I was 10 years old when I first started learning music. My first drumset was a cheap, used blue sparkle set from the local music store. My drum teacher helped me to paint a red, white, and blue paint scheme on the front bass drum head. I started playing the drums because I saw a demonstration of all the instruments in my elementary school. When I saw the drums I knew THAT'S what I play. There was no thought process about deciding which instrument to play....I just knew that I was a drummer. The band director tried to convince me to play trumpet instead. Apparently the school band had too many drummers and a deficit of trumpet players......I wasn't having any of it.
I started snare drum lessons in elementary school, but soon began private lessons with my teacher, Max Hunsicker. Max was a wonderful mentor and excellent teacher to whom I owe most of my drumming abilities and musical sensibilities. He is a second father to me, and continues to be a source of constant inspiration.
Also my parents were a constant pillar of support and patience.....especially when I took to practicing drums at 2AM. They remain my biggest fans. They made it possible for me to attend North Texas State University, the foremost jazz school in the US, where my teacher Henry Okstel helped to shape and form my musicianship and technique. He also remains a good friend, mentor, and source of inspiration.
Very few of my friends were into learning music. Once I began courses at Lebanon Valley College I was befriended by the guys in the college Jazz Band, but not until North Texas State was I surrounded by people on a serious quest to become great musicians.
From Student to Performer
At the age of 14, I began playing "lounge" gigs...... Satin Doll, Bad Bad Leroy Brown...... in school I played in the jazz band....as a high school senior I enrolled part-time at Lebanon Valley College to take music theory courses, which also made me eligible to play with the college jazz band.
The pianist, Lee Moyer, and the bassist, Ray Matula of the trio, were both middle-aged professional musicians who took me under their wing and gave me the tools to be a professional, working musician. My parents would drive me to the gig with my drumset, and then return at 1 or 2AM to pick me up after the gig! Playing in hotel lounges at 14 was a real education, as was playing with older, experienced musicians.... and 50-year-old women hitting on me was also a unique experience....
Playing with Maynard Ferguson
Maynard Ferguson was my first break-through gig into the real working world. In a sense, I had been studying for it all my musical life, as a big fan of the band. Gregg Bissonnette was playing with Maynard and I was about to graduate from North Texas State. Gregg recommended me for the gig and I flew to Washington DC for an audition during my last weeks of school. The band was playing at Blues Alley in Georgetown. Early in the day I met Gregg and his father Bud at the hotel. They were heading out for a walk around Georgetown, handed me a beer, and said "let's go"! As we were walking down the street Maynard was walking the opposite direction, directly toward us. Here I was, nervous and scared, and the first time Maynard will see me is walking down the street with Gregg and Bud with a beer in my hand!!! I ditched the beer and Maynard walked up to us. Gregg introduced us and Maynard said "So, this is my new drummer!! Welcome to the band! Great to have you!", and then he continued walking. That was it....no audition....just a handshake and what he read in my eyes.....that I would give my heart and soul to his music, which I did for nearly five years of world tours. I flew back to Texas for my graduation ceremony and immediately left for "the road" with Maynard.
Playing with Maynard was like "finishing" school. I was fresh out of college, and Maynard allowed me complete freedom to experiment and express myself. He was always supportive and unbelievably inspirational every night. He will always be my favorite "Boss".
Playing with David Lee Roth
David Lee Roth was just surreal. We rehearsed for 2 months in the dank, dark basement of his house for hours every day. He never sang a note the entire time! He just sat on a bar stool, wearing sunglasses, looking at the band. He wanted us to dress up in gig clothes everyday of rehearsal, and perform as though we were playing live. I played on one tune on his "Your Filthy Little Mouth" CD, then it was time for me to move on... dazed and confused.
Playing with Pat Benatar
Pat Benatar was just a blast. I toured with her for about 8 years. I was a big fan of hers since high school, and just being on stage with her and her amazing energy was a treat every night. In college I was a Jazz Studies major. There was one night during school when Miles Davis was playing in Dallas, and Benatar was playing the same night at Reunion Arena. Of course, it was understood at North Texas State that all "Jazz" majors would be at the Miles gig, but I went to Reunion Arena to see Pat! The band kicked ass, and it was one of my dreams come true to eventually tour with her and record the Innamorata CD and the live DVD concert.
Playing with Cinderella
Cinderella was fun, in a real "Spinal Tap" sort of way. The band sounded great. It was probably the second loudest band in the world, and we just wailed every night. It was the hardest I've ever played. The audiences were mostly hardcore rockers and strippers, and by the middle of the tour my drumset was covered with bras and panties that had been thrown onto the stage during the shows! There was definitely a "live hard, die young" mentality happening!
