The Hybrid Orchestral Percussionist
In this photo from 1975, you can see the Synare to his left.
La Vita DIY
Although Centazzo didn’t start his professional career until his early twenties, he quickly made up for lost time. After studies with Stu Martin, Peter Giger, and legendary Swiss percussionist Pierre Favre, Centazzo entered the Italian jazz scene and soon found himself in the high-profile quartet led by pianist Giorgio Gaslini. “That was a stroke of luck,” says Centazzo. “When I started playing with Gaslini, I became a very popular drummer overnight. My father wanted me to be an attorney, but when I became a professional musician, he wouldn’t talk to me for two years. He used to say ’The world is divided in two: the people that work, and musicians.’ It was only after he began to see me in the papers and on television that he realized that this was something that could work for me.
“It was the most popular jazz group in the country,” he adds. “At that moment, free jazz was really, really big in Italy, because it was connected with the politics of the student movement. The nation was coming from the student revolution in ’68, and this type of music was seen as revolutionary, so we had a lot of opportunities.”
Centazzo’s stint with Gaslini was relatively short, but it increased his visibility as well as his capital, allowing him to explore musical interests that stretched beyond the jazz idiom. “We were so successful that I had the opportunity to buy a Tascam 4-track reel-to-reel tape recorder, as well as a reverberation chamber. At the time, that kind of gear that was incredibly expensive in Europe. So I had my little studio. After I left the quartet, my first gig, in ’76, was with Steve Lacy, and because I had all the recording gear, I could launch the Ictus record label. That’s how everything started.”
By this time, he had parlayed his interests in sound exploration into a consulting gig with the Italian cymbal cooperative UFiP (Unione Fabricante Italiana Piatti, or The Union Of Italian Cymbal Makers), and had begun designing new instruments under the imprint Ictus 75. “I spent ’74 through ’75 working with them, doing prototypes using the leftovers from the cymbal work. At that time, they were casting the cymbals in the ground, like bells, and it was very easy for the metal to pick up impurities. When you played the cymbals, the metal was weak at that point where the impurity was and immediately cracked. So they had a lot of broken cymbals. I started to work with the broken cymbals, and that’s where the Icebell idea came from.
“Originally, the Icebell was just the bell of a broken cymbal that I cut and lathed in different ways until I got that kind of sound. UFiP also had a shell for very weird cymbals with a big bell and that became the first big model Icebell, which had that very low and deep tone.” Centazzo went on to invent the Tampang and Ogororo, as well as many instruments that never went beyond the prototype stage. (The majority of his prototypes and other rare pieces from his collection were recently donated to the Museum Of Percussion, in Pistoia, Italy, where UFiP is located.)
Andrea Centazzo in Bali with his Roland pads.