VanPort Jazz

Big Band Jazz

Scott Townsend - Drums

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Interest in music and how things work displayed early on for me.  Although formal instruction in music didn’t begin until age ten, prior to primary school I spent hours with ears glued to my parent’s stereo speakers soaking in all I could while asking two questions that guided me from toddlerhood into the present.   The first question was how do the musicians create these wonderful sounds that feel so good?  The second was how does the sound transfer to a disk and somehow electronically drive the speakers.  Given the nature of this web site, I’m focusing on the former question although references to the second question are unavoidable and intertwined in what I have to say here.

In fourth grade, I had three experiences that resulted in my dedication to music.  The first was a short attempt to study viola which ended a few months later due to either laziness (didn’t want to carry the instrument on a mile walk every day in the blistering Arizona heat) or that I hadn’t really found my instrument yet, although I knew I loved playing music at this point.  The second experience was conversations with my bassist sister, Lynn, which held promises of playing music together throughout life.  The third was my fourth-grade school teacher Mr. Martin.

While In the middle of a Social Studies lecture one day (his second most emphasized subject, only prevailed by math), Martin stopped talking and left the class room without a word.  After 10 minutes of total disarray he returned with a snare drum.  Again, wordless, he proceeded to the front of the class room, set up, and started to play.  He was damn good.  After what was an odd experience coming from a fourth-grade instructor my life was changed and I was inspired to play drums.  So much for laziness with carrying instruments.

My first instructor was a Phoenix local jazz drummer Gaeton Caviola.  He emphasized the basics for jazz drumming and introduced me to the concept of Syncopation by learning to site read syncopated rhythms played between the left-hand snare and right-foot bass while keeping time with the left-foot hihat and right-hand ride.  Gaeton’s instruction combined with sitting in his studio waiting room listening to bebop on the local jazz station started my foundation as a Jazz/Big-Band drummer.  However, I also had passion to learn other styles which lead me after 3 or so years of studying under Gaeton to finding my next instructor, Tony Ferderber, who was playing Fusion at a local Jazz Festival when I met him.

Switching instruction to Tony meant moving to a different studio, Creative Drum Shop.  This shop/studio turned out to be world renowned and was the most extensive drum shop I have seen to this day.  Tony was one of 4 or 5 instructors there and I ended up taking lessons from most of them at one time or another, but kept on with Tony as my main instructor for the next 3 or so years.  After my first lesson with Tony, he was very happy to see the disciplined habits Gaeton had instilled and immediately found the next level books and study path for me.  After studying under Tony for a few months, he introduced me to the shop’s owner as a possible substitute drummer for his family band.  At that point (roughly 8th grade) I started playing gigs with this band at wedding receptions and private parties.  At the same time, I also started making connections with others and found gigs at local restaurants playing standards.  By the end of my 8th grade year I also won state competitions for jazz drumming.

My next step was high school and since I lived at the borderline between two districts I was able to choose which public high school I wanted to attend.  I had the choice between a school that was more academic centered or one with an amazing music program.  I chose Coronado High School for the music program directed under Ed Meyer.  Ed was fairly new to Arizona and brought with him from the east coast an extensive knowledge and passion for professional level marching core.  In the two years prior to my joining his program he had turned the high school marching band into a state award winning group by hiring additional sectional instructors from marching core groups like the Blue Devils and Garfield.   I entered into his program playing snare, and the band again won state competitions the whole time under Ed’s direction along with the drum line winning multiple state competitions from California to Illinois.  The experience of playing clean 32nds at + 150 bpm with 9 snares fine-tuned my ear for listening precisely to others as well as strengthened my consistency.  Additionally, my rudiments were doubly strengthened resulting in more efficient playing around the set.  I also played with the big band my Jr and Snr years and won state awards that resulted in receiving scholarships to ASU and the Telluride Jazz Camp.

In University, my curiosity with how things worked started to consume my time.  Again, my fourth-grade teacher geared me into this through intensive mathematics and that set me up for exploring this curiosity at a deeper level.  At this point I took a short break from music while working on a bachelor’s in Physics.  After exploring Physics and Chemical Physics at NAU and also playing drums with a few local groups there, I went on to a PhD program for Physics at the Colorado School of Mines.  In Colorado, while studying Physics, I also continued to grow in music by joining various local groups during my time there.  One such group was a big band comprised of a group of alumni from Metro State College in Denver directed under Walter Barr.  Among the musicians who occasionally played with this group was John Pickering, author of several drumming books for Mel Bay, such as The Drummer’s Cook Book and Studio/Jazz Drum Cook Book to name a few (both books I had studied while in Jr. High).  My time with this group was well spent as John had a few pointers to offer as could be imagined.  Additionally, I played with a few other local big bands, combos and rock groups in the Denver area while finishing my grad studies followed by moving to Portland in 2001.

Since moving to Portland, I spent close to a decade playing with the Bureau of Standards Big Band playing at clubs ranging from the former Tony Starlights Supper Club to the former Jimmy Mak’s Jazz Club, and since then had the honor of joining VanPort in early 2017.  My influences over the years are from just about everyone I listen to.  Of course, the greats and well-known drummers shape all jazz/rock drummers to a certain degree, but also, I find a different way of approaching things from many musicians and find it useful to hear how others consider/interpret the music through their playing.