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. Towards the end of March, he performed at the Abu-Dhabi festival with pianist Herbie Hancock, bass player James Genus and guitar player Lionel Loueke.
Colaiuta, a little over 6 feet tall, received his ﬁrst drum set when he was a teenager. He said he spent days playing in his parents’ attic until his mother suggested he start taking classes. He went on to study at the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston; and shortly after he finished, he moved to Los Angeles because he was not playing enough on the East coast. There he started his career with Frank Zappa – which catapulted him into the big time.
Colaiuta, whose sense of humor is unparalleled, said he likes to immerse himself completely into whatever music he is playing: “Whenever I go to a gig, I try to be completely open and forget everything I know,” he said.
This blank slate approach allows Colaiuta to adjust to pianist Chick Corea’s softer style, which, he said, is like pointillism, but also to Herbie Hancock’s, which relies more on chords.
Colaiuta spent many years earning a living as a studio musician in Los Angeles, recording tunes with musicians he would only work with for that occasion – George Benson or Madonna, for instance. Those experiences have also helped him understand all the nuances of his instrument and when he performs, every single touch means something unique and demonstrates his controlled precision and sophistication.