Andrew Drury: The Cool Thing About Improvisation
"The copy-cat game is a good ice-breaker, says Andy. "I try to get away from, 'Hello, I'm a musician, and when we make music, it starts with the right hand and the left hand.' I want to inspire people from the beginning, and drumming on a bucket is as untechnically-daunting as music can get. Basically, kids are really receptive to the language of drumming, so I start doing some beats with them, and you know, just take them along, and get them to start creating. The kids are like, oh, this isn't some fake construct that usually happens in school. We're actually making music here. It becomes real for them on a much more meaningful level than they often experience in school, because a lot of the music that we do, making noise, is not permitted.
We turn north on Miller Bay Road past a patchwork of leaning fences and dirt drives.
"You and Mike took drum lessons in high school, right?
"Yeah we did.
"Who did you study with?
"Dave Coleman, Sr, says Andy. "Beautiful cat. I'd go to the basement of his house in West Seattle and there was drum paraphernalia hanging from the ceiling. He'd taken photographs of all these great musicians. Dave was probably 60 at the time. He was a Swing era drummer with a very open mind who'd lived in Los Angeles and played with Billie Holiday. He used to sub in Sid Catlett's band when Sid would want to go chill with the audience and stuff. He turned me and Mike away from the high school big band aesthetic, and told us to check out Max Roach and Jack DeJohnette. It was powerful stuff to contemplate as a 14-year-old in this white, suburban kind of conservative culture that I was in. I really needed that. I was lost and searching, and that gave me one thing to hang on to that I really started to pursue.
"Dave would recommend shows around town, Andy continues, "music so far over my head. At Cornish College I heard Julian Priester and Gary Peacock, Jack DeJohnette. I heard Air at the Pioneer Cultural Center. Mike and I were the only people there under 30. We were these punks. I didn't now what the hell the musicians were doing. The opening band was Fred Anderson and Hamid Drake, who went by the name of Hank Drake. I remember there was this hippie there with this really long frizzy hair that brushed over my face when he sat down. His name was Heritage. And then some nun with cat-eye glasses selling brownies. It was really funky. And the music was so out.
"Dave told me, 'Oh, you got to hear Steve McCall, this guy's really hot,' Andy concludes. "So we did. We checked out a lot of different groups. And the thing was, even without necessarily liking it, I knew they were great musicians. So when I went to hear Julian Priester and Gary Peacock, especially when they went out of time and got more textural, it really was kind of lost on me, but they looked so serious. I could see what the drummer was doing, I totally related to that, and I could hear Gary Peacock with his beautiful sound playing these really cool ostinato patterns. It was deep, you know, I was getting on the vibe on many levels, just absorbing sounds.
At the intersection of Miller Bay and Gunderson we drive past the old farm house. "That's where I grew up, I say, tilting my head to the left. Andy turns to look, but before I can get a chance it's gone.
"You did some workshops with prisoners, right?
"Yeah, through a non-profit, the Connecticut Prison Association.
"You mean the state pen?
"Yeah, Cheshire State Prison, they were all maximum security says Andy. "The prisons were actually very hostile to what I was doing because I was treating prisoners as human beings. Basically the prisons I worked at in Connecticut were very segregated. It was the Latinos, the blacks and the whitesthese guys wouldn't mix. The Latinos all wanted to play salsa, so on their day I'd bring conga drums, claves, Latin percussion and we'd just jam. I was kind of the house conga player for these guys. Then the black guys all wanted to play hip hop and rap. Somebody had a drum set, and I would lay down the beats and these guys were just thrilled out of their minds. These were the most appreciative group of participants I've ever had by farwhite, black, Latinothey were thrilled to have this three-hour chunk once a week.
There were some incredibly talented people too, finishes Andy. "I remember this one guy beat-boxed, making these sounds, and I was like, man, I'm out of my league. The white guys all wanted to play country and rock. They'd want to play Journey tunes. It was really obvious to me that the most important thing that I could do was give these guys a chance to do something of their own, no matter how much I knew about music or how to teach, it would have been presumptuous for me to come in with the attitude like I'm going to teach you guys something. A couple times I met people on the outside. I'd be walking down the street and I'd hear, 'Hey, drummer!' 'Oh yeah, Hartford Community Correctional Center. We did that workshop!'