Lou Grassi: Joining Two Worlds
“ I'm a kind of a low-impact leader. Some leaders really try to control everything. I trust the people that I have to do what's needed, and to undoubtedly show me some possibilities of what could happen that I would have never considered. ”
All About Jazz: How did you get started playing?
Lou Grassi: I was 15, almost 16, when I started playing, but I had a desire to play since I was much younger. I don't know exactly what it was that attracted me to the drums.
AAJ: What were you hearing then?
LG: Things like The Ventures, Everly Brothers tunes, things like that. Then when I was 18, I ended up in the army during the Vietnam era and I got in a band. So I stayed in the States the whole time. After basic training they send you to music school for about six months. The band I was in was about 30 or 35 guys and about half of them were jazz musicians. In fact (drummer) Billy Cobham auditioned me at the time. So I got in a situation like that with people who were more advanced and you hang with them and you learn.
AAJ: You've spent a good deal of time playing both traditional/Dixieland jazz as well as stuff that many people classify as "free". Others have pointed to a strong connection between the two; do you see a natural progression there?
LG: I think there is. I got into traditional jazz later. It's been less than 20 years since I started playing it, so I sort of went backwards to it. But there's definitely a natural progression. The earliest jazz - before Louis Armstrong changed things - was collective improvisation; there was no featured soloist, somebody would get a four bar break, but nobody would get a chorus. Louis started that, the concept of playing an entire chorus, or several choruses as a soloist, so there's definitely a strong connection.
AAJ: How long have you been recording with CIMP (Creative Improvised Music Projects) Records?
LG: Since they started and I believe this is their tenth year - and that was when I was just getting back into this music... I had been getting more commercial work and work in wedding bands, giving lessons, doing musical theater, playing a little bit of jazz, but I was really out of the loop with the creative improvised music scene, which I had been involved with earlier.
AAJ: How and why did you get out of that scene?
LG: There was a period when I had moved out of Manhattan, living in New Jersey and I was struggling to make a living as a musician and did what I had to do to make a living. I just sort of lost contact with that world for a while.
AAJ: Were the times just inhospitable to the music?
LG: Maybe, but I don't know. I know there are other people that just stuck with it all that time....but there seems to be a lot of young people getting into the music...Art Rock bands like Sonic Youth...that have become popular and have turned their audience on to music, plus the fact that there's not a lot of great (pop) music being made and there are people with ears out there who seek music with substance.
AAJ: Let's go back to CIMP. What do you think of their "room temperature" recording technique?