Career Change

This September was the first in 16 years that I did not walk into a classroom. Below is what I shared on social media:

I always thought that I would be a music teacher for life. However, sometimes an opportunity comes along that is too good to pass up. I was recently offered and accepted an incredible opportunity to join the Education team at Hal Leonard. I have used their products since I was a kid, and I am honored to join their team. I am also looking forward to continuing to work with the community of music educators around the world, and thankful that I can do most of it from our home base here in Rochester.

I am looking forward to playing more music, teaching more drums, and spending more time with my family. I am grateful for my experiences teaching in public schools, and there are surely many people with whom I hope to keep in touch. It is wild to me that I won’t be heading back to school in September, but I am really looking forward to this new adventure. I am lucky to have someone like Sarah in my life, who gives me endless support and is always with me 100%.

I wish I could tell you that it was a hard decision, but it was not. I loved a lot of things about teaching, especially being able to help students and teachers progress in their musical journey. Working for Hal will allow me to do that on a much larger scale.

I wish I could tell you that it was something I planned for, but it was not. I had never imagined leaving teaching, but I also never expected to get this job. I didn’t even get nervous for the interview, because I didn’t know what to be nervous about.

I wish I could tell you that everything is perfect now, but it is not. I can say that my work/life balance is much better. I am playing more music than ever before. I am seeing my family, and playing an active role in my kids’ lives. I am learning a completely new job, and stumbling some. I really enjoy the folks I work with, and love being on a team where everyone wants to make progress at a similar rate.

I have also learned some lessons through this process. Firstly, sometimes the current situation can force your hand. Things changed a lot with my job as a teacher over the past two years, and it caused me to consider the alternatives. Had we not been open to exploring every opportunity, I never would have made the change. Second, I realized that its never too late to make a change if it feels right. I expected to be where I was forever, partly because I am 38 years old and I thought it too late to change horses, but I was wrong. Finally, and most importantly, being able to spend time with my wife and kids, and being the best version of myself during that time is incredibly important to me.

I don’t know what will happen next, but I am learning to try to not make too many binding plans. Things could change again, and it is important to be ready for that possibility. For now, I am excited for the future.


A letter to music educators during COVID closure

Dear Music Teacher,

How are you? This is certainly not what we thought May would look like when we started the school year! It goes without saying that this is a totally unique and unprecedented situation, with unique challenges for our particular discipline. Many of us are the planning type, and by extension, the worrying type. This is only one person’s opinion, but music will not go away. It is such an integral part of our society, and our community of music educators is so strong in our ability to advocate and remind people why our content is so crucial for students to experience. In this time, rather than focus on fears and frightening possibilities, it makes most sense to me to use this interval as a chance to develop skills, and figure out if we are best serving our students. 

I’m sure we have many questions. Most of them don’t have answers. The timing of this situation means that we have summer vacation shortly ahead of us. The beginning of the COVID pandemic didn’t really hit us until early March, and the time until school starts is more than twice the amount of time that we’ve been in this so far. Consider how much the knowledge and research has changed in two months, and how quickly things have developed. Right now, it is impossible to predict what things will look like in September, so while having contingency plans is smart, doom and gloom panic only affects our mental health, and really nothing else. (For example, consider how much the reports have changed and varied in this week ALONE. I drafted this on Tuesday, when many were hearing that wind instruments could never be played again in a school. Just three days later, we are now hearing that perhaps very little risk of spread will come from wind instruments, just as an example. This is an extremely fluid situation!)

Things will look different. We will eventually get to a place where we can make music together again. Until then, we need to hold serve and make adjustments. Our commitment and passion for bringing musical experiences to our students will persevere if we can be patient and find solutions in the interim.


How can we social distance and still have concerts?

You will probably live-stream concerts for families for a while. Is that different? Yes, but it’s better than cancelling a concert! Churches are finding during this time that they are actually reaching more people than usual because people can watch from anywhere, and on their own terms. Playing for a full house is nice, but giving out-of-town relatives a chance to hear the concert, or creating a situation where a parent who works an evening shift can finally “attend’ a concert is also very powerful. We are getting good at distance-communicating now, right? Think of this as merely an extension of that, or an opportunity to put our newly-mastered skills to good use. It’s also great to remember that a concert is not the only measure by which we can view progress and learning from our students. It’s often where we get to display that progress, but it isn’t necessarily the only opportunity for reflection and evaluation.


How can we have our large ensemble rehearsals?

Maybe we can’t! So much of the instruction we provide happens outside of that environment. Strengthening skills, revisiting content that we wish students had gotten the first time, delving deeper into things that you’ve glossed over…these are things we can do in smaller groups, and often even virtually. Imagine if you went back into the rehearsal room, in however long, with a group of kids that sight read two levels above that which they sight read now. What a great scenario for everyone, right? Pieces will come together more quickly, maybe you can even play harder music. What about if you were able to teach kids to really understand rhythm? What if every kid could know every major and minor scale? These are all things that will make our ensembles stronger when we are able to be in them again. Even the opportunity to make our students more autonomous learners is one that we can choose to embrace and bolster. 


Continue to foster the special relationships within music programs.

In this completely unprecedented time, the most important thing beyond all of this is that the relationship between teacher and student can stay strong, or even develop further, and that the students (and you!) are doing okay! Mental health matters! Connections matter so much, and we all know that as music educators. Thinking outside of the box and doing things that we can do with our students will ultimately allow us to reap major benefits when things can once again look more like they did a few months ago. Or maybe you’re the person I saw today on social media inventing “instrument masks”, and figuring out a way to make the normal seem possible. It was actually pretty amazing, and the creativity within our profession is one of our deepest strengths. Maybe someone reading this has the answer to making it all work.


This could be a chance to reset a lot of things.

Never in my memory has there been this long a period of time where everything just stopped. Nobody is getting a leg up here (except maybe onto the couch), and in almost every case, nobody is going to be critical of what was accomplished (or not) during this time. With that in mind, I think this is a fantastic time to evaluate what we are teaching, decide whether or not we are teaching the things we should be, and adjust or change the way in which we run our programs. I am not answering these questions, necessarily, but for example: Is a jazz band the most relevant kind of “second” ensemble experience to offer to students in your community? What kind of music should your choir be singing? Do students have a voice in their own musical experience? Are we too obsessed with perfection that we squelch creativity and chance-taking? Are composers of diverse backgrounds being frequently represented in your programming? Are we creating environments where every student feels welcomed and has access to the opportunity? There are many, many angles from which we can evaluate, and perhaps after that work is done, you’ll be quite proud and satisfied that you are providing exactly the experience that is best for your students. I am hoping to  take steps to come out of this having learned something. You may as well, and that is a good thing.


I know, I’ll do a virtual ensemble!

Cool, that will be awesome. For you. Is it really the most beneficial use of your time for your students? Think of the hours spent learning about technology, getting frustrated with bad mics and background noise as kids record, all of the struggles you’ll endure for a 3 minute video that people will watch and go “oh that’s cool!”. The average video view duration on YouTube is somewhere around 50-60%, so the kid who has the “off stage” solo at the end of the piece where you are doing to insert that totally slick transition in Final Cut…most people probably won’t even make it to that part! Imagine further, the inequities involved in something like this. The kid who is embarrassed to show his living room in the video. The kid who hasn’t had a haircut and is embarrassed to show his face on the screen. What about the teacher in the next district over who really wants to do something like that too, but can’t, because they’re watching and homeschooling three little kids as they and their spouse work from home and have no extra time. Helping our students get better is something we can all do, and as always, that should be our top priority. Think of the things you could do with students, or for students, in all the time it takes to edit a virtual ensemble. You could provide them with rich, detailed feedback. You could watch online performances together, guiding their listening and coaching their ears. You could provide more challenging content to further enhance their skills. You could provide master class type opportunities where you present concepts and ideas that we normally don’t have time for in school. Most importantly, you could further develop your relationship with them, make sure they’re ok, share insight into your life–current or past–to help them understand your path and your motivations. There are so many things that we can do for or with our students that will really benefit them, that hours working in Logic and Final Cut will not provide. If you have done or want to do a virtual ensemble video, I’m not saying you are doing something wrong, or even that it’s a bad idea. I have seen some truly fascinating presentations of this kind. I just wonder if what the students get out of the process is congruent with the amount of time that everyone involved needs to put in.


Some parting thoughts

I strongly believe in music education, and in music educators. I think that throughout this pandemic, the things that music teachers have come up with and presented have been far ahead of the curve, and have been truly visionary in many cases. As difficult as this has been for us as a society, the music teacher finds themself in a unique position. Sure, English teachers will have to skip a book or two this year, but the opportunity for culminating musical experiences with students with whom we have worked for years upon years…that’s a tougher thing to let go. High scores on AP exams are cool, but have you ever worked for months on a musical, and then opened to a sold-out crowd? Taking that away might sting a bit more. Those stories are ones that you and your students will have forever. But music teachers aren’t so easily stepped on. We will continue to persevere, and continue to find ways to do what we do. We will continue to provide meaningful experiences to our students regardless of the obstacles in our way. Stay positive and stay optimistic. Remember the time the brakes on the marching band bus failed, and then the new bus came, and then THAT bus got a flat tire, and you didn’t panic and the kids all put it on Snapchat and you still made it to Sectionals on time? My point is, we are planners by nature, and the toughest thing for a planner is to not be able to plan. Hang in there, think about what you can do for your students, and they’ll love you just the same, if not more, when we come out the other side of this thing. You can do it, and you will. 

Thoughts Updates

2020 Quarantine Website Reboot

Wow. Hello everybody. It has sure been a while (just about 5 years) since I wrote anything here. Needless to say, life has gotten a bit busy. I won’t even try to go into every detail of the last several years to try and summarize whats going on. Instead, Ill just pretend that lengthy hiatus never happened. Perfect.

I am stuck here at home, like most of you. Stuck isnt really a great way of putting it, though. I am enjoying my forced time away from the rest of the world as much as I can. We have two kids now, aged 5 and 3, so that takes most of the time, and while its tiring and certainly challenging, its also very rewarding and a lot of fun. Even before this COVID business, I hadnt really been playing many gigs out in the wild, other than some really outstanding theatre work at Geva Theatre and SUNY Geneseo, with the inimitable Don Kot. I am trying hard to play drums when I can, but practice time, and also writing time, is at a real minimum right now. I do have some ideas coming though, including a new launch of some Normal People music. Also trying hard to keep up with great TV shows, podcasts, albums, and the occasional book.

I am most excited right this moment about my drum set solo book that I have had 99% finished for a long long time, and am just now tightening down the details. This is NOT the soloDRUMsolo book featuring my solo commissions, though that should make an appearance soon too. This is a book written for drum set students who want to learn some stylistic jazz licks, but find a lot of whats out there to be inaccessible. I remember being a student, and wishing someone could distill ALL that was out there into something more manageable. I know the best work is the hard work, and transcribing and listening to the greats is obviously the way. But what about a kid who doesnt really have the time or interest to devote in that way? Should they then not be able to enjoy and learn something that sounds like Billy Higgins might have played? I think that might still be ok, and thats been my aim with this book. So if you are so inclined, head over to the “Compositions” page and give it a look. While youre there, check out my other compositions for percussion. Maybe theres something youd enjoy!

Stay inside, wash your hands, hopefully Ill see you soon.



Welcoming 2015

Hello everybody! My usual long hiatus is actually justified this time, as we welcomed our daughter KEELEY into the world on November 15. Things have been busy, but in the best of ways. 

At the beginning of the month, I started playing drums for a run of Little Shop of a Horrors at Geva Theatre here in Rochester. Geva is a professional regional theatre, so the run is over a month long, and the experience has been great. Everyone I’ve encountered has been a consummate pro, from the actors and other musicians, to the crew and stagehands. It has been an experience that I hope to replicate in the future, no matter where I work..

