October 3, 2004
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
EXPLORING NEW DEGREES
By Andrew Gilbert
Forget Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. For serious connectivity, there's
no beating Scott Amendola.
The most musical drummer to emerge on the Bay Area's fertile 1990s
music scene, Amendola has woven a dense and far-reaching web of bandstand
relationships that tie him to influential figures in jazz, blues,
groove, rock and new music. An organizer by nature, he has become
a creative nexus for a community of musicians stretching from Los
Angeles and Seattle to Chicago and New York.
Although he first gained widespread notice a decade ago in eight-string
guitar ace Charlie Hunter's trio, in recent years Amendola has stepped
forward as the leader of several compelling bands that showcase his
supremely supple trap work. As a jazz player, for instance, he's
been busy in recent months with the cooperative group Plays Monk,
a trio featuring clarinetist Ben Goldberg and bassist Devon Hoff
that focuses on the brilliant, knotty composition of modern jazz
giant Thelonious Monk. The band, which performs Oct. 21 at the San
Francisco Museum of Modern Art as part of the San Francisco Jazz
Festival and on Oct. 30 at the Jazzschool in downtown Berkeley, forged
its slinky improvisational approach at the elegant South of Market
"We've created certain moods for tunes, more than developing set
arrangements," says Amendola, 35, who as Bacar's artistic director
has turned the restaurant into one of the city's hippest jazz hangouts.
The Oakland drummer intersects with the world of punk and alternative
rock through his close association with Los Angeles guitarist Nels
Cline, who recently joined Wilco. A volatile player who can move
from thrash distortion to sweetly chiming harmonics within a phrase,
Cline has been a creative catalyst on the Southern California music
scene for more than two decades, often collaborating with former
Minutemen bassist Mike Watt and Mothers of Invention keyboard player
Cline has nurtured the forceful rock edge in
Amendola's sound, while also encouraging his experiments with electronics.
They first started playing together back in the mid-'90s in the
free improv ensemble Stinkbug (now L. Stinkbug). Their musical
connection deepened when the guitarist started a new group to play
his expansive compositions, the Nels Cline Singers, a band that
recently released a beautifully spooky session on Cryptogramophone, "The
When Cline took over the guitar chair in Amendola's
quintet in 2002, he helped turn the band into one of the most exciting
working groups on the California scene, with a combustible chemistry
captured on the 2003 album "Cry. " Now that Cline is spending
most of his time on the road with Wilco, Amendola has taken his
band in the opposite direction, exploring the transparent, unplugged
dynamics of a chamber ensemble. Its latest incarnation, a quartet
called Chambers of Grace, features bassist John Shifflett, pianist
Art Hirahara and violinist Jenny Scheinman. The band concludes
a West Coast tour with a performance tonight at Kuumbwa and Monday
The band's book is similar to Amendola's old
quintet, with instrumental covers of songs by Jimi Hendrix ("Manic Depression") and Fela ("This
Is Sad") and the occasional spiritual ("His Eye Is on the Sparrow").
But the band's repertoire is mostly made up of Amendola's engaging
original tunes, pieces that are so well crafted they can work as
high-velocity fusion or as gentle, folklike themes.
Born and raised in the New Jersey suburb of
Tennafly, just a stone's throw from New York City, Amendola was
the kind of kid who showed an inclination for rhythm almost from
the moment he could walk. His grandfather Tony Gottuso, a highly
respected guitarist who split his time between studio sessions
and gigs with jazz luminaries such as Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong
and Nat "King" Cole, offered
plenty of support when Amendola began to get interested in jazz.
"I used to bang on things as a kid," Amendola says. "I'd just sit
around banging on pots and pans and coffee cans. When I was 9, we
had to pick an instrument in school, and I started studying drums." His
passion for music only deepened during his four years at Boston's
Berklee College of Music, where it wasn't unusual for him to practice
for 12 hours a day. Amendola decided he had to find his own voice,
rather than model himself after established drummers.
After graduating in 1992, he decided to move to San Francisco, where
he quickly hooked up with Charlie Hunter. They went on to play together
in the three-guitar-and-drums funk jazz supergroup T.J. Kirk, with
John Schott and Will Bernard.
"From the first gig we played together, Charlie and I had a really
great hookup," Amendola says. "Ever since my grandfather, I've just
really loved the guitar, and I wanted to meet a young guitar player
who was doing something different. And you can't get more different
than what Charlie's doing."
While Hunter and many of the other players Amendola worked with
in the '90s have moved to New York, the drummer feels he's found
the perfect environment in the Bay Area. And with creative relationships
spreading out across the country, he's never more than one degree
away from a powerful musical hookup.