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by Mary Bentley
Attending concerts has almost become like a game of Six Degrees of Separation.  I attended a Chieli Minucci concert at this year’s Berks Jazz Festival.  Chieli had some special guests with him that evening, guitarist and former Yankee, Bernie Williams, as well as Bernie’s Musical Director, saxophonist Richie Cannata.  We often find our way to musicians through this variation of Six Degrees of Separation; one person leads to another, to another, until a connection is made.  This month, Smoothviews travels back to Long Island, NY, to the city of Glen Cove, to introduce you to Richie Cannata.

Native New Yorker Richie Cannata was born in Brooklyn but raised in Glen Cove, LI, where he still lives and works.  Richie’s musical journey began at a very early age – he was about four years old when he began playing.  He does not come from a musical family, so he is not so clear on how he became so interested in music. “I had no idea what I was doing, but I did it anyway.” says Richie.  His first instrument was piano.  From the piano, he went to the clarinet, and from the clarinet, to the saxophone.  He still plays all three instruments.  There have been many musical influences over the years including: John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Gene Ammons, and King Curtis.  “As I started getting older, I really loved Michael Brecker, who was a contemporary of mine, and David Sanborn.  I liked those two a lot.  I still do.”  Richie has had the opportunity to play with both Brecker and Sanborn.  “They were on a couple of Billy Joel records with us, which was a lot of fun.”

Billy Joel is just one of the musicians Richie has played with during his career, and continues to play with off and on.  He performed and toured with him during his early days as a professional musician.  He’s also played with Celine Dion, Jennifer Lopez, and, John Oates, who he played with right before we conducted this interview, and the aforementioned Chieli Minucci.  He has also spent time touring with The Beach Boys.  He loves playing with them.  Richie has played with many people throughout his career, and he continues to do so during concerts, recordings, and during his Monday night jam sessions at The Bitter End, a night club in the Village (Greenwich Village to the non New Yorkers reading this) that he has been playing for 23 years.   “It starts sometime around 11:30pm, closer to midnight, and we play.  I get everybody up who wants to play with me.  Because of the internet these days, you can run but you can’t hide.  I get a lot of people from Europe and Japan that come in and play with me.   To tell you how cool that is, we are in the cultural center of the world here in NYC.  This is a great city.  Tourism is huge.  People come from all over the world.  They come to NY, they want to sit in and play somewhere; they come to the Bitter End and sit in with me.”  He mentions that during a recent jam session, he played with David Pastorius, nephew to Jaco.

Richie has played with so many people that it’s hard to pin him down to anyone he’d like to play with.  “When Clarence Clemmons passed away, I wanted to play with Bruce, but I really didn’t think that was a good idea.  As a sax player, I was with Billy and Clarence was with Bruce.  But I’m pretty content.  I can’t tell you who I’d like to actually play with, maybe James Taylor, somebody like that, an old school guy, or Matchbox 20”.  I’m pretty diversified right now.  Not to say that if somebody called me, I’d be pretty excited to play with anybody.”

Currently, Richie’s self titled CD is in release.  Smoothviews reviewed “Richie Cannata” last year.  (The review can be found in our Archives section.)  It is his first CD, and it’s been doing well on the smooth jazz charts.  Since its original release, Richie has reworked some of the songs and added “New York State of Mind” to it and re-released it.  He also has his own band that he plays with.  Richie’s son Eren Cannata plays guitar and sings in his father’s band and works in his studio.  Eren Cannata is a producer in his own right, and a music educator as well.  “He’s a graduate of the NYU Clive Davis School of Recorded Music.  He’s actually teaching a songwriting course there now.”

In addition to being a professional musician, Richie Cannata is a music producer.  He owns the very successful Cove City Studios in Glen Cove, which has been in operation for 26 years.  “We’ve recorded everyone from Ray Charles to Cheap Trick, to Billy Joel, to Dream Theatre, to Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Taylor Dane, Celine Dion, Diana Ross, and Jennifer Lopez.”  The studio has done sound mixes for the movies “Dreamgirls,” and “Chicago,” and won an Oscar for the Dreamgirls mix.  They’ve even won some Grammys for their work.  At the time of the interview, Richie and the staff at Cove City were preparing for a session later on in the day.  
When not making or producing music, Richie is absorbed in baseball.  He is a diehard NY Yankees fans.  His love of baseball and the Yankees actually led him to his role as Bernie William’s Musical Director.  He met Bernie Williams at Yankee Stadium while playing the Star Spangled Banner one day.  “I love if I get a ball, a bat, and a glove, and I just throw it around.  I love to do that.  I’m very athletic.  Lots of semi hobbies, but the biggest hobby and like is baseball, watching baseball and appreciating how good the NY Yankees are.”

Richie Cannata wears and has worn many hats throughout his long, successful career, but he is always, first and foremost, a musician.  Look for Richie at Cove City Studios, or on Monday nights at The Bitter End, or, maybe even at Yankee Stadium.  Or better yet, catch him around NYC or on the road.