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Featured Musician - July 2010

Name : Todd Strait

Todd Strait

Instrument: drums

Early Years/Education: Grew up in Topeka, Kansas, where I started off as a trumpet player in 4th grade. When I got braces that was the end of my horn playing. There were drums in the basement, so I picked them up, and my dad and I played together. He was a piano player who’d play on the weekends. By the 7th grade, I began gigging around town with him. By 9th grade, I started working with other bands. At the end of high school I became involved in the 1979 “Louie Bellson/Slingerland National Drum Contest.” Louis Bellson was one of my drum idols. I went through the whole process and was in the final four. They gave me and my family a free trip to Las Vegas, and I got to meet Peter Erskine, Louis Bellson etc. The scholarship from the contest enabled me to go to the University of Bridgeport to study with Ed Soph. He helped me attain grants to pay for lessons. The other two drummers in the program were Dave Weckl and Joel Rosenblatt (Dave Weckl sounded more like Buddy Rich than Steve Gadd at that time).

New York: Between winning the Bellson contest, my own desire to live in New York, and the influence of Ed Soph in helping me get some other grants, I was able to move to the East coast after high school. Soon after moving there, I was playing in a trio and we opened for Marian McPartland at a little festival in Connecticut, and her drummer never showed up. Marian turned to me and said, “How would you like to play with us?” We had a good time playing together, and two weeks later she asked me if I would come play a gig with her in New York City. It turned out to be at Lincoln Center with a small orchestra. So I drove up, parked my car, took the drums in, set up and played the gig. When I came out to get my car, it was gone. I was just off the farm and had no idea they towed cars. I worked with Marian for the next nine years, the whole time I was in New York. In 1984 I also began playing with guitarists Tal Farlow and Barney Kessel. In ’86 I got a call to join Woody Herman’s band and went on the road with them for three months. When I returned to NYC, I worked with piano player Bill Charlap and continued playing with other big bands around the city. During my time on the East coast I continued my training by studying with drummers Joe Morello (whom I’d met through McPartland) and Gary Chester (first-call studio musician), and bass players Harvie S and Bob Bowman.

Kansas City: In 1990 I moved to Kansas City and started gigging there and in St. Louis. This is how I met Kevin Mahogany, whom I toured with from ’95 to ’08, and Karrin Allyson, whom I worked with from ’95 until ’09, and Eldar, who I played with from ’99 until ’08. In Kansas City I also worked as an adjunct teacher of drum set at the UMKC Conservatory, where I met my wife, Louise, who was getting her Masters in Music at the time. We finally moved to Portland in 2002, but I stayed on the road. I just quit touring last year. I picked Portland because there’s family here, and I did have a friend here, Gary Hobbs. I had been to Portland before when I played the Mt. Hood Festival with Kevin Mahogany.

Musical Influences: Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band, Bill Evans, Marian McPartland, Louie Bellson, Jeff Hamilton, Miles (all era’s), Pat Metheny, Clifford Brown/Max Roach, Art Blakey, Bill Stewart, Elvin and Philly Jo Jones, Steve Gadd, Mark Murphy, Stan Kenton, Four Freshman and Fred Hersch.

Most Satisfying Experience: We were in Paris touring Europe with Karrin Allison, and a guy came up to us after a show and said, “I love your music, I own a restaurant, please come over. I’ll have my chef prepare a meal for you if you play a set for us in the restaurant; we have a piano.” Well, we thought, we have the day off tomorrow, let’s do it. The restaurant turned out to be super small, for maybe sixteen people. It had no menu, you eat what the chef cooks and they don’t tell you the prices. So the stage is a tiny spinet piano with a little space behind it, and that’s it. Paul Smith, who’s a big guy, sat scrunched up on the piano bench; Karrin sat next to him with no sound system; the bassist stood there with no amp; and I had to take the drum head off a drum and put it on a couch pillow on my lap and play brushes. Here we are, absolutely bare bones, and it was the best gig of that entire tour. We had the most fun and we didn’t change anything. We played sambas, bossas, ballads, up-tempo swing, everything. To top it off, the food was incredible, with different wines for every course, and it took hours.

