September 15, 2004

Minucci & Minucci: An interview with talented guitarist/composer Chieli Minucci & son Gianluca

The resemblance between father and son is striking. One look at 14-year-old Gianluca Minucci tells you who his father is. And if you look a little closer, you’ll see that Gianluca resembles his father not only in looks, but the resemblance is broadening to include the heart and soul of his dad, the musician.

Chieli-Gianluca2.jpgThat Chieli Minucci is a multi-talented figure on the music scene today is not news to anyone paying attention to instrumental music. He’s a gifted composer and guitarist, both in Special EFX since the early 80s and on his own solo CDs more recently; he’s an Emmy award winner and consistent nominee for his musical contributions to daytime drama; and his talent reaches to the hearts of children with his Latin score written for Dora the Explorer, recently on Broadway. That his son, Gianluca, has already begun his own musical career, not only playing, but also composing, may not be so well known, however. He’s already a working musical artist!

When Chieli agreed to an interview featuring father and son, I was thrilled. As Chieli explains, “I’m not one to do this kind of interview often.” In the two years that I’ve known Chieli, I’ve found that he is, indeed, a private person who knows how to stay focused on the things in his life that are most important. Not one to seek ‘stardom’ and all that goes with it, he’s still getting accustomed to the fan/star phenomenon. And so I feel very privileged to have spent time with both of them to bring others an inside look at this musically talented father and son.

Gianluca1.jpgI first met Gianluca at a Connecticut show Chieli was playing. Gianluca responded enthusiastically to the interview, and I was struck immediately by his articulate and professional manner. He began his study of music at the piano at age seven, taking lessons until about ten years old, when he became interested in the bass guitar. Says Gianluca, “ I was in my Dad’s studio and took the bass guitar home to try it. I didn’t even know what it was.” But the bass guitar captivated young Gianluca and he began lessons right away. “I really liked how the bass sounded after a couple of days of playing it. I quickly found myself playing pretty well, and I enjoyed learning bass lines. I do see myself playing bass in the future... for a career, I'm not sure.” By age 13 he was clamoring to be in a band of his own. And by now, at age 14, his ‘ska band,’ The Malibu Boyscouts has recorded its first CD!

Gianluca’s friendly personality and warm smile shine through as he talks about his experiences, his eyes twinkling with the excitement and enjoyment of his life and music. One of the first times I saw the fun part of his personality was when Gianluca suddenly showed up on his dad’s website, posting his own message which said, in effect, “Move over, Dad, I’m going to challenge you with my awesome talent on bass guitar.”

Gianluca3.jpgA bright, personable, and serious-minded young man with a good sense of his values, Gianluca already seems to understand the challenges that go along with a career in music. He knows there are compromises that must be made in order to be successful. As he said, “Besides talent, you must sense what is going to be popular, which means there might be some compromise in what you would really rather do.” Gianluca shows a grasp of this way beyond his years, even forming his own opinions of which of his father’s creative ideas he would prefer to be chosen by the record company for a new CD.

But let’s back up to the beginning of Gianluca’s musical career. I asked Chieli if he assumed Gianluca would become involved in music. Though Chieli did not pre-plan a musical path for Gianluca, he was, of course, responsive to Gianluca’s interest in music, and provided him with learning opportunities. As he put it, “I introduced Gianluca to music as I would a new sport, or any other subject. His regular, daily schooling hasn't really included a diversified music program, so I started him with classical piano lessons when he was around 7 years old, much like my own father did for me. It hasn't ever been too much of a concern of mine if he chooses music as a career...as long as it is he who wants it, then I am all for it, and will provide the education, if I can...as long as his interest is truly genuine.”

Gianluca4members.jpgHaving grown up with a father (Ulpio Minucci) who wrote songs for the likes of Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby, Chieli had certain opportunities himself, and passed these on to Gianluca. Among them were the opportunity to record the music of The Malibu Boyscouts, and also the chance to accompany Chieli on a cruise where Gianluca played bass on one of his dad’s songs.

