Sandro Dominelli
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Sandro Dominelli

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He's been a pivotal figure in the Edmonton music scene for close to a decade, but in the last two years drummer Sandro Dominelli has made the leap from respected local musician to in-demand, name-on-the-front-of-the-album recording artist. First there was 2003's Juno nominated (and ARIA award winning) Caf� Varze Jazz album, and now there's Meet Me in the Alley, which Dominelli will be officially presenting to the public tonight at the Yardbird Suite. They don't just hand out recording time to sidemen as a benevolent gesture. When did this sudden shift happen?

"I've actually already been asked that question, and I don't really have a solid answer," Dominelli says candidly. "How it went down is, I was hired by Mike Bradford, who owns Second Storey Records, to do a series of gigs with [blues legend] Mose Allison in October of 2003." The relationship became firmer when Bradford hand-picked Dominelli for a still unreleased live session with (keyboardist) Doug Riley, (saxophonist) PJ Perry, and (guitarist) Jake Langley. "I'm not sure if it had anything to do with the Varze album, but after that he approached me and asked if I had anything, like `Do you have your own trip?' I said sure, so he asked if I wanted to write my own record. I said, `Uh, yeah!"

Debut number two

With Caf� Varze, Dominelli led the group but wasn't involved in the writing; the album's focus was on Don Varze's compositions. Meet Me in the Alley is a different beast. Dominelli wrote and co-wrote a number of the songs, picking a few others from colleagues and rounding it out with a couple of standards. "From soup to nuts, I was involved in this one. It's way more personal than the Varze project, but the Varze project is really the beginning of me as a solo artist."

Meet Me in the Alley is the real thing, and as a proper first album must do, it acts as a resume for Dominelli's accomplished playing and writing. Whether it was an intuitive or carefully planned decision, Bradford made the correct choice-Dominelli is a talented composer in his own right. He's also a generous leader, alloting space for band mates Chris Andrew, Bob Tildesley, Mike Lent, and Dino Dominelli to shine through. The songs run easily through bop and R&B flourishes, fleeting hints of the avante garde and fusion, no one particular style sitting still for examination. At heart, Meet Me in the Alley is the sound of jazz kids set free in the studio to trample through whatever terrain they want; you can count up the influences if you like, but you would have to strain to hear them.

"You don't know it when you're recording it, you just hear it and you play it, you don't think about it," Dominelli points out. "The listener has to make sense of it, but to me, it's just music, particularly my music. The labelling process, I don't know how to get around that."

Chameleonic categorization

Growing up with blues, rock, and hip-hop, as well as jazz, flashing through his unconscious, it's apparent why he's resistant to categorization. It's all of the whole to the 36-year-old; as much as the drum sticks guide him towards collective and solo improvisation, he also likes to hammer the snare, as was apparent last year when Dominelli hooked up with rocker Rob Malowany to work on the last Devilsplender album.

"That was a blast, and we're talking about doing another one," Dominelli exclaims. "He brought me back to my early years. I got to pull out my [Police drummer] Stewart Copeland licks, and he was digging it. I kinda just look at it as one thing. I have love for all the styles, and I've played them all."

Still, no matter how much Dominelli may enjoy crossing over into rock and pop, his heart is in improvisation. "With these rock gigs, you're playing a specific part as a team, laying down a real good feel. I love playing that way, but I also love to solo and stretch out, and that's why I chose to be a solo artist in the jazz idiom. I don't write lyrics, so for me it's a little easier to get my ideas across."

But, that still doesn't stop him from having fun, snapping out 4/4 time when the opportunity presents itself.

"I've worked with [local guitarist] Bobby Cameron, and for him I do my impersonation of Kenny Aronoff, I do my Ringo impersonation, I do my bad Jim Keltner. When you have to play jazz gigs with certain guys that want to hear it a certain way, then you have to dial up as a player and go, `Okay, I see where this person is coming from,' and you give them that spirit, that vibe. He wants me to sound like..."

Max Roach?

"Yeah, which I can't do, or Philly Jo Jones, for that matter. I can fake an Elvin [Jones], or a Jack [DeJohnette], just a little bit," he modestly avers. "Five per cent of the time."

"Then there's you," he continues. "What are you all about? So, you record albums and you listen back and say, `Oh, this is me. All right, okay.' It's really revealing. It's great to get out of your comfort zone and throw yourself in the f - TOM MURRAY

"Dominelli Digs Prairie Jazz"

Publish Date: 23-Sep-2004

Edmonton has no bigger booster than Sandro Dominelli. Although the Prairie city is not often thought of as a hotbed of culture--or anything else--the 36-year-old drummer swears that when it comes to jazz, it can rival almost anywhere else in Canada.

