REINHARDT MELZ - Gino Vannelli by Ashley Wardell
Drummer Reinhardt Melz is by far the busiest drummer in the Portland, Oregon area. While working nearly every night as most people's “first call” drummer, Reinhardt also keeps a busy touring schedule with pop icon Gino Vannelli. Hailed as one of those rare guys that can play any style with authority, Reinhardt really shines in every setting. Having gigged since before he could drive, Reinhardt has worked with Gino Vannelli, Curtis Salgado, Charmaine Neville, Buddy Guy, Lloyd Jones, Bobby Torres, Victor Little, Reggie Houston, Allen Hinds, Patrick Lamb, Ernestine Anderson, Randy Porter, Tony Furtado, Jeff Lorber, and many, many more.
Reinhardt Melz has been on the North West professional music scene since 1987. He is a consummate musician and teacher. He is also Bobby Torres’ eldest son.
I had the great pleasure to interview Reinhardt just before he was due to go on another tour with Gino Vannelli
for those of you who are not familiar with Reinhardt's playing, check out Gino Vannelli Live In LA.
AW – Can you give me a little history on yourself and the early days coming up as a player?
RM - I was born in Los Angeles, California 1971 and moved to Portland Oregon in 1981 where I've been ever since.
Because of my parents, I grew up immersed in music and dance. My mother is a dancer, and my grandmother owned a dance school. I grew up with mandatory dance classes, and my grandmothers' dance studio was pretty much my second home. My biological father is a bassist and stepfather (who I call dad, since he raised me from the age of one) a Latin percussionist.
Between all of them, I was exposed to a lot of music, coming from many genres.
Around the age of 15, my parents were encouraging me to focus on something for a career, and the thing I was most interested in was drumset. I had little experience on the drum set at this point, although there was always a drum set in the house. I had always been drawn to the drums, but the first drumming that I remember really catching my ear was Tony Williams' playing on Miles Davis' Four and More. That music and Tony's drumming continues to be an inspiration for me to this day.
So I decided to focus on the drums, and started taking lessons from a few local teachers, namely Mel Brown, Israel Annoh, and Guy MaxwellI.I joined the jazz and symphonic band my junior year in high school. By the age of 17, my stepfather finagled me into my aunt's band who was doing weddings, parties. My aunt is a great singer, and the band was full of top-notch musicians who had to put up with my inexperience.
While I was gigging with this band I was attending Mount Hood community college and playing in the big band and vocal jazz group. I was also playing in a rock band that played classic oldies in several bars around Oregon.
When I was around 20 years old, I tried out for an established blues band named the Lloyd Jones Struggle. I ended up playing in Lloyd's band for about six years and recorded on a couple of his albums. Lloyd pretty much taught me everything I know about playing a shuffle. He used to be a drummer before he became a guitarist/vocalist, but still can play the shit out of a shuffle on the drums.
This would put me at about age 25... You asked about my early years. That's about my first 10...
AW – Your father is the amazing percussionist Bobby Torres have you ever performed together?
RM - Yes, my father Bobby Torres has had quite the career. His very first professional gig was with Joe Cocker, who he ended up playing in Woodstock with... kind of a tough act to follow! Anyway, after Bobby was done with his touring days, he started a band in Portland Oregon around the middle of my stint with Lloyd Jones. He has had the band ever since, and I have been playing in that band whenever possible ever since. Currently I am on the road for the most part, so one of my first teachers, Israel Annoh, is playing drums for my dad's band, The Bobby Torres Ensemble.
AW - During your playing career what drums have you played, do you have a particular favourite, and also are you endorsed by anyone?
RM - When I first started playing, I had a real oddball mix of a kit. It was basically just a kit my dad had set up around the house when I was growing up. It consisted of random drums given to my dad by Jim Keltner and Jeff Porcaro. I still have most of these drums in my basement. The bass drum was an 18 inch black Camco and the snare was a deep metal Slingerland both from Keltner. The rack toms were single headed 8 and 10 inch Ludwig's with a wood finish and the floor tom was a black Ludwig both from Porcaro.
About a year after I started playing, Carlos Vega, a good friend of my dad’s sent me some more drums that were s mismatch of Slingerland toms and a Gretsch kick. A couple years later Carlos sent me a complete Gretsch kit with a black finish. It had 12, 13, and16 inch toms and a 22 inch kick. I have played several different drum kits since then, but I currently play a Yamaha Oak Custom for bigger and louder gigs, and a Gretsch Catalina kit for smaller or jazzier gigs. I am not currently endorsed with any companies, but I do love Yamaha drums!
AW – I read you played at Stevie Wonder’s private birthday celebration, where as this and who was in the band?
RM - This was in Portland Oregon a few years ago, apparently the restaurant owner that hired the band was close friends with Stevie, so that was how me and the others were hired for this gig. The other musicians were friends of mine and stellar musicians that I have worked on and off with for several years: Jarrod Lawson (keys, key bass, and vocals), Jans Ingber(vocals and percussion), Chance Hayden (guitar) and Farnell Newton(trumpet).
