Niagara Gazette

February 6, 2013

A distant drummer

Former Falls native living in France leads a family rich in artistic success

By Ed Adamczyk
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — In Jim Vaccarella and his family, the arts run deep. 

Formerly of Niagara Falls, he’s 63 now, lives in western France and, during a recent phone interview, contemplated the “regal tip” drumsticks of the J.D. Collato Manufacturing Co. of Niagara Falls, his personal preference.

“Western New York has a huge amount of great musicians,” he concluded. 

Jim Vaccarella is one of them. Consider this resume: Lasalle High School, union bricklayer, Kent State University, present in 1970 when the Ohio National Guard fired on war protesters there, UCLA, screenwriter/poet/playwright, Goddard College in Vermont for alternative medicine.

Wait, there’s more. In North Carolina, he met sculptor Martine Vaugel. They’ve been married 19 years (“Her parents were from Paris. Raised French in New York City,” Vaccarella says of his wife. “They escaped the day Hitler came to Paris.”) 

Sons from a previous marriage include Taj Vaccarella, 26, a painter and sculptor in Santa Barbara, Calif., and Brahm Collin Vaccarella, 22, now of Los Angeles, most recently a star in David Chase’s film “Not Fade Away,” a love letter to rock and roll for those of us who watched the Rolling Stones on television in the Sixties and obtained a little inspiration. He plays the bass player in the band.

With this family, where to begin?

“He screen-tested eight times,” Vacccarella says of son Brahm, who was at Bard College on the Hudson River when alumnus Chase, of HBO’s “the Sopranos,” called to cast his first film “He’s got his SAG (Screen Actors Guild) card now. He’s launched.”

With a voice full of pride, Vaccarella explains this from the village of Les Cerqueux Sous Passavant, where Martine, an internationally-known sculptor with renown for 13-foot tall realistic (and heroic) representations, has a studio, and he is rebuilding an abandoned church into a museum for her work while living in “a modern house we’ve worked on for 15 years.”

When the former bricklayer is not doing construction, he is the drummer in the band WidoFist, featured in a French television documentary on actress Bernadette LaFont.

Prior to all this, Vaccarella was in the popular Niagara Falls band “Messiah” in the 1970s, nearly signed with Apple Records and has played drums on two albums by Michael Deep (which included jazz luminaries Flora Purim and Jerry Peek, an acolyte of Jaco Pastorius). 

His pride, at the moment, though, is his family, especially son Brahm and the new and well-received film. The plot of the heartfelt “Not Fade Away”, wherein a quartet of New Jersey Italian-Americans, one with a bullying father played by James Gandolfini, go into rock and roll, clearly strikes a chord with Vaccarella.

Of his own father, though, he has nothing but admiration. He lovingly refers to James Vaccarella Sr., now 88 and still of Niagara Falls, as a “cranky Sicilian guy” who will be awarded the Legion of Honor from the French government in the spring.

“He liberated Paris (in World War II), opened up (concentration) camps,” the younger Vaccarella says admiringly of the elder. The ceremony is expected to be held at Fort Niagara, and the son will attend.

“I’ve got a huge family,” he says. “At least 500 of us live in Western New York, and there are 93 in the immediate family.”

That includes his two sons, young and thriving in California, and himself, in France, engaged in music and watching over his sculptor wife. How much of this was accomplished by design is anyone’s guess. How much came about by a dedication to craft and a search for the next opportunity, the kind of thing some fortunate people learned in the ‘60s and ‘70s, is easier, in retrospect, to understand.

Vaccarella’s view of life today is different then it was back then, and yet the same. His life in the arts, expanded by the success of his sons and wife, seems doubly satisfying.

“It’s a beautiful day, here in France,” he cheerfully says on the phone. It no doubt is.