Scott Amendola: Unlimited Possibilities
Amendola has no shortage of heroes. When asked to list others, the first name mentioned is martyred South African dissident Stephen Biko. Several musicians follow: Ornette Coleman, Wayne Shorter, Jack DeJohnette, and Peter Gabriel. He reserves special attention for Shorter. "That's someone I'd really like to meet. I'm just fascinated by Wayne, both compositionally and in terms of his playing. I mean, there's so many different periods with Wayne, so many different facets of him: the Art Blakey period, the Miles late '60s quintet period, Weather Report... that stuff blows me away. And Wayne solo, too, like Atlantis. That's one of my favorite records of all time, although it got panned by a lot of critics. It's just these beautiful compositions, this great meeting of composition and groove and harmony, and there are some beautiful vocal things on it. It's just so Wayne and so unique."
After further reflection, he casts all of these musical icons aside for someone closer to home: "I talked about some musicians, but watching my wife go through pregnancy and birth... that tops anything." Amendola's wife, a molecular biologist, gave birth to the couple's first child in November 2005. He continues, "that's probably the most inspiring thing I've seen in life. It was great and beautiful and rough and uncomfortable. It was amazing to watch that and to see him come out. So I put her right at the top. She out- heroes any musician. And having a baby changes the way I see everything, like there's nothing more important than him. It's like Charlie Hunter told me long ago when he had his first child, 'man, I've just moved way down the list.'"
In the rare moments when he isn't gigging, recording, or touring, Amendola enjoys using his hands. "I love carpentry and metalwork," he says. "I find that kind of work fun. It's hard on the body, but really satisfying. Like I came off a tour, and a friend taught me how to work with copper pipes. So I spent like three days in the basement of this house I was fixing up just figuring out how to run all these pipes and then doing it. I like doing something tangible. And I like having skills other than music, things that are really useful."
Amendola also enjoys teaching the next generation of drummers, saying that although he doesn't have much spare time to devote to giving lessons or leading workshops, the experience is both engaging and rewarding. But as with his music, his teaching style is sometimes unconventional. "There was this one player I taught, and we first got together about 5 or 6 years ago. I started talking, and I just talked for an hour and a half until he finally said, 'uh, could you maybe play something now?' I mean, maybe I can give them help or point them in some direction, but sometimes just giving students something they haven't heard or haven't thought about is just as valuable."
Teaching also gives Amendola fresh insights into his own playing. "It reminds me that I need to practice!" he quips. "But seriously, anytime you talk about their craft or your art, that gives you focus. It makes me think about music and what I'm doing. And since I try to keep myself open to new ideas and possibilities, I'm open to learning from the student too."
Thinking back to his own experience as a student, two episodes stand out. "When I went to Berklee, I had a lot of good teachers. One in particular was Joe Hunt. He might say, 'what do you want to work on today?' and I'd say, 'I want to learn how to play a good brush pattern.' So he'd have me play a bit and then he'd say, 'what was wrong with that?' and I'd say, 'I dunno, it just didn't seem right.' And he'd say, 'but what's wrong with it?' And maybe there wasn't anything actually wrong with it, so he'd put it in perspective: 'if the playing is good, and the time is good, then maybe your instincts are right.' That whole concept of being able to show someone how to be their own person, to build confidence in themselves, that's an important part of teaching."
"I also spent five or six years studying with Sonny Igoe, a big band drummer. Great drummer, great teacher. I had heard Chick Corea's Live in New York record with Roy Haynes and Miroslav Vitous, and Roy was breaking up time, just playing his butt off. And it blew me away. So at my next lesson I was trying to do that stuff, and Sonny said, 'what are you doing?' And I was like 'man, I just heard this great Roy Haynes record, and he was doing this and he was doing that,' and Sonny just said, 'Buddy Rich.' And he brought me back down to earth. It's good to be able to say, 'this is important; you should be able to do this before you get to that, and this is how it relates to that.' I respect that."
Amendola says there are several young players who he finds exciting. Guitarist Mary Halverson, who works with Trevor Dunn, is one who has caught his ear. "And there's this guy who just moved to New York named Erik Deutsch, I heard him play with Ron Miles in Colorado. He's an amazing pianist. When I saw him with Ron, he had these things going that reminded me of Nels! The things he was doing were both texturally interesting and super-musical." He also singles out Wil Blades, a San Francisco-based organist with whom Amendola has formed a well-regarded gigging trio.