The coming months have a lot of exciting musical events in store. After Little Shop closes, I’ll be diving into Matt Curlee’s mammoth project “H”. Matt has written an hour of music for orchestra, choir and small jazz group. I’m fortunate enough to play drums on the project, and am even featured on movement 4 (which grew out of the piece he wrote me for soloDRUMsolo). You can learn basically everything about the project at his website

When KEELEY was in the hospital, I wrote a piece for Aaron Butler, of Athens Ohio fame. It’s called “Losing Touch” and it’s for solo vibraphone with spoken word. The performer can either speak as they play, or can record it prior to the performance. Aaron did a fantastic job with the first recording. It will be available for purchase on my COMPOSITIONS page shortly.

In March, I am honored to be a guest composer and soloist with the Eastman Chamber Percussion Ensemble. We will play my piece Rough Compliance, and I will play the Drumset solo part. (Rough Compliance, and many other pieces are available on the COMPOSITIONS page). I’m also really excited to be invited to play with the Respect Sextet in Rochester. These guys were super important to me as a young drummer at Eastman and it’s going to be a blast to play with them!

In April, I will be in residence at Ithaca College. I will work with the percussion studio on soloDRUMsolo stuff, do a recital of that music and also do some work with the new version of NORMAL PEOPLE. I can’t tell everything just yet, but I am excited to say that there are some new members of the band and an entire new set of music. If you missed the first round, check it out here: NORMAL PEOPLE.

Finally, and maybe most exciting, in June I’ll travel to one of my favorite places on earth (Boston) to play a soloDRUMsolo concert with Sō Percussion’s Jason Treuting! Special thanks to the most connected woman I know, Maria Finkelmeier for organizing this show. I hope to see all my Boston friends on June 6!!

Beyond that, I hope to continue writing for a new band called Desired Things. The band consists of Doug Stone, Andrew Links, Tyrone Allen and Brandon Choi. It’s like Bending and Breaking for the 21st Century…

I love talking about things I’m into, in hopes that someone else might be into the same things. Since Christmas, I’ve been roasting my own coffee. It’s safe to say that I am a huge coffee nerd (thanks Ivan Treviño). Check out if you’re interested.

I also really am into this show BLACK MIRROR on Netflix. After one episode, you will be hooked. 5 words: prime. minister. (youknow..). with. pig. 

KEELEY and I have been reading Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling, and I’m reminded of how much I love the cleverness of the language and the creative ways that he explains some of nature’s mysteries. 

New music that I’ve enjoyed lately comes from Hozier, Damien Rice, Talking Under Water (Dave Chisholms new project), and lots of music from old America, like spirituals, folk songs and this Uri Caine/Dave Douglas record called “Present Joys” where they play from the Sacred Harp songbook. Beauty in simplicity..

I might do a 2014 in Review but maybe not. Until next time, stay cool. 



Interview about Solo Drum Solo

I did an online interview about my Fringe Fest show with Sammi Cohen, who is working for the festival. She asked great questions, so here they are. Don’t forget to come to the shows, Sunday and Monday at 630pm at Bernunzios Uptown Music.
How did you come up with this idea?
I was frustrated because the drum set is often not seen as a ‘serious’ instrument, especially by people in college for ‘percussion’. I think its because nobody has written much serious music for it. I wanted to fix that problem.

Have you done anything else like this (sans band) before?
Just once, and it was really just a practice show for Chris Teals “Institute for Creative Music” in August. But again, really, I don’t know anybody who has done this for a full concert like I am. We have all seen the classic Tommy Lee drum solos and stuff, but those are within a bigger concert.

Is it an intimidating prospect to have it just be you and your drumset, or is this kind of every drummer’s dream?
No no its definitely intimidating and terrifying even. The music people wrote for the project is extremely difficult, and asks the performer to approach the drum set in a ways that are very different from the norm. It has almost been like learning a new instrument. Of course, theres also nobody else to rely on, cover my mistakes, etc, and really another big fear is that people will be able to listen to and enjoy just drums for an hour at a time.

I know you got a crazy amount of submissions for this… how many did you get?
I think the count at this point is up to around 40, from everywhere—Brazil, Mexico, Japan, Australia, Italy, and of course the US.

Was it difficult to narrow it down to 15?
It was easy to get from 40 to 30…much harder to get from 30 to 15.

What kind of criteria did you keep in mind when choosing pieces?
Thats a really good question. First, they had to be realistic. I want people to play these in the future, and if the music was way too difficult, it would not be appealing to other performers. That eliminated a few. After that, I tried to choose pieces that had something unique about them. For example, one piece has an audio track that I work with. Another uses kitchen timers. One uses graphic notation, which means basically following a diagram or picture with directions, and another is completely text based, only offering instructions. Though this is billed as a concert of ‘just drum set’, its pretty amazing to me how varied the pieces are.

Were there any pieces that you really liked, but didn’t end up including? And there are different pieces on each performance, right?
Yes, the two nights will feature different works, and both nights will include improvisations as well, which is a lot of fun for me.

A couple of pieces did not fit on this program, but are really wonderful. One is called “Raijin” by New York based composer Whitney George. Raijin is the Japanese God of thunder (very appropriate) and the piece uses (in addition to drum set) a toy piano and 5 pieces of metal. Its pretty brilliantly crafted, but also very difficult, and logistically it didn’t work on this concert. Another good one is called “Counter-Esperanto” by Buffalo based composer Zane Merritt. Its really excellent, but was frankly too difficult to put together in time. I will premier both of those works in late October, when I hope to play a concert in each Rochester and Buffalo.

Anything else?
I guess I should say that this is just the first step in this project. My goals beyond this are to get these works published into a volume of drum set solos, and get them played by collegiate percussion programs and professionals. I am also going to record them and release an album of this music, once it is fine tuned and perfected. The coolest part has been the collaboration with composers. Since nobody has really written much music for this instrument, the composers were often unfamiliar with the limitations or possibilities that the drum set offers. Their creative thinking really opened up some new windows for the instrument, but it was also a lot of fun to say to them “hey, this is really impossible” or “you might try writing this, it would sound good” and having them respond so positively. It was part of the experience that people couldn’t have if they were playing music by like Bach or something—the pieces were fluid and malleable, and will probably continue to change even after they are premiered. Finally, if you are unsure whether or not to attend these concerts, please know that I am working hard to be sure the audience is included in whats happening—Ill talk, explain and present the music in a way in which anyone can gain some understanding and joy from listening.


soloDRUMsolo/Call for Scores

A while back, I asked people to write me drum solos. I am overwhelmed and thrilled by the amount of pieces I received! I will present 15 world premieres on September 21 and 22, which are drawn from the pool of submissions.

THANK YOU to all of the composers who sent me music. If your piece isnt being played next week, it doesnt mean its not getting played! I plan on doing many more solo drum solo concerts. For a variety of reasons (mainly time), I could not perform everything at this time.

The pieces I will be premiering at the Fringe Festival are listed below. Please check out the concerts, September 21 and 22 at 630pm at Bernunzio Uptown Music in Rochester, NY!

 Heat Stroke (Ivan Trevino)
 Clockwork (Drew Worden)
 Studio Uno (Luca Vanneschi)
 Prelude (Danny English)
 Fjord That (Maria Finkelmeier)
 Coalescence One (Daniel Adams)
 Split (Realm) (Wilfrido Terrazas)
 The Ansugo Studies (Alan Courtis)
 Instant Line (Rodrigo Baggio)
 Luogu (Brian Baxter)
 Harmonic Manuvers (Matt Curlee)
 Raijin (Whitney George)
 Counter-Esperanto (Zane Merritt)
 The Sounds of My Drums (Baljinder Sekhon)
 After Hours (Jennifer Bellor)

100 Important (to me) Recordings

A few years back, I was invited by my good pal Sean Connors to speak at the Central New York Day of Percussion. I was supposed to speak about drumset; that was my only direction. And about myself. Maybe how do you get to be Aaron Staebell on the drumset. (Apparently, this is something people ask themselves?)

I think one of the most important things to who we are as musicians/improvisers is our musical catalog. Dave Chisholm talks about this sometimes, how his band members are familiar with the same benchmarks as he; they know they same recordings intimately. It makes a big difference. My musical background was varied as a kid. My dad was an orchestra conductor and my mom loves listening to eclectic stuff from her generation. I was also a kid in the 90s, you know? So I had my helpings of Reel Big Fish and the Verve Pipe so that I could be cool in school.

At the Day of Percussion, I gave everyone this list. Its a list of 100 recordings that were and are important TO ME. Is this the best 100 CDs of all time? No way. Thats not even the point. Some of this probably wouldnt be considered good music by almost anyone. BUT for example, playing along to Ashlee Simpson’s “Autobiography” in college (goodbye, friends) helped me to develop my time and my pop/rock sensibilities on the drums. And come on. It was catchy and fun (until this happened:)

SO without any further digression, here is MY list.

(in alphabetical order, by artist/composer/band)


Summer Update

At this point, apologizing for not updating has become redundant. I am apparently not very good at talking about myself on a regular basis.

Having said that… (to quote a favorite Curb Your Enthusiasm episode…)

Lots of cool things have happened, and will be coming up for me, so maybe lets call this an “end of summer” update. Im currently in the best place in the entire world.

Rainbow Lake, NY
Rainbow Lake, NY

Its been a great, active summer for me in Rochester. Probably the most exciting music project has been working with Wendy Eisenberg. Shes a great guitarist, who is sadly ending her sentence in Rochester and heading off to the New England Conservatory to study in their Contemporary Improvisation program. Wendy has been a sub in Bending and Breaking, and was also a member of Normal People from its inception. She has a unique voice as a musician, and it comes from her varied interest in different kinds of music, literature and life experiences. I have always liked Wendys approach, and have enjoyed watching her become more and more fearless as a musician. The culmination of her time in Rochester has led to two different projects, both of which are exciting, high quality and fun. Im lucky to be part of both.


Her “jazz” band, Earth Science, was formed to play on her senior Eastman recital, but continued beyond that. I am by FAR the old dude in the band, working with the venerable 18 year olds Andrew Links, Brandon Choi and Tyrone Allen. The band recorded an album, and I am very very excited to hear the results. We also played at a music festival where a crazy dude stormed the stage and demanded “permission to speak”. It was terrifying.

"Earth Science" recording setup
“Earth Science” recording setup

Her “rock” band, unnamed as of this post, was a recording based project that later played live. Wendy had several tunes ready to go, and we recorded with Ben Morey in his Rochester studio. I was impressed by the simplicity of the music, and its ability to say a lot with a little. It was a lot of fun to work on this music for me because its been so long since Ive done anything like it. This recording is also going to be an album and its equally exciting to anticipate.

Rock recording setup at Ben Morey's.
Rock recording setup at Ben Morey’s.



I was lucky to be able to teach some great students at Hochstein School of Music and Dance this summer as part of my “Explorations in Jazz” program, as well as Dave Chisholm’s “School of Rock”. I conducted the pit and played drums at JCC Centerstage for their productions of Young Frankenstein and Hairspray, both of which were consistently sold out and consistently great performances from the cast, crew and orchestra. I spend a weekend in May in Central Pennsylvania (actually, where I happen to be writing this post from) with Scatter Percussion at the 6th Annual West Shore Day of Percussion. We premiered two of my new pieces for chamber percussion: “I Am a Strange Loop” and “Peace Bridge”.

The biggest news moving forward is that my call for scores blew up completely (in a good way) and I received close to 30 submissions for my “Solo Drum Solo” project. Many of them are great, as well as challenging. I am very excited to officially announce that I will premier a number of these new works at the First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival. I will play concerts at Bernunzios Uptown Music on September 21 and 22, each at 6:30pm. I did a preview concert at behest of Chris Teal and the Institute for Creative Music, and it was incredibly fun. I have some video that Im working on, but its not cooperating so far. Hopefully I can get some of that up soon. I can not wait for people to hear brand new pieces from some great composers, including Jen Bellor and Ivan Trevino!

