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Joe Policastro Trio at Spinoza’s


The Joe Policastro Trio Perform at Chicago’s Fulton Street Collective. Band members include Joe Policastro on Bass, Dave Miller on Guitar, and Mikel Avery playing Drums.

By Gary Spencer

There seems to be some strange, magnetic pull on people from Ohio who relocate to other parts of the country—they always come back, however briefly if just for a visit with relatives or in the case of musicians, to play a gig. That’s going to be the case for Ohio native Joe Policastro, who now calls Chicago home, when he rolls back into his home state for a gig with his jazz trio this coming Friday at Spinoza’s in Beavercreek.

Policastro was born and raised in Cincinnati, a place that he claims laid the groundwork for his future as a musician despite a lack of direct access to it growing up.

“Cincinnati was a great place to grow up musically—it has a great symphony orchestra, a great jazz scene, and a vibrant indie music scene,” he says. “I didn’t come from a musical family, however. I was always interested in music, but my access to it was through my friends, radio, and what I heard or saw in movies or on TV.”

Even with lack of immediate exposure to music, a young Policastro eventually became fascinated with playing the upright bass.”

“Through a chance encounter with an older R&B bass player at a local music store, I was first turned on to a bunch of jazz,” Policastro explains. “The entire idea of improvisation amazed me, and I was fascinated by how fluently jazz musicians spoke the language of music. He once showed me a video of Ray Brown with the Oscar Peterson Trio. That’s the first time I remember conceptualizing the upright bass, and I was blown away by his playing. That eventually led me to getting an upright bass which led me to getting proper classical double bass lessons with a member of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. From that point forward, I was hooked. I started hanging out at all of the local jazz clubs and focused on formal, classical training.”

Policastro eventually went on to earn a Bachelor of Music from the College Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati and a few years later relocated to Chicago so he could hone his craft on a nightly basis. There he would meet the two men who would later form the current lineup of the Joe Policastro Trio.

“I met (Dave Miller, guitarist and Mikel Avery, drummer) through gigs, mutual friends, and jam sessions many years ago in the Chicago music scene,” Policastro explains. “The solidified version of the band has now been together for 3 years. We had instant chemistry. Each member of the band has a strong personal voice on their instrument, but it’s our combined sound, our unique and shared interests, and the collective dedication to what best services the music that made me pick them.”

The trio can be heard on the group’s newest disc, Screen Sounds, for which the band will be touring in support of. The album consists of famous movie and television themes reimagined in a jazz context, making the tunes both familiar and fresh at the same time.

“Dave, Mikel, and I are film/TV buffs, and both were important for discovering music that has been vital to me,” Policastro says. “We were enjoying adapting the music, and the idea to record an album of such seemed like the next logical step. Screen Sounds assembles a wide array of theme songs, movie scores, or songs featured in film or television—Yojimbo, The Young & The Restless, Blade Runner, Kids in the Hall, The Godfather, Taxi, and others. It’s enjoyable to draw on those musical touchstones and shed new light on them.”

Even with the disc consisting of works removed from the jazz genre, echoes of Policastro’s bass-playing heroes such as Charles Mingus, Ray Brown, Ron Carter, and Charlie Haden are noticeable to the jazz-trained ear in his centered, yet nimble and lyrical fingerwork on the standup four-string. Still, it is obvious that Policastro & company’s style of jazz is a different beast than the work of his personal predecessors.

“I tell people that we are an alternative jazz trio,” Policastro says. “In addition to performing our original music, this group focuses heavily on adapting and arranging non-jazz music. We make sure to honestly represent whatever source material we’re working with but filter it through our voice. A program that sits Prince next to West Side Story next to Thelonious Monk needs to have a tie that binds. We play together so much that whatever comes through comes out sounding like us.”

And Policastro is very much looking forward to bringing his band’s uniquely individualistic and modern take on one of America’s oldest forms of music back to his home state where his musical journey began decades ago.

“This will be only our third time in southwest Ohio,” he says.  “We care a lot about personally connecting with music audiences and their communities. Being an Ohio native makes it that much more enjoyable for me to visit this region. I love the Midwest in general. People focus so heavily on the coasts when there are so many interesting, amazing, and passionate people and audiences everywhere in between.”

The Joe Policastro Trio will perform this Friday, March 2 at Spinoza’s, 2727 Fairfield Commons Blvd in Beavercreek, from 7-10pm. Admission is free. For more information, please visit Spinozas.com.

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Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com

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