Whether he’s backing up members of Bill Haley’s Comets in Florida, or leading his own quartet at a club in the Capital Region, drummer Pat DiCesare is concerned with one thing first and foremost — having fun. That includes not just himself and his bandmates, but the audience, as well.
“We make people happy, and they come and they listen, and they have a good time — and that’s what matters,” DiCesare said recently from his summer home in Burnt Hills. “I’ve been doing this for a long time, and nothing makes me happier than when people are in the audience and they’re enjoying themselves, having a good time.”
Since the age of 16, when he joined the Schenectady Musicians Union, DiCesare has performed professionally in everything from smaller rock ’n’ roll and jazz combos to 13-piece big bands. Now 69, DiCesare has logged performances with the aforementioned Haley’s Comets, Jay and the Americans and accordion player Myron Floren of “The Lawrence Welk Show,” among others.
Pat DiCesare All Stars
WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday
WHERE: The Stockade Inn, 1 N. Church St., Schenectady
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: 346-3400, www.stockadeinn.com
Faithful to the melody
These days, DiCesare splits his time between his native upstate New York in the summer, where he leads a group dubbed the All Stars, and Florida in the winter, where his band is known as Fabulous Rhythm Kings. The All Stars, featuring pianist ’Azzaam Hameed, bassist Linda Brown and tenor saxophonist Norman Frederick, will play tonight at The Stockade Inn, where they’re regulars.
“I’m happy to play at The Stockade Inn because the owners there are doing a wonderful job, and they promote live music, as opposed to hiring people who play recorded music,” DiCesare said.
The All Stars play a varied set that touches on everything from swing to classic rock and pop from the ’50s and ’60s, with a strong focus on melodies. Although improvisation is certainly a part of the band’s performances, the most important thing for DiCesare is staying true to the original song.
“I like to hear the melody line fairly clearly, and sometimes that’s obscured in modern jazz, because the guys get to interpreting so heavily that you kind of lose the melody sometimes,” DiCesare said. “In other words, I think you ought to be faithful to the melody, and so we try to do that. We play music that I think the audience likes to listen to.”
DiCesare, who grew up in Scotia, got his start taking drum lessons while in the fifth grade. His father Carl DiCesare, a booking agent who managed bands and landed DiCesare many of his earliest gigs, got him his first drum kit at age 12, which he has to this day.
“You don’t really get drums [at first] — that’s the big trick,” DiCesare said. “A kid thinks, ‘OK, I’m going to play the drums, I’m gonna get drums.’ And then they sell you . . . that little practice pad. And then maybe after a couple of years, your father breaks down and he buys you drums.”
As a teenager, DiCesare saw the film “The Gene Krupa Story,” and was immediately enamored with the legendary big band drummer. It was at this point that he truly became inspired to play.
“I don’t know why I went to see it,” DiCesare said. ‘And when I walked out, after listening to that, I’m thinking to myself, ‘That’s what these things are supposed to sound like.’ And that’s the first time you get inspired. And then you come back home and you look at your instrument differently — you don’t look at it as something just to practice; you look at it as something that emits music, it makes music if you do it properly.”
After joining the musicians union, which he’s been a member of for 50 years, DiCesare began landing gigs with touring musicians. He played with Jay and the Americans at Hudson Valley Community College during the band’s heyday, and was part of the band that first performed the hit “Cara Mia,” which was debuted at that show.
“In those days, bands traveled with an amplifier and a microphone, and they picked up musicians wherever they were,” DiCesare said. “In those days, rock ’n’ roll was young. You had a singing group, and somehow they always ended up going through my father, and, naturally, it drifted down to me. I was hired to play with — I played with Jay and the Americans, I played with the Inkspots — what a wonderful singing group. They were from the ’40s, and that was at the end of their career; I played a New Year’s Eve job in Saratoga. I ended up playing with Merv Griffin.”
DiCesare graduated from college in 1966 and founded an insurance company, P.M. DiCesare Insurance Agency, which he retired from about 11 years ago. Through that time, he continued playing with both touring groups and his own smaller groups and big bands.
“When you’re a performing musician, it is so much easier when you’re not desperate,” DiCesare said. “If you really want to have a good time playing music, don’t worry about getting paid, like any artist — you don’t paint for the money. You don’t create fine art for the money. You create it because it’s going to be beautiful, or in your eyes it’s beautiful.”