By Chris Spiewak |
Nearly 40 years after Neil Young wrote “Hey hey, my my, rock ‘n’ roll will never die,” founder and executive director Bruce Gallipani and his staff at Rockit Academy in Red Bank are working hard to keep rock alive. In what could be described as a Berklee or Thornton college-prep program, Gallipani is using his extensive music experience to help form the next generation of rock stars.
Growing up in a tight-knit Italian household in Brooklyn, Gallipani learned strong family values and music as a child. A drummer from an early age, he performed with local rock bands, with XDavis achieving the most success. Shows at CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City in New York, and tours in the U.S. and U.K. highlighted their resume. Unfortunately, the group disbanded in the mid-‘80s and Gallipani went off to work at a more conventional job.
Relocating to Middletown, in the early ‘90s, Gallipani was asked to help organize a talent show at his daughter’s school. He enjoyed it so much that he considered bringing students together on a regular basis to rehearse and perform together, instead of the students just practicing alone at home. Grateful for his onstage success in the past, Gallipani decided it was time to “give back” and help mentor some of today’s youth, just as his mentor Fred Ferrara did for him so many years ago in Brooklyn.
He began his Rockit organization in 2004, and the school was invited to perform for The Performing Arts Academy at The Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank. Soon after, the Basie and Rockit Academy teamed up to offer the best in music education. Rockit Academy is for serious aspiring musicians and vocalists from ages 8 to 18, and an audition and interview is required to gain acceptance into the program. In addition to paid tuition, Gallipani is able to offer scholarships each year to a dozen deserving students. There are four classes, or rehearsal programs, each year culminating in a live performance at the Basie or at another prominent venue like Tim McLoone’s Supper Club in Asbury Park. The school generally educates 50 to 60 students each quarter and many spend a year or more to gain experience.
The biggest tribute to Rockit Academy’s work came in 2014, when Maureen Van Zandt, wife of “Little” Steven Van Zandt of The E Street Band, urged her husband to attend a show. Word has it that he walked away nearly speechless and the concert made such an impression on him that he decided to become a prolific supporter of the Rockit Live Foundation. Gallipani respectfully refers to Little Steven as the “godfather” of the program, and to Maureen as the “godmother.” The Van Zandts, already great supporters of music education through their TeachRock project, help in all aspects of the Rockit program, even with wardrobe selections for some live shows.
And then there are the students, who will floor even the toughest critics with their brilliant two-, three- and four-part harmonies. The young band members – consisting of many musicians who seamlessly switch out for certain songs during each performance – are experienced beyond their years, with exceptional discipline and professionalism on stage.
Not all students long for the big stage, but Rockit Academy can help get them there; many from this area will remember former student Jacquie Lee of Colts Neck who was runner-up on NBC television’s “The Voice” in 2013. Keyboardist Michael Arrom has performed with Keith Urban and renowned rock guitarist Steve Vai. Zach Stroz, Shannon Corsi and Jillian Mueller are a few more Rockit alums who earned awards and recognition in their young careers.
Gallipani has recently forged another relationship, this time with The Cutting Room club in Manhattan. A show in January 2018 was well received and the students have another show coming up on April 29, backing Rock & Roll Hall of Fame singer/songwriter Eddie Brigati (original vocalist of The Young Rascals) and legendary steel guitarist Johnny Farina. Ricky Byrd, guitarist for Joan Jett, and Carmine Appice, drummer for many of our era’s greatest rock bands beginning with Vanilla Fudge, have also performed with the students.
The annual Rockit Live Foundation fundraising gala will be held at The Two River Theater in Red Bank on Aug. 9, so come out and experience what the Rockit “science” is all about, and what is has done for some extraordinary young musicians.
Chris Spiewak is currently the bassist for Rock/Blues cover band VyntEdge.
This article was first published in the April 19-26, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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