(Photo: DeGrazia band performing "Tres Ninas" from the San Carlos album. Video)
Annick Elzière: It is a great pleasure speaking with you, Domingo. Thank you so much for your time. Let’s start, shall we? You are an Arizona native born and raised in the desert Southwest by an Italian immigrant father and a Native American mother who deeply love and promote the arts. Your father, Ettore "Ted" DeGrazia, was a famous painter, a Modernist. I remember visiting the DeGrazia Gallery in the Foothills of Tucson… Did your father teach you how to paint?
Domingo DeGrazia: Thanks for talking with me. My dad taught me how to sketch, but he died when I was 8, so I never really had the chance to learn painting from him. Later in life I learned a lot by studying my dad’s work and talking with people that knew him. To be an artist it seems that you need to be able to connect with people on an emotional level as well as knowing the technical side of your craft.
Art and music are done best when the artist can pour emotion into their work. As I was growing up, I had a thousand questions for my dad, but after he passed I had to do a lot of searching for the answers. I had to look for answers both from others and from inside. In an odd way, my dad helped me understand myself and today that allows me to dig deep and connect on an emotional level.
Annick Elzière: Your father, Ettore “Ted” DeGrazia said “I want to be notorious rather than famous. Fame has too much responsibility. People forget you are human.” Do you feel related to your father’s wisdom and lifestyle?
Domingo DeGrazia: I had a privileged look at both the artist and the man. There was certainly a public side and private side, but he was humble and he remembered clearly his upbringing. All my life people have been telling me stories about my dad. I’m continually amazed by the vibrant tales people tell about him, even now, years after his passing. He connected with a huge number of people and he lives on in the stories they tell about him. I try to emulate some of his approaches to being in public and dealing with the media.
Annick Elzière: It looks like you chose music over the arts but no one can deny that either one demands time and lot’s of determination. How young were you when you first discovered your love for music and your passion for the Flamenco guitar technique that you handle very well? Why Flamenco?
Domingo DeGrazia: Contrary to popular belief, I do paint, but not very well. In the arts, music is my calling. I was dancing (trying to) with headphones on at age 3; you can imagine how big the headphones were on me at that time. Even with that, I’m probably one of the few kids to fail out of 4th grade band class. Structured music classes were never my thing. I went off on my own and I started writing songs on piano at age 10, and moved to guitar and bass at about 12. I’m not sure how much talent I have, but I certainly love to play.
Annick Elzière: Children should be taught how to play a musical instrument or to use a paint brush from a very young age. We can tell that you are enjoying performing and that’s wonderful to watch. Did you always want to perform with a band or just play on your own?
Domingo DeGrazia: I think I was born a musician; it just took decades to refine my craft while I had a regular job. Music is one of the constant threads in my life, even though I quit playing at least once a year. There are some parts of music and the music business that are glorious and beautiful, but other parts are just punishing, so it’s nice to have other intellectual pursuits. Both my mother and my father were huge influences on my artistry and in my education.
Annick Elzière: You’ve a baccalaureate degree in Aerospace, and a Masters degree in Aeronautical science, and a Juris Doctorate in law. Studying and practicing music take up a lot of time, how do you find the time for everything?
Domingo DeGrazia: I certainly felt a familial need to get an education, but college was also something I wanted to do to establish myself as a professional. As I grew up, there were a lot of people that expected great things from me, and some that believed I would amount to nothing. Some parts of my education came without effort, and others I succeeded in through pure stubborn persistence.
I think I got lucky in that I really enjoy learning and I write great music when I’m deep in study. I do practice law and, although I try to practice part-time, it ends up being closer to full time. I used to teach guitar, but now I try not to give more than 1 or 2 lessons to an individual. I am a self-taught musician, so I am a proponent of giving people the tools that allow them to learn on their own.
Annick Elzière: We feel your passion for the Spanish Guitar. The Flamenco style is very unique and very moving I think. Its driving rhythms attract the heart while inviting everyone to clap and dance while you are performing with your friends. Is there any other type of music that you like to play? What about playing the classical guitar?
Domingo DeGrazia: My draw to Spanish and Flamenco guitar music is the passion and rhythm of the music. I did play classical guitar, and still do to some extent. When I perform though, I like to give people an upbeat fun experience. Classical music sometimes gets a little too formal and stuffy to dance to. There is too much worry in the world, when people come to my concerts I want them to forget all the seriousness for a little while and have a good time.
For many years my heart has been in playing Spanish guitar music. I still study many types of music, but I’m firmly rooted in the rhythm of Spanish guitar. Although, it has come to my attention that when I play, I beat on my guitar a little more than most Spanish players, which would probably explain the new crack in the guitar.
Annick Elzière: This is awesome, Domingo. I admire your perseverance in all you do. Do you write your own songs and compose your own music? If you, it must be very rewarding, isn’t it.
Domingo DeGrazia: Yes, I’ve written 95% of what you hear me play. Oddly, I could never find recordings of the rhythms and melodies I imagined, so I had to write them myself. Even when I was young I can remember not completely liking the songs other people had written and feeling like I could write better songs, or at least, more to my liking. That led me to disregard formal music lessons, to become self-taught, and just write what sounded good.
I really enjoy writing music and the journey of each song. Some songs are written and rewritten over a month, while others go years before the song is played live. It really is a fascinating journey.
