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For Fabrizio Sotti, a Ferrari soundtrack

Sotti, with an FF at the Ferrari showroom in New York on 2 May. (Johnny Nunez/Getty)

Sotti, with an FF at the Ferrari showroom in New York on 2 May. (Johnny Nunez/Getty)

Fabrizio Sotti, a jazz guitar virtuoso, grew up in Italy dreaming of Ferraris and rock‘n’roll.

He explores these childhood passions on his fourth solo album, Right Now – most notably on an up-tempo, flamenco-inflected instrumental track titled The Prancing Horse. In addition to the original compositions, his arrangements of Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Bob Marley and U2 classics come with guest appearances by Canadian R&B artist Melanie Fiona, rapper/actor Ice T and M1 from the hip-hop duo Dead Prez. Past collaborators have included Whitney Houston, Jennifer Lopez, Tupac and Cassandra Wilson.

Sotti, who has an enduring second career as a pop music producer and songwriter, owns four Ferraris. And while he has carried on affairs with Bentleys, Lamborghinis, Rolls-Royces and Mercedes-Benzes, his old love always trumps (though he is very fond of his latest acquisition, a Fiat 500 Abarth).

Tamara Warren caught up with Sotti in New York, where the musician makes his home, to learn how he negotiates the city’s streets, the drawbacks of Ferrari audio systems and why the Prancing Horse always strikes such a sweet chord.

Tamara Warren: Given you live in New York City,  you must not drive every day, right?

Fabrizio Sotti: I actually do. For many, many years I was driven every day by a driver. I just bought a Fiat 500 Abarth, which I think is the perfect daily driver for Manhattan, because it’s small. You can park it anywhere and it’s a lot of fun to drive. I drive to my office, the studio, rehearsals, wherever.

How does driving in New York compare to driving in Italy?

New York is a nightmare because of the nature of the streets. There just are no fun streets, though the West Side Highway late at night can be fun. I actually got caught one time going 160 [mph]. I had to spend a nice night in jail.

Surely you weren’t driving the Fiat.

No, I was in a Ferrari 575.

Did the police impound the car?

Yeah, they took the car, they put me in jail, but it was great though, because the next day I sold a lot of albums. It was great publicity.

Do you still have the car?

No, I got rid of it when I got the 599.

With Italy’s small streets and tight turns, you must get a certain rush from driving there.

The streets in Italy are so small it can be challenging. That’s why there are so many Smarts and Fiat 500s. But if you get out of the city, there are some of the most beautiful roads in the world to drive. There are a lot of speed limits now, though. They have a new machine that actually calculates when you go from one exit to the next, so I drive and then I stop for an hour somewhere. Otherwise they send you a ticket at home right away.

A lot of music producers like to listen to a mix they’re working on in their car. Do you use your Ferraris as a mobile studio?

I definitely don’t use the sound system that often in my Ferraris. I do have to say that in the last generation of Ferraris, like the 360, 599 and now the FF, the cars have amazing sound systems.  In my 458 the JBL system that Ferrari offers, that’s an amazing system. But when I’m driving a Ferrari, I’d rather listen to the engine.

Does each of your Ferraris have a story?

My F40 is the car I always dreamed of since I was a kid. It was one of the most amazing cars ever made. It’s an amazing car to drive, and very challenging. The 599 is a great gran turismo; that’s why I keep it in Nevada. Sometimes I go to LA for work to record something and I just drive around the west coast. Then the 430 Scuderia is just a car with a character of its own. Even when the 458 Italia came out, I couldn’t really get rid of it, because it’s a really special car. But the 458 has a huge advantage in performance and handling compared to the 430. The 458 Spider is brilliant with the retractable hardtop. Like two cars in one.

For all that, it’s not so important how fast these cars are – especially on the street. It’s more important how the car makes you feel when you drive.  It’s all about the experience, not just the pure performance.

What provoked this melding of your love of Ferraris with music?

My new album is a departure for me. The Prancing Horse song is a tribute to Enzo Ferrari. I was trying to translate the feeling and the adrenaline and excitement of when you’re driving a Ferrari. I was trying to put that into motion in the song. I think it came out pretty well.

Recording music, driving Ferraris – they’re both visceral. Do you feel any kinship between driving and performing/recording?

Driving a sport car on the track or a road where you can push the limits – it’s something that really takes all of your attention. If you make a mistake you’re going to crash. With music it’s the same thing. When I’m on stage performing with my guitar, that’s my instrument and how I’m expressing myself. With the car it’s the same thing. It’s something you use to achieve speed. In either case, all I’m concentrating on is the emotion. Nothing else is on my mind.

Of your four Ferraris, which  do you find yourself returning to again and again?

For now, the 458 Italia is an incredible car, with all its settings that you can change.  You can drive it to buy groceries and be serious on the track. It’s a very versatile car. 

Not a bad grocery getter.

People think I’m crazy when I say this. I’m not the kind of guy you’ll see in front of the club with my Ferrari. I do what I do in a very spiritual way.