May 9, 2003
CRYING THROUGH THE DRUMS
By Seth Rogovoy
Scott Amendola isn’t sure how to feel when people tell him
they like his record because it doesn’t sound like a record
a drummer would make.
"Should I be flattered by that?" asked Amendola,
who performs with his jazz-groove quintet at Club Helsinki next
Wednesday, May 14, at 8.
What probably surprises people about the music
on "Cry" (CryptoGramophone),
Amendola’s latest CD, is its melodic quality and its willingness
to cede the focus to other instrumentalists, including violinist
Jenny Scheinman, guitarist Nels Cline and saxophonist Eric Crystal.
Although he is the bandleader and a drummer,
write for himself. He writes with the ensemble in mind, and he draws
from a wide palette for his compositions.
"Composing is really an individual thing based on the personality
of the composer rather than the instrument he plays," said Amendola,
a New Jersey native, Berklee College alumnus, and member of the Grammy
Award-nominated jazz group, T.J. Kirk, in a recent
"I tend to hear very melodically," said Amendola, who for several
years in the late-‘90s held down the drum seat in the Charlie
Hunter Quartet, led by the innovative, Bay Area guitarist. "I start
from melodies, and sometimes I’ll write a whole song, or sometimes
I’ll have just a bass line or a fragment of a melody.
"Lately what I’ve been writing is more on the ballad side
or more on the freer side. But then I’ll write something completely
different. There’s no formula. It just comes to me. I can’t
As heard on "Cry," Amendola’s compositions
are colorful pictures that draw on a variety of inspirations, including
African music, jazz, blues, spirituals, rock and world music, particularly
When Amendola composes, he has in mind the particular sound and
sensibility of the players in his band.
"Some ideas I come up with are not right for this group," he said. "But
more times than not, the ideas work with this group. I’m hearing
these particular instruments right now. The violin is just so incredibly
expressive on all levels, and Jenny as a player is so expressive
and listens to so many different types of music. She can be the most
subtlest, quietest little bird, and then can be the tractor-trailer
riding down the highway. My music calls for that."
Scheinman is a virtuoso violinist who studied
at Oberlin Conservatory and has worked with Aretha Franklin, Bill
Frisell, Myra Melford, John Zorn, Cecil Taylor and Charming Hostess.
Her own recordings include "Live at Yoshi’s," "Eat" and "The
"I’ve known Jenny a long time and we’ve played together
a lot," said Amendola. "There’s so much about her playing and
her personality that I absolutely love. And violin is my most favorite
instrument in the world.
"Everyone in my band – they’re all incredibly deep musicians
where there are no borders. And that’s really important for
me when I bring in my music. It’s all over the map. And what
really makes it a whole is the fact that all of us see that and we
all can take this music and make it our thing. It’s not my
thing; it’s our thing. It really is a special thing."
Amendola said the musicians in his group play
a role in shaping his compositions. "The band comes up with certain ideas around what
I’m writing harmonically," he said. "They’re all harmonic
geniuses. You can write two notes on a piece of paper and put it
in front of them and they’ll come up with incredible music."
As a composer, Amendola finds motivation and inspiration from various
sources, including politics and culture.
With titles like "Bantu," "A Cry for John Brown," and "Rosa," much
of the material on "Cry" was clearly intended to
address civil rights and African-American history.
"I wrote ‘Rosa’ on the day that the U.S. invaded Afghanistan," said
Amendola. "I was thinking about Rosa Parks and how one person could
make a difference, and how we all have a voice. I just look at this
woman who grew up in the South as a woman of color, for whom at the
time it was incredibly difficult to make a statement, yet she did."
Amendola was also moved to explore the various
aspects of the title. "The
word ‘cry’ means so many different things -- joyful,
sad, anger, rage, uniting. That’s why I called it that. That’s
what the music was about -- a reaching out, a speaking out and making
a really loud statement, but also making a very personal statement."
When people ask Amendola what kind of music he plays, he is hard-pressed
to come up with an adequate answer.
"I get asked that question a lot, when I’m traveling and people
see me carrying my cymbal bag, and I meet people and they ask what
I play," he said. "It stumps me. It’s kind of jazz-based, but
it’s not traditional jazz. It’s improvisationally-based,
but it’s based on melodies and grooves and ballads. I describe
the instrumentation. It’s hard to get across references like
Bill Frisell and John Zorn, and it’s difficult to summarize
because there are African influences, Americana influences, songs,
jazz and fusion influences.
"The best compliment anyone ever gave me was when Chris Wood of
Medeski, Martin and Wood heard us play and afterwards he came up
and said to me, ‘You’ve created your own voice.’
"I feel like I’ve done that with these musicians, and they’re
a huge part of that. I hate the idea of labels. To me music is one
thing, whether I’m playing with Kelly Joe Phelps or Nels Cline
or Stinkbug. It’s all the same thing. I’m sitting behind
the drums playing music, reacting to sounds, hitting the drums and
cymbals. It really is the same thing and I approach everything that
way. I just feel like it’s wide open and I think it’s
hard for most people to understand that.
"People who go out and buy a Norah Jones record might not understand
mine right away, but I think if they’re exposed to it and listen
to it for a while, they will."