The Hybrid Orchestral Percussionist


It has never been easier to create a hybrid electro-acoustic kit, thanks to the wide variety of electronic percussion controllers available. The difficulty has to do with integrating electronic and acoustic instruments in a musically meaningful way, rather than simply having them coexist in the P.A. system.

Italian-American percussionist Andrea Centazzo (pronounced “on-DRAY-uh chen-TOTZ-oh”) has spent more than four decades exploring this issue, and the trajectory of his career neatly coincides with the evolution of electronic percussion – from the early days of analog synthesizers and home recording to MIDI and the latest sample-playback technology using laptop computers.

As an improviser, Centazzo helped usher in new approaches to percussion playing, such as laying gongs and cymbals on drumheads to change their timbre. His list of collaborators reads like a who’s who of influential instrumentalists, including Mothers Of Invention keyboardist Don Preston; saxophonists Steve Lacy, Lol Coxhill, and John Zorn; and guitarists Derek Bailey, Elliott Sharp, and Eugene Chadbourne. A prolific composer, Centazzo has written for film, television, opera, theater, and even Balinese gamelan orchestra. His recent commission is a symphonic score for Chicago’s Adler Planetarium production The Searcher. In nearly all his work, he masterfully blends acoustic and electronic sounds to get a bigger-than-life sound. “I’ve always been attracted to electronics and unusual sounds,” he explains.

As a result, Centazzo has become one of the éminence grise of contemporary percussion design. Through his work with UFiP Cymbals in the ’70s, as a top artist for Paiste, and from his endorsement deals with Remo, Vic Firth, and Premier, he has helped expand the traditional sound palette to meet the needs of composers and percussionists.


Centazzo in 1986.


1977 ad for Premier Drums.

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