By Alan Krawitz
Queens has long been known as home to some of jazz music’s most accomplished players, including luminaries such as Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie.
Jazz guitarist and composer Eric DiVito, who has lived in the borough since 2004, is hopeful that his own recently released debut album, “Breaking the Ice,” will help add to the borough’s rich jazz history.
“Queens has had more of a jazz influence than almost any other place in the city,” noted DiVito, an accomplished musician and graduate of both the Crane School of Music in Potsdam, NY as well as the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College.
The album of nine original tunes and a solo guitar rendition of Bill Evan’s “Time Remembered,” was recorded in the city and released by the Ontario-based Pioneer Jazz Collective label.
Produced by Portland pianist and former Queens College classmate Ezra Weiss and respected New York Jazz promoter Todd Barkan, the disc joins DiVito with other talented musicians, including Jake Saslow, tenor and saxophonist; Nadav Snir-Zelniker, drummer and electric bassist Motohito Fukushima.
DiVito, now 31, was raised on the North Shore of Long Island where he took up guitar in middle school and would later become mesmerized by guitar greats such as Jimi Hendix and Slash from Guns N’ Roses.
But, recalling that one of his first music teachers was also a great jazz player, DiVito said that he found jazz more intriguing. “As a player, jazz allows for more creativity… that’s appealing to me,” he said.
He added, “It’s important to be well-versed in various types of music.”
DiVito’s early influences included Jim Hall, Pat Metheny and Joe Pass. When composing, he said that he likes his own work to move in and out of genres, similar to the work of composers such as Joni Mitchell and Wayne Shorter.
Asked about how his debut album came about, DiVito recalled that he had “always wanted to do his own record…any musician does.”
“I wanted my own record of original compositions where I was basically in control,” he said.
He explained that the owner at PJC, a boutique label, reached out and helped DiVito get his album together. “The tunes,” DiVito said, “were already composed by the time I started to get the entire album together.”
Although DiVito contributed some of his own money towards the production, he said that PJC handled most of the funding. “They were really nice and flexible.” He recalled the label as being very receptive to his creative input.
DiVito acknowledged that despite increasing numbers of musicians who are self-producing albums, there are drawbacks.
“You still have to put in a substantial amount of your own money when you self-produce,” he said. “In addition, I wanted to have really experienced people in the studio handling all the production so the players could concentrate on the music. It was important to me.”
Moreover, while DiVito began playing professionally in high school at restaurants, bars and other special events, he said that actually making a living as a musician can be both tricky and challenging, but not impossible.
“A lot of factors can determine whether or not a musician makes a living,” he said. “It’s part talent, part work ethic, some business sense and lots of juggling.”
Divito currently works as a full-time music teacher at Castle Middle School on the Lower East Side where he personally designed a curriculum that includes music theory, guitar, concert band and more.
In addition, he also gives private guitar lessons, time permitting, as well as continuing to gig as much as possible at venues throughout the metropolitan area.
“I’m not a master at the whole thing, but although it’s still hectic and a juggling act, it’s doable,” explained DiVito.
To that end, DiVito has performed at popular New York jazz spots such as the Iridium, Smalls, Mile’s Café, the Garage and Puppet’s Jazz Bar. He also plays regularly in a Red Hot Chili Peppers tribute band called PepperSpray.
As for favorite tracks, DiVito pointed to the album’s title track “Breaking the Ice” and “Like Minded” as two of his favorites. ““Breaking the Ice” is an older composition but it’s also very descriptive of what the album is about,” he said.
“Like Minded,” he said, “was an intricate song with a “hectic and dizzy feel.”
Available now via iTunes, Cdbaby and Amazon, as well as live gigs, DiVito reports the album is doing okay. “I’m not getting rich off it, but it’s not bad either.”
DiVito will be embarking on a Canadian CD release and tour from Feb. 19-22.
For more information on purchasing the album, upcoming tour dates or private lessons, visit www.ericdivito.com.