Andrew Drury: The Cool Thing About Improvisation
The road to Indianola zigzags all the way to a pier that looks out on Puget Sound. To the southeast is Seattle. Dead ahead across two miles of water sleeps Bainbridge Island.
Allan Villiers was our music teacher at Bainbridge. Tall, funny and passionate about music, he towered over his orchestras, arms pin-wheeling at the elbows, setting the tempo, counting off time. Our high school jazz band was smokin' with Jay Webster on alto, David Yearsley on piano, Mike and Andy fueling the rhythm section. Still, the two drummers quit their senior year. They figured out how to graduate a semester early by doing Independent Study, which the counselors never told you about. Andy gave a presentation on the congas, got credit and got his diploma. He couldn't get out of there fast enough.
Heading south, Miller Bay Road turns into Suquamish Way, the site of Chief Seattle's grave. During the Chief Seattle Days in August my parents would take us to watch the powwow. Indian dancers soaring across the sky like the eagle, bursting from the river like the salmon, rearing up to greet the dawn like the bear. Tribal elders in a circle beating the big drum, singing to the Great Spirit.
"When I'm playing free improvisation, Andy explains, "I'll use basically one drum, a floor tom. I'll scrape at it with a sliver of bamboo skewer, or I'll use a steel dust pan and put it on the drum, so when I hit it with a vibraphone mallet it resonates with the drum, creating harmonics with the drum head. And when I slide it around those harmonics are manipulated. You get these different frequency things happening. I'll use a child's violin bow on cymbals placed on the drum, and there's interaction between the resonance of the drum and the harmonics of the drum head and these different materials, and the materials themselves as they are amplified and filtered through the drum.
"Getting deep into improvisation has made me relax, Andy continues. "I'm more open to everything going on in the room and how I fit into that sonically. Spatially, I have to deal with a new set, and the sounds are different too, so there's an element of surprise because it's usually too cluttered to replicate. There are accidents, like a cowbell sitting on a side of a cymbal on a drum. I'm not the kind of person who would want to go back and try to document, okay, I did this technique by doing this. I'm more like, throw it on there and see what you can find. It's intuitive, and the surprise element I really value a lot. I compose to try to generate a group energy that will surprise and motivate listeners and players to experience something beyond the ordinary.
"I want people to taste something that exists beyond the limits of the mundane, Andy concludes, "with its pettiness and dampening of vision. I want to connect with a much more expansive notion of how to experience time and space and life on earth with groups of humansit's trying to make the most of what we have. On other levels I'm just trying to make something beautiful and something amusing to me, trying to not kill or rip-off anybody, trying to use my abilities for peace.
Right on Geneva, left on Park. We pull into the school's empty lot next to the portables. A blue, evening mist filters down the hill to the playground, blurring the geometry of the monkey bars, cloaking the tops of evergreens in darkness.
Andy gets out, ducks his head through the open window. "That's one of the cool things about improvisation, he says. "There's kind of a whole do-it-yourself ethos. Generally, people don't like it when they hear it, so the only people doing it really love it.
Andrew Drury was born in 1964 in Bellevue, Washington, and grew up in the Seattle area. He began playing drums at age 12 and began exploring the piano in his home a few years later. At Wesleyan University in the 1980s he studied with Ed Blackwell, Bill Lowe, Bill Barron, and writer Annie Dillard while earning a B.A. in American Studies. Since 1989 Drury has led over 100 junk percussion workshops and residencies in schools, museums, Indian reservations, community theaters, prisons, festivals, with people with physical challenges, and in rural villages in Guatemala and Nicaragua. He was Millennium Project artist-in-residence with the Oneida Nation for six months in 2000. Other projects include Drury's music for dance, which has been presented at Oberlin College's Dance Theater Workshop, On the Boards in Seattle, and elsewhere.
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Since 1989 Drury has led over 100 junk percussion workshops and residencies in schools, museums, Indian reservations, community theaters, prisons, festivals, with people with physical challenges, and in rural villages in Guatemala and Nicaragua. He was Millennium Project artist-in-residence with the Oneida Nation for six months in 2000. Other projects include Drury's music for dance, which has been presented at Oberlin College's Dance Theater Workshop, On the Boards in Seattle, and elsewhere.