For Zito, reading and riffs are fundamental

Scott Zito, who has been principal at Platt Technical High School for two years, has more than teaching and education administration degrees in his background. This local principal is a guitar player and songwriter who worked with Grace Slick and has performed on stage with some big names in the music industry.

His most obvious contribution to the music biz was probably writing songs for Welcome to the Wrecking Ball, Grace Slick’s 1981 follow-up to her solo album Dreams, which Zito also worked on. Music fans probably remember Slick, of Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship, for the songs White Rabbit and Somebody to Love.

A listen to some of the songs from her solo albums, most notably Welcome to the Wrecking Ball, provides an earful of talent from Zito, who played lead guitar and harmonica and supplied vocals. Zito also helped produce the album.

“The unsung hero on this album is Scott Zito,” wrote a reviewer on Metalman’s blog. “He wrote all of the songs along with Slick and after hearing what he can do on the guitar on first ‘Dreams’ and now this album, I’m glad she kept him on to play guitar because he can play.”

At there’s commentary about Zito’s contribution to Slick’s albums: “The three essential elements of her Dreams album from the year before reprise their roles here, producer Ron Frangipane, engineer Ed Sprigg, and guitarist Scott Zito writing all the music on Wrecking Ball. Slick creates only lyrics to four of the 10 titles, so this is really a Scott Zito album with Grace Slick as the vocalist.”

And that’s just a bit of the Scott Zito musical legacy. He’s also worked with Michael Bolton and Janis Ian, who is probably best known for her 1975 release At Seventeen, as well as Bob Marley and Cannata.

Zito is described as a virtuoso for his technical ability on the guitar, a master at all styles — jazz, blues, rock, funk …

During his touring years, this Milford musician performed throughout the United States, as well as Canada, the Middle East and Australia.

So how does a man get from Milford to international big-time band venues?

“It’s just like a snowball. It’s what happens. Grace Slick was part of the snowball,” he said.

Zito was born in New Haven, but his family made its way to Milford, and this high-credentialed musician is actually a Milford High School graduate, and he attended St. Mary School.

His father was very musical, and Zito took piano lessons as a child. He studied at the Hartford Conservatory — jazz piano and classical guitar.

But he wasn’t even out of high school when he started as a touring musician and composer, performing at major concert venues.

After music school his touring amped up, and he started doing video work. He opened a publishing company, Spider Zee Music, a BMI affiliate, and learned the business end of the music industry as he worked as a studio musician in New York, producing album demos to commercial soundtracks.

And how does a big-time musician find himself back in his hometown, as a high school principal?

Zito, quite happy and fulfilled inside the walls at Platt, said it’s all about finding the next challenge.

“As you reach the top of the mountain, you want to find another mountain,” he said.

“In addition to working, I was always a teacher,” Zito said, explaining that as he performed he also took time to craft his methods as an instructor. “You become used to the whole model of instruction; it’s different for each student.”

Education at Platt has similarities to his music instruction. Focusing on the trades is hands-on, he said.

Zito said he was inundated with technology working in the music industry for 20 years, and that’s a big plus at Platt, too.

“At one point, I decided to increase my education,” Zito said.

He has four degrees, including a master’s degree in social sciences and a sixth year degree in education administration, and he’s studied business and marketing, radiology, and video and TV production.

At Platt, he put his teaching skills and management skills together into one when he became principal.

“This is fulfilling in a different way,” he said. “I enjoy watching the students become successful.”

Are the students in awe of this big music name?

“You’re never awed by people you know,” he said with a laugh. “You’re awed by people you don’t know.”

No, his focus at Platt isn’t the limelight. Rather, it’s education and school safety. Zito started his new job by focusing on building safety, increasing security, and then increasing computer access for students.

He’s worked to augment the curriculum, adding classes like digital photography, contemporary issues, finance and creative writing and interdisciplinary enrichment, which encourages students to use math skills in their shop classes.

Now he’s working on helping students increase their SAT skills. He’s also cut down on non-academic time, like study halls, to support academic achievement.

“Technical schools are a model for the nation,” he said, adding that Platt is a top-notch school. Platt boasts a 99% graduation rate, students do a lot of community service and there’s a sizable waiting list to get into the school, he said.

Zito hasn’t performed for a few years: “This job takes a lot of time,” Zito said, noting that he performed throughout the 90s and early 2000s with a variety of regional acts and also continued to do regional studio work.

Sometimes he sits down at the keyboard and plays for a school event — there’s even a keyboard in his office. He also plays flute, banjo and harmonica, though he didn’t say that those instruments had made it onto any Platt stage.

He has his own take on talent and hard work: “Talent is innate to a degree, but it can also be developed. Some people are naturals; it’s the same with being a teacher. Others can become proficient by working on it.”

His biggest moment on stage? Playing in front of 60,000 people in Chicago with Michael Bolton and Bob Seger.

His biggest moment at Platt? Hard to say, but he beams when he talks about graduation exercises and student achievement.