Growing up, music was always an important part of my life. My dad was, and still is, a drummer who, at the time, was playing around Sacramento, California in a variety of bands. We had a full recording studio (analog, man!) built in our house where bands would come through and cut their records (actual records, man!). Some of my earliest memories are hanging out in the studio, bashing on my dad’s drums and piano.
After a stint on the piano, which lasted a year or two, we moved onto a sailboat when I turned ten. Pianos and studios don’t fit on boats so that ended my early exposure to music. However, that same year I started at a new school that had Band and I signed up for drums. I was lucky that my dad already had drums because the teacher at my new school was trying to get me to play saxophone and I really wasn’t all that interested. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that if a kid expresses interest in learning an instrument, let them learn that instrument, don’t force another on them because it would be “good for them.”
In 1988 my family left California for Bainbridge Island, WA. I became a stereotypical band geek and throughout middle and high school, played drums in Marching Band, Concert Band, Jazz Band and Jazz Choir as well as in all the musical theatre productions. It served me well, kept me out of trouble and gave me opportunities to build my musical skills and self-esteem and forge lasting friendships.
I received a music scholarship from See’s Candies to attend Edmonds Community College and became the drummer for their internationally recognized vocal jazz ensemble Soundsation from 1993-1995. With Soundsation I got three amazing opportunities: 1) to work ridiculously hard on music. I remember being blown away by my improvement when listening to recordings from the first week and last weeks of practice. Simply playing a little every day can make such a difference. 2) I worked with an incredibly dedicated group of musicians who worked with exacting detail. 3) We traveled to Europe and played at the Montreux International Jazz Festival in Switzerland and North Sea Jazz Festival in the Netherlands and recorded two CDs at Triad which was my first opportunity to record in a professional studio.
I’ll take this moment to say that one of the most important influences on my playing was backing up vocal jazz groups. While the louder, flashier jazz band music was definitely fun, I learned so much more about listening, complimenting, phrasing, and subtleties in the choirs. Early on in high school I realized that I didn’t have much interest in flashy technique and virtuosic fanfare and have since based my approach behind the drums on the ideas of: what is best for the song, what compliments the meaning of the song, how can I tell a story? I embraced the exploration of texture as opposed to the addition of notes to make a song more interesting.
In 1995, after 2 years of college, I was lucky to have another transformative experience when I left with my mom, dad and brother on a two-year sailing adventure from Bainbridge Island through the Panama Canal and up to New Orleans. We spent a year and a half sailing the west coast of Mexico and the last 6 months exploring Central America’s coast lines. During this time my brother and I played together almost daily and really cemented our brotherly bond – in life and in music. Our dad got in the game too and upon anchoring in a port, we’d hop in the dinghy, land in front of the nearest beachfront restaurant and within an hour have set up a music residency for a few nights. We’d play each night and the other cruisers would come in and support the restaurant by eating buckets of shrimp and drinking gallons of beer. We made many local friends along the way and, while we didn’t speak Spanish, communicated through music. I learned so much about communication in those two years – and of course about Latin American music styles. There were some pretty unreal experiences during the journey, which I’ll save for the memoir.
Upon returning to Bainbridge Island in 1997, I enrolled in the Music Department at the University of Washington and started teaching drums privately. In 1999 I was one of six Bainbridge Island music teachers who started the non-profit Island Music Teachers’ Guild, which later became the Island Music Guild and now is the Island Music Center. I also taught music specialist classes at Hyla Middle School.
At the same time, I became involved in several bands. With Scott Hawthorn and Harry Holbert, I played in “Scott the Organ Freak,” an organ jazz trio heavily influenced by the recordings of Jack McDuff and got to play the Charlotte Martin Theatre at Bumbershoot. With “Ruby Darby,” my brother and I found ourselves in a band that mixed rock, alt-country and a gazillion other styles (probably to our detriment!) with friends Don Clifton, Mike Dahl, Andrew Marshall, Alexis Shultz and Ward Johnson. We released one CD called “130 Pounds of Pep” and enjoyed 2 tours to Alaska. I also continued writing songs with my brother in a two-man bass and drum band we called “The Dips.” The Rocket called us “amazingly talented musicians playing the most annoying music I’ve ever heard.” We took it as a compliment.
As those three projects ended in about 2000, another was born. My brother and I had been hosting a jazz jam session at a local brewery with another young Bainbridge Islander, Sam Mickens, and Jherek and Sam were working on a recording project called “Sweet Science.” I was asked to join in for the recording and out of it came a band that was later renamed “The Dead Science” due to threatened legal action. For the next five or six years we continued to develop our sound that was part rock, part jazz, part crooner, part LOUD.
While I was with the group we release several CDs and LPs on a record label out of Berkley, California. We played at CMJ Music Marathon in NYC, at SxSW in Austin, TX, toured the Western U.S. extensively and played with many bands who have gone on to great success including Interpol, Blonde Redhead, Decemberists, Xiu Xiu, Deerhoof, Secret Machines, etc.
What brought my time with The Dead Science to a close was the birth of my first son, Calder. I tried to make home/work/band life work for a while, but with a family and house payments, life on the road, sleeping on floors, eating Taco Bell just wasn’t cutting it anymore. I missed them too much and had bills that needed to get paid.
From about 2005 through most of 2010 I was band-less. I played the occasional country club jazz gig, fundraiser or wedding, worked off-and-on with Holly Figueroa O’Reilly and from time-to-time got the chance to play with my brother, often in an orchestral setting, performing symphonic pieces he has composed. A couple times each year I got invited to play in a studio setting for various friends.
My newest musical adventure is playing drums for Recess Monkey, the nationally acclaimed children’s music band. I met them through my time in The Johnny Bregar Band. Recess Monkey is a very busy band, playing about 120 shows each year. We recently finished recording our first of two discs due out this year. Called “Deep Sea Diver,” it’s follows the band on a underwater adventure. I’m REALLY excited to start sharing songs and videos from the upcoming albums. Stay tuned… And with two little kids who love music, what band could be better than one where the kids can come along and the shows are at 11:30 in the morning?!
I continue to teach out of my studio and look forward to my annual student recital, “Conundrum,” which is quite the spectacle and has me attempting to play bass, guitar, piano and torturing the audience with my vocal (in)abilities. Everyone is invited!