Beyond that, I am excited to teach elementary school band this fall in the Greece Central Schools. It will be a chance of pace (yet again) but will be nice to go back to instrumental music after teaching 4 years of general music. I continue to work hard with my private studio as well, and still have openings (if anyones looking…) I am already booked to conduct two musicals in the upcoming season, and hope to make at least one new recording and debut one new set of music for each of my bands (eventually). Theres lots going on, and that’s without mentioning all the very exciting things happening in my personal life!

To close, I think we should throw it back to the original spirit of this section of the website. Striving to be happy. Some things I have recently enjoyed that Id recommend checking out are:

Aeropress Coffee. A quick and flavorful method of brewing. Almost my exclusive method at this point.

-the music of Jeff Buckley, especially beyond “Grace”. Posthumously released stuff is really really sweet.

peking-Peking Chicken.






the music of Ralph Alessi.


-Tops Bakery’s “Doissants”. Like a cronut (remember that craze?) but with cream filling. For real, though.





-Hanging with great friends, a wonderful family and my incredible wife.

-Hardwood floors. I installed 3 rooms worth in my house and I love the results.

-Austin, Texas. New home to some of my best friends, the Trevinos. We visited/moved them in June. It’s a cool place, and I hope I get to go back. I had a fantastic taco.

-Soccer. World Cup was exciting, but I still really enjoy soccer. Im excited to watch the English Premier League start up in a week. Buffalo Bills also looking pretty good in the American version of football. THIS IS THE YEAR FOR THE BILLS (copyright 1998-2014)

I hope that this finds you well, and hope that we can be in touch in the future. I look forward to bringing new music to your ears very soon, so stay tuned!


Solo Drum Solo: Call for Scores

I am very passionate about music for the drumset. I think there should be more of it. I have started a project to try to generate some more pieces for drummers to play that are not just “drum solos” in the traditional sense. I want there to be ‘art music’ for the drumset, for lack of a better term. Here is my call for scores. I hope that some of you might be interested. Please let me know!

Initial first performance in September 2014
Final scores due August 1, 2014, or sooner, if possible.

My aim as a “drummer” who operates in both the jazz/improvised music world and in the classical world, is to expand the repertoire for “classical” drum set. There are many solos written for the drumset in a jazz, rock or latin context; groove-oriented, stylized pieces that do not garner much respect in the ‘legit’ world. My informal research shows that there simply are not many pieces that fit into this other category. Classical percussionists are playing works for marimba, snare drum, timpani, multiple percussion setup and sometimes USING the drumset, but there are very few that are treating it with an equal focus. In real life, a large percentage of gigs require this skill, yet it is being ignored in many of our institutes of learning for percussionists. I think that we need pieces that will force them to consider the drumset equally.  My goal is to collect a number of pieces for solo drumset that are NOT stylized in a jazz, rock or latin context, learn them, perform them, submit them to workshops/conferences and maybe eventually publish a collection of these works. At this time, I cannot offer any monetary compensation. Some options are being explored but there is no guarantee at this time. I can tell you that I will learn them well, and work with composers to help make the work playable, appropriate and suitable to meet my established goals. Also, the percussion world is a very fluid group, and new works can become standard repertoire within years, if not sooner. My hope is that I can spark a movement to develop more music of this kind, so that “classical” percussionists are encouraged to play more drumset, and so that the drumset is more accepted as a viable instrument in the percussion world. Whether the composer deals in percussion regularly, or has never tried to write for the drumset before, I think different voice and ideas will make for interesting pieces for this medium. I am asking that composers consider this possibility and hopefully contribute a piece to this project.  


-pieces can range from 0-10 minutes in length

-start with the setup of a traditional drumset: snare drum, bass drum, two tomtoms, two cymbals and hi hat. You can add more, use less, but that should be the starting point. Using tons of tomtoms for melody, for example, tends to push this more into the ‘multiple percussion’ arena. Use of electronics is acceptable as well.

-Basic notation should be codified and agreed upon in relation to what is already established in the drumset/percussion world. Alternative methods of notation (e.g. graphic notation, etc) are welcomed, but when tending to “usual” methods, we should try to stay consistent.  

I am more than open to questions and communication about these pieces/ideas. Please contact me at if you have any questions. I plan on premiering these compositions in September at the Rochester Fringe Festival. If you are interested, please get in touch ASAP!

*** Let me know, and please forward this to anyone who you think may be interested!


2013 Year in Review

Another year comes to a close. It came to a close a while ago. 10 days ago to be exact. This year, I worked hard to increase my web presence. The downside of that is that means way more sites to keep up with. Thus, here is my 2013 Year in Review. I know these are highly anticipated, so Im sorry to all of you (Matt) who were waiting patiently for this.

I have to say that 2013 was a great year. It wasnt as much a year of accomplishments, but a year of setting the table. I have a feeling that 2014 will be the Year of Staebell. Stay tuned…anyways, this past year…

JANUARY: I began the year wearing my “educator” hat. I listened to some young drummers play auditions for All County Jazz Ensemble in Erie County (Buffalo, where I grew up!). I followed that up with a presentation two weeks later at the Erie County Music Educators Conference, where I spoke on preparing drum set students for a NYSSMA audition.

FEBRUARY: I began the month by playing with the Dave Rivello Ensemble at the Village Rock. I love playing with this band when I have the chance. Dave is a brilliant composer and a great supporter of anything Im doing. Hes the man. A week later, I hit the road and played in the rhythm section for the Erie Philharmonic Pops concert in Erie PA. It was with some Frank Sinatra type singer. I honestly dont remember his name but it was a lot of fun! Also, I got to play with my dad, which I love. Finally, I played musical #1 of the year when i played South Pacific at Greece Odyssey Academy.

MARCH: I love when I get to see old friends. I reconnected with old Eastman pal Stephen Guerra when he came to Rochester to guest conduct the Monroe County Jazz Ensemble. Steve now leads the Studio Jazz Band at University of Miami, and I think he runs the Henry Mancini Institute. Either way, great composer, great guy. The following week, the Miami-Big Band love continued as I went to hear the best concert of my year. Nathan Parker Smith, Miami and Eastman grad, was guest composer with Dave Rivello’s New Jazz Ensemble at Eastman. This dude wrote some of the sickest big band charts Ive ever heard, and the band slayed them, ably guided by Joe Parker on drums. After that, I went to Disney World. (Really.) March ended with one of my only gigs of the year with my buddy Brownman. We played at Blue Monk in Buffalo and it was killing, as usual. I miss playing with Brown. I hope it happens more often in 2014.

APRIL: The best part of April (aside from my wifes birthday) was the debut of my new band, Normal People. Check out the PROJECTS page on this site for more info or to hear that band. New Normal People music will be hitting your ears very soon. We played at the Montage in Rochester with a new band led by Doug Stone (which I played in), and another appearance by the Dave Rivello Ensemble. That night was the best of April but it had some serious competition. I played musical #2 of the year, Beauty and the Beast at Greece Arcadia High School. Then on April 21, the UofRochster Percussion Ensemble, led by Matt Witten, played my piece Into the Strenuous Briefness. Its an older piece, but a cool one. This year, I hope to have a lot more of my percussion music played. Ill be opening a sheet music store soon on my website, and you can buy as much of my music as you can afford! Finally, I continued my long and fruitful relationship with composer Jennifer Bellor. She wrote a beautiful chamber opera called Christabel, using the text of a Samuel Coleridge poem. We played the world premiere on April 28. More about Jen later!

MAY: I turned 30. Also played musical #3 of the year, Funny Girl at the JCC. I was the drummer AND music director. #stressful

JUNE: The month started with one of my favorite traditions, the annual Central Pennsylvania Day of Percussion, otherwise known as May in PA (except it wasnt in May this time.) George Clements, one of my absolute best friends welcomed the rest of SCATTER PERCUSSION into his school and home. We spent 2 days giving clinics, master classes and performances for the percussion students of the Greater Harrisburg area. MUCH more excitement from Scatter Percussion in 2014. Upon returning home, I was fotunate enough to costar in Dave Rivello: the Movie! Really, we filmed a commercial for the Rochester Jazz Festival. It was a professional film crew doing the shoot, and it was very cool to be “behind the scenes”. That weekend, my beautiful wife Sarah Staebell took me to Turning Stone Casino to watch boxing! The fight was televised on Showtime, and it was an epic battle! We got to see Miguel Cotto like 3 feet from us, as he was a promoter for the fight. Sorry that part wasnt about music. I really like boxing. I didn’t do much for the rest of June. School ended. I played video games.

JULY: So much for the idea of ‘summer vacation’. It seems that the summers are always going to be relaxing and then they end up just as busy as the school year. I played a great concert with Jeff Campbell and Doug Stone at Eastman. It was the music of Jeff Campbell, and I got to play the role of my hero John Hollenbeck, who plays on Jeff’s albums. I had a great time on beautiful, clear, chordless trio music. Three days later, I hit the studio for one of the most exciting projects of 2013. Dave Chisholm is a freak. I played on his Eastman audition and from that moment, knew that we were musical soulmates. He is one of the most stimulating soloists to play with and knows more about music than most of us have forgotten. He writes beautiful, cinematic music for his group Calligraphy, of which I am honored to be a part. We recorded an album for said group on June 8. Oh and did I forget to mention that to accompany the album, he drew a 200-PAGE GRAPHIC NOVEL? AND ITS GORGEOUS? Yea. That all happened. Dave is a machine. Check out his work ASAP. Album and G-novel still to be released. The following wee I played musical #4 of the year, Legally Blonde at the JCC, for which I was again the music director and drummer. #almostcried. Finally, the educator hat came back out when I was the director of the newly-revamped Explorations in Jazz program at the Hochstein School of Music and Dance. With the help of some awesome interns, I worked with two combos of young improvisers and we played some great music.

AUGUST: I spent the beginning of this month again at Hochstein working at the School of Rock camp, led by Ivan Trevino. I got some 13 year olds to play Queen and Radiohead. Anytime something like that happens, its a cool moment. I then travelled back to Central PA to work with George Clements and the Red Land Marching Band. We wrote some pretty cool music together, and the kids worked their booties off in 90 degree heat.

Then I took the epic RV trip of 2013. If you dont know about this, Im sure you will be able to purchase a book about it soon. My brother got married in Minnesota and it was beautiful. Getting there…not so much. No further comment on that. I cant relive it.

SEPTEMBER: Another school year began with very little fanfare. Thats a good thing, because I was very busy with the Rochester Fringe Festival. This year I felt like it would be a good idea to sign on to three seperate projects. I played musical #5 and musical #6 of the year, Rooms, produced by Sammi Cohen, and Waiting at the Crossroads Cafe, an original show by Robyn Fazio, Janine Mercandetti, Brian Clickner and Jack Haldoupis. For Rooms, I was music director and drummer. #whydoIdothis. Finally, the third event at Fringe was again with Jen Bellor. She put together a show that married composers (of which I was one) and dancers to create original compositions and choreography that used improvisation. All of the pieces were written for my band, Bending and Breaking. This was a truly fantastic evening. Everyone involved produced incredible work and it was well attended. Kudos to Jen for being such a visionary.

OCTOBER: I took it easy in October. Heard the music that I wrote for the Greece Marching Band. They sounded good. It was hard. I also judged the Guitar Center Drum Off for the Rochester store finals. The person who won played really fast. I played musical #7 of the year; Urinetown at Nazareth College, where I subbed for Matt Witten.

NOVEMBER: I made the sojurn to Indianapolis with my friends Mark Boseman and Ivan Trevino. We met up with George Clements and Sean Connors, and we had 5/7ths of Scatter Percussion in town for the Percussive Arts International Convention. We stayed at the illustrious Canterbury Hotel. We ate at the nationally rated St Elmo Steakhouse. It was delicious. We saw some cool percussion things. Two world premieres by Ivan. A good, old fashioned, Nick Cannoneqsue drumline battle. A mind blowing performance by Michael Burritt and the Eastman Percussion Ensemble. A good time was had by all. We will be back. November also featured musical #8 for the year, drums on Avenue Q at SUNY Brockport.

