Jazz Fest Minutes: Saxophonist And Astral Project Founder Tony Dagradi

Apr 29, 2013

Saxophonist Tony Dagradi.
Credit tonydagradi.com

Saxophonist and Astral Project founder Tony Dagradi grew up in Summit, New Jersey. By high school he knew what he wanted to do: play jazz.

“It was almost as if I didn’t have a choice,” he says. “I didn’t think about, well, how much money am I going to make or how do I get a gig. I was just — all I wanted to do was play.”

After a couple of years at the Berklee School of Music in Boston, Dagradi entered an intense period of jazz rehearsal and listening.

“That was it for me. When I started listening to Coltrane I couldn’t listen to anybody else. So, I mean, I really just listened to him pretty nonstop for a couple of years. And I would veer off and listen to other saxophonists, you know, Sonny and Dexter and Charlie Parker and everybody else, but nobody hit me like Coltrane did,” he says. “A lot of what I do as a saxophonist comes out of that influence.”

Another big Boston influence on Dagradi was New Orleans native trumpeter and bandleader Stanton Davis.

“He was actually probably the very first person I ever met from New Orleans, and I really admired his playing. He was a great trumpeter and he had a band that I thought was the best band in Boston. It was called Stanton Davis and Ghetto Mysticism. And just the way he ran the band — he definitely brought New Orleans influences. It was a funk band, sort of in the lines of Miles Davis fusion kind of thing. But really good. Really exciting. When I first came here, in 1977-78, that was in the back of my mind, to start a group that would be the place that I could be my most artistic. I was definitely thinking about Stanton and Ghetto Mysticism.”

Tony Dagradi and Astral Project play Jazz Fest Friday, May 3.