In Los Angeles last month to take his rightful seat at the GRAMMYS® as a voting member, musician Nick Stefanacci (saxophonist) has played with the Derek Trucks Band, the Four Tops and opened for Johnny Mathis. Elementary school music teacher by day and performing “pop fusion” saxophone music infused songs by night, Stefanacci has a trained eye view on how to compose music.
Meeting up with Nick Stefanacci in Hollywood over GRAMMY® weekend at a late night juice bar, I got to spend an hour meeting New Jersey’s hidden gem. With blenders going in the background, we chat inspiring students, paving new ground, having an evolving perspective in the field of music, and his excitement of being involved in GRAMMY® workshops, parties and attending America’s biggest night in music.
I asked Nick about the process of submitting his album for GRAMMY® consideration as an Indie artist. He’s frank about admitting he knows that it’s a long shot in an enormous field but says, “I would totally put my band on stage tomorrow against anybody and we would definitely be one of the talked about bands. That’s why it’s awesome to me, because I know that if I meet the right people that it’s done, it’s over. I’ll be doing my thing on a much bigger scale.”
Q: What got you here? “I’ve been playing saxophone since I’m ten. My family is very musical. …There was no choice growing up. My dad had his own wedding band for like 20 years. …I was able to start sitting in with bands when I was really young. When you start doing that stuff you’re hooked. There was nothing else I wanted to do. I started playing out when I was 15. My parents would drop me off at shows. You know you’re walking to a bar and there’s a line of people out the door and you walk right through to the front, the bouncer lets you in. As a 15 year old, that’s amazing. Why would you want to stop that dream that drive?”
Q: Who is singing on your albums? “On my first two albums [“26 Years,” “All For A Reason”] it’s an older R&B guy named Kenny Simmons, who was actually [a member of the back up band] in the Commodores after Lionel [Richie] left. He has that classic R&B soul sound which is amazing. This album [“Status”] we went with a younger female, Spanish singer from Miami [Michelle Manzo] and she’s fantastic. I love her.”
Q: You’ve crossed over a bit playing different types of music with other bands. Can you share one of those experiences? “When I was 15, the first band I started to sit in with was the Derek Truck’s who is the guitarist for the Allman Brothers. Sitting in with one of the most sought after guitarists as a 15 year old is crazy, it’s beyond. It’s definitely like the Southern Rock music—way different than what I do—but you would learn. You know every time you step on stage with someone you learn from them and it’s amazing.”
￼Q: Do you think playing different types of music defines the type of music you write more or do you think you incorporate other influences in it? “Well, I think working with all those bands pushed me to be a band leader because I realize that I don’t like playing other people’s music. I like having my own voice and saying this is what I do. You can check it out or you could leave, it’s cool, but this is who I am. …I think it totally pushed me into being a leader and writing and down this path, which is awesome. I wouldn’t change any of it because you learn from every experience. I definitely think that my playing performance history is in my music—all these little trinkets of things you pick up from playing with different performers.”
Q: Who do you listen to that you think, “I want to be like that person one day?” “I grew up in a heavy rock n’ roll family. So it was The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, Pink Floyd, like all that stuff being played and as I got older and got into music I really dug Quincy Jones and his ability being a producer to work with all these different styles of music and he had his fingers in everything. He still does, it’s awesome. I love it. As an artist, Michael Jackson, what Justin Timberlake is doing now I think is awesome. Obviously being a saxophonist you get into the whole jazz thing with Coltrane and Miles Davis, and Charlie Parker. You have to go through that learning curve as an instrumentalist because you have to know the history of it so you know what you’re doing with a saxophone. You have to know the history of stuff to move forward.”
Q: What are learning as an “on the ground” musician that you teach your students? “Well, I tell my parents of my students that I teach my kids about life and my vehicle is music. You know, because if I have one kid who graduates high school that goes on to study music I think that’s a pretty big success. …So my main goal as a teacher is to teach them about life and music is such a great vehicle because you learn so many lessons about how to work with people, how to have the focus to study one thing to reach a certain goal. I tell my students all the time, it’s the biggest sport you’ll ever be on and on this team there is no bench. There is no starting 5 and the rest of you come in somewhere throughout the concert. It’s everybody on the stage performs throughout the concert and it’s a team so as weak as our weakest player, that’s what we can do.”
￼Nick Stefanacci “Status” on iTunes in US
Q: What inspired “Vegas Nite?” “’Vegas Nite’ was actually an idea for a song that I got when I booked a trip to Vegas. I went to Vegas last year for my 30th birthday with all my cousins. It was crazy. You know it was definitely like the “Hangover” you know just our style. So that’s where that song birthed from. Then I went out there and experienced it so it was like now I could take it and write this song and make it like a love song and try to sell the whole Vegas just random one night fling type thing love epic. That’s where that song comes from totally.”
Q: So did you actually have a fling while you were there? “No. Vegas was crazy because…I was actually in the process of writing and recording this album so the week that we went out to Vegas I got back into town and then I had to pick up the vocalist the next day. So I was out in Vegas thinking about the album…but no one night stand there.”
Q: And the “Limelight Oasis” song, is there a story there? “It’s a song about the highs and lows of being a musician and when you’re on that stage there’s nothing else that compares to it. And then as soon as that limelight goes off, it’s no matter where you just were, I mean there are some really low lows after that light goes off and you’re like, ‘Oh my God, what’s next or what am I gonna do? How come this didn’t happen? How come that’s not there? Why did that happen?’ So it just talks about that obsession, that addiction to music and the addiction to the limelight and how you handle it once that light goes off.”
Q: How do you handle it? “I try to always move forward. I hate looking back on things. I’m always looking to the next project, the next show, what am I gonna do differently, how can I get in touch with this person. You know it’s always trying to step forward, you know looking back is not good. You gotta move forward, you’ve gotta push yourself to new limits, new areas that you wouldn’t test. …What always kind of saves me is how touching music is and how it affects everybody.”
Q: If you had to choose one song title to describe your personality, what would it be?
“‘A Day In The Life’ by The Beatles. I’m totally blessed with what I’m able to do and yeah I work really hard at it, but it’s a blessing.”
Nick Stefanacci supports St. Judes Children’s Research Hospital CHARITY.
Music Review / Interview by Nicole Hanratty
February 15, 2014