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Robb Cappelletto

This week’s featured artist is Robb Cappelletto, a guitarist, composer, producer, and educator based in Toronto. In 2010, he earned a Master's degree in composition from York University, where he is now on faculty as a jazz guitar instructor. Robb’s career also includes a busy gigging and recording schedule as both a bandleader and sideman. His debut recording !!! features drummer Ahmed Mitchell and bassist Jon Maharaj.


Robb participated in the Jazzology program in 2007, while completing his studies at York University. Here he discusses his memories of the program and talks about his path as a musician:

1) Describe your experience with the program. What was your favourite aspect?

It was a great experience to be given the opportunity program an hour of music reflecting upon my biggest influences as a musician. It was a very enlightening process, first identifying characteristic traits in my own playing and compositions, and then thinking, “now, where did that come from?” Going through that process, you really start to see the lineage of how your sound came together, and also get to look back on what got you excited about this music in the first place.

2) What is your strongest memory of the program? Are there any funny stories or incidents that come to mind?

Larry Green was hosting at the time, and he’s always quite a character. I remember we were talking about hearing loss, and I mentioned that I didn’t like wearing ear plugs on stage because they cut out too many high frequencies and make things sound too bassy. To which Larry replied, “I like Basie!”

3) Would you recommend this experience to other young musicians?

I would absolutely recommend this program to other young musicians. There are so many facets of being a professional musician which are beyond playing and composing; things that none of us really signed up for when we set out to learn an instrument and just make some music. My participation in the Jazzology program forced me to work on many of these skills in a real-world environment. For example, this was the first time I had ever been interviewed about my music, and that alone entails so much - speaking clearly and eloquently about something so personal, in terms that others can understand, dealing with nerves when you don’t have an instrument to stand behind, right down to the experience of simply being at the station and recording in a broadcast studio. How do you act? It can be quite intimidating for a young music student, but these are valuable skills to hone.

Even the experience of writing, rehearsing and recording original compositions knowing that they will be broadcast on radio - dealing with that pressure, learning to utilize all the resources at your disposal to make the best possible recordings you are capable of at that point in your journey as a musician. For many students I know who participate in the program, preparation for Jazzology is their first studio experience as a jazz musician. That is a huge step.

4) How has this experience helped in your personal and professional development?

It helped me to develop confidence in my work. The process of stepping outside your music and looking at it from an outsider’s perspective, being able to talk about it as you would someone else’s music, really forces you to be honest with yourself and look at all aspects objectively and honestly. Saying, “OK, this is how I really sound right now,” and being comfortable with that so that you can move forward. I feel this is essential to one’s development as an artist.

5) Jazzology is made possible by our generous donors and RBC Royal Bank who strongly believe in the importance of arts education initiatives. If you had the opportunity to thank them in person, what would you say?

I would thank them greatly for the opportunities they are providing to young musicians who are at a point in their career where opportunities of this kind don’t come along very often, if at all. The fact that there are people who value these initiatives enough to donate their time and money toward them is very encouraging as an artist.

6) Why is music education important?

Much of the on-the-job training for young jazz musicians has disappeared. Those types of gigs just aren’t very common anymore.  Jazz programs help to fill that gap by providing young players the opportunity for mentorship with seasoned musicians. As a student, being able to study with players like Mike Murley, Barry Elmes, Lorne Lofsky, Mark Eisenman – that was huge. It shaped my path as a musician. Just being able to talk to these guys about music, hear their stories, these are opportunities that I owe to music education programs. There is only so much you can learn on your own in the practice room, and I’ve found most great players are generous with their time and knowledge if a student is hungry to learn.

7) Since participating in the program, what have you been doing?

I’ve come full circle in regard to education, as I’m now teaching jazz guitar on faculty at York University. I’ve been teaching there for a few years now and it’s great to be able to share my passion with students who are hungry to learn and improve. I was in their shoes not too long ago, so I feel I can really relate to their situation.  I try to be as open and honest as possible in my teaching, trying to pass on a lot of things that I learned the hard way. It’s a process I really enjoy, and I hope to keep doing it as long as I play.

In October 2012, I released my first album as a leader, which I am very proud of. Lately, my time has been split between playing, teaching and producing.

8) What music are you listening to at the moment that you find particularly inspiring?

I’ve been listening to a lot of producers lately; J Dilla, Madlib, Karriem Riggins;  music that is largely created electronically through samples. Digging deep into Dilla, how he used samples, where they came from, why he chose that particular bar, has been so enlightening.  Also, the bounce and rhythmic lilt of much of this music is so different from the way instrumentalists play, as it was created by someone who was not bound by their instrument and the way it traditionally relates to the rest of the rhythm section. I play in a group called Re.verse whose entire quest has been to recreate these feels on live instruments, because we still haven’t found anyone that’s doing it quite like the records. It’s an ongoing challenge, and one that I continue to learn so much from.

9) What are your plans for the future?

To keep practicing and improving, to learn something every day and be better than I was the day before. This is a lifelong commitment, and I think as soon as you’re satisfied with where you are as musician, it’s all over. The greatest artists are the ones who keep improving and evolving right to the end. I am planning to start working on my second solo record shortly and am really looking forward to that process. To make this record even better than the last, to make every gig better than the last, even if it’s only some small facet that’s improved. In the short term, my trio will be performing at The Rex on May 14th, and it’s always a treat to get up on stage with those guys.

10) How can people learn more about you and your activities?

You can find me on the web at

On Twitter at

My debut solo release is available on iTunes HERE, or you can purchase a CD copy through my website.

11) Is there anything else that you want to add?

Yes, and that is if you love music, get out and support it. On any given night there are so many great players performing in this city, for single-digit cover charges or even less. The music is out there, so go find it!

Jazzology is proudly sponsored by RBC Emerging Artists Project.

About RBC and the Arts
RBC sponsors a wide-range of grassroots and local initiatives that contribute to the cultural fabric of our communities. Proud to support events and passions that resonate with our clients and all Canadians, RBC provides opportunities for up-and-coming artists through programs such as the RBC Canadian Painting Competition, one of the largest competitions of its kind in the world; and the RBC Emerging Filmmakers Competition, part of our commitment as the Official Bank and major sponsor of the world’s top public film festival – the Toronto International Film Festival®.

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