A producer once told Vinnie Colaiuta that if you threw Tony Williams and Steve Gadd into a blender, Vinnie would be the tasteful concoction. He laughs modestly while he shrugs off the compliment, but it is probably an accurate description. Justifiably, he is the talk of the town and drummers pack into the L.A. club where he plays three nights a week. One drummer comments that Vinnie is the best drummer he’s ever seen and another puts it simply, repeatedly exclaiming, “Monster!”
Innovative, colorful and tasteful, Vince Colaiuta began as did many, playing pots and pans while growing up in Pennsylvania. After graduating to toy sets with paper heads, his parents finally bought him a semi-professional Japanese set which he’d play with the neighborhood kids.
There was never any doubt that his instrument was the drums, even though he also had an electric guitar and took organ lessons. In fact, when he expressed the desire to play drums in the junior-high-school band, the band director informed Vinnie that there were too many drummers and he should take up another instrument. He played flute for a year until the drummer vacated the seat into which Vinnie slipped. Once the lessons began, Vinnie recalls, “I couldn’t get enough of it. I was real interested in music notation and rudiments and technique whereas a lot of guys didn’t dig that stuff. I learned real fast because I was always practicing. I would go into English class and sit in the back of the room with a Remo practice pad and practice double-stroke rolls and get kicked out of class.” When he finally got a good drumset at age fourteen, he was extremely grateful. “I was overjoyed when my parents bought me the set, because up to that point, I had only been studying on the snare drum. When I sat down at the set, though for some reason I didn’t have any problem. I just sat down and played, probably because of all those toy sets. Coordination didn’t pose much of a problem until I started getting into the stage band and had to read drum parts with the foot and everything. When I first saw that, it was a trip reading drumset stuff–the hand, the hi-hat, the bass drum, independence and all of that–but I just went and practiced.” Drum corps, summer camps and a succession of lessons followed, and after finishing high school, he worked in local bands for a year before enrolling in Berklee, a decision inspired by many of his classmates and a chance meeting with Berklee student Steve Smith, who came through town playing with a big band.