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Tommy Igoe: 5 Minutes

Your Name: Tommy Igoe

Hometown: Emerson New Jersey

Current Residence: New York City area

Current Project you are working on (artist/tour/recording/video etc): Groove Essentials 2.0 and the Birdland Big Band live DVD

Currently in my CD player (or iPod, etc): Zakir Hussein, Shakti, Prince, Hilario Duran, Sting, Bartok

Favorite way to relax: Cooking

When and why did you start playing? When? Before I could walk. Why? There was no choice in the matter, it’s what I was meant to do. There was no why.

Do you come from a musical family? Was this an influence in your early playing or instrument choice? My father is Sonny Igoe, a great drummer and even better educator. He did not want me to be a drummer, seriously. He knows the trials and tribulations of the music business so he tried to steer me to another craft. But, you can’t change what’s meant to be, so here we are. He’s 84 and still swingin’, baby! I’ve also studied piano for more than 15 years, which I call my third instrument (I’ll never play it well enough to call it my second).

Who was your first teacher? What other teachers were influential to you? My first teacher was, of course, my father, who still to this day tells great stories from his era that I had never heard before. I had two other fantastic teachers who were huge influences. Darryl Bott, a band director from New Jersey and the renowned Drum Corps legend, Dennis Delucia. I meet them both at the very young and impressionable age of 15, and they showed me lots of important musical things. But mostly, they showed me by example that it’s okay to care about this thing called music. I mean, it’s really okay to throw yourself in as far and as deep as you can. As a matter of fact, if you aren’t going to do it all the way, don’t do it at all. They were passionate about their art, and their commitment to education. They gave me that same passion and for that I am truly grateful.

Describe your first drum kit. My father made me a mini kit when I was three. Black Slingerlands that he had retrofitted, a 16 inch floor tom on it’s side and tiny stands for everything. He went to all that work and expense and I refused to play it. I made him play the small one while I stood up behind the big kit. It’s funnier when he tells it…

Do you remember your first gig? Can you describe it? It was a wedding band. Their drummer didn’t show up and called me out of sheer desperation. I think I was 16. At the time I thought it was the most awesome thing that could ever happen. “ You mean, I get paid???? Wow!” I played with them the rest of the fall wedding season.

What was your fondest musical memory? I don’t have just one but I remember the first time I played in front of a really big crowd, like 20000 people, with Blood Sweat and Tears and I was thinking “holy crap, this is cool”. I’m sure I hit the drums way too hard that gig.

What was your LEAST fond musical memory? That’s easy. I was subbing on a broadway show when the whole show stopped and had to actually restart because of a snafu between the rhythm section, the conductor and the vocalist. They call those moments a “trainwreck” and if you ever experience it, you’ll know why. It was 8 seconds of absolute musical terror.

What was your ODDEST musical experience? A wife of a famous artist I worked for was convinced she could sing and apparently nobody was going to dispute that painfully obvious falsehood. To make matters worse, she would pick these really bizarre show tunes that were placed in the middle of a set of very well known folk/rock songs. The disbelief on the audience faces and smattering of applause at the end is still to this day the funniest, and I guess you could call “odd”, thing I’ve ever been a part of. It was like a car wreck that you knew was going to happen and there was nothing you could do to stop it. Only thing you could do was brace yourself, play as good as you can and think about that nice post-gig beer waiting for you in the dressing room.

Were you influenced by old or classic recordings? Which ones? Do you still refer to them today? Of course. All of them. James Brown, John Coltrane, Buddy Rich, Beatles. Like most people I bought them all twice when CD’s came out in the 80’s!

Which musicians do you admire? Why? I admire true greatness. I’m fascinated with great composers. Bartok, Barber, Bernstein, Chick Corea, Sting, Prince to name just a tiny fraction. I listen to their music and try to understand what touched them to create such amazing music from a blank slate. I listen to composition first before I ever get to the drumming. If the song isn’t getting me, then the drumming won’t either.

Who are your favorite musicians of today? Groups? Recordings? A couple of drummers are Cliff Almond, Keith Carlock, Eric Harland to name a few young guys who are killing it. I’ve been waiting for the next wave of great young players to make their mark, we’re a little overdue but I’m sure it’s coming. It always does! The art always progresses, just not always at a pace you expect. It ebbs and flows…

What inspires you today? Music, art, film, etc? Everything in life inspires me in some way, good and bad. I’ve been catching up with some reading I’ve been meaning to get to and I feel that reading makes my mind relax and expand in a positive way. My work with my big band inspires me today. I’m obsessed with trying to figure out the next step in large ensemble jazz. I new voice and direction What is it? Stay tuned…

Do you get still get nervous before a performance? If so – how do you cope with those feelings? If not – what have you done to control them? I never had stage fright. I love that moment of getting on the stage…

What advice would you give to beginners who are nervous? Um… Don’t be? Seriously, just relax. People are usually so supportive of the artist and they are on your side. Don’t forget that. Just practice, be prepared and then enjoy the moment! Music is supposed to be fun, don’t forget that!

Do you still practice? If so, how often and for how long – and what material do you work on? I do, but usually only short bursts, for like an hour tops. There are so many things to work on that it’s never a problem to find things to play. I keep a stack of books on my stand and sometimes I just close my eyes and flip and whatever page is open, that’s my work.

Do you play instruments other than drums? If so – what, and do you feel its helped you develop as a drummer or musician? Piano. The first thing I recommend to every young drummer coming up is to immediately take piano lessons. It’ll make you a better musician, as well as a better drummer. My piano training is a huge part of the success I’ve had in the business.

If you could give one piece of advice to an up and coming drummer, what would it be? 3 things: Take piano lessons, get out of your comfort zone and keep technologically current. If you don’t have a home recording set-up and you are under the age of 30 then you are living in an alternate reality from another era.

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