"We've been described as 'the Portland of the Prairies'," he says, on the line from his Alberta home. "And if you know anything about Portland, Oregon, you know that nobody knows anything about Portland. But that city's got this huge reputation that the music is thriving there and that they have some world-class players and that they have this scene where people can just do their thing. I think Edmonton's a lot like that. We have some world-class players and we have a venue called the Yardbird Suite that's arguably the best in the country, simply because of the way it's set up.

"So there's that club, and there are a few restaurants that are really into the music, and there's going to be a lot of albums produced in Edmonton in the next year and for a few years down the road."

There's one important fact Dominelli forgot to mention about Edmonton, however: winter. But even that might work in favour of the Alberta capital's jazz scene: outdoor activities consume our leisure time here on the West Coast, but when the Arctic winds come howling across the frozen plains, Edmontonians are more likely to seek their pleasure indoors.

In any event, neither inclement weather nor lack of proximity to the jazz mainstream kept Dominelli from stocking his first CD with warm rhythms and hot solos. Cafe Varz� Jazz might owe its Caribbean and Latin American tendencies to Edmonton composer Donald Anthony Varz�, who wrote all 11 of the disc's tunes, but it's the bandleader's effervescent drumming that brings their samba, bossa nova, and calypso underpinnings to life.

Dominelli is understandably proud of his debut, even if it doesn't showcase his own compositional skills. The project, he explains, emerged from some demo sessions he did for Don Varz�, with the composer's brother Ron coproducing. "The sessions sounded pretty good," he elaborates, "so they asked me if I would take this on as a project of my own, to go out there and perform and promote their music. After the record was done, they took care of all the promoting; all I had to do was show up and perform the music with the band.

"Soon after that we found out we were nominated for a [2003] Western Canadian Music Award as best jazz album, so we went there and collected the hardware, along with Vancouverite Mike Allen [who tied for first place with Dialectic]. And then I got a message on my machine that we had a Juno nomination for best traditional jazz album of the year."

Cafe Varz� Jazz lost out to Guido Basso's Lost in the Stars, but the drummer was not disheartened. "When it's all said and done, I was kind of excited about it, because it was my first album as a leader," he notes. Nonetheless, he wants to point out that Cafe Varz� Jazz represents only a small part of his musical interests.

"That music, to me, it's very classic music, rooted in the Tin Pan Alley era and the beginnings of jazz," he says of Don Varz�'s writing. "It's more swing than bebop. So what we tried to do, collectively, is replicate [historic sounds], as opposed to trying to create something new."

Dominelli will get an opportunity to work with some more contemporary-sounding material on his next CD. "I have another day of mixing and then the record's finished," he says. "And this is a little more of a personal album for me, because it has a few of my own compositions on it, along with a few cowrites with a couple of piano-player buddies from here, Chris Andrew and Andrew Glover."

Several tunes from the Varz� recording will be featured when Dominelli comes to the Cellar on Friday (September 24), but listeners can also expect to hear some more purely improvisational forays. The drummer will certainly be in good company: veteran bassist Mike Lent will be accompanying him on the trek from Edmonton, and while they're here they've engaged the services of Bob Murphy, an exceptional musician.

"I played with him for the first time about a year and a half ago, and at the time I said, 'You know, I've got to surround myself with more guys like that,' Dominelli says of the Vancouver pianist. "So there was no question that Bob would be my first choice for this gig."

The drummer's comments suggest that the Edmonton jazz scene might be short on pianists of Murphy's stature. But with musicians like Dominelli and Lent on rhythm patrol, it's not likely to lack very much else. - alexander varty

"Making the Cuban connection"

Alberta-born jazz drummer Sandro Dominelli loves a challenge. From the beginning of his career, he has, as he describes it, done it all.

Throughout his career he’s enjoyed his roles as sideman, bandleader, musical-theatre composer, music clinician and adjudicator and more recently he has focused on composition. By taking on these different challenges, Dominelli has pushed himself to improve. "The risk is the growing and it keeps you modest," he says. "It keeps you real and it enhances your overall ability to play, to write (and) to compose – the whole aspect of music making. Every time I throw myself in the fire or get out of my comfort zone, I come out a little later and I’ve learned something from that."

