Antonio Pontarelli Brings the Heat to Temecula Wine and Music Festival
The first Saturday in May brought us the perfect spring day at Temecula Wine and Music Festival. Listening to live jazz and sipping delicious smooth wines surrounded by peaceful oak trees is the right way to top off such beautiful day.
After unwinding to a remarkably beautiful set by Hawaiian keyboard legend, Rene Paulo someone was about to rock this very cool and smooth vibe into an electrifying one.
This rousing charge came by way of the amazing violinist, Antonio Pontarelli. Now just 22 years old, he started playing violin at age four. He has been playing basically his whole life. He is a virtuoso who brings a heap of passion into his performance.
Pontarelli has known Michael Paulo for most of his life and has performed in the Temecula area sense shortly after he began violin. He and Paulo both played the Jakarta at Java Jazz Festival and at Spaghettini’s in Seal Beach and so many more times together.
It was telling when festival founder, Michael Paulo announced Pontarelli to the stage that we were in for something special. Stating with pride, Paulo said, “We watched him grow up and now he’s doing quite well making a living as a musician!”
The broad-shouldered Pontarelli strides out on stage opening with, “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone.” Treating us to his rendition of vocals on this Bill Withers hit, his voice is strong and sexy and he’s got the beautiful long locks of hair and dramatic flair to share. Watching him pace his way through a song singing and playing, it’s like listening to him tell a story. Wholeheartedly getting into performing, he bends at his knees and leans way back transporting his notes into the sky.
His next number was refreshingly unexpected; he covered The Turtles classic, “Happy Together.” That song is a favorite of mine and the crowd seemed to dig it just as much. Hearing it played through his violin was rich, adding a lush romanticism to a very sweet song. I swear it sounded like two violins. If I didn’t see only Pontarelli on the strings, I’d have believed two violinists were on stage. He is speed lightening on his instrument as he moves across the stage leading with his shoulders forward and back and stomping his feet to the beat.
Closing this short, powerful set was George Gershwin’s “Summertime.” He told the audience he’s played this many times and every time it’s a little different. This time, with vocals to start Pontarelli sings, la ,la, la, la, la’s and Rene Paulo joined in playing his piano powerfully and impeccably. Then son, Michael Paulo joined in on saxophone adding even more depth to this sensuous number. Leading into those unforgettable verses; “Your daddy’s rich, your mama’s good looking.” Pontarelli holds those long notes coming straight from his heart, nicely done.
I spoke briefly to Pontarelli following his set. After our chat I came to believe that passion I mentioned has more to do with his musical background and talent rather than his youth. He also has a good mind for the music business, as you will see.
The first thing I wanted to know was how he came to playing the classic, “Happy Together.” at this festival.
He says he’s always been attracted to classic rock, the 60’s and that style of music.
“I know this is more of a jazz gig in terms of a lot of the players here but I’ve always been more on that rock style and its fun to find pieces of music that can that bridge that gap.”
Pontarelli has been spending his time attending the University of Southern California the past few years. He majored in Entrepreneurship in business. During that time he released a demo CD but in the true entrepreneur spirit he says,
“I haven’t been going for the whole mentality of getting a label; instead, I’ve been trying to do it myself.”
Recently he has been working on a You Tube channel where he will release videos on a regular basis. He explains he is still in the process of developing and recording all the content. With all the material he would normally put on a CD to sell he decided to wait, record a video for it and then start releasing that for free. Then he may release those tracks for sale later on.
He adds, “Because of the way the industry has changed the idea of putting a bunch of time and money into a single release is not in the plan as much. Nowadays it’s about keeping something going consistently, not just an album every year, but trying to release songs every month so there is always something coming up.”
Pontarelli has literally studied the dilemma he describes above. He elaborated on his decision to approach to recording in this way. Upon first applying to the university he decided on the music business program. During that time, in 2007, the music business was in great turmoil. Pontarelli mentions it still is but many of the questions that are answered now were still being asked. For instance; is it right to go to a label? How much money should you put into a tour? He decided rather than learning something that may have been outdated in a few months he will just transfer all the way into Entrepreneurship.
He offers, “That was the idea behind me getting into business. While the music industry program is great at SC, I felt that there needed to be a totally different way of looking at things. You can’t look at it from the point of view of being a musician because it’s a whole new world. It’s now about the internet, about social media, about how you can have corporate sponsorships that don’t necessarily come across like corporate sponsorships, you know?”
Getting back to the music, I wanted to find out what type of music initially captured his attention. He says his parents were very encouraging of him to play an instrument because learning to play would be a good tool for him educationally. At first it was a hobby but by about age seven he realized he wanted to do this more. He says he would practice songs and memorize them for concerts but then, maybe from being such a young child, he says he would forget what to do next so he would simply improvise.
“And that’s what I liked more than anything else. I still studied classical music because the way to learn violin and get the technique is through classical training.”
He continued on that course until about age 12 even while still improvising for fun, because he enjoyed it. As he grew it occurred to him he doesn’t have to be a classical violinist. Why not play Jimmie Hendrix? His father had exposed him to the artist as well as many more. Pontarelli says it was the perfect time to broaden his horizons.
“Before, I improvised because I forgot something but then I realized, Oh wow, there is a kind of music where I can actually improvise. It was blues and jazz and rock. I started finding there was a lot of interplay between the two and my classical training helped my improvising.”
During that time period he tried out for the TV show called Americas Most Talented Kids. He won the second season and at that point started focusing his career more towards rock music. He says it still is rock but it has more of a pop and classical background.
“I try to bring the music I studied my whole life to contemporary pop music. Pop is a dirty word but it’s more catchy and recognizable to my generation. That’s what I’ve been developing and trying to discover.”