Friday, September 9, 2011

The Calgary Scene - Andrew Dyrda

I first met drummer Andrew Dyrda six years when he took a few lessons with me in Calgary. He's now based in Montreal and has become quite a mature and hard working musician. I'm also impressed with his maturity on the instrument and a tireless work ethic. Andrew is one young Canadian drummer to keep an eye on in the years to come. Andrew recently played in Calgary and was gracious to answer several questions for my blog.

1) Can you tell us about your musical background? How did you learn to play Jazz drums?

I was very fortunate to be born into a musical family in Southwestern Ontario, constantly surrounded by good music (mostly Johnny Cash and Stan Rogers, but sometimes Beethoven and Art Blakey!!!). I started with the prerequisite piano lessons when I was about 4, maybe 5 years of age. Of course, at first I hated them (like most children do) but grew to like them more and more as time went on. I started playing trumpet when I was 11, and immediately felt a kinship with the instrument. I moved to Calgary and went to a high school with a GREAT band program (Dr. E.P. Scarlett) so I played in a bunch of wind ensembles, quartets, stage bands and jazz combos. After playing trumpet in stage band, I took an interest in the drums and haven't looked back since!!! Of course I was helped along the way by a few stellar drum teachers, including yourself!!

2) Who are your musical influences and why?

Oh man, this is such a large question. I try to keep my mind as open as possible to different music and different musicians, so I would say (cautiously) that all music that I've heard has had an influence on me! As far as playing the drums, I find everyone playing on records has something so completely different and awesome to love about them. I love the architecture and order of Max Roach, the cymbal playing and articulation of Philly Joe Jones and Kenny Clarke, the groove and sound of Art Blakey, the uniqueness of Roy Haynes, the spirit and emotion of Elvin Jones, the fire and talent of Tony Williams, the warmth of Billy Higgins, and the understated simmer of both Connie Kay and Vernel Fournier. As far as more modern cats go, I love to listen to everyone that's got something strong and individual going on, like Bill Stewart, Brian Blade, Chris "Daddy" Dave, Jeff Watts, Jim Black, Ari Hoenig, Dan Weiss, Lewis Nash, Kenny Washington, Marcus Gilmore, Justin Brown, Terri Lyne Carrington, ?uestlove, Matt Wilson, Eric Harland, Jeff Ballard and Jorge Rossy.... Just to name a few! Of course, a lot of the great drummers in Calgary and Montreal as well.

3) Name your top 5 favorite albums and how they have influenced you.

Milestones- Miles Davis with Philly Joe Jones on drums. This album can be considered, at least for me, perfection in the idiom of hard bop. Every note on the album is truly meant by all the players. Nothing comes off as being obtuse or cerebral- even though the music is at times incredibly complicated. The music always has two of the essential elements of jazz in it, bebop and the blues. The masterful playing of Philly Joe Jones is especially notable here, with the clarity of his ride stroke being extraordinarily well documented.

Larry Young- Unity with Elvin Jones on drums. This album is rife with a mix of compositions and standards, showcasing the playing of a very young Woody Shaw in the formative years of his improvising concept and compositional approach. It's great to hear Elvin Jones in this group, with his undulating ride cymbal/volleying the time all around the drumkit hooking up so hard with Larry Young's Hammond B3.

Miles Davis- My Funny Valentine/Four and More- Tony Williams on drums. This was my first exposure to the great Tony Williams, and from the first notes that he plays on the ride, I was a Tony fan and will be my whole life.
EnRoute- John Scofield with Bill Stewart on drums- Bill Stewart is the star here for me, providing an incredible palette of polyrhythmic colour to accompany Scofield and Steve Swallow. The first time I listened to this, I was shocked by how different Stewart's concept was, and I was also suprised that something could be so related to the jazz tradition but so fresh to my 17 year old ears.

Led Zeppelin 4- John Bohnam on drums- Amazing album that has stood the test of time. The groove on When The Levee Breaks is a must-learn for any drummer!!

4) What sort of things are you practicing or developing musically these days?

I'm really trying to develop clarity in my playing and expressing myself more musically and sparsely. Sometimes, I have difficulty expressing a clean melodic idea on the drums because I'm playing way too many notes, and trying so hard to fit my licks in from my transcriptions. Recently I've found much more success in trying to play melodies as close as I can to the song without embellishment. Ironically, after doing that for 10-15 minutes on standard while singing the melody, I can grow to some dense phrases that I actually mean, and the drum stuff that I want to play comes out without thinking. I'm also continuing to work on my ride cymbal, emulating drummers like Kenny Clarke, Philly Joe Jones and Billy Higgins because that is one of the main elements of the rhythm of jazz that makes it feel so good and so unlike any other music. I'm also working on techniques to make my playing more relaxed vis a vis the Moeller system, and making my time feel good with just singles and doubles in the hands.

5) What interesting projects do you have on the go at the moment? (gigs, recordings, etc.)

I play and collaborate with a great rock/folk/indie artist named David Martel which is just so much fun and such a different learning experience for me. I have a trio with a couple friends of mine that's beginning to play more and more, which is great fun as well. Also, I play in a band of a friend of mine called Office Party which features a couple legendary Montreal music figures, Joe Sullivan and Andre White (who was just interviewed a few days back!) which is a constant source of fun and education for me. We did a recording recently with irrepressible bassist Adam Over which was a pure joy and will be ready soon to be released.

6) You've have been a very active student of the music over the course of the past few years and quite proactive in terms of seeking out great drummers to learn from whether, Montreal, Boston or New York. What can you tell us about some of the drummers you have taken lessons with and what did you learn from them?

This is kind of a heavy question for me. Of course, everyone I've had the privilege of studying with are amazing drummers and musicians that offered kindness and an absolute wealth of information for me to consume, but being proactive about this definitely had a down side as well. Being geographically located somewhat close to the New York area affords a certain advantage in that musicians often travel to Montreal to play (I've seen David Binney probably 8 or 9 times here) and we can go visit them to seek knowledge quite easily.

When I was seeking out these drummers to learn from, I was unfortunately seeking them out for the wrong questions. At the time, I was suffering from deficiencies in my playing that needed to be corrected (and could have been) without going to New York. So, just for example: Studying with someone like Ari Hoenig was so enlightening as far as his musical concept goes, but I should have had more discipline. Instead of learning to play a poor 5 over 7 polyrhythm, I should have been just working on being able to play quarter notes with the ride cymbal at 40 beats a minute in the right place! I was inundated with information that I wasn't ready for at that point.

There is a big difference between being informed about something, and KNOWING something so well it might as well be encoded directly onto one's DNA. The latter is what I think us young musicians should be concentrating on, not the former. It's much easier to learn 70% of a bunch of tasks than to learn 100% of one task... but when I think of all musicians I love (and they are all so different) they can all do the things they want to, to a point when they can improvise with these devices at any tempo, any which way.

With the widespread dissemination of information over the Internet, it grows harder and harder for young people raised in this society to truly concentrate on the essentials of learning to play this difficult music. That being said, the teachers that I studied with taught me an incredible amount. Especially studying with Chris McCann, who not only improved my music, but improved me and matured me as a human being. Being around an atmosphere in Montreal where there's incredible drummers playing such as Dave Laing, Andre White, Rich Irwin, Jim Doxas, Robbie Kuester, Martin Auguste and John Fraboni playing so well on any night of the week has been so helpful and fulfulling to me. I know that's not a great answer to the question but that's all I have!!

7) Favorite place to eat when back in Calgary?

CHARCUT Roast House, 899 Centre Street SW. Great Italian/French fusion style with a killing booze selection!

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