Moving out of that comfort zone isn’t necessarily just an emotional change. Dominelli’s risk-taking recently took him outside of North America. It started with his involvement with Decidedly Jazz Danceworks’ research trip for their upcoming performance for Bulla. Literally translated as making a racket or a fuss, Bulla promises to be a spectacular hybrid of music and movement with more than 20 dancers and several guests from Cuba.

"They (Decidedly Jazz) took me to Cuba in November, for the beginning of this mass production they’re putting together," he says. This trip was life-changing for Dominelli and it wasn’t just the Cuban music – it was Cuban life that touched him. "It ain’t about grabbing the money and getting rich and getting richer. It ain’t about political movements. It ain’t about hockey or soccer or any sports for that matter," he says.

Of course the music had an impact, too, especially the famous rumba clave, the trademark rhythm of Cuba. "It’s a folkloric rhythm that you’ll see bands will play. Even in 15-piece bands you always have somebody playing that rhythm," he says. "That rhumba clave starts at six in the morning and stops at about two in the morning." In Cuba, the music is quite literally everywhere. With people dancing in the streets, it’s almost contagious. "It’s out of control," says Dominelli. "It’s like nothing that we could ever see happening in North America. It’s something that really changed my life."

Dominelli is not alone. About a dozen Alberta musicians including Caravan’s John Reid and bassman Kodi Hutchinson have become regulars at the Havana jazz festival in the last few years. "I mean that place is just electric," says Dominelli. "The vibe, man, is so thick."

That vibe has certainly had an effect on Dominelli’s compositions. While the results of his travels may not be as apparent on his latest album, Meet Me in the Alley, they will come to the fore with the music he helped create with Chris Andrews for Bulla.

"I’m much more educated," he says. "Even though I’ve played and fooled around with some Cuban rhythms for the last 20 years, I’m now more familiar with what is what and how it’s supposed to sound."

Bulla will be opening in Calgary in June and Dominelli is looking forward to the music from Bulla being recorded. He promises that it will be amazing.

"I tell ya, it’s a band that will have played together for two and a half or three months, and then they’re gonna go in the studio and the compositions will be happenin’," says Dominelli. "It’s gonna be smokin’, like the Cuban element – the real McCoy." - Dennis Slater


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Curriculum Vitae

Date of Birth: June 26, 1968
1 Erinwoods Place,
St. Albert, Alberta, Canada
T8N 7B2


1986-88 Outreach Program Grant McEwan Community College,Drum Studies
1990-92 Alberta College, Percussion Studies
1992-94 Concordia College Bachelor of Music Studies
1994-96 Saint Francis Xavier University, Bachelor Music Education Degree


1996 Private Studies with Peter Erskine (Los Angeles, CA)
1997 Private Studies with Adam Nussbaum (New York, NY)


1998-present Private drum/percussion lessons
2000-present Clinics, workshops and master classes
2004 Adjudicator for JazzFesival 2004 (Brandon, MB)
2003 Featured clinician at Alberta Music Conference (Edmonton, AB)
2003-present Board of Directors, Yardbird Suite (Edmonton, AB)
2002 Adjudicator for JazzWorks (Edmonton, AB)
1998-2002 ESP (Educational Seminars in Percusssion) Clinician


2004 JUNO Award Nomination “Traditional Jazz Album Of The Year” for Varze Records album “Café Varzé Jazz”
2003 Western Canadian Music Awards winner “Outstanding Jazz Recording” for Varze Records album “Café Varzé Jazz”


Jazz | various appearances and recordings with:

Mike Murley
Rob McConnell
Guido Basso
Dave Restivo
Kirk MacDonald
Phil Dwyer
Ben Monder
Tommy Banks
Hugh Fraser
Ian McDougall
Cambell Ryga
Doug Riley
Joe Lovano
Sonny Fortune Julian Priester
Kenny Werner
Tim Hagans
Roswell Rudd
Steve Slagle
Mark Murphy
Ranee Lee
Jake Langley
Chris Tarry
PJ Perry
Kent Sangster
Dave Stryker(USA)
D.D Jackson
Bill Coon
Brad Turner
Ranee Lee Fernanda Cunha(Brasil) Hendrik Muerkens(Germany) Hakan Rydin(Sweden) Mike Nock(Australia) Atillio Zanchi(Italy)

§ Commercial | various appearances and recordings with:

Maren Ord
Jackie Richardson
Lester Quitzau
Jack Semple
Michael Burgess
Tim Williams
Samantha Fox
Dawn Tyler Watson
The Legendary Platters
The Shirelles
Bobby Curtola
Pierre Sabourin
(Francophone artist)
Jack de Keyzer

