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Listening: Featured Musician Guy Arrostuto

Jane Higgens, Spotlight Photography

Featured musican: Guy Arrostuto, B-3 Hammond and Piano player, band leader, teacher
Born: April 14, 1947 in San Francisco CA
Resides in: Benicia CA
Favorite Food: Anything Italian
Favorite Book: The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz
Favorite Song: Impossible to pick one!
College: Solano & Napa Community Colleges, San Francisco & Sonoma State Universities
Relationship Status/Children: Married (Christina); 3 children and 6 grandchildren

What’s the first music you remember hearing? My dad’s trumpet. Growing up in Vallejo, there was lots of classical music. Dave Brubeck was a family acquaintance. Our house was filled with “big band” musicians who would come late at night after gigs. Every Friday and Saturday night, various musicians would show up at the house to meet my dad for gigs, clear the furniture out of the front room and rehearse—13-piece dance orchestras! The neighbors would sit out on their porches and enjoy these impromptu concerts. Music was woven into the fabric of our lives on a daily basis—my lessons, dad’s students, every type of performance.

What drew you to the piano? I had no choice. I was dragged there by my dad. It was the “11th Commandment”—thou shalt play music. Growing up I had two instruments—piano and clarinet. In Italian musical families, it was common to study piano and one other instrument—either a brass or a woodwind. My brother had the trumpet. I ended up playing saxophone, flute and clarinet in addition to the piano.

How did you make your first dollar as a professional musician? At 12 years old, I played a gig for a junior high sorority dance in Vallejo. We were kids and had six tunes. We played them over and over all night long, and everyone loved it. From the time I was able to answer a phone, music agents and bandleaders would leave job-related messages for my father. Before I ever played my own gigs, I learned about the business end of the music business—how to pick up the check, what color suit to wear, finding who was available for “casuals” (a one-day job like a dance, parade, wedding, concert, etc.). I learned early on from my father how to pick the right musicians for the genre of the gig. Once we were paid by check at 1:00am and I knew how to go to Terry’s Waffle Shop and have the manager cash the check for me. Knowing where and how to get a check cashed really impressed my teenage friends!

Vallejo had a thriving music scene. Share your memories of those days. At the time I turned 21, playing with Frank Bigoski and Kenny, there were at least 10 places just in Vallejo to perform music, at least 3-6 nights a week, from jazz and blues to rock 'n roll and dance music. The Village, the Belmont, the Bel Air, the Sands Club, the Candlewood Lounge at Kentwig Lanes, the Elbow Room, Rudy’s Supper Club, the Wharf, the Redwood Inn, the Coronado Inn, Mare Island (enlisted and officer’s clubs), the Vallejo Country Club, the Melody Lounge, Terry’s Restaurants (both), the Fireside Lounge, the Fire Plug. Benicia and Napa, minutes away, had many additional spots—the Town Club, the Dream Bowl, the Brewery, the Vineyard, etc.

What new projects are you working on? Advancing my teaching in improvisation to my more advanced students. Also in the past 18 months I’ve participated in the formation of a new band, Familiar Soul. We’ve just begun recording and plan to start performing in July. We are a versatile band, featuring the daughter of one of my bandmates from the ‘60s as our singer—Kellie Fuller.

Where can we see you perform? This spring and summer I’ll return to the Sardine Can for its jazz series. Familiar Soul will be playing public and private gigs this summer, such as Silo’s and the Porchfest in Napa.

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