A Tribute to Sam Ulano and Gil Barretto


Volume 115, No. 10October, 2015

Mickey Burke
Sam Ulano (1920-2014)

Sam Ulano (1920-2014)

Two names appeared recently in Allegro’s obituaries that brought back distant memories. The first one was Sam Ulano, a hardworking drummer, teacher, author, and entertainer. He was the teacher of many young drummers in the 1960s. He wrote a couple of drum exercise books, one of which I still use as a refresher every time I go back to drumming.

I never studied with Sam, but met him when the drummer I was working with at the time, Richie DeBelis, took me down with him to Sam’s studio. He was very engaging and didn’t mind having me sit in on his student’s lesson.

I was playing sax then, but always wanted to be a drummer. Sam used to take pictures of all his students and put them up on the walls. They were all over the studio. He wanted to take my photo also, but I declined, since I really wasn’t his student. I remember him as being quite gracious. I know there were some in the drum community who didn’t like his teaching methods because he had students practice with heavy metal sticks. Some of the pros felt that they built up too much muscle in the wrist and would therefore be counterproductive. Sam felt they produced speed when the player went back to his regular sticks.

During that time, Sam was booked in a club in Williamsbridge, my neighborhood in the Bronx. It was on White Plains Road, at about East 216th Street. He was on the bill with Sol Yaged, playing Dixieland jazz. Even though my friend Richie and I were 18, we couldn’t get in because the club had a strict policy to not let in those under 21. We were thrilled to know that somebody famous was appearing in our neighborhood and it was with someone we knew! And that was a time when all these clubs, anywhere in the city – and I mean the whole city, not just Manhattan – were union. If we didn’t have our union cards we never would have been able to work all around town as we did.

Gil Barretto (1929-2015)

Gil Barretto (1929-2015)

Sam also recorded a novelty single for MGM called “Santa and the Doodle-Li-Boop,” (written by Alan Abel), which he narrated and played drums on. He did the same for the flip-side, “The Story of Santa Claus.” He was an interesting and busy guy.

The second passing, Gilbert Barretto – also known musically as Gil Barrett – was much more personal. In the 60s, Gil was gigging and teaching music – first at Palumba School of Music on East Gun Hill Road in the Bronx and later on his own. He was a good musician, a singer, and a very good teacher. He took me from being a “toot-toot-toot” sax player to becoming a strong, solid player and a strong reader. Always trying to keep me growing, he hipped me to Hal McKusik, giving me a copy of one of his LPs. I was playing both tenor and alto and I really liked Hal’s playing. He thought I would relate, and he was right. Gil had a very positive and righteous way about him and I always looked forward to the lessons, even if I wasn’t prepared. He had the ability to get the most out of his students. Eventually he went out on his own, going to his students’ homes. Later he set up space in his studio apartment on Madison Ave., around 64th Street. I went there for lessons and that was where I last saw him. Gil was a really, really nice and positive guy. I’m so sorry he’s gone.

Condolences to all family and friends of Sam and Gil. They were both musical gentlemen of the first order.