How does Chieli view Gianluca’s choice of the bass guitar? “I feel the same as I would about any other instrument. I am not picky, or prejudiced regarding instruments....even though I am a fanatical guitarist... it was his choice to try the bass, and once I saw his interest was genuine, I followed through. I've seen enough cases where a person received an expensive instrument and never really pursued it. With Gianluca we started at the bottom. He wants an electric guitar now, but we're going to wait a bit...”

GianlucaDrums.jpgChieli added, “So far, apart from 'regular' schooling, he's studied piano for 2 years, and electric bass, going on 3+ years. His lessons also include a jazz combo and Big Band. During the summer he's played bass for the big band at his summer camp, here in Long Island. All in all, Gianluca has saturated himself with music! I regularly provide him with rides to rehearsals & gigs, as well as do all the maintenance on his instruments and gear...I am a good roadie/tech! I have shared with him the same 'basic' exercises for the fingers which I have done all my life...the rudiments of playing stringed instruments.”

What does Chieli think it will take for Gianluca and other young musical artists to ‘make it’ in today’s music scene? He answered, “Strong perseverance, and as much background as possible. The more musical styles one listens to, the more books young people read, the more plays they attend, the more ballets they watch, the more of everything they observe....all these things will give them a varied foundation, which is a must in today's world...”

GianlucaGuitar.jpgAnd how is the world of music different for Gianluca now than it was for Chieli at his age? “It's very different, “ says Chieli. “New styles exist, and there are more demands on the musician, in general. There are more musicians around nowadays who can play, record, write, engineer, edit, etc..... In other words, most folks today wear many hats. It's very competitive. In general there are simply more people, which means more musicians ... also, it seems to me that the standards of musicianship have dropped sharply in the realm of stardom. There are indeed many fantastic, versatile musicians and writers out there, but the industry has permitted the bar to be dropped a lot, so that nowadays there are a lot of well known artists out there who are really not musicians at all, but have benefited directly from technological advances in music production. It is alarming.”

In addition to piano and bass guitar, the saxophone also held Gianluca’s interest, though he hasn’t had lessons on that instrument, at least, not yet! Gianluca is not sure whether he will continue mainly with bass guitar, or even in the field of music (in the ‘not too distant’ past, he considered becoming a lawyer), but these days, he loves playing and composing. His greatest thrill is to see others listening to his music and enjoying themselves, especially by dancing. He loves the fun aspect of music and wants others to have fun. And just by listening to him, it’s obvious that he knows how to have fun and bring fun into the lives of others.

GianlucaKeyboard.jpgEver since I heard from Chieli that Gianluca is in a ‘ska band,’ I have wondered about the full meaning of that word, ‘ska.’ Chieli demonstrated it to me once, feigning the holding of a guitar, strumming vigorously for a while and singing along with no words, then, slowing it down slightly with a less intense beat for awhile before returning to the vigorous pace. It reminded me of Frank Zappa, which, interestingly, is one of Gianluca’s favorite artists from the past. When I asked Gianluca more about the meaning of this ‘ska’ term for his band, he had no trouble explaining it. This music, dubbed ‘ska music,’ he says, “is simply dancing music.” Hence his band is a ‘ska band.’ A band that plays music to which people can dance. Ahhhhhh, now I get it, being a dancer myself!

Starting out as a band called the Epic Skankers, the band evolved over a period of time to its present name and members. They began playing together in June of 2003, but became officially The Malibu Boyscouts in September of that year. The name appealed to them with its easy tie-in to costume ideas. With Gianluca on bass guitar, the other band members are Theo Padouvas and Vinny Campanele on trumpets, Ruben Marinbach on trombone, Alex Somer on guitar, Christian Madera on keyboard/sax and Phil Padouvas on drums. Gianluca praised the talent and contributions made by each member of the band, some of whom he met at music school and music camp.

GianlucaSax.jpgThe band went through growing pains, of course, refining its membership and coping with having no one show up during its first performance. But subsequent performances brought gradually more guests. Gianluca says, “We play best and enjoy it most when there are a bunch of people there dancing.” Currently the band plays once a month at the Red Zone, located on the border of Forest Hills and Ridgewood in Queens, New York. Other venues include The Knitting Factory and Arlenes Grocery in New York, and other venues on Long Island and in New York.

