I began drumming lessons at the age of thirteen; I studied with several local teachers throughout the first few years. While attending high school, some friends and I formed a rock band, and by my 18th birthday, the band, that summer, was averaging several nights a week playing at Joel Heller’s “Eight Wonder” on 8th Street in Greenwich Village, New York City, my first professional gig. Throughout that year, we worked several clubs and parties in the New York area.
Shortly after, I decided to further my musical knowledge and studied privately under Lynn Oliver who taught jazz and big band drumming. Lynn, an outstanding musical arranger, ran an octet and big band workshop in upper Manhattan which I have attended three to four days a week and every so often filled in that fifth day. I studied at Lynn’s Studios for several years which later included an introduction to jazz piano and arranging. When I got an offer to play in California, I temporarily suspended my lessons.
In my early and mid-twenties, I continued to study drumming with other very well-known teachers: Sonny Igoe, who played with Benny Goodman and staff drummer for a TV net worth. Sonny’s son, Tommy Igoe, who was three when I studied with Sonny, is now a famous drummer in the field. I also studied with Joe Cusatis, a master technician and the author of a couple of drumming books, and later took a couple of lessons with Jim Chapin who is known for introducing the Moeller system and the author of Jazz Independence for the Modern Drummer. He can easily be found on YouTube. I had a well-rounded technique by the time I have gotten with Jim.
As a drummer, I worked numerous jobs: steady wedding band, cabaret, shows, hotels, country clubs, army bases, travelling ballroom-country club-dance bands, jazz bands, cruise, radio broadcast, recorded and more.
In the mid-late 70s I studied piano with the late John Solo, a musician-friend I had the pleasure of occasionally working with on the wedding circuit. He exposed me to classical literature as well as modern jazz harmony. It took me years to understand the knowledge I have acquired from what John had taught me in a short amount of time with him. I have also studied privately with other teachers: Jazz pianist John Di Martino, Jazz saxophonist and arranger, Tommy Gambino and others, which included a corresponding arranging course. Though I have a Bachelor’s degree in music, much of my musical knowledge came from outside of college playing professionally and studying privately, no doubt.
By the mid-1980s, I was teaching beginner piano and guitar. A friend was leaving his teaching position and referred me for his replacement. I went in for a drumming interview and got hired for beginner piano and guitar as well. She owned and operated two schools. My Saturday schedule was filled from 8:30 to 5. Each student took a half hour lesson.
I eventually got a nice offer and went back on the road playing drums. The road was exciting since you get to travel and visit new places and meet new people. When I got back, I began working for the “Baldwin Piano and Organ Co.” first in sales. However, I was called to play a Caribbean cruise with the “Russ Morgan Orchestra.” Morgan who along with Larry Stock, and James Cavanaugh wrote the Dean Martin hit: “You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You.” I stayed with Morgan for the month and I went back to Baldwin and taught beginner piano and keyboard classes. Around this period I was also working at Roseland, a well-established ballroom, in New York City blocks from Time Square.
When working at the “Roseland Ballroom”, the union delegate stopped by and offered the union members a bachelor’s degree music program. I decide to take the offer and began attending college (I was about 34 years old at the time.) After 25 years, several schools, and about 170 college credits, I acquired my Bachelor’s degree, in 2009. I guess I was in no hurry. Actually, when I moved to Florida, I was demoted about 40 credits and charged an out of state tuition for the year which was expensive and slowed the process down, and besides, the environment in Florida was totally different than what I was used to in New York.
One of my last long playing road gigs was with the Don Gasser Orchestra. We were based in Birmingham, Alabama playing a prestige’s country club for several weeks at a time and in the interim, would hit the road. After six months on the road, I decided to go back home with the intention of studying and practicing to develop my skills more. One day as I was practicing, my right hand began to lock up and my fingers would cramp. After seeing several doctors, I was diagnosed with musician’s dystonia more commonly known as writer’s cramp for non- musicians. This is a debilitating neurological disorder for musicians. It’s no big deal for non-musicians. The fingers lock and the fine muscles needed in performing do not respond as they should. I eventually gave up the performing due to the pain only because it was causing tendonitis; however, I continued on teaching and occasionally gig at such places as Café Europa in Palm Beach, The Musicanna Supper Club in Boca, A show which lasted a few weeks at the Wilton Theatre in Fort Lauderdale, a steady church gig and occasional one nighters at the hotels along A1A, and more now that I’m reflecting.
In closing I want to say, teaching is a strong passion of mine, and I put 100% into my students. I must have taught thousands of students throughout the 30 or more years I’m teaching, and those who put in the effort, play well. My philosophy is to learn the basics: music reading is essential as is theory and ear training. Once these three disciplines are obtained, the student is on his or her way to being an educated musician with the knowledge to play most any style: Jazz, rock, blues, funk, reggae, country or classical.