§ Theatre

2006-Musical:Guys&Dolls 2005-Musical:A Year with Frog & Toad 2004-2005 Decidedly Jazz Danceworks
1999-2001 Decidedly Jazz Danceworks
2001 Musical: Cabaret
2001 Musical: British Invasion
2002 Musical: Au Ceil Au Ceil (Fracophone Theatre)
2002 Musical: Charlie Brown
2003 Musical: The Chet Baker Story
2003 Musical: Grease


§ As Leader:

2003 The Sandro Dominelli Quintet: Café Varzé Jazz
2004 The Sandro Dominelli Quintet: Meet Me In The Alley

Live Recordings:

2001 - present CBC “Live” Recordings for French CBC
2004 CBC “Live” Recording: CKUA Sandro Dominelli Quartet
2003 CBC “Live” Recording: Dawn Tyler Watzon
2003 CBC “Live” Recording: Mose Allison
2002 CBC “Live” Recording: Sandro Dominelli Quartet
Featuring Ben Monder, Chris Tarry and Kent Sangster
2001 CBC “Live” Recording: Kent Sangster Quartet
1998 CBC “Live” Recording: Kent Sangster Quartet
1998 CBC “Live” Recording: Sandro Dominelli Sextet

§ Has also appeared on over 50 recordings.


Habana Jazz Festival 2004 (Cuba)
JUNOFest 2004 (Edmonton)
Western Canadian Music Week Festival (Regina)
Medicine Hat Jazz Festival
Toronto Jazz Festival
Halifax Jazz Festival
Jazz City International Music Festival (Edmonton)
Montreal Jazz Festival
Winnipeg Jazz Festival
Saskatoon Jazz Festival
Jazz Festival Calgary
Vancouver International Jazz Festival
Victoria International Jazz Festival


§ Television | Featured performer/artist on:

2004 BravoTv
2004 CBC
2004 Shaw TV
2001 – 2004 A-Channel
2001 CBC French - World Games
2000 CFRN
1996 Shaw TV – with Kent Sangster Quartet

§ Radio | Featured performer/artist on:

1998 – 2004 CBC Radio
1997 – 2004 CKUA Radio
2000 – 2002 CJSR Radio



It’s been said that Sandro Dominelli is one of Canada's most creative, talented and tasteful drummers. Sandro’s toured, performed, and recorded with a veritable who's who of the Canadian jazz scene, including Mike Murley, Rob McConnell, Guido Basso, Dave Restivo, Kirk MacDonald, Mike Rudd, Phil Dwyer, Hugh Fraser, Ian McDougall, Cambell Ryga, Doug Riley, Don Thompson, Ranee Lee, D. D. Jackson, Chris Tarry, Jack de Keyzer, Brad Turner, and Jake Langley. Additionally, he’s performed and recorded with such local luminaries as Tommy Banks, PJ Perry and Kent Sangster.

As well, Sandro’s performed with the Edmonton, Winnipeg, Red Deer and Concordia College Symphonies. He’s also made his presence known south of the border sharing the stage with New Yorkers Mose Allison, Joe Lovano, Ben Monder, Ernie Watts, Dave Stryker, Sonny Fortune, Kenny Werner, Tim Hagans, Roswell Rudd, Mike Nock, Steve Slagle, Mark Murphy and Pete Christlieb.

In 2003 Sandro released his first recording as bandleader, ‘The Sandro Dominelli Quintet- Cafe Varze Jazz’. Receiving rave reviews and accolades, the album went on to receive top honours at the 2003 Western Canadian Music Awards as Outstanding Jazz Recording of the Year. It was nominated in 2004 for a JUNO in the ‘Best Traditional Jazz Album of the Year’ category.

Sandro’s just released a new CD titled “Meet Me In The Alley”, and this album is certain to bring his talents to even more listeners across this country because like it’s predecessor, it features bold, articulate and adventurous playing. However this time around, this recording showcases his impressive compositional skills.

This is a musician who could have set his sights on only being a much sought-after side man, but watching him anchor set for greats it was obvious Sandro had more to offer. Adding composer and bandleader to the resume requires additional dedication to one’s music as well as willingness to make things happen from the ground up. With Sandro, all of this is done with deep emotional commitment as well as musical intelligence. He brings these same qualities from his playing, along with joyful vigour, to his burgeoning career.