Music brings Gianluca a lot of joy and in addition to being a dedicated musician, he has a lot of favorite bands and musicians, both past and present. Included in his list are Reel Big Fish, Catch 22, The Aquabats, Return to Forever, Jaco Pastorious, Frank Zappa, Kemuri, Sum 41, ASOB.

GianlucaTru001.jpgAnd music isn’t the only area that brings out Gianluca’s dedication and joy. He is also quite serious about his studies. He is studying at a different school this fall, and is determined to do well in these next years of high school. In addition to music, he is interested in English and loves to write, especially mysteries. He spoke excitedly about writing a piece that was a final in a competition. He likes Stephen King, thriller kinds of books. It seems nearly certain that Gianluca will be writing, whether words or music, or both, in his future career.

I asked Chieli what it was like for him to have Gianluca on board and especially on stage with him during the Smooth Jazz Cruise 2004. He replied, “That was one of the great experiences, for both of us! Not only was it a proud moment for me, but as just another musician, Gianluca really played well! He played on one song, Speak To Me, and he played it without hitting any 'wrong' notes...and...he took a blistering bass solo! Standing ovation! In the end though, his willingness to just get up on stage was the real pleasure for all!” Gianluca adds, “At first I was nervous, with everyone looking at me. But then after that it was a lot of fun!”

GianlucaTrombone.jpgRegarding musical talent, admiration goes both ways between father and son. Gianluca spoke about his realization of the talent of his dad, “I just grew up with Dad so I didn’t really know the talent he has until I was older and went to see him at one of his shows. Then I knew just how good he is.” Favorite songs of his are Cruise Control and My Girl Sunday. No argument there, with Cruise Control having topped the Radio & Records Smooth Jazz chart at #1 for 5 weeks, staying on the chart itself for 30 weeks, and My Girl Sunday (reaching #2 on the charts) being that first favorite of mine that led me to discover all the rest of the music of Special EFX and Chieli Minucci.


Likewise, Chieli is quite proud of the efforts of Gianluca and the Malibu Boyscouts in recording their first CD, entitled, Enlist Now! As he says, “Remember, these guys wrote it, sang it, arranged it, and started their own website (MalibuBoyscouts.com) as well as arrange for booking their own shows! All at 14 years old...”

Quite an accomplishment, indeed. Gianluca adds, “Our CD is doing fine. We have sold around 200 copies, and are in the process of making more.“

What would Gianluca like to say to all present and potential fans about the music of the Malibu Boyscouts? “It’s a fun performance – fun to watch! We have some songs, some great musicians! And a prodigy drummer (Philip)!”

Gianluca4.jpgWhen asked what he wants others to know about Gianluca and his music, Chieli answered, “Simply that they recognize his dedication...his attitude, which is that of someone who plays music out of love...like a hobby, not a chore, but because it's genuinely FUN! This kind of musician is priceless because he is naturally dedicated, as if it's an extension of himself...”

Chieli’s use of the word ‘extension’ made me stop and think. The way I see it, music has become a significant thread that bonds the Minucci men to each other, from Ulpio to Chieli, and now from Chieli to Gianluca. No doubt music fans of the past were grateful for Ulpio. We know fans of the present are grateful for Chieli. And I have a feeling the fans of future years will be grateful for Gianluca!

That’s Gianluca Minucci, with The Malibu Boyscouts! Check them out! Find out what they’re up to, where they’re playing, and how to get your own copy of their CD, all at www.malibuboyscouts.com! It’s a neat site where you can sit around the campfire with them and become a skanker yourself!!

Beverly_MM.jpg©July, 2004
Beverly Packard
Jazz Circle Member of the Berks Arts Council
Reading, Pennsylvania

Photos: Michael Packard and courtesy of Chieli and Gianluca Minucci

Posted by Beverly J. Packard at September 15, 2004 6:39 AM