DECEMBER: The big event of December was another Jen Bellor-related event. Another world premiere, this time a piece written just for me and my band! Jen is amazing. The piece was performed by both the Nazareth and Eastman Wind Orchestras, and it featured Bending and Breaking. Its a great piece and I hope that we get to play it some more. Its called Electric Vortex and you can probably hear it on her website! I also wrote the greatest blog post of my life, about my experiences in high school. I was shocked as it went semi-viral (2000 views in three days!) I was proud that I could share that good experience and hope that it helped to inspire and encourage others. The year ended with a whimper, as I played a couple more shows of Crossroads Cafe. (It was a slighly different version, I guess I could call this musical #9…) Overall, it was a pretty fruitful year. The best part was that I sat down on New Years Day and made my “Big Goals for 2014” and they are going to be great.

I hope that I can share more as the months pass. For now, check out my latest project at, where I have been posting about 4 improvised drum solos per week. You can listen to them and catch a glimpse into my improvisational process. I will be in touch, friends! And if Im not then holller atcha boy!!! (Brown is shaking his head and weeping after reading that).


Alma Mater

I grew up in Orchard Park, New York. Home to the Buffalo Bills and Duffs Chicken Wings. I am very proud of my Buffalo roots. I think the city gives its inhabitants a certain edge. We used to talk about it in college with a laugh and a shrug…someone made a politically incorrect statement? “Buffalo.” Someone recoils at the thought of “buffalo wings with ranch”…”Buffalo.” You know you need some blue cheese and some loganberry to wash down your “chicken” wings. There are a bunch of great musicians who came out of Buffalo around the same time as I did, and a lot of us ended up at Eastman. Mike Williams (MiWi), Jared Coen, Lynn Ligamari, Dave DiGiacomo, Mark Filsinger…those guys kept it real at Eastman during the early 2000s. Now theres the new guard of Buffalo cats out there led by Brendan Lanighan, the McGintys, Dan White, Cam Kayne, Matt Michaud…the list goes on. Like any town, theres an instant kinship when you meet another ex-pat, but with Buffalo its different. Somehow heightened. Maybe watching your team lose 4 straight Super Bowls while still in grade school does that to you. I could go on to talk about the Buffalo jazz legends here, but thats not really what Im writing about.

Unbeknownst to me for much of my teenage life, I went to a school that supported the arts in a HUGE way. The more I exist in other schools these days, I realize that my experience was NOT the norm!

Walking through the side door of Orchard Park High School every morning, my first stop was always the band room. It was a place to drop off my mallets and music, but it was also the hang. I remember Mark Filsinger having me stand still while he punched my arm as hard as he could, daily, for about a minute. This was hazing in the music department. I was a freshman and he was a senior. It seemed like all of my friends started our day there, and that was cool. It was a place to feel at home. I spent lunch periods in the band room sightreading saxophone solos on marimba. I spent study halls and free periods in the HALLWAY practicing xylophone, WHILE the chorus rehearsed inside the next room. I spent periods that I was supposed to be in math, english, economics, sociology, math again…pretty much every class got skipped a few times, but I wasnt doing bad things, I was practicing. Mr Himes, my math teacher, he HAD to know that I didnt have three lessons a week during his class. He just kinda half-smiled and let me go. I think he knew my time was better spent elsewhere. I know Don Carducci, my band teacher, knew that I had class. He looked the other way because he knew my time was well spent. I stayed late until everyone had gone. There were times when I was in charge of locking up. My relationship with the night janitor Nancy was far better than it should have been. I was working, and school afforded me a place to do my work. Sadly for my non-music teachers, I had one singular focus.

When I look back at OPHS and my experience, I am pretty amazed. I got away with a lot. Stuff that would be squelched in an INSTANT in todays schools. Had we been driven by the common core, teacher evaluations, high stakes testing and everything else, theres no way that Id have been allowed to hone my musical craft. This happened for a lot of us. And I dont think the result is all that surprising, but it is notable:

We became successful.

See, we were in a place where nobody told us no. Nobody said that we might want to look into college programs that would lead to “real” jobs (well, thats not entirely true. Mrs Lindner, my counselor, DID say this once, but I told her not to worry; I was “REALLY good at drums”). Nobody cared how we scored on science exams. They saw a passion and they not only allowed, but they helped. Nobody ever said this wasnt a viable option. Arts were celebrated and put on display. The marching band wasnt booed at football games. Every concert we did had an accompanying school assembly where we put on the show for the other students. Concerts, musicals and plays were well attended by students, parents and community members. AND we played serious stuff! No pop tunes…we played Carmina Burana, whole thing, band and chorus. We played the Faure Requiem and Poulenc Gloria with the orchestra and choir combined. Bernstein in band! Original music by the orchestra conductor! The choir is singing in many languages! We played hard music, and we played it well. People supported us and encouraged us to do those things, and to make them great. Ill never forget the stoner kid who would scream to anyone who’d listen that I was “the best drummer in the world”. When I sit at my teaching job lately, we end up talking a lot about kids needing a niche. Kids dropping out. Kids finding success. I dont think Id have dropped out if I hadnt had the musical experiences, but let me tell you, I HATED school. Like, I didnt like it at all. If it wasnt for my music classes, I would not have cared a bit. And I dont remember much. I do like to think that Im reasonably intelligent, and I have a Masters Degree, so I think my teachers would consider me to be a success. By not saying no, and by letting arts be not only viable, but vibrant, the adults of Orchard Park High School did us a real service. I now go to work every day and do something that I really love. And so do a lot of other people that were arts kids. A small informal facebook poll told me that the following kids all attended OPHS while I was there (1997-2001) and now work in serious arts-related fields. I think its impressive:

  • Aaron Staebell–has released an album, composer/performer, teaches middle school music
  • Justin Staebell–sings with Minnesota Opera and Minnesota Chorale
  • Melissa Wegner–works for the Metropolitan Opera
  • Samantha Klanac–dances for the Aspen/Santa Fe Ballet
  • Dan Kushner–music critic for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
  • Adam Zelasko–(my homeroom-4 years), lead in the National Tour of Jersey Boys
  • Hallie Clarke–(my homeroom-4 years), voiceover work in NYC
  • Don Neptun–independent composer and arranger near Seattle, WA
  • Kate Gentile–professional drummer in New York City
  • Kyle McGinty–professional trumpet player in New York City
  • Jon Lorentz–songwriter, singer, sound engineer in Buffalo, NY
  • Andrea Smith–clarinetist in a US Marine Band
  • Mike Kaiser–stand up comedian in New York, NY
  • Geoff and Matt Keiser–are definitely in some kind of band
  • Tara Bystran Sasiadek–artist in Buffalo, NY
  • Monika Vasey–harpist in Maryland

and then a slew of us who went on to specifically TEACH music to the next generation:

  • Adam Bett
  • Matt Miraglia
  • Mark Filsinger
  • Chris Revett (Jr)
  • Meaghan (Garbay) Venitelli
  • Cheri (Wopperer) Pritchard
  • Nate Keagle
  • Dan Charland
  • Jeff Walling
  • Jackie (Philbin) Ripley
  • Jennifer (Silberstein) Haines
  • John Blickwedehl
  • John Reagan
  • Kate Cregan
  • Jessica Wheaton
  • Marc Bridon

Im sure Im forgetting someone, and I really apologize for that (please, send me messages in the contact form so I can expand the list. Its only 1997-2001 now, but lets get a huge one going from OP!)

I think that the fact that there are people to be forgotten says a lot! I hope that this will at least encourage people to think about the fact that jobs in the arts are totally possible and should be supported and encouraged whenever possible!

If you read this far, good for you. You are a good person.


NEW THINGS (STBH Vol. 5, No. 1)


This is an exciting time for me. MANY things are new and exciting. Ill try to outline them for you.

First, this website is new. I had my only other website experience through the Dynamod company, but for as well as it served me, it was not without its problems. Amanda Trevino encouraged me to make the switch to WordPress and I love it for its cool themes, customizability and ease of use. I hope youll find it to be a worthy replacement as well.

Secondly, I have started a new Tumblr page. This is a place for mostly my “solo drum solo” project, but also quicker updates and thoughts. It links to my @StaebellMusic twitter (also kinda new?) which is dedicated to professional endeavors. You can still be my friend at @aaronstaebell if you want to read my statuses about the Buffalo Bills and the color of boxing commentators’ teeth. 

Musically, there are a lot of great things happening. I am excited to continue to work with Jen Bellor, composer extrordinaire, on new projects and ideas. We just finished a successful showcase as part of the Rochester Fringe Festival, which paired music for Bending and Breaking with choreography by local dance students as well as members of the Rochester City Ballet. Im still editing the video but it should be available soon.

We are also pretty close to the official launch of SCATTER PERCUSSION. This is a group thats been around for a while in one form, but we are looking to change its focus and goals. The group is made up of Eastman Percussion grads who live in various parts of the country. Our goal is to educate young percussionists through performance of original music. We all write for the group, and we all enjoy teaching, so this combination will hopefully come to a school near you very soon! (seriously, if youre interested, let me know). It consists of Ivan Trevino, Matt Raskopf, George Clements, Bobby Marino, Sean Connors, Mark Boseman and me. You can see some videos under “Projects” or “Compositions”. 

My final big piece of news is that Im very excited to launch this project that Im calling “solo drum solos”. My goal is to have a solo recital next fall, consisting half of improvised solos, and half of commissions from composers for ‘classical drum set’. This means drum solos that arent necessairly rooted in a jazz/rock/latin style, and are mainly notated. It is an area of the percussion repertoire that is very underdeveloped, so I hope to somewhat fill that void. We’ll see how it goes…

This website has pretty much been my main project since the end of the summer. Now that its up and running, Im working primarily on writing for Bending and Breaking, Normal People and Scatter. I hope to have some news about new gigs in the near future. A couple are already in the works, and I have some big plans that youll find out about once they are more solid. Have fun, look around, and STRIVE TO BE HAPPY.


…we play jazz…

“…we play jazz, we can play jazz, we love jazz but we also choose to not make music that we would call jazz…since I was young, I always thought jazz was the next thing, the thing that does not have a label yet. Once it is called something and has been codified, then for me it WAS jazz but is not any more. I’m sure a lot of people would disagree with that, but that is my natural feeling.” –John Hollenbeck


2012 Year in Review

2012 In Review”

Another year has come and gone. We all sat and waited in our panic rooms a couple weeks ago expecting the world to end (we all did that, right?) yet we are still here. I started last year’s “Year In Review” by saying that we are still here. I guess thats a good way to look at it. We are still here. If nothing else, we have that.


For me, this past year was more than just being here. I have been very fortunate to have many great experiences, both musical and non-musical. The coming year is going to be even better (I hope) but here are some memorable moments from 2012:


–January 15: Being interviewed as a guest on Jason Crane’s “The Jazz Session”. Sarah and I went to New York and Jason asked me some of the most insightful, provocative questions about me and my music that anyone could have asked. You can hear the interview here, and if you havent, you might enjoy hearing some insight about my processes and tunes.


–January 27: A performance of John Zorn’s COBRA with Brendan Fitzgerald and “Wooden Cities” at Hallwalls in Buffalo, NY. Check it out:


–March 28: Sarah and I closed on our first house in Brighton, NY! Very exciting, and a super cool house where the walls were orange, blue, green and there is a walk-in purple bathtub! I hope you can all come over sometime.


–April 21: I played drums with my dad’s Southtowns Youth Orchestra as a member of the rhythm section for Rick Braun with Strings. Rick is a great guy, and this was a fun concert!


–April 27-29: Spent the weekend in Harrisburg, PA with George Clements for our fifth year of his percussion concert. We did a day of master classes, presentations, open rehearsals and finally performed two concerts. MY pieces “5 Years” and “Glass” were given their world premiers and it was a rousing success. A major announcement related to this event/group will be coming soon….stay tuned… Check out part of the performance:


–May: Conducted the orchestra for the JCC’s production of Jason Robert Brown’s “Parade”. This was a fantastic show, many said it was the best they had seen in the area in a long time. My orchestra was excellent to work with and it was great to make my conducting debut on such a beautiful work. Everyone involved was awesome, and this will continue to be one of the most proud moments of my career for a long time.


