Cy Young-winning pitcher Barry Zito, now dialed in on music, comes to Park City for the ASCAP Music Cafe
ASCAP Music Cafe
Who: Barry Zito
When: 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 28
Where: ASCAP Music Cafe, 751 Main St.
Cost: Free for Sundance Film Festival credential holders
Music lovers who scanned the lineup for this year’s ASCAP Music Café might have found they didn’t recognize one name. Those who are also baseball fans will have recognized the name but wondered when Barry Zito became a musician.
The truth is, Zito — a three-time all-star and Cy Young Award-winning pitcher with the Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants — has been involved with music for much longer than he was a ballplayer. His father, Joe Zito, was a musical director and a composer/arranger for Nat King Cole. His mother, Roberta Zito, was a member of Cole’s “Merry Young Souls” singing troupe.
“We always had great music on in the house,” Zito said. “Mom was always singing in church, and dad had a home studio before that was really a thing. Like, a legit analog mixing board, right there in the living room.”
Joe discouraged his son from pursuing the family business, though.
“He always told me that it was a tough industry to make a living in,” Zito said. “At that point I really loved baseball, too. He told me, ‘If you master three pitches, they’ll send scouts all over the world to find you. Whereas in music, even if you’re a total master of it, you need to go bang down everyone’s door to get them to pay attention.’”
So Zito gave his full attention to baseball. By the time he’d reached the major leagues, though, he found himself pulled back to his first passion.
“I probably picked up a guitar at 21 and started writing songs at that point just as a hobby,” he said. “Just to keep me sane under all the pressure of baseball.”
As his career was winding down, Zito turned more and more of his attention to music. Then, after a year off from baseball, he signed a minor league contract in 2015 with the Oakland A’s and was assigned to their Triple A affiliate at the time, the Nashville Sounds. Suddenly, Zito found himself in Music City. “For years I wanted to pursue music full-time and try to make a living at it, and I always assumed I would do that in Los Angeles where I lived for so many years,” he said. “It’s crazy how fate kind of took me out to Nashville and I’ve now ended up pursuing things out here.”
As one might expect, Zito’s music has a folksy, country vibe to it. He released his debut EP, “No Secrets,” in 2017. He said he’s spent a lot of his time the past few years co-writing country songs. But his sound, he said, is something he’s still trying to find.
“Listen, I love things like R&B, pop, synthesizers,” he said. “But when I first came here to Nashville, we wanted to start with something that would be taken a little more seriously. If it’s some huge production, where the only thing I’m doing is singing on it, that would be one thing. But I think it’s a different thing when it’s stripped down. You can’t really hide when it’s just you and a guitar.”
Zito said his focus now is on figuring out his sound, including playing more of a role in production going forward.
“I’m excited to work on finding my voice, what I want to say with my music and what instruments I want to attach to that message,” he said.
In Park City, though, it’s all about the Music Café, and Zito said he’s “super pumped” not just to play but to see the other musicians on the bill.
“I would say the bird and the bee are a big influence on me, and they’re actually playing a set right before mine,” he said, referencing the indie pop duo of Inara George and Greg Kurstin. “I can’t wait to take in some music, man.”
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Sian Heder’s “CODA,” one of the Sundance Film Festival’s opening-day films, follows a 17-year-old high school student who is torn between pursuing her love of music and staying to help her hearing-impaired family’s fishing business.