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Q & A with island musician Gene Federico

By Staff | Dec 29, 2010

Gene Federico performs with Island Jazz at BIG ARTS.

This week’s Q & A features island performer Gene Federico. A lifelong musician and master of many genres, Gene is a member of Island Jazz and performs regularly all over Southwest Florida — including a performance at the 2010 New Year’s Eve Celebration at the Sanibel Rec Center!

Where are you from?

I was born and raised in the Boston area.

About 20 years ago, some friends of ours visited Sanibel and upon their return to Boston, they couldn’t say enough about the island and its surroundings. Several months later, my wife Dottie and I vacationed here and knew immediately that one day this would be home.

What is your family life like?

Well, I’m married to the most wonderful and caring woman in the world. Dottie and I have two children, one of whom has made us grandparents for the second time.

What were you doing before you came to Sanibel?

My occupation has always been music-related. I operated a retail music store that offered equipment, music lessons and repairs. During this time, I taught guitar and bass along with performing for various venues in the New England area. In the mid 1990s, with a competent staff able to run the music shop, I branched out of New England and worked as a solo performer doing vocals, guitar and keyboards for both Carnival and Norwegian Cruise Lines — what a treat to be sailing around the Caribbean, especially in the winter!

What kinds of music do you play?

That question requires an explanation along with the answer.

I have been exposed to so many genres of music in my life that I can perform for many musical tastes. Growing up in a big city like Boston there is much cultural and ethnic diversity. Like most young players, I played high school and YMCA dances, playing the pop music of the day like the Beatles, Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys. In my late teens, I started playing with a wedding/jazz band and that led to my meeting many musicians.

Baron Hugo, orchestra leader from the famous Totem Pole, took me under his wing and gave me some playing dates and introduced me to other band leaders and agents in the area. I was pretty much off and running and playing several gigs a weekend — weddings, clubs, private functions — and getting paid!

From there, I got involved with a “Latino” band that played for Latino communities in the Northeast. Among some of the acts that I worked with were: Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, Los Swing Boys and Sonora Mantacera. However, being young and not familiar with these acts, years passed before I could appreciate the importance of their contributions to music.

Musically, I was all over the board and expanded further when I was recruited to play in an “Italian” band. This band, similar to the Latino band, played all over the Northeast and opened for some well know Italian acts, including Peppino Di Capri, Gianni Morandi, Mina and more. With so much musical variety in my life, it was at this point that I decided to become a free-lance musician — basically being available to all with a commitment to none.

In the late 1980s, Harvey Robbins Productions contacted me to see if I was available to play some “Oldies” cruises out of Boston. It was then that I got a taste for playing cruise ships and the opportunity to work with entertainers like Levi Stubbs (Four Tops), Gene Pitt (Jive Five) and Herb Reed (Platters). In fact, a former student of mine is still playing for Herb Reed. In the mid-1990s, I contracted with Carnival Cruise Lines and added island music, Caribbean, reggae and Jimmy Buffett selections to my repertoire.

That, in a nut shell, gives you a brief understanding of how I came to have such a diverse repertoire, and the types of music I perform.

My website, www.genefederico.com, has some samples of the various styles of music I perform.

What do you enjoy most about being a musician and performer?

Watching the smiles on people’s faces as they are listening or dancing to the music, tapping their foot, singing along, applauding, or receiving a compliment. To have someone come up to you and say, “that was great,” or “nice job,” or “thanks for playing my request” makes it all worthwhile.

Do you have a favorite musician?

That’s a difficult question since there are so many great musician/composers. I have favorites for various genres of music. The Gershwins, Cole Porter, Burt Bachrach, Carole King, Lennon and McCartney, Antonio Jobim, Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, James Taylor, Gibb Bros., A.L. Webber, Elton John and Brian Wilson are just a few that come to mind — all giants!

What do you do you do in your spare time?

When I’m not practicing new material, I enjoy boating, golfing, swimming, fishing and biking.

What would people be surprised to learn about you?

That along with the many years of music studies, I also hold a degree in Electrical Engineering from Franklin Institute of Technology and a degree in Finance from Boston University.

You will be performing at the 2010 New Year’s Eve celebration — are you looking forward to it?

I look forward to every performance and always try to provide a variety of music aimed at pleasing the audience with the type of music they request for listening, dancing and singing along!

Where else can islanders and visitors see you perform?

Island jazz will be starting up with thier weekly Monday night dances at the community center starting in January and I also perform off-island at the Sandy Butler every Thusday and Friday in Fort Myers/. Sunday afternoon I’m at Courtney’s Tiki Bar on Sanibel and I just started my seventh year at the Mucky Duck (thanks to the Thanks for the Dance Entertainment Agency) every Wednesday and Saturday night. In between these regular venues, I also manage to squeeze in some country club dates from Punta Gorda to Naples.

Any words of wisdom for the new year?

Musically and artistically speaking — “Life is not a dress rehearsal, so make it your best and most memorable performance!”