Interview with Steve Picataggio

by Melanie Friedmann

Essay #3 Jazz

Steve Picataggio is primarily a jazz drummer who studied and received his Master’s degree in jazz at NYU Steinhardt’s School of Music. He then studied with world-renown jazz drummers and he now teaches drum lessons. He is a known performer who has performed at many venues including Carnegie Hall. He also has experience composing and arranging his own work as he has a released debut album of his own jazz music titled “Two Feet On The Ground”.

  1. How was your time studying at NYU? For example how was the program and what do you feel you got out of your time there? I studied at NYU from 2011-2013 for my Masters in Jazz Performance. It was my first two years living in New York and was such a great experience. It helped me get acclimated with the city, study with teachers I’ve always wanted to learn from and meet fellow students that I still play with today. NYU was the type of program that allowed me pick all my own classes and ensembles and being a self motivated student, I was able to get the most out of my time there. My main teacher was the legendary jazz drummer Billy Drummond who really got me ready for the New York scene and opened up my playing in a whole new way. But I also has the chance to go out and see all the musicians that I’ve only heard on records, seeing them actual play live in the city was such an eye opening experience. Nothing beats being in the same room as your heroes!
  2. What is your main interest in terms of music. For example what do you enjoy most out of the many different things you do: performing, teaching, composing etc and why is this your favorite/why has this area impacted your musical journey the most? My career is split into teaching and performing. I absolutely love both aspects as both experiences often influence each other. I’ve found that my style as an educator is to support the student and truly deliver the information in a unique way; depending on their skill level, personality and how they might receive information. It takes a lot of clarity and intuition on my end and nothing is more enjoyable than when my student really gets it! As a performer, I strive to be an accompanist first and foremost. From the drums, I love to support the band and the music and play in a way that really helps make the vibe the best it can be. The audience doesn’t always know exactly what the drums are doing but if it’s clear and has a great groove, they can feel it! I think regardless of teaching or performing, I love being a positive and supporting role in peoples lives.
  1. How has jazz specifically impacted your life? If I am correct jazz is your favorite genre to play, but why specifically is that true? and what opportunities has jazz brought into your life? I do play a lot of jazz music, primarily with jazz singers and small groups (piano or guitar trio). But I also play with a lot of Broadway actors both in cabaret settings or musicals. Because I consider myself an accompanist, I have found playing with singers to be my absolute favorite setting. It requires a great deal of clarity, intension and support for the singer and the song. My training in jazz comes in handy no matter what style I’m playing; my touch and sound on the drums, listening and knowledge of phrasing/song form and creativity. All of these aspects are so important. Being a jazz musician has brought so much joy and purpose to my life. I’ve been fortunate to build a life and a career in New York City, travel the county, perform in some of the best clubs/theaters and play and learn from my heroes. It really makes me who I am and has helped me become a more confident and happy person. I think the joy I express to others can be rooted in the joy of listening and playing music.
  2. What is your favorite performance you have done and why? There’s been so many great performances over the years that I’m so thankful to have been apart of. One that stands out is my first time performing at Carnegie Hall. My parents happened to have been in town and they, along with my wife, were in box seats right in the middle of the hall. The music was so fun and I was so happy to have had my family there! I would also say most recently I had the honor to perform a few nights at Birdland Jazz Club. I’ve played there before but this was the first time since the pandemic and each set was sold out. It was amazing to play for a packed room again, especially being in my favorite club. To hear and feel the audience respond in real time was unreal!
  3. I see that you have recorded your own music. Can you tell me more about your influences with composing and arranging? For example what styles, songs, and musicians have influenced you to creating your own sound. Also generally what influences and inspires you to compose. This specifically is interesting to me as I am mostly a songwriter and producer and hope to go into this field. I have composed a few tunes, one of which is on my debut album as a leader “Two Feet on the Ground.” The tune is called For This and is focused around a bass line that I simply heard in my head and thought had a great groove. It’s always a fun one to perform! In terms of arranging, I am a huge fan of the Great American Songbook. My biggest musical influences are Oscar Peterson and Ella Fitzgerald and their approach to playing these tunes are what I resonate with most. Nothing too obscure or fancy, just a nice fresh twist on an already great composition.