Jonathan Robert Tortora (known on the music scene as ‘JR’) was born in New Haven, CT. At an early age (3 years old), JR and his older brother were on vacation in Lake George where they visited a ‘Sound Tracks’ concession where JR and his brother Paul sang and played along with a Beach Boys song. At that time, it quickly became apparent to JR’s parents and the engineers at Sound Tracks that JR had an innate musical ability — at the age of three he kept time to the music. For the next three years, JR would use his hands to beat on pans, chairs, counter tops… anything he could get his hands on whenever music was playing. He continued to show his musical ability by keeping time to all the popular hits on the radio. He wanted to become as good as the band for hire. At the age of six, JR received his first drum kit as a present from his parents. It was an entry level kit from TAMA. He was thrilled and now began to play along with the radio and CD’s on his new kit. Shortly thereafter, JR began to take lessons from Arti Dixon who mentored and instructed JR for the next five years.
The Years Following
During the years JR studied under Arti Dixon (age 7 – 12), he played numerous times as a guest performer at many benefits and major music events in the area. He quickly developed a passion to perform in front of others. As a child, JR had the distinct privilege of playing with many musical greats such as Marion Meadows, Steve Scales, Michael Bolton’s musical director, Jay Rowe, as well as many local groups. JR then went on to perform at many school events and would often get opportunities to solo at an early age. It was often said that “although this world is filled with great drummers, it is only once in a while that a drummer’s drummer comes along and JR is destined to be one of them”. Following his years of studies with Arti, JR then went on to perform as a drummer for CT productions of Broadway plays. This was in part due to Arti’s influence of getting JR to read music and JR’s hard work and diligence of reading charts helped in this complex process. Two of the most memorable productions were NunSense and Chorus Line. When JR first entered high school, he decided to take some time off from performing in order to maintain a high academic standing. However, he did follow up his involvement in his middle school band by joining the high school marching band as a snare drum player. JR felt this would be great for the further development of his rudiments and technique and still actively participates in the marching band.
For the past year, JR has become active in public performing again as a drummer for a funk/fusion trio featuring Max Heath (a brilliant songwriter/pianist/vocalist) and Sean McClowry (an awesome bassist that is a graduate student at the Harding Yale School of Music). Additionally, he is the drummer/percussionist for Bunji and he’s really excited about the music that is being created with this band. JR is ecstatic about finishing the new Bunji cd about to be released early 2002 with Michael Greenberg on guitar & vocals, Dennis O’Connor on bass, and Bryan Morrell on guitar. Check out the sound bytes from the Bunji project here!
Influences and Gear
JR has grown up listening to a lot of great music. Most of his influences have come from jazz and pop roots and include the styles of Arti Dixon, Dave Weckl, Carter Beauford, Joe Ascione, Buddy Rich, and Stanton Moore. His all time favorite drummer is Dave Weckl. JR is impressed with Dave’s ability to be one of the most technical drummers around while maintaining the uncanny ability to be so musical. JR also has learned a great deal from Dave about the way drum’s should sound. Dave has mastered the art of really great drum sounds and manages to have his drums sound consistently incredible no matter where he plays.