Music in their blood
Brothers who hail from Simsbury each nominated for a Grammy
By Ted Glanzer
Neither of them believed it at first.
When brothers Tom and Jay Nazziola, both of whom graduated from Simsbury High School (Tom, Class of 1984; Jay, Class of 1991), that they’d been nominated for Grammys in their respective fields, neither believed it.
“I didn’t watch the announcements,” Tom Nazziola, a composer who also plays percussion and piano and lives in New Jersey, said in a recent telephone interview. “It was a Tuesday afternoon and I didn’t want to deal with the anxiety, so I went and I went shopping. Somebody texted me while I was at Staples. They said, ‘You did it!’ I responded, ‘I did what?’”
Tom has been nominated in the Best Instrumental Composition category (A Composer’s Award for an original composition [not an adaptation] first released during the Eligibility Year. Singles or Tracks only, according to the Grammy’s website) for “Cat and Mouse,” which is from his album, “Distant Places.”
It was a category that he didn’t think he’d be nominated for because it’s so competitive – out of 415 entries this year, just five received nominations.
“I really didn’t believe it, once I confirmed it wasn’t a cruel joke,” Tom Nazziola, 55, said.
Meanwhile, Tom’s brother Jay Nazziola, a drummer in the group Reckless Kelly, had a similar experience in Texas when he learned he had received his third nomination, this one for “Best Recording Package” for “American Jackpot / American Girls.”
Reckless Kelly is a country rock/roots rock band that’s been together since the mid-1990s and had just wrapped up its first post-COVID tour that was composed of 80 dates when Jay Nazziola got the news of the Grammy nomination. He, too, didn’t believe it at first.
“I thought they were letting me know about” Tom’s nomination, Jay, 48, said.
“Neither of us was paying attention when it happened,” Tom added.
Regardless, though they both have been nominated in different categories for different styles of music, they both share a passion for their craft that was honed while growing up in Simsbury.
Their father, Thomas E. Nazziola, went by the name Tommy Ellsworth and played in the Rockin’ Jesters for more than 50 years. (Thomas E. Nazziola is a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.)
While growing up,Tom would play drums in dad’s band in gigs in and around Connecticut at places like La Trattoria in Canton and the Old Forge in Winsted, as well as the Cracker Barrel in Simsbury.
When Tom graduated from high school and went to college, Jay took Tom’s seat on the drums.
“At a young age it was our jobs,” Jay said. “That was what we did to earn money as kids. We learned the value of that. It was cool to do that with our dad. We also had friends who had musical interests, guys who were in our bands. [Music] was a huge part of our lives for sure.”
They also did the things that talented musical kids do: they entered high school talent competitions and soaked in the bucolic atmosphere of the Farmington Valley (the grew up near the McClean Game Refuge.)
“The landscape of that part of the country and growing up in that part of the country means a lot,” Jay said, adding that the area served as an inspiration for their musical careers. “Coming from there having that meaning, we still go back and put ourselves back in Simsbury for a night or two.”
Indeed, a couple of years ago they rode the Rails to Trails from Simsbury to New Haven to finally try the world-famous New Haven pizza. Jay says when his band plays Infinity Hall in Norfolk, he checks in with friends who are still in the Farmington Valley.
“I do miss it,” Tom said, adding that he had recently paid a visit after meeting with the dean of the Hartt School of Music. “It’s nice to spend a night in town and go to a local pub and catch up.”
And brothers serve as inspiration for one another.
Tom’s going to music school also opened up the possibility of Jay considering music as a career.
Tom, meanwhile earned his Ph.D. from Rutgers in 2020, says he looks to Jay while composing music.
“He’s the main person I would show all my tracks to, to get feedback,” Tom said.
And they are both thrilled for one another’s nomination.
“We talked a bit, especially the shock of it all,” Jay said. “For me, I’m so psyched about Tom’s nomination. I’m so glad I am able to experience this with him and being able to go to the Grammys together. It’s cool he got this acknowledgment, knowing how much work it took.”
“That means a lot to me,” Tom responded. “It was a crazy experience. There was no label, just my independent label I made up. There was no team of promoters.”
And for now they will keep plugging away at their musical lives.
Tom also performs, composes and teaches - the “umbrella” as he calls it.
For Jay, Reckless Kelly is a full-time job.
“We tour a lot, and run most of the business ourselves,” he said.
The band started its own record label in 2011 and, with the advent of streaming music services, has dedicated itself to keeping the hard-copy-album art form alive.
“It’s something you can pick up and hold,” Jay said. “Probably to a fault, we spend a lot of time making sure the artwork is different and exciting. We are one of the last bands that cares about the packaging of the product. … It means a lot to us.”
And, yes, when the brothers Nazziola get back together with their dad – mom Patrina and sister Melissa Price were not bitten by the musical bug – they will still play together in their parents home in North Carolina.
“We’ll play in the basement together occasionally,” Tom said.
The 64th Grammys show will be held Jan. 31, 2022. VL