Tuesday saw the release of “Lift,” the first album in five years from veteran Bay Area drummer Scott Amendola. It’s a bold, audacious collection of originals marked by compositional innovation, intriguing electronics and dense interplay among the musicians – Amendola, Jeff Parker (guitar) and John Shifflett (bass).
“Lift,” it should be noted, garnered some unexpected but entirely welcome pre-release attention last month when it was mentioned in a New York Times’ rundown of the fall season’s most eagerly anticipated discs. Such plugs are hard to come by, particularly for self-released, Bay Area-based albums.
The Amendola Trio is marking “Lift’s” takeoff in grand style. The group has CD release shows set for 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. Here is the first of a two-part Q&A with the drummer-composer.
Question: Before getting down to the specifics, I should ask what your reaction was to seeing “Lift” blurbed in The Times. Does that say something about the Bay Area jazz scene?
Amendola: I was delighted to see “Lift” mentioned in the NYT. Surprised a bit, yes, because I live in the Bay Area. I think it says something about the work that I’ve done over the past 10 years on my own as a leader, as well as bands I’ve been in like Plays Monk and with notable people I play with like Nels Cline, Charlie Hunter. And other people I’ve worked with like Bill Frisell and John Zorn and many more. Nels’ records seem to get a lot of attention (and I think they deserve that attention).
I can’t say that I think it says anything about the Bay Area because there are still lots and lots of people who don’t get recognized and therefore move to New York or Chicago, for example. But I do feel that the scene here is vibrant, exciting and very open. That’s one of the main reasons I love the Bay – people are open to music.
Not that they aren’t in other parts of the country or the world, but for me I’ve never felt pressure to be anything but myself here. I’m not trying to fit into a clique or any kind of musical thing. I’m able to do my thing here and it feels right. I think that could feel right in other places, but for me, the Bay is the perfect fit. Besides, I just love this place. It’s a great place to just simply live.
Question: The music on “Lift” sounds, to me, wholly singular and personal. What is your composing process like?
Amendola: Well, thanks so much for that. That means a lot to me. My music is totally personal. I just draw from what basically comes out. I can’t force composition. I hear things in my head and usually record them in my phone/computer/answering machine. Then I transcribe it and work on it. Sometimes, I come up with complete songs; sometimes, ideas I work off.
Composing is the most challenging and rewarding aspect of playing music for me. I’m grateful to have wonderful musicians to share my ideas with and who are incredibly supportive and help put their stamp on my music. It’s really the greatest compliment I could possibly ask for.
I have two children. Right after my oldest was born, I couldn’t write music for months. Nothing. Just blank. My world was shattered in the best possible way. Life had taken a turn I was excited about but I had no idea how it would feel and how I would deal with it. It was, and is, incredible being a parent. When my son was about nine months old, I was putting him to sleep and starting singing this melody. That became (“Lift’s”) “Lullaby For Sascha.” I never know when I’m going to hear something and if it’s going to turn into something I’ll play/record. It was brutal not being able to write music for nine months, but I like the way music appears in my head. I just hope it keeps coming.
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