The Surprising Story Behind California’s Big Band Sensation
By Zandra Wolfgram
Some of us dream of chucking our “day job” and doing what we really want to do — insert requisite dream job here. In 2009, Crescendo! 2023 featured guest artist Sergio Vellatti did just that. Two years later, the civil engineer-turned-performer walked onto a Los Angeles stage with hundreds of faces gazing at him and a full big band behind him. The evening hosted by the Screen Actors Guild Foundation paid tribute to Harrison Ford and other notable attendees. It would be a thrilling moment for any young singer. For Sergio Vellatti’s, it would be his first public performance. He was 27 years old.
“Up until then, I wasn’t even a singer, but I had aspirations,” the now 39-year-old said during a phone interview from his home in Laguna, California.
Growing up in Golden State’s San Gabriel Valley, the voices behind Disney characters captured Vellatti’s young imagination. He was taken with the idea of being a voiceover artist. With tape recorder in-hand, he would “produce” elaborate narrations complete with characters, plot twists and music. He joined the junior high band to play clarinet, later switching to drums in the marching band in high school. Fortuitously, he gravitated toward the sounds of big band, jazz and American popular music.
Yet, the idea of singing still never occurred to him.
“I grew up in the most nonmusical household. We didn't have a record player. The only exposure to music that I had was going to driving to and from the golf course with my stepdad. I would sit in the car and Golden Oldies would play on the radio station,” he tells.
Marvin Gaye, the Supremes and any band with big horns and a rhythm section got this entertainer’s toes tapping.
“That’s what I consider great music,” he says. “Big band transports you to a different time. The lyrics are timeless. They don't they don't write music like that anymore. And it just evokes so many feelings of nostalgia and romance.”
Curious to explore the boundaries of his voice, the unemployed draftsman began to sing. Recording a handful of standards to orchestral tracks, family and friends encouraged Vellatti to post his recordings on YouTube. Soon, his channel had more than half a million views.
Surprisingly, singing came naturally … as did opportunities. Within month of meeting an award-winning record producer while in Los Angeles for a job interview, Vellatti tuned out engineering and turned his full focus to music.
After relocating to Los Angeles in September 2011, he was invited to be an artist in residence with the acclaimed music department at Citrus College, performing with the institution's touring big band. After his heady aforementioned first public performance, Vellatti went on to perform at marquee venues throughout California, Hawaii and Florida.
His “musical” dream was in full swing.
Inspired by musical icons such as Ray Charles, Tony Bennett and Joe Williams, this crooner is focused on building a career as a concert performer and recording artist to fulfill his new-found dream. After nearly a decade on stage, this big-voiced singer has clearly found his “happy place.”
“It’s a playground and I get the front the best seat in the house! I get to listen to the band up close which is my favorite part of performing, and I like wearing a tuxedo!” he confesses with an easy laugh.
As he reflects on his circuitous path to music, Vellatti is heartened his performance will benefit Sinfonia Gulf Coast and its music education community outreach initiatives.
“It is an honor. I love it because, we were all children, and we remember what it was like being creative kids. I'm working to get back to that — being that creative kid and being uninhibited,” he says.
What can Crescendo! audiences expect on Sunday, Feb. 26 from California’s surprising big band singer sensation?
“They can expect satin shoelaces,” Vellatti teases, “and great, timeless music!”