Jazz drummers, in general, are philosophers when contrasted with the dumb jock model often attributed to boomer era fossil rock. Mr. Gray is a thinking drummer with an expansive kindliness about him that shifts to striking capacities of concentration when he engages his kit.
One commonality I find with this run of drummers is their embrace of flow. Outside now a fat offshore slop front is busy soaking Boston and all the sounds of rain, downpour, focused splashing below the bad roof gutter, car tires mildly hydroplaning on Hampshire street and a syncopation of drippings adds up to some counterpart of flow drumming.
Luther also has water cascades, whitewater rapids and quiet frog splashes in vernal pools worked into the repertoire. Faucet splashes from urban sinks, a slow dripping leak and a morning shower are in there too as well as the various rounds of waves at oceanic edges...flow.
1.What brought you to music?
"When I was a kid my folks had a big furniture cabinet with the record player inside and the speakers built into the corners and a horrible record collection. But they had Ray Charles "What'd I Say." I wore that out. Later my dad gave me his clock radio which gave me the freedom to listen to whatever I wanted in my room. I'd sit for hours listening to the soul station playing Legos. I never followed the directions. I either figured it out by looking at the picture of the spaceship on the box, or I just made up my own."
2.Describe your role models, muses and mentors.
"I learned mostly from records so the list of musicians who've influenced me is long. Thelonious Monk's music is very important to me, as is Art Blakey's.
I was lucky to have 2 mentors, Steve Bagby and Mickey Newman. I studied with Steve in college. Unfortunately he got really sick. So I'd go with him to gigs, help him carry his drums, and finish up when he'd get tired. As a result I had the opportunity to play with people like Ira Sullivan and Red Rodney. In the car he'd tell me stories about sitting in with Coltrane's band, playing with Wayne Shorter, and coming up in Chicago checking out folks like Wilbur Campbell and Steve McCall. We kept in touch until he passed away 2 years ago. I have some cymbals he gave me.
Mickey was the only person who succeeded in teaching me anything specific. He'd show me stuff on the drums for an hour then we'd go sit and listen to records for the rest of the day. He has the best ride cymbal rhythm I've ever heard. I studied with him for 2 years until one day he told me I could come over and hang out anytime I wanted, but I had to figure the rest out myself.