Annick Elzière: One of your CDs called 'The Bluest Sky' is amazing. Beth Daunis is definitely an excellent violinist. Congratulations to both of you who were voted a Critic’s Choice nominee for Best Guitarist and Best String Player in the Tucson Area Music Awards. I really enjoy the Celtic melodies mixed in with Latin melodies. It’s very special and wants to make you dance. What inspired you to play such a beautiful sound?
Domingo DeGrazia: I met Beth 2008 when she made a guest appearance at one of my performances. We had a great musical chemistry and I was eager to have her play some of my non-typical songs. Once in a while I write a song that doesn’t fit in my typical style or a particular genre. For those songs I usually record them and put them on the shelf, so to speak, and wait for an opportunity to use them. When I met Beth, I had a few classical style songs that were shelved because I had no CD that they fit with.
Songs like The Mocha Bean and Follow, were a natural fit with Beth’s playing. There are some songs on the Bluest Sky CD that have a definite Celtic feel, and others with a Gipsy, Spanish or Classical feel. It’s an amazing journey to collaborate on song writing. Oftentimes I have an idea how a song will sound, and how the rhythm will sound with accompaniment. When the song is done though, sometimes it is entirely different in the best possible way. That is the essence of 'The Bluest Sky.'
Annick Elzière: Many musicians get their inspiration from other artists and I recognize some Carlos Santana and the Gypsy Kings as well as Jamaican music when you are performing, am I right? What inspires you and where do you get your music rhythm from?
Domingo DeGrazia: Two ideas that drive my songwriting and rhythmic preference are a melody you can whistle and a rhythm you can tap your foot to. A lot of my drive to write songs is that I want to write a great song that combines rhythm, melody, and great song structure. I grew up listening to everything from Native American singers and drummers, to Stevie Wonder, to Rock, to old Country music on an ancient AM radio. It doesn’t matter the type of music or the artist, if it has a great melody or great rhythm, I naturally latch on to it.
I wish I knew what my inspiration for writing music is. I hope that if I can figure out my inspiration I can tap into more ready. But like most art, the ideas pop out of nowhere at the strangest times. I just follow the inspiration and see how far it goes. One of my goals is to write songs that people will want to own and listen to 20 years from now.
Annick Elzière: Do you perform locally, around Tucson or do you travel all over the USA and maybe around the world?
Domingo DeGrazia: I perform anywhere in the world as either a soloist, a guest performer, or with a full band. The full band is five-piece, sometimes with dancers. We love traveling and welcome opportunities to play anywhere in the world.
Annick Elzière: Versatile must be your middle name; you fly helicopters, skydive and scuba dive so what else do you excel in next to be an attorney, as well?
Domingo DeGrazia: There were a lot of things in life that I took to very naturally. An old attorney told me that one day I would have to choose one career and focus on it. I think he was right. I’m finding that the trick is not to be good at many things, but to be great at a few things. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve been able to have some continuous storylines in my life. One of those is music, and I feel like I’m just now starting to get my bearings and really excel.
Finding time to do a lot in life is an odd concept for me. When I was really young, one of my older brothers passed away. Not too long after that, my dad passed away and it seemed as though my childhood was marked every few years by the loss of a loved one.
Through those years I got to see that time is fleeting and life passes in a blink. I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself to make achievements and reach milestones, because I don’t want to run out of time and miss some opportunity. In that way I stay busy and don’t have a lot of idle time.
Annick Elzière: Please, tell us more about the musicians who are performing along with you.
Domingo DeGrazia: The musicians I perform with in the Spanish Guitar band are Beth Daunis on violin, Jim Pavett on percussion, Mark Brugler on bass, and a host of other musicians that perform with us as guests. We play a lot in the Tucson area, as well as other cities where we have strong connections. Information about upcoming shows is at degraziamusic.com. I’m booked up to a year in advance, so checking the website is the best way to find out where I will be.
Annick Elzière: Yes, I bet you are booked up to a year in advance. Everyone loves the Flamenco beat. Thanks for sharing the link to your website so everyone will know all about your upcoming performances with the band. Any CD releases lately?
Domingo DeGrazia: I have several CDs out. There is the San Carlos Spanish Guitar CD, The Bluest Sky Guitar and Violin CD, the live concert CD, Live at the Paramount, Calendar's Classical guitar, and the live Concert DVD from the Fox Theater. My music is available at iTunes, Amazon.com, CDBaby.com and many other on-line retailers as well as several places in Tucson including the DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun.
Annick Elzière: Again, thank you for sharing all this information with my readers. Domingo, it was wonderful speaking with you. I wish you and the bank all the best. Is there anything you wish to add before we end this interview? Any new project(s) on the back burner?
Domingo DeGrazia: In the near future I will have several new CDs coming out. I’m happy to have my music on the new Ted DeGrazia CD, Please Remember Me, to be released 2011. That CD is filled with songs that my dad wrote while he had a band. It’s great stuff.
My next Spanish Guitar CD, Nuance, will be out early 2012, and you should see Christmas songs and videos in the meantime. I also have some exciting and fun concert ideas, so come see us live. My musical goal is to write one more great song; after that one, I will focus on writing another.
Annick Elzière: Thank you for your music and for spending some time with all of us. We really appreciate you and the band, as well. And, a big thank you to all of you for performing at the Playing For Unity In Diversity Festival at the Old Tucson. Thank you for sharing your music with everyone. With you the DeGrazia band, it wouldn’t be the same. All of you are awesome!
Domingo DeGrazia: Annick, thanks for talking with me.
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