–May 25: Though I played a lot less this year with him, I had some great moments with my good friend Brownman. On May 25, we played an awesome night at Nietchzes in Buffalo with a group that was new to me: Gruvasylum. It was like the Electryc Trio but with rappers, and it was a lot of fun. I hope this happens more.


–June 6: Bending and Breaking was a lot quieter this year, but on June 6, we played a live concert on WGMC here in Rochester. Its always good to play with my band, and I plan on doing it more often in 2013. Check it out:


–July 6: I played on Mike Kaupa’s recital in Kilbourn Hall, and was a part of a re-creation of Miles Davis Quintet’s performance of “My Funny Valentine” from the live 1964 concert. It was great sharing the stage with Mike, Bill Dobbins, Doug Stone and Jeff Campbell. This is on YouTube as well:


–July: I played drums for the JCC’s production of “Spring Awakening”. Director Danny Hoskins did a beautiful job, and the score was a blast to play.


–July 18: My band that plays folk songs, “Under Open Sky”, played as artists-in-residence at the Hochstein Summer Jazz Camp. We got a group of 20 high school kids to play a free jazz folk song!


–August: I was honored to be a teacher at the Hochstein School of Rock, led by my good friend Ivan Trevino. I coached bands of high school kids and we had a final concert at Spot Coffee. It was an awesome week and I plan on being a part of it again this year!


–August 5: My good friend George Clements presented his Masters Recital in Hatch Hall at Eastman. I played on a few of the pieces, and George sounded great. Heres a video:


–MidAugust: I spent the week with George in Harrisburg, teaching some marching band camp. We wrote some really cool music for those guys to play. Ahead of the curve, George…


–September: I started a new job, teaching at Odyssey Academy in Greece. I started my teaching career at this school, except that the entire school is housed in a new building. I like the people I work with a whole lot.


–September 7: We put on a great show at the Montage with Bending and Breaking, Quintopus and Dave Rivello Ensemble. Thanks to all who made it out!


–September: I was once again a judge for the Guitar Center Drum Off. It was spectacular.


–September 19: I was a featured soloist on drumset with the Eastman Wind Ensemble under the baton of Mark Scatterday. We premiered a piece by Jen Bellor that was apparently inspired by me! It was an honor to be a soloist on the stage of Eastman Theatre. Thanks to Jen and Dr Scatterday for making it happen.


–September 21: I was a participant in the Rochester Fringe Festival. First, I played with B+B and some other ensembles on a performance that combined dance with music. Heres a clip:


–That same day, I played drums and music directed for a late-night performance of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” featuring Sammi Cohen and Carl Del Bueno. It was a lot of fun!


–September 26: I made my debut in New York City with Dave Chisholm’s “Calligraphy”. We played as a part of FONT, the Festival of New Trumpet Music. It was a huge honor to be a part of this event. We were introduced by the great Jeremy Pelt, and one of my heroes Dave Douglas was in the house! Thanks to DChisholm for making this happen. Heres a link!


–As the year finishes, I would be remiss if I didnt mention that I again played or subbed for 10 different musicals this year. I love musicals. I think that number could somehow be higher in 2013.


–The rest of the year was a bit more chill, which allowed me to gear up for my next projects! I plan on unveiling a new band in the next couple of months, and it will be very different from bending and breaking, while still being awesome. I also hope to play more with B+B, as well as Under Open Sky. As I said, there should be another big announcement coming regarding a performing group of me and some of my friends, but I cant say much more than that yet. I am also writing more, and that stuff should be coming out pretty soon too. Many cool things on the horizon!


–If you read this far, you are incredible. You are one of my biggest fans, for sure. I can just say that I hope we are still here in another year, doing the same thing but with even sweeter things up above! Be in touch and be happy!


2011 Year in Review

“2011 In Review”

We did it! 2012! Nothing has exploded yet!

I thought in the spirit of every other website on the internet, I would make a little year-in-review for myself, and also do a little “top-10” best CDs that I have heard this year. Maybe someone will be interested!

For me, 2011 was fantastic. The most obvious thing was the release of my album, BENDING AND BREAKING. I was overwhelmed by the end of the Kickstarter campaign which saw us reach our fundraising goal while IN the studio working on the album (not sure what the plan was for if we DIDNT meet the goal, but….oh well.) The guys sounded great and the album came out better than I could have hoped.

Other notable gigs of 2011 were (I played on all of these):

-Ben Thomas’ recreation of the Claudia Quintet’s “I, Claudia” record.

-Playing Cajon on Chris Ziemba’s Media Project on “Little Choro”

-Russell Scarbrough’s recital of his excellent original music for Big Band

-the Blackfriars’ Theatre’s run of the musical TOMMY

-Bending and BReaking opening for Mostly Other People Do The Killing

-Serving as drumset lecturer at the Central NY Day of Percussion

-GETTING MARRIED to the love of my life

-PLaying with Rick Braun (and my dad) at the Rochester Jazz Festival

-the emergence of Dave Chisholm’s new project “Calligraphy”

-Mike Cottone’s Rochester CD Release concert in Hammondsport, NY

-Dave Rivello Ensemble in Kilbourn Hall

-DIRECTING a PHOTO SHOOT for KKBB Apparel (what? yes.)

-Getting sent home from a gig for having a mohawk

-a 2-week mini-residency for Bending and Breaking at Javas Cafe

-Bending and Breaking’s CD release party @ The Bug Jar

-the formation of Wooden Cities led by Brendan Fitzgerald, performing John Zorn’s game piece “Cobra”

-my continued musical partnership with Brownman, including at Buffalos Music is Art festival

-judging the Rochester Guitar Center DRUM-OFF

-Colin Gordon and Dave Chisholm’s Eastman Recitals

-presenting TWICE at the NYSSMA Conference in Rochester

-Simon Fletcher’s American Songbook project

-a great gig with Buffalo’s up and comers Angelo DiLoreto and Alec Saffy

-I also played for the run or subbed on these musicals: Cinderella, TOMMY, 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (2 diff runs), Rocky Horror Show, Sunday In The Park With George, Wizard of Oz and Annie

I am fortunate to have so many playing opportunities in Rochester and I hope that they will continue into the future! (Top 10 list in next post!)

Thanks for being supporters of what I do and of music and artistic endeavors in general. Be in touch in 2012!

“Best of 2011”

Here are the albums that I especially loved that I discovered in 2011 (maybe they didnt all come out during 2011 but I think they did…) In descending order leading up to my FAVORITE of 2011!

15. Aaron Staebell-Bending and Breaking (of course!)

14. St Vincent-Strange Mercy

13. Efterklang-Under Giant Trees

12. Dave Douglas and So Percussion-Bad Mango

11. Robert Glasper-Double Booked (first half only!)

10. James Hirshfeld-Two Medicine

9. Bob Brookmeyer-Standards (RIP Bob.)

8. Ambrose Akinmusire-When the Heart Emerges Glistening

7. Tune-Yards-WhoKill

6. Bjork-Biophlia

5. Thomas Morgan-The Windmills of Your Mind (RIP Paul Motian.)

4. Gretchen Parlato-The Lost and Found

3. Vijay Iyer-Tirtha

2. the Claudia Quintet-What Is The Beautiful?

1. James Blake-James Blake

I would suggest getting all of these albums immediately. They are all whats right about music these days (I think!). Check it out.

I should also mention that I was proud to play on TWO albums that came out to rave reviews this year; My own record (Bending and Breaking) as well as Dave Chisholm’s newest (Calligraphy). I am excited for this year, as Ben Thomas should be releasing his album with me and Tony Malaby. Watch for that.

Cant wait to see what this year brings!!!


Albums I’d buy no matter what

“People Who’s Albums I Would Buy No Matter What”

I decided to make a list of these people because there are ABSOLUTELY a few people who, if they came out with a new album, I would buy it without hesitation. That list includes: (in the order that I think of them)


Rufus Wainwright

Bill Frisell


Erykah Badu

Imogen Heap

Brad Mehldau

The Roots

James Blake

Tony Malaby

Paul Motian

John Hollenbeck

Jason Moran

Maria Schneider

Dave Douglas (except he comes out with so many, I cant realistically do this)





Who did I leave off the list in your opinion? Im interested!


My idea for musical communities (2010)

“My Idea for Musical Communities”

Here is my written plan for creating musical colonies around the country in an effort to help make improvised music successful beyond New York City:


Musicians who create the majority of their art through improvisation are approaching a major breaking point. They all live at a high cost in New York City and most struggle. I feel it is important for the survival of this music to create communities around the country and world that will sustain themselves. In most art worlds, there is a pre-existing situation that would be defined as “making it”. Classical musicians can land orchestra jobs, a major publisher can publish authors, rock musicians can end up on tour supporting a top-40 hit, but improvisers do not have such a landing point. Is their dream to play for a week at the Village Vanguard? Is it to headline a major jazz festival? While these may be realistic, and certainly are excellent goals, they are a lot more transient than what has been previously mentioned. The orchestra job, the published work; these are things that last and will always exist. Since the jazz musician does not have these targets, “making it” seems to mean moving to New York, and making enough money to stay. For artists who have no doubt put just as much effort and thought into the preparation and execution of their work, this is an unacceptable existence. These musicians deserve as much viability and exposure as any other artist. My goal is to outline a plan in which this can become more possible, outside the unbelievably high cost world of New York City.

The notion that New York City is the only place to make this music happen is entirely false. There are people in every part of this country who love improvised music and will support it if given the chance. Here in Rochester, NY, the Rochester Jazz Festival gives us one week to pay to hear the finest jazz, but for the other 51 weeks of the year, we can only rely on the output from the Eastman School of Music, and without that there would be little to no improvised music. I grew up in Buffalo, where the population is greater, but the amount of high-quality jazz to be heard is decidedly less. The fans are there, but are left wholly unfulfilled. The New York migration exists because it seems that the greater the population, the greater the chance that someone will like the music. It also implies that where more clubs exist for all types of things, the percentage that exists to host improvised music must yield a higher amount of venues. This has proven to be inaccurate. More and more musicians in New York pronounce that it is increasingly difficult to find places to play music and be economically viable. Noted Wall Street Journal critic Terry Teachout recently declared jazz “dead” in the economic sense. Bands can play for free in many places, but it is only improvisers that are holding themselves to such a low standard. (When did you last receive a copy of the latest best seller at no cost?…)

My plan is to argue in favor of creating communities that support creative music throughout the country. In each city, there needs to be a core of 10-15 musicians strongly dedicated to this cause. Each network must then develop a fan base using the newest trends in social networking (Facebook, YouTube, etc). By securing this fan base, it will be easier to find a few places in town to create residencies & recurring showcases for this music. Having a strong fan base would allow these places to charge admission (the goal is to attract people who want to hear and support improvised music). This will take work, but any artist that believes in their product is already willing to go far beyond normal work hours to promote it.

Once these colonies are established, they can create a network of cities where they know there is an audience. A band from Rochester can connect with the group in Hartford and know that there is a place to play, where a group of people will come and support the music. This way, musicians are living in cities where the cost of living is less, and the comfort of living is greater. The biggest argument against this plan is that the best of these musicians are living in New York City. This brings us back to the beginning of the argument: there is no real reason for that. If these artistic communities are created, it will help expand creative music nationwide, while easing some of the struggle of living “the artist’s life”.


What do you think? Comments welcomed.


Strive to be Happy, Volume 4 (No. 16-20)

16) December 16. No snow in Rochester. None. Yesterday it was RAINING. So so weird. Lots to discuss, however. The death of Paul Motian made waves around the jazz world, and certainly hit home with me as well. While reading tribute after tribute, tweet after tweet, facebook status after facebook status, I started to think that anything that I could say would be pretty meaningless. Having said that, I feel its important to add my thoughts, for both myself, and the other 2 people that read this (whats up, Raskopf?)