AW – How did you come to work with Gino – was there an audition process or had he seen you perform before?
RM - A bassist named Sandin Wilson had hooked up with Gino through Jimmie Haslip. I think this was about 2007.
Gino had been living just outside of Portland for several years at this point.
Gino was starting a new band with Sandin on bass/vocals and Sandin had recommended me to Gino. Sandin and I had done several random studio sessions over the years and we always had a great time playing together.
So I get a call from Sandin one day, and he tells me "Gino Vannelli is going to come to your gig tonight to check you out".
So I acted like it didn't phase me, but really I was kind of shitting my pants.
So basically my gig that night was my audition for Gino. I was playing in a small club with a funky/ jazzy B3 Trio called the Triclips. Sure enough, Gino showed up that night and fortunately for me, he liked what he heard. He offered me the drum chair in his new band that was being formed while I was on break. Of course, I accepted.
AW – On Gino’s Live in LA Album your performance comes across as the consummate performer, were you reading the charts whilst learning the new arrangements?
RM - Thanks! No, I have learned all of Gino's songs through listening to the originals and through playing with the sequences he sends us.
I can read fairly well, but prefer memorization.
AW – Before you burst onto the scene with Gino who were you playing with?
RM-at that time I was freelancing a lot. I was doing some gigs with my dad and quite a bit of recording and playing with the keyboard player that Gino ended up hiring, Randy Porter. I was playing timbales in a salsa band, doing klezmer gigs, playing with the Triclops as I mentioned... I was taking any gig that I could to pay the bills. Fortunately I was playing with great players the whole time.
AW – What recordings and drummers have influenced you the most?
RM-So Many! I'll mention a few:
Tony Williams - Four & More, Miles Smiles
Harvey Mason - Herbie Hancock's "Headhunters" and "Mr. Hands"
Dennis Chambers - John Scofield's "Blue Matter"
Jim Keltner - several Ry Cooder records, The song "Dance with Me" by Chaka Kahn
Carlos Vega - GRP all stars live & James Taylor live
Steve Gadd - Chick Corea's "the leprechaun"
Horacio Hernandez- Edward Simon's "Beauty within"
Julio Barretto - Gonzalo Rubalcaba's Rapsodia
Peter Erskine and Jack De Johnette - Elaine Elias' "Cross Currents"
Dafnis Prieto - "about the monks"
Roy Haynes - Pat Matheny's "Question and answer" Chick Corea's" Now he sings now he Sobs.
Steve Jordan - John Scofield's "electric outlet"
Ivan Nevils "thanks"Charlie Drayton also plays on this record-love him too!) steve Kahn's"casa Loco"
Dave Weckl- Chick Corea's Electric Band
Paquito De Rivera's "Why Not"
I know there's more... I used to play along to Stevie Winwood's "back in the highlife" a lot in high school. Steve Feronne and John Robinson were the drummer's on that...
AW – Online it mentions you are a teacher as well; do you have much time teaching if so is a master class or one to one?
RM - So far I have mostly done one on one lesson. I did help my dad do a couple of clinics in the past, but only one clinic by myself so far, and that was in Italy. I do love to teach, but the clinic thing has always been something that I've shied away from. Maybe that will change in the future...
AW – In today’s ever changing and challenging musical climate do you have any advice for the next generation of drummers?
RM - I always advise my students to record themselves practicing and playing with other people obsessively. I think this is one of the best ways you can assess you're playing. Also, I advise anyone who wants to work as a drummer and continue to work, to take all of your gigs seriously and do your homework. Put your all into it!
These days I think it's important to be able to run recording software from your computer and to be as tech competent as possible. These days there's a YouTube video for just about anything you want to see, and you might as will take advantage of it. Watch some videos on the great drummers that aren't around anymore. YouTube is great for that. Look up some Buddy Rich, Sonny Payne, Sid Catlett... there's a lot to learn from these guys.
I recommend a software program called transcribe for anybody who likes to slow stuff down to learn. You can put videos and MP3s into this program and slow them down to your heart’s content... it's one of my most valuable tools.
AW – Aside from your local gigs and sessions, are there any other projects that you’re involved with?
RM-these days I am mostly touring with the band Pink Martini and with Gino Vannelli. I have been touring with Gino for the last 11 years or so and just started playing with Pink Martini almost 2 years ago. Now that I am playing with both of these bands, there's not much time for anything else!
AW – Is there anything we can promote for you, next tour, recording, book?
RM-I am currently in Palm Springs with Pink Martini and I am constantly touring the world with them. Check their website for a show near you. There are too many dates to mention! I know I will be in parts of Europe with both bands in the upcoming months... check Gino Vannelli's site as well for that.