Here is the second half of my Q&A with veteran Bay Area drummer-composer Scott Amendola. His trio – it includes Jeff Parker (guitar) and John Shifflett (bass) – performs Sunday at Dana Street Roasting Co. in Mountain View, Monday at Yoshi’s in Oakland and October 28 at Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz.
Question: Your relationship with John and Jeff stretches far back. What contributions do they each make toward you realizing your ultimate sound?
Amendola: Jeff and John are old friends; words can barely describe my feeling about them as musicians and people.
I met Jeff in 1987 or ‘88 in Boston at Berklee College of Music. We’d hang a bit. Play sometimes. See each other. He was always, and still is, a super great guy. And a bad-ass musician. We kept in touch and whenever I was in Chicago he’d come out and hang. We’d hang late sometimes after shows.
There’s a project that I have called CRATER. It’s dormant at the moment but we used to play a lot in the Bay. The band consisted of myself and a laptop player named JHNO (aka John Eichenseer). We’d have a bass player and a guitar player and sometimes more people. I used to fly Jeff out to play with us. We’d do shows around here and LA.
Then, when it came to making my previous record, “Believe,” I asked Jeff. I introduced Jeff and Nels Cline in the Bay Area. We got together at my rehearsal space and played for a bit. Those guys hit if off. So I had to make a record with them both.
Jeff takes my music and makes it his own. He’s not afraid to tell me his suggestions, etc. But I don’t feel like I need to tell Jeff, or John for that matter, much.
John I’ve known since about ‘94 maybe. We’d see each other on various gigs then we were in Wil Bernard’s band for a bit. Then the bass player that had been in my band bailed from some dates and I called John. John SMOKED my music and the band just went to another level.
I love John’s grounded nature. He’s truly a bass player in the best sense of what a bass player should be, in my opinion. He’s extremely creative but holds down the fort. I don’t tell him what to play. I might have some bass lines here and there for stuff but, ultimately, I just give a bit of direction and say go. Or maybe he just goes. It doesn’t matter. He always is deep, deep, DEEP in the music and connected with the band and makes sure things are cohesive. He’s also just the sweetest guy on the planet.
The three of us just have a great time playing music and hanging. It’s very comfortable and casual. But the music is an unknown, meaning it might go to a different place from the night before, etc. It’s a great feeling. I also feel like I can bring anything in to the band and we’ll make something good out of it.
Question: I can’t let this moment slip by without asking you about Wil Blades, with whom you perform regularly in a drums-organ format. What are the roots of that musical alliance? For those who have never seen you in the Amendola vs. Blades format, describe the musical and personal dynamic that plays out on stage.
Amendola: Wil is a brilliant organist. I have to say, I’ve played with and seen organ players but none like Wil. He’s committed to the instrument far beyond what most organists are. There’s no ego trying to steamroll the band. He’s a fine musician who likes all the subtleties of the most intricate ballad, and can blast off when needed. But he’s always there, ready to make a move.
We have a blast playing together. I talked him into taking the Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn “Far East Suite” and arranging it for duo. Man, it was a lot of work for him. We got a hold of the scores but he really got into/under/beneath/behind/below/around what was going on. It’s really fun to do that music with him. We did that and just kept playing duo. Playing standards and our own music.
Our dynamic on stage is very playful and fun. We often don’t write a setlist and one of us will start a tune. Sometimes the guy who’s the least tired is essentially leading the gig. (We both have two kids who wear us out!) But it’s a musical battle where everyone wins. We’re going to be recording this fall/winter for an ‘11 release.
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