Like most careers, whether it is military, political, medical, tech, or any host of professions, reaching the highest levels of the entertainment business would require a move to the center of the industry. Such is the case for Carmen Intorre, Jr., a native of Buffalo’s west side. A career which has taken the 34 year old from playing the violin at Waterfront Elementary School, to performing at concert halls all over the world. He knew as soon as he started playing music, that violin was not for him, and soon chose to study the drums.
Carmen was a natural talent. His parents did not play, but loved music. They had a great interest in introducing him and his sister to musicians and performing artists. At Waterfront Elementary, he played with the 8th grade band while in the second grade. At the age of 6, his parents enrolled him at Community Music School on Elmwood Ave., where he studied under Gary Rutkowski from 1986 until 1994.
Throughout his early years, he had exposure to many jazz musicians. He would audition for all county orchestras and the like. His dad took him once to UB to audition for their jazz ensemble in front of a panel, which consisted of Sal Noto, Sam Falzone, Don Menza, and Louie Marino. Marino was so impressed with Carmen, he sought him out after the audition and offered to teach him, which he did, between the ages of 14 and 19. The two teachers made such an impression on Carmen, he told me, “Between these two, I couldn’t have asked for better instructors.”
He attended Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts, and in the 6th grade, auditioned for the senior band, and landed the gig. The problem was the senior class was second period, same as his Global Studies class. His parents spoke to the school’s administration, and that granted him permission to miss 2 classes per week, in order to play with the older kids.
His dad would also take him to different jazz venues to perform with established musicians. “During that time my father took me to The Colored Musicians Club”, he says. Saxophonist Carol McLaughlin invited him to play in his big band. The band included notables Al Tinney, Sam Scammacca… so many people who are no longer with us. “I remember walking into this place and seeing all the pictures of the greats, and felt honored to be a part of it,” he recalls. “All the musicians were very encouraging to me.”
Carmen also spent a considerable amount of time at The Calumet, performing and meeting travelling musicians. He hooked up with his French teacher from Waterfront, guitarist Bernard Kunz, who with his sons put a group together and performed there. He was there so often; he would rent out his drum kit to provide part of the backline for these players. Carmen would often play after and those were late nights for a teen-ager, especially on a school night. But what was common in all his musical experiences in his youth was that he was always around older musicians. Something he feels helped mold him into a professional.
He eventually moved to New York City in 1999, where he attended New School, a prestigious music school for 2 years. As a freshman, he was around older students, guys like Robert Glasper, Marcus Strickland, and others who would go on to play professionally all over the world. “I learned more from them than my actual teachers,” he says. In 2001, The Juilliard School was forming a jazz program, headed by Wynton Marsalis. He auditioned and landed a spot. It included a full scholarship since he was one of 18 to land a part in the program. “It was a good place for me, it was more organized, more disciplined. I was around a different group of musicians.”
Around the same time, Chuck Mangione hired him to play in his band. He had to get a passport, as he had to travel to Turkey. It would be his first musical experience overseas.
How he hooked up with Pat Martino was very interesting. In 2000, he started subbing on drums for Joey DeFrancesco, and did a number of gigs in Toronto. Defrancesco was a part of Pat’s trio at the time. The great drummer Billy Hart, who was Carmen’s teacher at the time, was scheduled to play with Pat and needed to learn the music, so he asked Carmen to record a concert for him so he could learn the music. Fast-forward 12 years; Carmen was performing on stage in NYC at The Iridium with DeFrancesco featuring special guest Martino. In preparation for this gig Martino decided to email Carmen 30 or so songs, on a 2-day notice and told him “learn these songs, because I may call these out at any moment.”
He had the recording he made years ago and proved to be valuable. If luck is where preparation meets opportunity, this was a moment of luck, as Carmen was well prepared for this opportunity. At the sound check, Pat turned to Carmen and smiled, as if it were a stamp of approval. It would be a short time after that where Carmen hooked up full time with the Pat Martino Trio. The tour will be stopping in Buffalo for a homecoming on April 19 at Buffalo Iron Works for two shows. Tickets for both shows are available at ticketfly.com, Iron Works box office, Allentown Music, and Music City.
Carmen still performs locally when he can. His family still lives here and visits often. He was just in town in the beginning of March. He gave master classes at Kenmore East HS, Tonawanda HS, and Performing Arts. “It’s my way of giving back to my community”.
“All this happened because of the support of my parents. I was always exposed to live music.” His parents encouraged him to study, practice, and to see musicians perform. Although mom is no longer with us, dad still comes to his gigs, wherever they are. “You have to nurture the natural talent you are given,” he says. Music has given him a wonderful opportunity which has taken him all around the world. Not bad for a kid from West Avenue.