I never got to see Paul Motian perform live, all that I knew of him was what I read in books and magazines, and what I heard on recordings and in stories. I remember hearing him first on Bill Evans’ “Sunday at the Village Vanguard” that my dad had as a kid, and not being particularly impressed. It took me a while to realize what people got so excited about when listening to him. I finally got it, the year after I graduated college. Paul Motian did whatever the hell he wanted. I had spent 4 years of undergrad at Eastman, where the only way you can appropriately play drums behind a soloist is to not play at all. I was stifled time and time again, hearing that Im playing “too much stuff” and my personal favorite/mantra by an assistant professor that I wont name: “I like it when the drummer only solos during the drum solo”. It continued with conversations that went something like this:


Teacher: “Aaron, I dont have any idea who you are listening to that plays that way but it is not making sense to me.”


Me: “I am listening to a lot of Nasheet Waits lately, you know, from Fred Hersch’s trio?”


Teacher: “No I am not familiar with his work.”


Me: <facepalm>


Once I graduated, I realized that nobody could tell me what NOT to do anymore, and I was still getting gigs, so something must have been ok! Then I started listening to Paul Motian and the Electric Bebop Band. Man, I just loved how he sometimes sounded like he was in another room, or another planet even. But somehow, it just worked. I later had a conversation with Frank Kimbrough, who was about to record what would become his record “Play”. Motian was to be on the date. Frank told me about Paul’s rules, like he wouldnt record anything outside of New York, no rehearsals, how much he cost, etc, and then he followed with “but it doesnt matter, because its all worth it”. To hear someone who in his own right is pretty special to speak of Motian like that, Paul obviously had something serious going on. It gave me so much confidence, to know that, POSSIBLY, playing the way I want, hearing it the way I hear it, is OK…that was a defining moment in my development as a player. Thanks to Paul Motian, that happened. I like to think that once in a while, I can reach into the “Paul Motian bag” and sound a little like him. I hope Im right.


Now it appears that as I wrote that, the news of Bob Brookmeyer’s death is crossing through the same aforementioned channels. This too comes as a shock, however it isnt completely unexpected. I spoke to Ryan Truesdell last week, who has served as an assistant to Bob for the last number of years. He mentioned that Bob that wasnt doing very well. Bob is another person, strangely enough, who really encouraged me to find my own voice. I never studied with either, but when Bob came to Eastman, I was part of the New Jazz Ensemble that performed his 80th birthday concert. I will never forget the interaction we had, as he conducted the band and smiled at me as we played. I was so thrilled when he loved my playing on his “Seesaw”, written as a feature for another hero of mine, John Hollenbeck. He was so opposite of what everybody had said about him: he was loving, warm, kind and genuinely happy to be sharing the music with everyone. I remember being SO scared to mess up, just expecting to get ripped apart (especially based on the feedback I had been getting from teachers) but it was the opposite. He hugged me, and told me I should move in with him and his wife so we could play together all the time. He called me some of the best, most affectionate swear words that anyone could ever speak, and it was such an inspiring couple of days. I have pictures of me playing as he plays during “Seesaw” hanging in my house. He made me think that what I was doing as a player was acceptable, and he appreciated my original voice. I felt like I loved Bob Brookmeyer after knowing him for 4 days. I think for both him and Paul Motian, people kinda knew they would die soon. That doesnt make it any better.


I didnt even intend to write about this stuff. I was going to tell you how much I liked Dave Douglas’ collaboration with So Percussion…how I had presented at the State Music Teachers Conference and had a good time…how I was getting excited about Dave Chisholm’s album being out, and the subsequent CD release show we had this week…how I am utterly STOKED for Ben Thomas to release our album with Tony Malaby soon…but this is how it goes. They always say “we have things that we want to do, and then life gets in the way.” Couldnt be more true here. These two guys are both going to leave a major hole in the jazz world.


Or is it the Black Improvised Music world? Nicholas Payton’s rants on this subject have been for the most part pretty ignorant, in my opinion. Ill come up with more to say on this if the “movement” is still around the next time I write here. Sometimes I just have to say it this way…I wish all I had to do in life was sit around and pontificate on stuff like that. Go make some art, who cares what you call it. When was his last relevant record? I dont remember, and I think thats the point.


SO there wasnt so much striving to be happy here but I am still striving, and I hope you do too!




17) Oh how awful I am at keeping up with this. Maybe it is my own humility showing through, imagining that my life is not interesting enough to warrant a post. However, I think that 2012 has started off rather well, and has been a lot of fun.


Firstly, I have continued to enjoy playing with Wooden Cities, a great troupe of improvisers led by my former-student-turned-bandleader Brendan Fitzgerald. We perform John Zorn’s game piece “Cobra”, along with other works from composers within the group. It is a great deal of fun and we’ve made strides in understanding and performing the piece. Its really something worth checking out, if you are ever able!


Dave Chisholm’s band Calligraphy has been another great source of music making for me. Dave’s soundscapes are such a joy to play over, and the guys in the band make it so easy. Dave’s record is well worth the few dollars that he asks. I would recommend it to anyone. Rumor has it that this band wil have a big gig in NYC before the close of 2012. Stay tuned.


The eagerly awaited release of Ben Thomas’ debut album has finally arrived. Recorded live at ROCO last year, Ben’s album features myself, but more importantly, the living legend Tony Malaby on tenor saxophone. The product is really cool: it looks great, it sounds great and oh, did I mention, its me and Ben playing with Tony Freaking Malaby!! How can you go wrong. Get this one too, everybody!


In January, I traveled to New York and was interviewed for Jason Crane’s podcast “The Jazz Session”. (find the interview at THis was a great experience for a couple of reasons. First, it was a great getaway for Sarah and I. Secondly, Jason is a master interviewer; he asked all the right questions about me and my music, and really made me feel like a pro. Third, he told me that my episode of the show was one of the best ever. THat really made me feel proud, since I have heard so many of my heros give incredibly insightful interviews with Jason. Wow! Thank you Mr Crane!!


I just returned from Central PA, where I was a part of the 5th Annual Day of Percussion in the West Shore School District. My good friend George Clements put this massive event together, and we spent a day with 85 young percussionists giving master classes, performing recitals and hearing a bunch of great kids performing as well. We premiered two of my pieces, and the guys brought it STRONG on many many difficult pieces. Many good times were had with Sean Connors, Ivan Trevino, Bobby Marino, George and the kids of the WSSD! Good work, children.


I played a fun weekend of gigs with trumpeter Rick Braun and my dad’s Youth Orchestra, covering the music from Rick’s new ‘standards’ CD. The arrangements by Phillipe Saise are masterful, and I think its a record that most people would enjoy. Rick and Phillipe were fun to hang with, and they gave me hope that old guys can be cool too. I have something to look forward to!


I am in the midst of a new endeavor for me, as I am conducting a musical for the first time. The JCC Centerstage here in Rochester is putting on Jason Robert Brown’s “Parade” and I am at the helm of the ship. Its a great musical, and while Ive played many shows at the JCC before, its probably the best one of which Ive ever been a part. Its a lot of fun to conduct a show like this; I lead a 9 piece orchestra of fantastic players, and an ensemble cast of 35 exciting and engaging performers (one of which is my wife!). The show opens on Saturday and runs thru May 20, so if you are a 585er, get over to the JCC and catch a performance.


Bending and Breaking has been on a bit of a hiatus, mostly due to the purchase of and subsequent move into our new house. This has been a super fun exciting adventure and Im sure it will feel even better once we are settled! I hope to bring the band back into the light sooner than later, and I have a lot of other exciting projects up my sleeve, just be patient people. In the meantime, get some more copies of my CD, buy Dave and Ben’s album as well, and go hear some music whenever you can.


Things to be happy/excited about:

Floyd Mayweather v Miguel Cotto tomorrow night

In fact, many big boxing matches this summer.

The opening of PARADE at the JCC tomorrow night

Teaching at the Hochstein School of Rock camp this summer

Good hanging with good friends and quality time with my wife

Chipotle burritos

Sodastream machine and the beverages it creates

Breaking Bad returns soon



If you made it this far, thanks for checking up on me. Behave yourself, internet.


18) September. Usually I write these when I feel like I havent in a while, and Im letting the three of you down. This time, I feel like I almost cant NOT write an update. Things are really whirling for me lately, and in a good way. I had a wonderful summer, albeit a busy one. Some of the things included:


–Playing for the musicals Spring Awakening and Seussical

–The resurgence of “UNDER OPEN SKY”; my band that plays arrangements of folk songs

–Playing on Mike Kaupa’s recital at Eastman with Bill Dobbins, Jeff Campbell and many others. We premiered a piece by Jen Bellor (more on her later) and played a complete transcription of “My Funny Valentine” from Miles Davis’ “Four and More” album.

–Teaching for a week at the Hochstein “School of Rock” with some great kids

–Teaching marching band in Central PA for a week (with some great kids)

–a wonderful vacation with my whole family in the Adirondacks


and now….football returns. I…back to school.


I am teaching at Odyssey Academy in Greece this year. I used to teach at a school called Odyssey Academy in Greece a few years ago–this is the same PEOPLE but a different BUILDING. Its really fun. I have great kids and the adults are nice to work with as well. New challenges? Welcome.


Outside of school, things are really getting sweet.


–I was commissioned by Sean Jefferson to write a piece for 11,000 piece percussion ensemble. Thats correct. They are going to try to set the Guinness Book World Record for “Worlds Largest Percussion Ensemble”. And I wrote the piece! The event is on October 10 at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester. Pretty incredible! I just finished the piece yesterday so now its up to the kids to learn and perform it. Very very exciting.


–I am music director for a really cool production. Sammi Cohen and friends are putting on a production of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” as part of the Rochester Fringe Festival. Great music, fun, talent in every position, come see it September 21 at 1030 pm at the Xerox Aud in Rochester.


–That same night, I am playing on another Fringe event headed up by composer Jen Bellor (more on her later…yes, still more.) I have been lucky to have Jen hire me for almost everything possible lately, and at this event she hired my whole band. Bending and Breaking will provide the music for two separate improvised dances at 700 that night. This unique marriage of music and dance is going to be exciting to see/hear. Im also playing on a few other of Jen’s pieces that night. Should be great.


–On September 19, I am playing as the guest soloist with the Eastman Wind Ensemble. Jen wrote a piece called “Uprising” and while I didnt realize it at first, apparently she wrote the piece FOR me. Pretty awesome. I am playing grunge metal drumset and the wind ensemble is playing…well…grunge metal wind ensemble. Come check out that free concert at 8pm.


–On September 26, I will head to New York City to play my first real NY gig. Dave Chisholm’s band CALLIGRAPHY, of which I have been honored to be a part, is playing at Smalls that night as part of Dave Douglas’ Festival of New Trumpet music. Its going to be incredibly fun, as Chisholm’s music is a blast to play over (I have ultimate freedom! YES!). If you are in the NY area, come check it.


–I have been invited to return as a judge of the Guitar Center Drumoff (Rochester edition) which starts tonight and runs for the next four Tuesdays. Cool event as well and a nice honor to be thought of for this.


It is pretty overwhelming to realize how much great stuff is going on, and I hope that it keeps happening that way. I am a lucky guy. And a happy one.


Some things that have been making me happy lately:

–Our new house. Really awesome to have a house.

–Some great friends. Really awesome to go to Darien Lake with friends.

–Books by John Krakauer. “Into Thin Air” and “Into The Wild” have got me reading again.

–I saw the newest Batman movie and it was great. Get there if you havent.

–Aries Spears standup comedy. SO great.

–Louie (and Louis CK in general). Great TV show, great thoughtful comedy.

–So many things have been happening, there hasnt been so much outside of working to think about, but Im happy doing what Im doing and finding joy in being a happy person, if that makes any sense.


Thanks for reading this far. You must really love me. I appreciate that.


Ill try to catch up soon!


