“Once you become a drummer, the beat will be inside of you.”

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Richard “Richie” Ciavolino     “Once you become a drummer, the beat will be inside of you.”

Richie Ciavolino was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1960. His father Bob “Chevy” Ciavolino was a drummer in Italian street bands in New York and had a great singing voice. The elder Ciavolino performed and booked acts for the Italian Feast of San Gennaro, Mayor Koch’s birthday, weddings, and many other gigs. Richie says his dad was one of the last Rat Pack style musicians. There were always musicians in the house and Richie started taking music lessons when he was nine. By the time he was in junior high, Ciavolino was playing with the school jazz band and was in an after-school band called The Brooklyn Sprats.

Ciavolino attended the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, located near Lincoln Center. He played in the school orchestra and the jazz band, which, during his graduation, was conducted by Leonard Bernstein in Carnegie Hall.

He also attended Berklee School of Music in Boston for two years. During 1981 summer break, his friend, Roberto Valle, took him to Cape May, N.J. where he sat in with a Key West band called Pacific Orchestra. They were a rock/reggae music oriented group with a hard-tropical sound and played mostly original music. During summer, the group would begin their tour in Providence, RI, continue through Cape Cod, down the East Coast, and arrive in Key West just before Fantasy Fest. Ciavolino was hired immediately and began touring with the Pacific Orchestra that summer.

Key West was the home base for the Pacific Orchestra and they played all over town. From time to time, Captain Tony would get on stage to introduce the band, saying “… next to Jimmy Buffett, the Pacific Orchestra was [his] favorite band.” Ciavolino remained with the band until 1987 when the group broke up. After the breakup, Ciavolino landed some gigs with bands in New York and Atlantic City. He met his wife, and they moved to Key West in 1991 where they lived for almost thirty years and raised three children.

Ciavolino played with Conjunto Caribe, a seventeen-piece Latin Jazz band, for twelve years. He also organized the Chevy Jazz Trio with Gordy Michaels on piano, Mike Emerson on guitar, and frequently, joined by good friend, Mike Gillis, on guitar. They held a nightly slot at Virgilio’s from 2006-2010. Pacific Orchestra still gets together for a reunion show every year or two in Philadelphia or New York.

A reunion of sorts was held at the Key West Theater in 2019 when the Pacific Orchestra co-hosted the second Full Moon Saloon concert with Bill Blue and the Nervous Guys. The sold-out crowd enjoyed reliving the sounds from these classic Key West bands and remembering those raucous days at “the Moon” where smugglers drank alongside the DEA and Customs agents. Richie Ciavolino joined band leaders David Kahn Johnson and John Gladstone, along with Joe Grassy, Quint Lange, and Din Allen on stage once again.

Richie divides his time between Key West and Ocala these days. He’s always looking for new gigs and challenging opportunities. Ciavolino doesn’t like a regimen. He tries not to go to bed or get up at the same time every day. He tries not to eat the same food every week. He enjoys all kinds of music. He doesn’t enjoy musicians that don’t think they have to pay their dues. Some think they can they can skip the fundamentals and go right to stardom. They haven’t studied their instrument, haven’t fallen in love with music, or they don’t listen to what other musicians are playing. He questions drummers, whom he teaches, who don’t want to learn how to hold their sticks properly, do hand exercises, or practice. They ask him to just teach them the “beat” of a piece of music. Richie Ciavolino says once you become a drummer, the beat will be inside of you.



One Comment

  • David Khan Johnson says:

    Thank you Ralph for this wonderful and thorough article on Richie, one of the best drummers and greatest guys of all times. Just a couple of notes; in the photo of Pacific Orchestra onstage at the Key West Theater, John Jones is pictured playing the harmonica and guitarist Joe Grassi was sadly not in attendance at this show. Also, thank you Ralph for producing this Pacific Orchestra concert. It was the first time we had played in Key West in 30 years.

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