Name: Nick Saume
Early Years/Education: I grew up in the borough of Queens, New York, but moved to Spanish Harlem, where I lived for 10 years. Both my parents are from Caracas, Venezuela, but didn’t know each other there. I heard a lot of Tito Puente growing up. On Sundays, family would come over and they’d dance. When I was seven, I wanted to play the trumpet, but my underbite was so bad, every time I’d try and force a flat embouchure, I’d get jaw pain. I started drumming because there was no other instrument available in the school band. A local music teacher told me I’d make a good marching band drummer, so that’s how I started out. We’d march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. I went to St. Gregory The Great grammar school and St. Francis Prep in Brooklyn. That’s where I got a basketball and track scholarship. I was a runner because my dad was a runner.
My first real gig was playing the New York World’s Fair of ‘64 in a four piece ‘Ventures’ style band. I then went on to New York University to study business and jazz. I was there for three years, and then my dad got sick and I had to take care of him. Instead of going to school, I was playing a lot. My first real drum teacher was Stanley Krell (principal percussionist of the New York Philharmonic). I became a pit drummer and did a lot of matinées with him. I eventually became an on-call drummer for the William Morris Agency. Through the agency, I got to work with The Shirelles, The Chiffons, Johnny Thunder, Joey Dee and the Starliters, Belafante in Vegas, etc.
There were so many clubs in New York in the late ‘60s ... in one block, 45th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, there were one hundred musicians working on Broadway. Thirteen- piece show bands were common at that time. I was working three gigs a day. You could work a breakfast, a lunch and do a dinner. There was so much work all over the city. I used to leave drums at friends’ houses in midtown so I wouldn’t have to bring more drums in.
It took six years, but I finally got my degree from NYU in Jazz Studies and Business. After graduating, I stayed in New York and had a wife and a child. My wife wanted me to do something else, so I went into construction.
San Francisco: In 1975, I moved to San Francisco and joined this new group that was forming called the Pickle Family Circus. Their drummer had a hard time doing percussion and drumming at the same time. I started out as the percussionist working with their drummer; the next year I took over both roles. To me that was the greatest job I could have. I was with them eight years. I really enjoyed doing poly-rhythmic drumming to their club tossing. Because we were a jazz band, doing that was a challenge. I wrote out the charts of how many times the club would toss if you were working with four jugglers or six jugglers. We’d plan it out and know exactly where the turns were. We were so focused on it. I was like another performer in the ring. I had horns, whistles in my mouth — I loved it. We worked under an NEA grant back then. During this time, I also worked for The San Francisco Mime Troupe, one of the oldest political theater groups, and spent four years playing in Hawaii, mostly at Nick’s Fishmarket on Oahu.
Portland: We wanted to buy a house and just couldn’t afford to purchase one in San Francisco. A friend from Portland said we should come up and check it out, so without jobs we moved to Portland in 1990. I lived here for 15 years before playing music here. I have a business background, so I started running restaurants, did human resources work, etc. My last job was as a human resource analyst for the Oregon Department of Transportation. When that ended, I started to get back into music. I ran into bassist Andre St. James, who I knew from San Francisco, and we started playing with guitarist Frank Tribble. I went to Ron Steen’s jams and stated meeting more musicians. I played in trios with pianists Andre Kitaev and Jessica Williams. When I injured my shoulder, I started building a teaching practice, because carrying the drums was just too much for me. I taught at the Beaumont Middle School when they had the funding. Now, I teach out of my home. My drum studio is Drums Unlimited. I really like one-on-one teaching. While in San Francisco, I studied with George Marsh, Richie Goldberg, Anthony Cirone and Chuck Brown (who also taught Tony Williams). I’ve studied complete percussion including bells, xylophone, marimba, hi-hat, tambourine, cymbals, etc. I teach six days a week. Three years ago, I put a sandwich board sign out at NE 47th and Fremont Street, and 99% of my work comes from that sign.
Musical Influences: Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Philly Jo Jones, Papa Jo Jones, Elvin Jones, Max Roach, Alan Dawson, Jack De Johnette, Joe Morello and some of the newer guys like Antonio Sanchez. The level of playing has gone up, watching all the technicians play like Dave Weckl, Steve Gadd, etc. I was influenced by going to the circus and seeing the drummer and how he percussed everything.
Non-drummer influences include Keith Jarrett with Jan Garbarek, Oscar Peterson with Pedersen, John Mc Laughlin when he plays in a trio, Yo Yo Ma when he did the cello suites, Jaki Byard, Dexter Gordon, Joe Henderson, Gene Harris, and the Ray Brown-Jeff Hamilton bands.
Most Satisfying Experience: I’d have to go back to when I was ten or eleven and my mother, who never did anything with me alone, said we’re going to the movies and we’re going to see “The Gene Krupa Story.” Gene Krupa was going to be there in person, and there was going to be a drum contest. We go in and everybody’s got drum sticks, and they’re playing all over the seats, etc. She says to me, ‘Go up there and put your name in for the drum contest.’ They were going through a process of elimination, and I got down to the last five.
Suddenly, it’s Gene Krupa coming in through the exit door with his collar up and in a raincoat with his hair all messed up, because it was windy and raining outside. He then says, ‘Anybody got a comb?’ and I give him mine. So I get to play, and he’s adjusting the drum set for me on the stage in this big theater. He asks, ‘What do you want to play?’ and I said, ‘I want to play a drum solo.’ I play my heart out, eyes closed and sweating. I stop because I’m exhausted and the audience is clapping and cheering. It was great! He shook my hand. I didn’t win, but I decided right there, ‘This is what I want to do, I want to be a drummer.’
Favorite Recordings: “Tales of Another” by Gary Peacock; “John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman”; “The Survivor’s Suite” and “Whisper Not” by Keith Jarrett; Brubeck’s “Gone with the Wind”; “Red Hot Ray Brown Trio”; “Belongings” and “Luminescence” by Jan Garbarek; “Trailways Express” by Philly Jo Jones, “Kind of Blue” Miles Davis, “Pilgrimage” with Michael Brecker; and anything by Pat Metheny or Oscar Peterson.
Discography: “Andre St. James Trio” (2010), “Quite Frankly” with Frank Tribble (2009), and with the Pickle Family Circus, “The Pickle Family Circus Jazz Band” (1982/1983).
Gigs: Nick Saume and Laura Cunard, Friday, August 9, in front of the Umpqua Bank at 44th and NE Fremont; August 3, The Nick Saume Trio at Maryhill Winery in Goldendale, WA (1:00-5:00 pm); August 10 and August 3, the Andre St. James Trio with Nick Saume, the Aloft Hotel at Cascade Station.
Future Plans: To keep teaching. I love teaching. My goal in life is to teach everybody how to play the drums! I teach people from all walks of life — bankers, painters, etc. I think if you can walk and chew gum, you can play drums.
Other: I hate to say this, but girls are more advanced [students] than boys at all ages. When you talk to them, they’re focused on what you’re saying. They practice much more, they feel they have to be better, they come so prepared. They bring in new stuff they want to learn, while the boys are waiting for me to give them something to play.
-- by Rita Rega