Tristano-trained bassist makes Indy debut Wednesday
Father Stan Fortuna: rapper, bassist, jazz musician, devout Franciscan brother. That’s quite a C.V., particularly from a soft-spoken man whose unassuming demeanor doesn’t suggest the dedication that brings him to hundreds of gigs a year. Fortuna performs across a wide array of genres (hip-hop, jazz, fusion, Gregorian chant) and venues (nightclubs, cathedrals, festivals), and has recorded nearly 20 albums — and that’s not to mention his considerable preaching and ministerial responsibilities. He’s bringing his three-man jazz show to the Jazz Kitchen tonight, joined by guitarist Peter Prisco and percussionist Rickey “Bongo” Carthen. The trio performs standards and originals in a style chiefly influenced by jazz pianist, composer and pedagogue Lennie Tristano, with whom Fortuna studied during the year prior to Tristano’s death. He has quite a bit to say, so we’ll get out of the way and let the padre do what he does best.
NUVO: What kinds of reactions do you get to your work, especially from people who didn’t exactly show up knowing what to expect?
Fortuna: There’s an element in the crowd who don’t know who we are and just come on in; they’re not exactly confused, but it raises a question, it’s a provocation. The music provokes their human experience, which opens them up to the transcendent reality of truth and love. During one break, some guy comes up to me and asks, “I couldn’t tell if you were singing to a woman or to the Almighty.” And that just made my day. Because it shows that it works. The heart is awakening to a new and wonderful thing, and that’s the path to the mystery of Christ. At the end of the day it’s all got to be about the fullness of truth and the fullness of love. Every other thing is a breakdown of that, no matter how you shake it, especially from a faith perspective. And that’s the human experience, what everyone’s longing for — love with truth.
NUVO: How did you come to balance your music and religious vocation?
Fortuna: The inspiration is singular and so am I. I’m just one person but within me, there’s this matrix of gifts. I never planned this. It was more like it was drawn out of me, especially the religious vocation. When I entered, I thought the music was done. That was one of the biggest obstacles to saying yes. I found out I was wrong, but I had to go through that experience. For me music was purely a way of life; I was doing gigs, I was living the vow of poverty before I took it! I was completely committed to the arts, but then this whole other thing happened, and I said, “I’m not doing this any more,” and slowly but surely even the superiors in the community saw the gift. They’d ask me to bring a guitar, and I’d say, “That’s not allowed,” and they’d say, “Who says?” St. Francis says we can utilize the tools of our trade, and these are the tools of your trade.
NUVO: You’ve also got quite a few different styles you work with.
Fortuna: People would hear these songs and it would just start escalating. And then through the whole hip-hop thing and my time in Spanish Harlem and hearing these beat-box things and improvised lyrics. I was just fascinated with the spontaneous character of all that. I did it with notes and sounds and then words. Then I went to Brazil and picked up Brazilian standards. I go through styles like mad, from Gregorian chants to hip-hop to reggae to this world beat. It’s whatever I’m feeling in my heart.
NUVO: The very definition of the Renaissance man!
Fortuna: Some people say I’m crazy! It keeps me real, and that’s what people are thirsting and hungering for. I know I’d rather hear from someone who has convictions and talks about what they feel … I’m a wide-open kind of guy. What really knocks me out is when I see people saying, “I don’t like rap music but I’ve got to get your CD, because it’s a fresh new real thing.” Because that’s the essence of the gospel, the newness of life. It’s worming the hook; God said, “I will make you fishers of men.”
WHO: Father Stan Fortuna
WHERE: The Jazz Kitchen, 5377 N. College Ave.
WHEN: Wednesday, Feb. 20, 6:30 and 8:30 p.m.; $12 for one show, $20 for both; 21+
More on Fortuna at www.francescoproductions.com.