19) I never expected this to last this long. Having a section to write in called “Strive to be happy”. Seems like we’d have been happy by now if we had been striving all this time. I am happy. Hopefully you are too. We arent as a society, yet. Not as a society of artists and not in a general cultural sense, either. This post could ramble, but Im going to try to get you somewhere with it.


“Strive to be happy” comes from the last line of Max Ehrmann’s 1927 poem, “Desiderata”. It has some of the most important advice I think anyone can receive. This poem has provided me many words to live by. I think a lot of it might seem like common sense to many people, but sometimes its good to see it in written form.


You can read the whole thing here:


There are some really great lines, like


“Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.”


“Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.”




“If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter;

for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.”




I teach 6th graders. They think they are happy, but I dont really think they are. They have learned (somewhere) that its good to be rude and mean, and that if someone does something that you dont like, you injure them physically. Trust me, this is a reality. If you are sitting there going “no thats not possible”, it is. If youre thinking “hes exaggerating”, Im not. Its sad. And im not naive, I remember high school. I was a jerk. I wasnt nice to people. And Im still guilty of this. It sometimes feels much easier to put others down instead of finding the good in a situation. It gives us the feeling of superiority, something we all crave. I always will remember the date i went on in high school. It was with a girl that I didnt know all that well, but was a friend of a friend and there was mutual interest. We went to Starbucks, and things seemed to be going well. After about 30 minutes, the girl stopped our conversation and said “You know, everyone said you were such a jerk, but you arent really so bad.” She meant it as a compliment (i think?) but it hurt. More than that, I couldnt believe that ‘everyone’ had this negative opinion of me. I thought people loved me! Maybe many did, but wow I was hurting people on the way. From that point forward, I have always tried to be good to people. Im not always successful, and in my social circle, examples to the contrary are well documented. Im never afraid to say what I think, and sometimes that means putting down the work or ideas of others. Really, this isnt best, but I guess it proves we are all human.




Music seems to be great at creating this polarizing situation. Look at the Grammys, for example. I didnt watch, but based on social media, I know the following. 1) Frank Ocean sings out of tune, 2) no band nominated for album of the year was REALLY any good, and 3) jazz got to be on, but not for nearly as long as it OUGHT to be on. Now, I agree with the fact that much of pop music doesnt require a whole lot of skill, and I have great debates with non-music teacher friends here at school about whether or not the dudes in Phish are ACTUALLY good musicians or not. Its been well documented for years that theres more to an artists popularity than the music that they make, theres no need to go through all that again. Why, then, are we watching the Grammys? If you dont like something, why put yourself through it? I hate the show Honey Boo Boo, and it makes me very upset that someone is celebrated for their stupidity and lack of basic hygiene. SO I DONT WATCH IT. I know Ill get mad, so I avoid it. I dont feel like the Grammys, (or Honey Boo Boo, for that matter) is a representation of me or what I do. Would I like to win a Grammy some day? Of course. But is that my goal? Absolutely not. They are very different things. Joy and love are so important to good music making (in my opinion) that I have those words written on my snare drum. If I can help others feel that too, Im doing my job!




John Hollenbeck once told me something similar to this thought. He said “Dont you think I get pissed when Diana Krall is on the cover of Downbeat? Of course, but she looks way better in a skirt than me.” He went on to say that he is very happy in what hes doing, and while that kind of recognition would be great, it isnt why he does what he does. Not coincidentally, he wrote a piece using the Desiderata that appeared on the album “Madly Loving You” with Bob Brookmeyer as the narrator. Check it out.




I guess the point is to look for the good in things and avoid the things that you wont dig. Life is too short to fill it with stuff that isnt going to make you happy. If you have a choice, of course.




Im going to tell you some things that have been making me happy, so that maybe theyll make you happy too.


1. Wayne Shorter’s new record, “Without A Net”. Im pretty firmly convinced that Waynes quartet is on Miles Quintet/Coltrane Quartet level in the “Best Jazz Band Ever” category. They certainly have equal (if not greater) telepathy. No surprise that this record is great.


2. John Hollenbeck’s new record, “Songs I Like A Lot”. Ive started a similar project without realizing that he was doing this, where we play music that I like, regardless of genre. John finds the beauty in songs that you might have heard before, and gives them his always-fresh treatment.


3. Anything by Destiny’s Child. They made a re-appearance at the Super Bowl, and it reminded me that they are awesome. Check out a greatest hits record. Killing. Its also kinda nice hearing Beyonce singing about all the bad men shes found, because now shes married to Jay-Z and hes real sweet.


4. (still making me happy) Fiona Apple “The Idler Wheel….”. Was up for a Grammy. Lost. All I need to know to decide whether the Grammys have any idea what theyre doing.


5. There was a fire ay my gym, so I cant go. Makes me kinda happy.


6. The show Bob’s Burgers. I think I mentioned this before, but its hilarious.


7. Trader Joe’s Garlic Fries. If you like garlic and you like fries, these are for you.


8. My new band, Normal People. Check out the link below, its going to be pretty sweet.


9. I played with the Dave Rivello Ensemble recently and loved it. Dave writes awesome music, but also the people in the band are fantastic. Its so easy to play hard music when everyone knows how its supposed to go.



You can check out my new project here:


I hope we can keep being happy. Avoid the bad, do more of the good. Be happy.


20) It has been  busy summer, and the fall seems to bring a new plate of events each year. I think one of the things Im most proud of at this point in my life is that fact that I keep doing different things. If you had told me 10 years ago that I would be directing the band for 2-3 great musicals a year, I would not have believed you, yet I have done exactly that. I havent played a jazz standards gig in maybe a year, and Im ok with that. We are actively pursuing our new percussion collective (more on that later), which is something that I never expected to be involved with when I was in college. This brings me to an important point that my good friend Ivan Trevino ( talks about a lot, and that is skills. I have worked hard to have a variety of skills that make me more marketable as a musician, and thats why my musical life has not yet grown boring or stagnant. I like the fact that I can go from teaching a jazz camp, to teaching a rock camp, to directing a musical to teaching a week of marching band in four consecutive weeks. TO me, thats much more fun than playing the same gig for four straight weeks. I also love that my few close friends from college that im regularly in touch with (all percussionists) are all doing very different things. One is a teacher, one is a composer, one is in a military service band, one is in a folk rock band, one is in a percussion quartet professionally, one is preparing a website and materials to launch what will surely become a successful solo career, and then theres me. And Im doing a bit of everything, which is lots of fun!


Heres a little sample of what is coming up for me this fall:


–In September, Rochester hosts its 2nd Annual Fringe Festival. I am a part of THREE showcases. Im playing and working with two musical theatre performances, which will both be great. The most unique and exciting show that I am a part of is BENDING AND BREAKING. Yes, thats the name of my band. And it features my band. 5 composers, including myself and Jen Bellor (co-coordinator of this event) will write new pieces for Bending and Breaking. We will then pair each piece with a choreographer and dancers, including some from the Rochester City Ballet. Each piece will be premiered with music and original choreography on that night. It will happen on September 27 at 10pm at Max at Eastman Place. Come and check it out!


–This fall, we hope to announce the official debut of our percussion collective, SCATTER Percussion. Our focus is on teaching percussion through performance of our original compositions. This group is comprised of some of my best friends, and its exciting. We hope to hold an event in Rochester this fall, and more around the country as the year continues. More information on this forthcoming.


–I will be attending the Percussive Arts Society International Conference (PASIC) in November in Indianapolis. I went last year, to Austin, and it was one of the coolest percussion related events I can remember. I learned a lot, which I consider to be a major coup.


–I am trying to plan some gigs for my bands that we havent heard from in a while, which is all of them. NORMAL PEOPLE was a big success in April, and that performance is available for free listen on UNDER OPEN SKY, my folk song project, hasnt seen action since last summer, but is still one of my favorite groups to perform with. BENDING AND BREAKING makes its triumphant return at the September Fringe, but I hope to have more music for that group soon too.


I am excited about all of this, and the new things that will surely emerge as well.


I have been trying to post some non-music related things here, and I have to admit that the sports nerd in me is very excited for the fall. I am currently enjoying access to 5 different Barclays Premier League soccer matches at once on TV, the Bills are looking good in the NFL preseason, and there are SO many good boxing fights coming up. Fall is a great time for sports and I will be enjoying every minute of it.


I know this update is long overdue, but hopefully there are more exciting things to write about in the future!


Strive to be Happy, Volume 3 (No. 11-15)

11) Things are great. Hope you can say the same for yourself. Bending and Breaking has played two gigs recently at Javas here in Rochester. Both nights the coffeeshop was full of supporting fans and other humans. The band is getting tight, and from my perspective, the guys are really starting to “get” the music. To me, this is the key component in getting my message across. This makes me very happy.


I had a great time in Toronto on October 15th as Brownman invited me to play in his 5 Weeks to Miles tribute concerts. Alongside Mark Cashion, Ryan Oliver, Dave Restivo and my good buddy Brown, we came close to sounding like the Miles quintet of the mid 1960s. My Tony Williams right hand chops had some work to do, but I hung in…great times, thanks again Toronto!


Thirdly, we are but two weeks away from Tony Malaby’s arrival and subsequent concerts. On paper, this will be one of the most important and best sounding gigs I have ever played. I am hoping hard that it becomes a reality. Please consider coming to one or both of the performances if you are local:


November 14th

2pm @ Smith Opera House in Geneva NY ($15)

8pm @ ROCO in Rochester NY ($10)

Tickets available from


I am working on starting a KICKSTARTER page so that people can help to contribute to the process of making a record if you want. I am brainstorming cool ways to help you get your money’s worth, so if you have any ideas, email me!


B&B plays at SUNY Geneseo at a JAMFEST concert on November 20th starting at 11pm. Please check it out if you are nearby!


Some good things to check out if you want to get happy:


The new record from “BLACK DUB” featuring Brian Blade on drums, Trixie Whitley on vocals and the work of genius producer Daniel Lanois (Joshua Tree, many more). R&B/Soul/Groove record comes out on Tuesday November 2nd.


The Exorcist (the movie)–I just was this for the first time last night and its good.–Brad has a couple of cool sections on his website to go along with his newest record, “Highway Rider”. He has a movie that has a cool animation of the score to one of the tunes as the music plays. In another section, he plays little clips of each tune while you can read parts of the narrative telling the story of the music on the record.


Jeremy Siskind’s “Simple Songs (for When the World Seems Strange)”. This record has Jeremy (former Eastman buddy) along with greats Chris Lightcap and Ted Poor, with Jo Lawry on some tracks as well. I was lucky enough to play on the Rochester CD release event, and the music is wonderful (as is Jeremy). iTunes, CDBaby, eMusic, etc…


John Hollenbeck with the Orchestre National de Jazz, “Shut Up and Dance” (eMusic at least…). My musical hero comes out with yet ANOTHER amazing set of compositions for a big band in France. He crushes. Many tunes, and you stay engaged for the whole record. Happy to say I semi-premiered one of these pieces, as he expanded upon the idea he used for the Bob Brookmeyer birthday piece we played at Eastman last year.


Stephen Hawking “The Grand Design”. Ok now before I seem really pretentious, let me say i listened to this BOOK ON TAPE, and secondly, its written so that you can understand it. It will go into really extreme detail and then if you still dont get it, it clarifies the section with a REALLY simple analogy, so you can be like “oh yes of course”. Worth checking out if you like to know about how things work/have been discovered in the universe.


MORE SOON, check back often for updates.


12) Some great things about 2011 so far:

1. I am getting married on June 12 to a wonderful woman.

2. The Bending and Breaking record is recorded and will release sometime soon.

3. Related to #2, our Kickstarter goal was met, and therefore we have a great budget to work with for the album and its subsequent promotion.


Some awesome things about 2010:

1. Played lots of great music including a day of concerts with Tony Malaby and a 4 night residency in Toronto with Brownman, on my and Dave Chisholm’s music.

2. Great times with friends and family.

3. Things are progressing with the ole career.

4. I got engaged! (See #1 above)


The album is recorded, you can hope to hear it by April 21 I think. That is a loose deadline, but its as good a guess as any right now. I will post updates of the process here as we go, and hopefully you will want to check that out!


