“I wasted my life on you because I thought you were a loser.”
“You have to be a very principled person to care about the truth rather than getting ahead.”
“You can hide the shit but you can’t hide the smell.”
—from the film Story of My Death
The following is a fairy tale about a musician and a record label:
You might say that I’ve taken a personal interest in Vito Ricci. Why? Is it because he’s a friend? Collaborator? Mensch? Original? Consummate artist? Writer? Vietnam vet? Wonderful musician/composer? Well-kept secret deserving of wider recognition? If you guessed “all of the above,” you’d be correct.
Canadian-born and adopted by Italian-American parents, 67-year-old Ricci, who grew up a street-savvy doo-wopper, is one of the most honest, humble, and prolific artists I’ve encountered, quietly doing his work for some 40 years now. He is “a composer of moody and elegant scores” as well as pop and cabaret tunes, an innovative wrench guitarist on the cutting edge of the downtown music scene since 1979, going almost virtually unnoticed due to his pursuit of music rather than career. But his accomplishments have been numerous. He has made over 50 scores, including concert music, theater, film, video, and ballet—Philosophies for the Complexions Contemporary Ballet Company. And he has composed an electronic chamber opera, HELP. He’s collaborated with the likes of Jackie Curtis, Bob Holman, “Blue” Gene Tyranny, Johnny Reinhard (curator of the American Festival of Microtonal Music), Tony Nunziata, Martin Goldray, Rashied Ali, Byard Lancaster, the Flux Quartet, Jacob Burkhardt, poet/painter Yuko Otomo, vocalist Christine Donnelly, writer Ann Rower, Creation Theatre Company, the Wooster Group, Canadian singer and Ricci’s long time companion, Lise Vachon, etc. His work has appeared at the Skirball Center, the Bowery Poetry Club, Cornelia Street Café, the Public Theater, Greenwich House Music, Cooper Union, Roulette, the Knitting Factory, the Poetry Project, the Performing Garage, the Walker Art Center, and the Sedgwick Cultural Center in Philadelphia.
Ricci studied with Ornette Coleman, Mario Davidovsky, Vladimir Ussachevsky, Milton Babbitt, and Ursula Mamlok, and has released many CDs of solo piano music, electronic works, song cycles, improvisations, and string quartets. He’s received numerous grants and had entire radio shows devoted to his music. Ricci’s instinct and creativity have made him a vital and honest composer.
In 1985, Ricci recorded a solo electronic record, for early drum machine and MIDI sequencing, called Music from Memory on the Creation label. It never sold. He had boxes of it in his then loft in SoHo. After we became friends he gave me copies to sell on the street when I was out there selling books and LPs. Occasionally I’d sell one and give him $5. When he moved to Maspeth, the remaining boxes went with him, and unbeknownst to either of us the value of the LP has increased to $100.
Ricci has recently been “discovered” by DJs in Amsterdam who own the store Red Lights Records and the label Into The Light which releases Greek electronic music from the ’70s and ’80s. They buy 25 copies of Ricci’s LPs from him a week and sell them just as fast as they acquire them. Here’s how the story plays out in Tako’s, store/label owner’s, words:
Our label is run by three people. A mutual friend of ours introduced us to Vito’s Music From Memory, many years ago. He had bought it on eBay and at that time we were starting our second label and looking for a good name for it. We started going through our record collections to find some interesting words or titles. Vito’s album struck us very much so we decided to use it for our label name. Then somewhere around our third release I got a letter from a good friend in Canada who I had introduced Vito’s music to. He had gotten in touch with Vito to buy some copies of the album. He told Vito about our naming our label “Music from Memory” and after a while Vito contacted us to say he was very happy to hear this. We started talking and quickly felt that we wanted to do a release together. As a label we started out wanting to do something with all this music we had discovered over the years—a lot of obscure and unknown music across the board—we all are very heavily into music and long-time collectors. And we also started a small second-hand record store in Amsterdam, basically making our record fetish into our jobs and in combination with the label this is working well. All our releases are more like overviews of what artists have done, curated, with their/our own tastes, rather then doing a straight reissue of an album. And in Vito’s case there is a lot of amazing unreleased material. We think he is a talented, interesting, and versatile artist with a distinguished musical handwriting and personal musical universe. He has sent us deep meditative drone-like pieces lasting up to 45 minutes but also shorter electronic and rhythmic stuff, beautiful ambient pieces and dance music ... it’s all there! We had already finished a playlist for a single album but after getting more material from cassette tapes he had put out, and reassessing the music we already had. We are now moving toward a double album of his works that should be out early in the next year.
I will, as Ricci always puts it, say no more (the name of his publishing company) and end by saying buy his CDs and the vinyl when it is released and listen to his music whenever you get a chance.
I dedicate this piece to reed player, composer, copyist (Ornette’s Skies of America) Will Connell, who passed recently and who, like Vito, always remained self-effacing and humble, while fiercely yet quietly creating his art.
Poet/collagist STEVE DALACHINSKY was a long time contributor to the Rail. His book The Final Nite & Other Poems (Ugly Duckling Presse - 2006) won the PEN Oakland National Book Award. His latest CDs are The Fallout of Dreams with Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach (Roguart, 2014), and the book/CD Pretty in the Morning with the French art rock group the Snobs (Bisou Records, 2019). He was a 2014 recipient of a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres. His most recent books include Frozen Heatwave, a collaboration with Yuko Otomo (Luna Bissonte Prods, 2017) and where night and day become onethe french poems (great weather for MEDIA, 2018) which received a 2019 IBPA award in poetry.