Frequently Asked Questions
1. What Is A Frittata? And What Kind Of Name Is That?
Yes, everyone asks. A frittata is an egg soufflé, somewhat like a French quiche. Real men DO eat frittatas. In fact, the members of the Frittatas have been mixing leftovers with their eggs for years before they discovered there was a name for it.
The late Tony Flores, a great Sicilian mandolin player from San Juan Bautista, CA, was the first one to tell us that the name “Frittata” is often used in Sicily as a pejorative term, meaning crazy; all mixed up; like a frittata. “Why would you call yourselves that?” he asked. Then, he heard our music: a mixture of Italian, French, Brazilian, Bluegrass, Klezmer, and it all made perfect sense. “You guys are REAL Frittatas,” he said. “In the best sense.”
2. Is It True That A New York Restaurant Is Offering A $1000 Frittata?
Sad, but true. An article appeared in the New York Daily News on May 17, 2004, describing the “Zillion Dollar Frittata” at the Parker Meridien Hotel. The frittata is made of eggs, lobster, 10 ounces of sevruga caviar, cream, and more. The price tag is $1000. Upon inquiry, Gus discovered that this hot frittata was not a joke. In fact, the hotel had sold 8 of them. However, they did offer a frittata at a reduced price (for the rest of us) for a mere $100 (only one ounce of the caviar). What a shame. For an additional $1000, well-heeled diners in New York could fly the entire Hot Frittatas to New York for a truly unforgettable breakfast! We haven’t checked with the Parker Meridien Hotel lately, so you might want to call ahead, if you’re planning a trip. The $1000 frittata may either have disappeared from the menu or perhaps gone up in price!
3. What Is The Style Of Music You Play?
Much of the Hot Frittatas’ repertoire is Ballo Liscio music, a style derived from 19th Century Italian popular dance music (literally, “smooth dancing”). With the popularity of the Strauss waltzes in central Europe in the mid-19th Century, the Italian urban classes responded with their own Italian versions of waltzes, mazurkas, polkas and marches. They also included dances from the Italian countryside, such as tarantellas and pizzicas, and by the end of the 19th Century, much of this music came over to America with the huge waves of immigrants. Every Italian community in American had social centers, cafes, barber shops, mandolin orchestras, etc, where this old-world music was to mix with other elements. In San Francisco, the influences of Mexican music, Greek music, Latin American music, tango, jazz, even Bluegrass, melted together into a unique Italian-American mixture of styles. It is this tradition that the Hot Frittatas latched on to, combining their own musical backgrounds with those of older Italians and Sicilians in the Bay Area.
4. Are The Hot Frittatas All Italian?
As a matter of fact, only one of the group grew up in an Italian household (well, half-Italian, half-Irish). We all grew up listening to popular music of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Mario Lanza, Louie Prima—that is, before we discovered the Beatles and Bluegrass and all the other music floating around the airwaves. The older Italian music was largely unknown, even to a lot of Italians. Mandolinist Gus Garelick was fortunate to have an elderly aunt in Brooklyn, NY, who had played in mandolin orchestras in the 1930s and knew a lot of the older Italian tunes. It was really in San Francisco that Gus rediscovered some of those same tunes, played in the little cafes of North Beach. From there, it was a labor of love to seek out those musicians (and records) that kept alive the old Ballo Liscio tradition, as it survived in America. We can’t claim to be Italian; in fact, we’re a mixture of Italian, Irish, German, Russian-Jewish, and more. But we respect the old Italian traditions and we try to keep them alive through our music.
5. Who Else Plays This Music In The Bay Area?
Many of our tune sources came from elderly musicians in the Bay Area, as well as classic old LPs and 78s of Italian, Sicilian, French, Mexican , and other ethnic musics. San Francisco had a kind of Golden Age of mandolin music in the 1940s and 50s, including people like the Andrini Brothers, Peter Tarzia, Rudy Cippolla, Michele Corino, Tony Flores, Mattero Casserino, Gino Pelligrini, and so many others. The tradition of Ballo Liscio continues to this day at such local venues as the Caffe Trieste in North Beach (and now Berkeley), the Jardines de San Juan, in San Juan Bautista, and in larger mandolin ensembles, like the Aurora Mandolin Ensemble in San Carlos, and the Silver String Ensemble in San Francisco. Another group is the Ellis Island Old World Folk Band based in Berkeley. It was founded by the late Bob Black, who was once a member of the Workmens Circle Mandolin Orchestra in Brooklyn, NY. His collection of old sheet music was valuable for scores of musicians around the Bay Area, including us. Related to the Italian music is the French tradition of Bal Musette, and one of the leading groups in the Bay Area in this style is the Baguette Quartette, also from Berkeley, lead by Parisian accordioniste Odile Lavault. Another Italian group in San Francisco is Mattinata di Matteo, which carries on the tradition begun by Matteo Casserino at the Caffe Trieste every Saturday morning. In Petaluma, accordionists John and Sylvia Volpi play traditional and popular Italian songs at Volpi’s Ristorante on Friday nights. And, last but not least, let’s not forget mandolinists Al Fabrizio, from Palo Alto, and David Grisman, now living in Petaluma. Grisman’s CD, Traversata, with Italian mandolin virtuoso Carlo Aonzo is destined to become one of the classics in the revival of Ballo Liscio Tradition.
