Tyshawn Sorey: Composite Reality
As time progressed, Sorey gained the idea that he might want to be a musician, but he thought of it more as a hobby than anything else. When Sorey was about eight, he started to take trombone lessons, which became one of the first instruments he gained proficiency in. "This guy Fields Howard was the first to show me the ropes, which ultimately led me to become a student of the Newark Community School of the Arts. That wasn't too far where I was going to school at the time. I was there on scholarship and I got mostly classical lessons, just basic trombone lessons and learning how to read music. That's what I did every Saturday for few years, and then it got to where I was going twice a week because I really liked it."
Sorey's first shot at the drum set came by way of Newark musician and educator Michael Cupolo. "I was around 13 or 14 and he was the instrumental music instructor and I was bugging him forever to play on his drum set and he wouldn't let me play. Eventually, by December, I just bugged him so much he said 'Alright look, take this key, take out the drum kit, and knock yourself out.' And that's what I did for most of my time there, just played on the drums. I didn't really know how to set it up, I just put it together intuitively, but I didn't really know about the intricacies of the height or angles of the drums. I just adjusted myself to that."
Not only did Cupolo give Sorey his exposure to the drums, he also opened up the young musician to the world of improvised music. "He would be practicing scales and modes and stuff at about 7:00 or so in the morning. One morning I walked in and at that time they really didn't let students into the building before class, but the security guard let me in. He took at liking to me because he saw that I was serious. I asked him what he was doing, these things like diminished scales and modes, and he sat me down for about two class periods where he showed me the Charlie Parker Omnibook, where I first learned "Ornithology," which was the first tune I really learned how to improvise on. That tune is pretty hard as it is and I'm just learning how to improvise really and then he puts this Charlie Parker Omnibook in front of me. He gave me the book to take home and I looked at it a bit. We had this concert and I took one chorus on "Ornithology." Then he kept having me play more and more and when I ran out of ideas, he just went to someone else."
By 1999, Sorey had gained considerable experience learning the ins and outs of jazz drumming, participating in youth jazz programs and studying with figures like Kenny Washington and Billy Hart. He would eventually find himself at William Paterson University, but not immediately: Sorey had missed the initial deadline for the jazz track. He decided to apply the classical track on trombone, which ended up being a short-lived experience. "I was still very serious about the trombone at the time and I was playing a lot of classical rep. I was interested in being a classical trombonist and they let me because I had a lot of stuff together. I didn't want to do percussion because I didn't think that I was very good. So finally one semester passes, and I was already somewhat dissatisfied with the program and the level of seriousness that the students took to the music. Of course, I was 20 years old at the time and I might not have felt that way now.
"There was an arrangement made that even I was in the classical track and participated in brass ensembles and concert band, I was also allowed to participate in combos. It was arranged that I would be in Richard DeRosa's combo. That was sort of my way of practicing because I was in ensembles with great players and I was inspired by all of these great drummers around me like Eric McClendon, Mark Guiliana and Jonathan Blake. I wanted to swing and know the drums as well as I knew the trombone." Sorey eventually got into the jazz program, though in retrospect, it came as something as a surprise to him, given his opinion of himself as a drummer. "I thought that I sucked. I didn't really have any dynamics, had no real touch, didn't really have a great control or nuance and my Latin was just non-existent."