Playing with Michel LeGrand
Michel LeGrand is really just an 18-year-old at heart. He's the best ping-pong player I've ever seen! Once, during a string of gigs at the Blue Note jazz clubs in Japan, he kicked our butts repeatedly at the high-tech video games you only find in Japan. Of course, he's unbelievably talented as a writer and musician, and he hears EVERYTHING, even when conducting an 80-piece orchestra. We did one amazing "one-nighter" gig in Zagreb, Croatia with the Zagreb Orchestra DURING THE BOSNIA-SERB WAR! We were 10 miles from the front! Most of the members of the orchestra had brothers and fathers fighting on the front lines. The airport was full of UN airplanes and guards with machine guns. I was most certainly the only American civilian in the country, but most people assumed I was French since I was traveling with Michel. There was an anti-American sentiment because the US was avoiding involvement in the war. It was an amazingly emotional concert, and the orchestra members played their hearts out.
Another memorable concert with Michel took place at a jazz club in Paris with the late, great guitarist Joe Pass. It was right before Joe passed away, and I felt incredibly fortunate to have been able to play with Joe. He had a huge heart.
Playing with Jack Sheldon
Jack Sheldon is an American treasure! He's the funniest, filthiest guy I know and one of the most talented, swingingest trumpet players in the world. He's pure comedian between tunes and dead serious while playing. Every night with Jack is a treat. We played Catalina's Jazz Club in Hollywood every month for years with the Jack Sheldon Big Band. Trey and Christian and I were the rhythm section with the band when we met Tierney Sutton. Eventually we became the Tierney Sutton Band.
The Christian Jacob Trio
I met both bassist Trey Henry and pianist Christian Jacob on Maynard's band. We worked together subsequently in various projects around LA, most notably with Jack Sheldon. The trio really coagulated behind Tierney Sutton, and we began playing more often together as a trio.
It's every musician's dream to play with musicians who you respect musically and with whom you share common musical ideals. Playing with Christian and Trey allows me to play more like myself than any other situation I've experienced. There is a combination of trust, respect, support and spiritual searching that we achieve together that is special and unique and extremely rewarding each time we play together. Playing with these guys puts me in the head-space of always wanting to play my absolute best, out of respect for the musicianship that these guys exude. I think we have a symbiotic musical relationship that pushes us to constantly raise the bar musically and continue to explore new avenues of music.
"Styne and Mine"
Recording "Styne and Mine" was, in a way, completely free of any trauma or "work". Once the trio started playing in the studio, I seldom gave the process another thought. I was just enjoying playing these tunes with these guys, my favorite players. We often played only one take, and the whole process developed very smoothly. It's a treat to be in a studio situation where you're completely comfortable with the headphone mix, with the gear, with the engineer, with the music and, most importantly, with the players. That's the ultimate situation in which there are no distractions and you'e free to concentrate solely on the music. It's was very gratifying experience, made even more so by being able to experience it with my best friends. It doesn't get any better than that!
I'm currently working with the Tierney Sutton Band, as well as with French pop star Veronique Sanson, with whom I've recorded an upcoming CD. I continue to do some Jack Sheldon dates. Also, Trey and I are writing and producing source music with our friend, Rich Edmond.
There were many musical influences in my life. As a child I loved Ray Charles, the Temptations, Tina Turner... in high school I became a huge Maynard Ferguson fan, and began studying my biggest early influences.....Buddy Rich, Tony Williams, Billy Cobham, Mahavishnu Orchestra.....later, Miles, Coltrane, Elvin Jones, Chick, Herbie, Bill Evans, Steve Gadd.
Some of what influences and pushes me to improve is, the music we create as a group with Tierney Sutton. Also John Scofield's live CD, “EnRoute”, and absolutely all Pat Metheny music. Oh, and also, Coltrane's "A love Supreme". Any music that is clearly coming from a selfless, spiritual place.....music created to serve the art, to serve people.
What musically blows my mind, is anyone playing selflessly, from the heart, without ego.
Making the 1 O'Clock Lab band at North Texas, getting the gig with Maynard Ferguson, and winning the Hennessy Jazz Search competition.
The Strangest Gig
Playing for the birthday celebration of avatar Sri Sathya Sai Baba at his ashram in India. I was playing with Maynard, and we were playing in the world's largest free-standing hall with no walls......just open air and people (500,000?) as for as you could see, men on one side, women on the other, and Baba sitting in the middle on a throne. We had been staying at the ashram, sleeping on thin straw mats, showering with a small garden hose and cold water, for several days. We played barefoot, in traditional Indian silk garb. The day after the concert Babba invited us to his private chambers, where he materialized an emerald ring and placed it upon my finger. I carry that ring with me whenever I travel.
I'm also in the middle of a project to replace the stock airbox of my Moto Guzzi Centauro motorcycle with machined aluminum velocity stacks and Uni-pod filters added to the Weber/Marelli fuel injection, thus requiring a hot-rodded eprom chip replacement in the bike's computer, a rebalancing of the two fuel injectors with a TwinMax electronic balancer, and a resetting, electronically, of the base values of the Throttle Position Sensor to 150mV, followed by a dynomometer run to calculate the programming of the PowerCommander III unit.