Favorite Recordings: Miles Davis “Kind of Blue”; Pat Metheny’s “Secret Story” or “Still Life Talking”; Thad Jones/Mel Lewis “Consummation”; Berlin Philharmonic “Pictures at an Exhibition”; Jim Hall’s “All Across the City” (w/Terry Clark, Steve La Spina and Gil Goldstein); Take 6 “Take 6”; Woody Herman “Giant Steps”; Houston Person ”Wildflower”; Chaka Kahn and Rufus “Stomping at the Savoy” (a live recording on New Years Eve in NYC); and Shirley Horn “Here’s to Life.”

Discography: With Karrin Allyson on Concord: “A Concord Christmas,” “Azure-te,” “Best of - By Request,” “Collage,” “Daydream,” “Footprints” w/special guest Nancy King (2006 Grammy Nominated - Best Vocal Jazz Album), “From Paris to Rio,” “I Didn’t Know About You,” “Imagina: Songs of Brazil” (2008 Grammy Nominated - Best Vocal Jazz Album), “Sweet Home Cooking” and “Wild for You.” With Eldar on Sony BMG: “Eldar” (w/special guest Michael Brecker), “Eldar Live at the Blue Note” (w/Ray Hargrove, Chris Botti), “Re-Imagination” (2007 Grammy Nominated-Best Contemporary Jazz Album). With Eldar on D&D: “Eldar” and “Handprints.” W/Nathan Gunn on Sony Classical: “Just Before Sunrise.” With PDXV on Heavywood: “PDXV Volume One,” “Threnody” and “Yellow Dance.” With Randy Porter on Heavywood: “Thirsty Soul.” With Frank Mantooth on MCG: “Ladies Sing for Lovers.” With Margaret Carlson and Mantooth on Blue Moon Music: “Once In A Blue Moon” and “This Christmas.” With Jay McShann on Groove Note: “What a Wonderful World.” With Claude “Fiddler” Williams on Progressive: “King of Kansas City.” With The Kennedy Bros. on Max: “I’ll Remember April.” With Mike Metheny on Attenburgh: “Close Enough For Love,” “From Then ‘Til Now,” “KC Potpourri,” “Street of Dreams.” With Kate Davis on “A Kate Davis Holiday” and “Introducing Kate Davis.” With Gary Sivils on Attenburgh: “Forever Took Too Long,” “Pretty Wild,” “Songs Forgotten in the Morning,” “You Must Believe in Music.” With Kansas City Boulevard Big Band on Sea Breeze: “Live at Harlings,” Stellar,” “Take Only For Pain,” “The KC Boulevard Big Band.” W/Laura Caviani: “Going There,” “As One.” I’ve got a trio recording we did in 1988 with Bill Charlap and Harvie S. that will be released this year on a European label. And in the last month I’ve recorded with David Valdez (Music of Lawrence Williams), Ed Bennett (his upcoming CD of originals on Sapphu), and with vocalist Tasha Miller.

Gigs: Cathedral Park Jazz Festival: 7/17 w/Greg Goebel and 7/18 w/Karrin Allyson; Koji’s 7/2, 7/3 w/Greg Goebel, 7/16 w/ Tom Wakeling; Nel Centro 7/9 w/Mike Pardew; Bend Jazz Festival, 7/10 w/PDXV; Laurence, Kansas Jazz Camp, 7/11-16; Hood River w/Jacqui Naylor, 7/17; Stockpot, Tigard w/Conroy/DeBrie 7/21 and 7/28; Halibuts w/Warren Rand, 7/23; McMinnville Pinot Noir Festival 7/24; Wallace Park w/PDXV, 7/29; Wilf’s w/members of the NY Voices, 7/30; “CI” Tualatin w/Conroy/DeBrie, 7/31; w/Kate Davis at Jimmy Mak’s, 8/5,11 and 12; at Wilf’s w/Kate Davis, 8/13..

Future: I’m really enjoying my time off the road, but I think about putting together a group of musicians I really like, not based on what instrument they play. We’ll figure out the sound later. I also plan on continuing to teach at Mt. Hood Community College.

Other Comments: I’m still in touch with Karin and Eldar, but when you’re in those groups you have to be dedicated to it, you can’t be half-way. You’re either in or you’re not. When I decided to get off the road, I knew what I was doing.

-- by Rita Rega


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