Interview with Gabe Terracciano

by Arianna Vasquez

Gabriel Terracciano, a resident of Portland, Maine, has been playing the violin since hewas three years old. After eight years of formal study, he found the jazz violin playing of Joe Venuti, Stuff Smith, and, subsequently, Zbigniew Seifert, who all transformed his musical (and life in general!) life forever. Gabe has explored current jazz, Gypsy and hot jazz, Middle Eastern, electronic, pop, bluegrass, and Latin idioms as an improvisational string player, to mention a few! He has performed as a leader and sideman around the United States for many years, including several appearances at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola (NYC), which is part of Jazz at Lincoln Center. Mr. Terracciano is also a member of The Avalon Jazz Band, Arthur Vint and Associates, The Hot Toddies, The Harmolodic String Band, Habina Habina, and Wet Electric, all of which are headquartered in New York. He has performed at the Aspen Jazz Festival, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Musikfest (Bethlehem, PA), and the Freshgrass Festival, among others (North Adams, MA).

The first question I asked Mr. Terracciano was, what do you think you would be doing if you didn’t become a musician right now? And why? He said, If he wasn’t a musician, he would probably want to be involved with some sort of NGO or international peacekeeping organization, or be something like an archivist at a historical society/museum. He also said that during his time in college he did a double bachelor’s in music and was Peace and Justice Studies and had a history minor. I felt this was a very intelligent mature decision since most people don’t acknowledge that not everyone who has a talent becomes famous or wealthy off of it and it’s always good to have a plan A B C and D. The second question I asked him was: If you can have your fans remember one thing about you, what would you like it to be and why? He said he hopes that people would remember him for having a unique and individual sound and style of playing his instrument, which in this case is the violin. He went on to say that his mentors embedded in him that having a unique style is key to being successful and a good musician. I couldn’t agree more. I believe in anything you choose to do, try to be as unique and as creative as possible and challenge yourself.

The third question I posed to him was, “What instruments do you play, and what drew you to these instrument/s?” He stated that his primary instrument is the violin, which he learned to play from his parents. His great-grandfather on his father’s side played the violin, and his father grew up with that instrument in the family. Mr. Terracciano then recounted a really moving and amusing tale about how his parents knew he was going to be a violinist at an early age because he used to play with his father’s violin and eventually shattered it, and his parents knew he was meant to be a musician.

The fourth question I asked was: What song or songs have held you through your life and gotten you through your hardest times or even happiest moments? He said “I think I tend to focus on artists rather than individual songs as having effects on me throughout my life. It definitely comes and goes in waves from artist to artist. For instance, when I graduated high school and was just about to go to college and was feeling really nervous, Bon Iver’s self-titled album had just come out, and that definitely made me feel much more calm and secure going into a new stage of my life. There’s a Bill Frisell album called “Have a Little Faith” that I keep on coming back to over and over again for various reasons. And I think a lot of the time if I want to listen to something to help me get through a difficult situation, I’ll go back to things that I listened to when I was younger – artists like Elton John, Tom Waits, John Coltrane, Zbigniew Seifert, Charley Patton, George Jones, and others. If I had to give an example of one song that I’ve been listening to a lot lately, there’s an amazing band playing right now called Paris Monster that has a song called “The Unclean”, and that is definitely one of my motivational songs to listen to.” I really enjoyed tuning into some of these songs after talking to him. I can understand why at different times of his life he could have related to the songs or albums he mentioned.

Finally, I said, “What was your greatest hurdle in becoming a musician?” And how did your friends and family react to your choice to pursue a career as a musician? He went on to say that striking a balance between playing and producing his own music and making a career was his hardest problem. He felt he was instilled with a very practical sense of what it was to be a working musician from a young age because his father played in a wedding band and many of the other musicians he knew were working and busy, and were less focused on creating their own individual art form than making a living. He admitted that he has always battled with the balancing act, and that he still needs to remind himself that both are vital. He then got a little personal, saying that he absolutely has phases where he prioritizes one over the other, and if he does that for a long enough length of time, everything starts to seem out of place. He had then quickly mentioned that his family and friends were really supportive, although his mother was tough and stubborn at first, which is why he double majored as a backup plan.

To summarize, I had a great time getting to know Gabe on a personal level and hope to watch him perform one day. Gabe is the First Violinist of the two-time Grammy-winning Turtle Island String Quartet, with whom he has performed and recorded throughout the United States, as well as with other jazz heavyweights like Cyrus Chestnut and Terence Blanchard, in addition to directing his own ensembles.