalis liked what he heard and helped get things started for you. How did all this happen? Did his anointing change the dynamics as far as your career ambitions?
DF: After that concert, in which my school opened for his septet, I met him in the green room. He had heard about me from other guys in his band, and I played “All The Things You Are” for him on the spot. I had heard he liked to go out after big performances and sit in at local clubs, so I booked a gig close to the large venue and he came there and we played together till four or five a.m. The club was called something like Ciao Cuchina, an Italian place. He gave me his number and we kept in touch and I picked up some tips from him on the phone. A few months later he called me to play the first show at Lincoln Center. But well before that time I had already decided I would do this for a living. It was the only thing I wanted to do. From the time I was in my mid-teens I was booking six or seven gigs a week and had a vision of what I wanted to do. Meeting and playing with him was the motivation that led me to choose Julliard and New York as opposed to Berklee School of Music and Boston.
JazzMonthly: Wynton invited you to play on the PBS Special “Live From Lincoln Center: A Tribute to Louis Armstrong.” Who else played and was the experience surreal for you?
DF: He chose me and two other great trumpet players, Brandon Lee and Trombone Shorty. We played with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. It was an incredible experience and we were interviewed there by opera great Beverly Sills and stayed at the Empire Hotel. I was so nervous playing that gig I thought I might throw up! (laughs)
Jazz Monthly: Then you moved to NYC to attend Julliard. What did you learn there that helped you in your career? Was it hard to focus on school with so many professional opportunities you were pursuing at the same time?
DF: The most valuable thing about Julliard was meeting other great musicians from around the world. Fast forward ten years later, and most of the guys in my band are guys I went to school with. Those relationships blossomed at Julliard. It was also important to be part of The Jazz Studies Program during its first years of development. Things changed a lot from day to day and over the four years I attended. The hardest thing was traveling to Japan and doing gigs around the country but also making sure I didn’t fail classes based on their attendance policy. Fortunately, I was able to do it all successfully.
JazzMonthly: When and where did you play your first headlining show as a solo artist and start touring? When did you realize you were comfortable performing onstage?
DF: I’ve been playing gigs since I was 14 or 15, a lot in Cleveland and I would even take the bus sometimes to play in Chicago. I’ve been traveling steadily ever since, but maybe in my second or third year at Julliard things started to pick up as far as more structured tours. I never found it intimidating but I remember analyzing my performance critically after every show from a musical standpoint and from a communicative standpoint. Looking at my shows that way helped me grow. When I was 25 I was still terrified to talk to the audience between songs. Now the communicative part is one of my favorite aspects of the show. I love interacting with the audience.
JazzMonthly: What’s your typical touring schedule now?
DF: Right now, it’s a bit irregular, with six and seven weeks here, four weeks there…it goes in spurts. This year I’ve been to Paris, parts of Spain, Japan and all over the U.S. from the Midwest, West and East Coast and also Canada. I generally average over 100 dates. When I started touring, I was so focused on the number of dates that I sometimes chose venues I didn’t find to be good quality, so now every place we play is a beautiful world class club, theatre or festival. I’ve found that I do best in places where the people are more culturally curious. I’ve learned that those who are open to my kind of music means generally have an open mind when it comes to experiencing things that are unfamiliar to them.
JazzMonthly: You have a heart for education in Cleveland and in 2011-2012 you were artist in residence at the Creative Center for the Arts, a new state of the art educational facility that houses the Tri-C Jazz Studies program. Tell me about your involvement in this. What about the educational outreach program that’s part of it? What artists have participated?
DF: We bring young, exciting up and coming artists and some veteran performers to kids in the Cleveland community, both musical and non musical kids. Our goal is to present the music to them in an intimate setting where they have the opportunity to interact with artists. The marriage of these two elements, the music and the personalities of the performers, helps get kids interested. So far we’ve brought in some great artists who are based in New York, including vocalist Jose James, New Orleans pianist Jonathan Batiste and Aaron Diehl.
Jazz Monthly: You’ve had an impressive career to this point but you are only 29. What do you hope to accomplish in your 30s and beyond?
DF: I’m really excited to get into all the dif collaborations and different kinds of music in 30s. I just hope to just reach as many people as possible with my music and interact with them as a performer. One of my ultimate goals is to get as many quality gigs around the world as Chris Botti does, and that means over 200 per year. I’ve seen Chris over 30 times and he’s such an innovative yet accurate player, with a great band. I love his approach. I’m not thinking about legacy at this point, I’m just taking it day by day and following my heart, doing what I love to do musically. I love working with kids as well and know part of that means building an audience for the future. The fact that some of my good friends also happen to be musicians I look up to is one of the greatest parts of having the career I’ve been fortunate to have.