His name may not ring as many bells as Joni Mitchell, Jeff Beck or Chaka Khan, but he has performed or recorded with all three. Vinnie Colaiuta, 58, is one of the most in-demand sidemen today. A versatile drummer who has traveled the entire world, Colaiuta just finished a North American tour with singers Sting and Paul Simon, during which he played at Madison Square Garden. This week, he is at the Abu-Dhabi festival, performing with pianist Herbie Hancock.
Colaiuta received his first drum set when he was a teenager. But “the drums found me,” he said. It was in his parents’ attic that he would spend days playing, until his mother suggested he start taking classes.
Soon, meteorite-like Colaiuta was at the prestigious Berklee School of Music, in Boston; and shortly after, he moved to Los Angeles, where he started his career with Frank Zappa – which catapulted him to fame.
Colaiuta, like a chameleon, said he practices the technique of the blank slate. “Whenever I go to a gig, I try to be completely open and forget everything I know,” he said. That allows him to immerse himself completely into the music, he said.
Colaiuta plays in large concert halls as well as in smaller venues. He is able to adjust to pianist Chick Corea’s softer style which, he said, is like pointillism, but also Herbie Hancock’s, which he referred to as “dense harmonic sophistication” and “beautiful abstraction.”
Colaiuta spent many years earning a living as a studio musician in Los Angeles – that entailed recording specific tunes with musicians he would only work with for that occasion, and for just a few hours. Colaiuta has thus become a drums expert. He understands all the nuances of his instrument and when he performs, every single touch means something unique. That’s also one of guitar player John McLaughlin’s assets. Colaiuta and McLaughlin have played together, and both are the epitome of controlled precision and sophistication.