6. What About Outside The Bay Area?
Outside the Bay Area, we have always admired the Brave Combo, of Denton, Texas, with their irreverent approach to world music. On the East Coast, we like the music of mandolinist Marilyn Mair, from Providence, RI, and the World Café Quartet. This group plays a variety of acoustic music from Paris, Rio, Rome, New York, and beyond. Another group we enjoy is the Canadian group, Quartetto Gelato, an ensemble of classical players sometimes venturing into Ballo Liscio material, and always with the highest virtuosity. In Minnesota, mandolinist Peter Ostroushko has a wide range of musical interests, including Italian music and Ukranian music, and more. Amongst Italian groups, we’re very impressed with the music of accordion virtuoso Riccardo Tesi. This music shows a wonderful new spirit of musical exploration, combining some of the old Ballo Liscio traditions with very contemporary trans-Mediterranean rhythms and arrangements.
7. What Kind Of Instruments Do You Play?
Dennis owns at least five Italian accordions, the best ones being the Bugari and the Scandalli. For most of our live gigs, he uses the Bugari, but he used the Scandalli on many of the cuts on our recordings. We refer to the Scandalli as the “turbo-charger” and if you see the picture of it, on the back of our Caffe Liscio CD, you’ll see why.
Gus’s fiddle was made in Markneukirchen, Germany, in 1907. He purchased it from Loveland Violin Shop, in Santa Rosa. He also owns an anonymous Czech violin, made around 1900, purchased from Bluegrass fiddler, Laurie Lewis. His mandolin is a 1954 Gibson A-50. On the recordings, he also used a 1914 Gibson A-1, which he no longer owns. For more information about mandolins of all types, visit the Mandolin Café.
Don has two guitars, a 1962 Martin D-28 and a 1996 Martin D-40qm (quilted maple). He also owns a vintage Gibson A model mandolin, built around 1916.
8. We’re Having A Party; How Much Do You Guys Charge?
A simple question, not a simple answer. The best answer is: call us.
We usually have to consider a lot of factors when pricing a gig: size of the audience, the function of the event, the need for sound amplification, the length of time we need to play, the distance to drive, the music we might have to learn, the special attire we might need to wear., etc. Once we talk about all these things, we can give a more accurate window of pricing, and negotiate from there. Our prices are fair and in line with other comparable groups.
9. Where Can I Learn To Play This Music?
If you’re looking for a teacher, two of us in the band teach music. Gus teaches mandolin and violin in Santa Rosa. Don teaches guitar and mandolin in Lake County. Call Gus (707-526-7763) or Don (707-995-0658. We also offer instruction in music theory, band coaching, band arranging, and music history. The entire band has done many lecture presentations about Italian music in local public schools and libraries and is always available to do more of the same.
If you are looking for sheet music for these tunes, that is a different matter. In the 1920s, there was a plethora of mandolin music out there, much of it published by the O.Di Bella Co . in New York. Many of those editions are long out of print, and those that have them really treasure them. Di Bella is still in business, now in New Jersey, but has not shown an interest in re-printing all these classic editions. However, a local accordion player from Petaluma has put together a collection of some of these mandolin tunes. The collection is called “Mandolins, like Salami” by Sheri Mignano Crawford, and is available on line: www.zighibaci.com. For more information, write to: Zighi Baci Publishing, P.O. Box 2704, Petaluma CA 94953.
Other sources? We’ve been thinking of doing a “Hot Frittatas Songbook” with some transcriptions of our favorite tunes, and maybe our favorite frittatas recipes. If you have a favorite frittata recipe, do let us know.
You can reach the Hot Frittatas
in Santa Rosa at (707) 526-7763
or in Lake County at (707) 995-0658.
Or find us on the web at www.hotfrittatas.com.