Smitty: Joining me for the first time at JazzMonthly.com is an incredible songwriter and keyboard player. He is a master of the groove, he’s got a great new record out, you have got to check out this cat. He’s somewhat new on the scene but in so many respects he’s not new at all, and you will see that this cat comes with a groove. He goes by Funkee Boy and let me tell ya, it is an appropriate name. Please welcome Bobbi Tammaro. Bobbi, how you doing, my friend?
Bobbi Tammaro (BT): Ah, thanks for having me, Smitty. I really appreciate it. I’m doing great, thanks, and you?
Smitty: Oh, man, right now I feel like a rock star in a crowded green room! I’m wonderful. I am totally digging this fantastic project. Man, it has got some serious funk.
BT: (Laughs.) Thank you.
Smitty: And you’ve got some fantastic players, man.
BT: Yeah, my roots showed through on that project, huh?
Smitty: Yes indeed, man.
BT: My influences.
Smitty: Influences really showed through.
Smitty: And you have a long list of great influences, man. Such as Najee and India Arie and Santana and Grover Washington, Jr., and the list goes on, Jeff Lorber…when you’ve got those kind of influences and with your fantastic talents, man, it was just a win-win from the beginning with this great project.
BT: Yeah, thank you, thank you. Well, you know, and again, I mean, I really gotta just give the props to those who I grew up with and who I listened to, and that was also Earth, Wind & Fire and Tower of Power and the people you just mentioned, and Stevie Wonder and Average White Band. I mean, you can’t help but create good music when you lived it your whole life.
Smitty: True that.
BT: Because that was—that’s livin’ it.
Smitty: Yeah, because each one of those bands that you mentioned has such a strong reputation of creating music with substance, and it’s no different with this great project of yours that is called Rise, by the way. I want to make sure I mention that.
BT: Thank you, yup.
Smitty: And when I first saw the project, I noticed that you had four words there: jazz, funk, R&B, and soul.
Smitty: And I said wow, this has gotta be a nice journey of music, so when I heard the first track, “Body Music,” I knew right then that this is going to be a great project for everyone to hear.
BT: Yeah, thank you. I really appreciate it and I kinda take that to heart because people ask me—even my friends ask me—“What does it mean when you wrote on the cover of your CD ‘Jazz, Funk, R&B’?” And then they see a little equals sign. “And then you said an equals sign and then you’ve put Soul,” and if you take all of that and roll it up, it’s soul, and the music has soul and there’s substance behind it, and that’s what I grew up with and it’s kinda my tribute to the artists that I grew up with, and that’s the kind of music I want to create.
Smitty: Yeah, well, talk to me, man, because I am so curious as to what inspired you to pick up the keyboard, of all instruments, because when I listened to this project, you could’ve most likely chosen any instrument you wanted to play, but talk to me about the keyboard. What did the keyboard do for ya that no other instrument did for ya?
BT: Well, I began studying that actually later in life, age 11 or 12, I can remember just playing around on the family organ that was a toy down in the basement, and just kinda playing by letters at that time when those books used to come out with the big old letters written on the keys. (Both laugh.) I still remember to this day my dad walking downstairs and listening to it because it sounded like something. I can’t remember what song I was playing at the time, “Feelings” or something like some old standard.
BT: Played by numbers and he was like “You wanna take lessons on that thing?” And I said “Yeah, yeah, I’ll take lessons.” And you know what? I stuck to it.
Smitty: There you go.
BT: I just stuck to it, I committed to it, and the rest is history.
Smitty: Wow, so it was just in your soul to play music. And when you say “I stuck to it,” that’s not something you hear all the time and agreeing to take the lessons is not something you hear all the time, so that’s a very cool thing. And I haven’t heard about the book in so long, man. You brought back some memories. (Both laugh.)
BT: Oh yeah, that’s back in the day. I’m dating myself. But yeah, that’s the way it was, that’s the way it was, and you know what? There was an old little toy down in the basement and there was a book laying around and, sure enough, it had letters and it was literally teach yourself, so that was the start of it and then once he got me into lessons and I’d studied—and I actually started out on the organ—and I just studied that until—I studied what made sense to me, which—and thank God I had the right teachers at the right time—and it was just a neighborhood music shop or whatever, nothing fancy, but I gotta tell ya, I owe them so much because even though they taught me the scales and the fundamentals, they always said “Well, what do you wanna play?” And sure enough, I’d run to the music store and buy a piece of sheet music from Earth, Wind & Fire or buy a George Benson piece of sheet music or the Brothers Johnson and I’d say “I wanna play this song.”
Smitty: Yeah, man!
BT: Yup, and they were like “You wanna learn this song? Well, how about ‘Spanish Eyes’ and ‘Feelings’?” And I’m like “Yeah, I can learn the standards too, but I wanna learn this song,” you know? And meanwhile, they’re like “Well, okay,” and they opened it up and it’s “Celebration” by Kool & the Gang. And they’re like “Okay, well, let’s start with this,” you know? And sure enough, and because of those kinds of teachers, I just think that the learning happens that much faster and it stays with you because you’re playing music that you could relate to. I’d go home, play the record, look at the sheet music, and I’d play along to it. You couldn’t ask for anything better than that.
Smitty: Absolutely. I think it’s great, too, that you had teachers that showed you the fundamentals and the basics that are the foundation of creating music because I think that’s very important, but for them to give you some creative room I think is equally as important as well. You certainly, like you said, you owe them so much. I think that’s just so important early on when you’re learning to play music. You were very fortunate, my friend.
BT: Yeah, yeah, definitely, and I didn’t stop there. I did study classical piano for a little bit, but I gotta tell you, after a few months, maybe a year or so of that, it wasn’t me, it wasn’t me, and I can appreciate it and definitely respect it and admire people that do it, but I couldn’t wait to play contemporary pieces. I just said “You know what? This isn’t me,” you know? I mean, I could appreciate Bach and Beethoven, but it’s not me. I went back to playing my popular music and playing in cover bands and doing the work of those great artists that we talked about and just kind of evolved then.
Smitty: So talk to me about your first band. (Both laugh.)
BT: Hmm-hmm, first real band?