Other things that are great:

1. The movies “Black Swan” (new) and “Brokeback Mountain” (old). Watched both in the past month and they are firmly planted in the top 5 of my favorite movies. Brokeback was already there but helped to secure its place.

2. My new “Terre by Hermes” cologne. Smells really good.

3. Angry Birds for Mac=freaking sweet. Crashing my hard drive once while trying to download the app store=less sweet. Having solid backups of my files=somewhat lessened the blow.

4. Hannah Chisholm’s chocolate chip cookies

5. Playing Mario Kart using the Wii nunchuck instead of the steering wheel.

6. Chris Ziemba’s moderate mastery of the Line 6 Loop Station and his simultaneous conquering of his fear of said Loop Station.

7. Ben Thomas’ bass sound when he slides between notes.


I hope that everyone’s 2011 is off to a great start. Heres to much more of the same goodness, or an immediate switch to goodness! Be good!


13) No I did not die. I know if you were just looking at the website, it might appear that way. And lord knows I am rarely, if ever, seen in public. But fear not, gentle reader, as I am alive and well! Things are going as good as I could expect them to go (minus the flat tire last night).


The album is progressing. Editing is finished and it is currently being mixed by Mr Ryan Ferreira of New York City, temporarily living in Taos, NM as part of an artist’s residency. Ryans’s awesome. I have also been in works with the honorable Jeffery Marini on the album design, and its going to look as good as it sounds, for sure.


I am excited for some great upcoming events (check the ITINERARY page for more info) including a presentation at the Central New York Day of Percussion, playing in the pit for the musicals “the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” and “The Who’s TOMMY”, and releasing the Bending and Breaking record! On April 21st, B+B will open for the awesome jazz terrors MOSTLY OTHER PEOPLE DO THE KILLING, and hope to have the CD ready for purchase by then. People who are expecting other goodies via Kickstarter, have no fear, as that stuff is currently in the works as well. Its going to be wonderful.


Some things I have enjoyed lately and recommend checking out:


1. Big Love (HBO). Started Season 1 on DVD from Netflix a while ago, and can not get enough. We watched the entire Season 2 during the last week. Fantastic.


2. My good friend Bryan Murphy’s new side project, Deathhand Murphowski. Check out the bandcamp page:   Worth a listen or 12.


3. The book, UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN by John Krakauer. Inspired by my watching of Big Love, I was determined to find out more about Mormons and Polygamy (not converting to either, just intrigued at this very different way of life and set of beliefs). The book is interesting, a good balance of the history of the Mormon faith and an equally compelling story about 2 men who took it a bit too far.


4. A steak on the grill


5. “To live a creative life, we must loose our fear of being wrong.”–Joseph Pearce


Keep striving to be happy. Things are great, despite things around us being pretty insane. Keep doing your best to make things awesome.


14) Sooo much to be happy about these days for me. Sorry for the long hiatus, there has been a lot going on.


First, the album is ready. You can buy it now. Like right now, you can click a few clicks and you will have the album. iTunes, CDBaby, eMusic, Amazon mp3, the trunk of my car….its everywhere. Im so proud of it, and cant wait for people to hear it. We are planning a CD release party in late September in Rochester, so stay tuned for more information. Kickstarter rewards will be mailed out very soon, and then youll have it too. Until then, get online and check this album out, I am pretty sure you will love it.


Secondly, I got married! On June 12, I got married to my wife Sarah. It was one of the greatest days of my whole life. Everything was absolutely perfect. My friends all came with their instruments and played some incredible music while everyone dined on gourmet burgers and cupcakes. The weather was perfect at the beach, and having so many family and friends all together really made it a day we will never forget.


Some things to check out to get more happy:

1. Bending and Breaking, the album. (duh)

2. James Blake’s self titled album. Lovely.

3. Dave Chisholm’s website ( to hear clips of HIS new album which I am playing on, called Calligraphy. Beautiful writing from Dave.

4. Cultured almond milk. Like yogurt but better. Paired with some granola, you cant go wrong.

5. The book “Seal Team Six” by Howard Wasdin. I get pretty stoked about stuff like this every once in a while. It was a good read, a good story about this dudes life.

6. Summer. Check out summer, its nice out there.


Please get a copy of the album and love it with all your heart. I am so thankful for everyone’s support and hope that things only grow from here. Thanks for reading, STRIVE to be happy, its really the only way to go through life.


“Smile with your whole being.” –Thich Nhat Hahn


15) Welcome to November. It has been a good few months since I last wrote. September always ends up being an interesting time around here. I start my teaching job back up, a new influx of (sometimes) excited young jazz students begin their studies at nearby Eastman and while that and other things are new, some stuff is still the same.


New news is that my album got reviewed on (see attached link). It was a really positive review so hopefully we can turn that into more of them.


We had an incredibly fun and successful CD release night at the Bug Jar on September 3rd, with Quintopus and Wooden Cities. It was packed and all bands sounded great.


Noah Berman has joined the band on guitar and he is a unique voice with a strong sense for color and shape in his playing. The music will be a lot different with him, and while missing Chris (off to Juilliard!), Noah will fit in just fine.


Dave Chisholm, fellow Bender-and-Breaker and Cornell Street-neighbor, will be releasing his album CALLIGRAPHY within the next couple of weeks, which I play on. Check out some samples at for now, and get the album when it comes out. IT IS SWEET!


I was the judge for Rochester’s chapter of the Guitar Center Drum Off. That was a hilarious experience. “first do no harm” they say…


I was a guest speaker at the Hochstein School of Music and Dance’s “School of Rock” camp, run by my good friend Ivan Trevino. I presented on professionalism in music, self-marketing, and image on day one and then continued on day 2 with a game-show format to see what these kids really knew about rock music!


I will be presenting at the NYSSMA Conference on December 3rd with two presentations: “Breaking Barriers in Listening in the General Music Class” and “Preparing Your Student for an All State Drumset Solo”. Thrilling news from the world of education!


My buddy Ivan (mentioned above) and I have been doing some composing together and will hopefully be premiering a new percussion duo project sometime in the future. Stay tuned.




Led Bib (B+B was compared to this band in the recent review and im flattered!)

James Hirschfeld’s TWO MEDICINE (full respect to this album)

Claudia Quintet’s WHAT IS THE BEAUTIFUL? (You are, John. You are.)

Efterklang’s TRIPPER (randomly heard on NPR and is sweet)

Dave Chisholm’s CALLIGRAPHY (mentioned above. get some.)


BOXING. Man if you like boxing like I do, its been a good couple of months and an even better month ahead! Wow boxing is awesome.


STARBUCKS Salted Caramel Mocha. The only problem with the Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate (and i do mean ONLY) was that it was not coffee-based. Problem solved. Thank you Mr Starbuck.


Until next time, check out my album if you havent, and be in touch! be back soon…


Strive To Be Happy, Volume 2 (No. 6-10)

6) So much to discuss here! SORRY its been a while, ive been getting work done.

First, I am happy to report that my folk song project “UNDER OPEN SKY” was a success. I was very thankful to all who came and after I write this, Ill post a sound file or two under “listen”. Check it out and tell me what you think.

Secondly, I had a really special time with Bob Brookmeyer here at Eastman. We played a concert of his music. Bob was incredibly kind and seemed to love the concert. It was a huge honor to play for and with him, and he liked me too, so that was great. The band sounded fantastic and it really was a night we will remember for a long time. (Maybe sound files soon? Not sure…)

Now, ahead of me is a concert on Friday night at Javas. My oldest band, Bending and Breaking, will hit the carpeted floor at 9pm. The music will be mostly older stuff that you probably havent heard before, unless you were a fan during the Boulder Coffee days. Its good stuff, mostly stuff I was just afraid to play because it is hard! BUT I decided to go for it and hopefully the spirit of Santa will get us through.

Also, Friday night will be a cool event debuting the relationship between myself and the KKBB Apparel clothing line. My old pal Mike Banos and his partners have created a line of tshirts and the like that are really sweet. They are all about zombies, weird things, you know….so you can see how I fit right into their ideology. Me and a couple of band members will be sporting their shirts, so if you dig them, you can buy some…hopefully, the other end of this deal is that KKBB fans who wouldnt ordinarily hear about a “jazz band” will catch on and spread the love.

Now, a few things that I have been thinking about:

1. If you want to stay warm and look sweet in the winter time, invest in a scarf. Scarves are the entire key to staying warm when its cold out.

2. Today I stopped at the corner in my car and a man danced for me. Not any kind of weird dance, just throwing down some moves. Then he pointed at me and kinda laughed like I was cool or something. It made me smile.

3. It feels good when you see someone you havent seen in a while and they tell you “you look good” in a totally platonic way.

Lately Ive been listening to a ton of Bob Brookmeyer, due to his being in town. Other than that, I really enjoy the music from the musical “Spring Awakening”. Its definitely rock music of a sort, but harmonically its interesting to me and just sounds nice. I think I am going to see the show when it is in town. Also, lots of the podcast “The Jazz Session” by Jason Crane. He has great guests (more and more they are becoming people I know) and he asks smart questions, and totally doesnt treat the audience like they are stupid or anything. Another good thing to check out is Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society (album). He was at the Brookmeyer concert, good to meet him, and his music is quite like a modern version of Brookmeyer–innovative, pretty, genuine. I like it. Props to my old buddies Eli, James and Jeremy who I know have played in that band.

So to summarize, things have been going well, and there is a lot coming up that should be fun. Friday night at Javas Ill be joined by Wills McKenna (sax), John Britton (tpt), Ben Thomas (bass) and Rochester stalwart Simon Fletcher (guitar). It will be good, I promise. Thanks for reading, and drop me a note if you can to say hello.

7) Again, suck at doing these updates. I am going to try to schedule it into my calendar to do it more regularly. So watch closely for that not happening.

Anyways, it seems as though Ive been playing in a lot of “large ensembles” lately, and I think ive learned something important. In the last 12 months, Ive played Maria Schneiders music with her conducting, Bob Brookmeyers music with him conducting, Fred Sturms music with him conducting, Tom Davis’ music with him conducting and Dave Rivellos music with him conducting. All 5 are either legends of big band writing or diamonds in the (rochester) rough. The overwhelmingly similar advice from every one of them was to PLAY MORE. Come to think of it, Hollenbeck has also said this about playing both his music and Brookmeyer’s. Its such a stark contrast to what Eastman seems to preach to me day in and day out, which is “edit; play less; keep time; simplify; etc”. I think you probably know who im more inclined to believe, but i thought it was both validating and exciting that all of these writers wanted more out of the drum chair. Its good for me, but also says a lot about our jazz educational system, for a band without a strong (in both skill and musical personality) drummer is going to have a hard time making it happen. My more “up close” models of Ted Poor and John Hollenbeck both certainly have that, and even in a sense, Rich Thompson (for the music he is known for–I wont say what band he was in but it rhymes with schmount shmacey). Think about this, educators! and drummers! and band leaders!

Everything else is going very well and I am enjoying my quest to remain happy. I got into a bit of a rut with listening to music and found that even my old stand bys were just not doing it for me these days. Currently accepting recommendations at Help me out.

I went to a great thing in Rochester that Im not sure Im allowed to talk about, but lets just say this. There are some great great people that are my age in this town that are about to have a serious positive impact on the city. Dont give up people.

Upcoming things that are cool:

Eastman Spring Break (next week)

++- gig (March 23)

Playing in ESM Jazz Forum (March 24)

Phil Fiorios Recital (March 25)

My recital (April 3)

Ben Thomas’ recital (April 3)

Actually just look on the itinerary page, that has all of this.

I recently grew a plant that came as a bulb in a box. I cant believe it grew. This was very cool.

Listening to NPR chills you WAY the hell out.

Goya Coconut Water is really good to drink.

Sharpie Pens are still amazing but they sometimes leak on your hands.

JD Salinger died which means we might get some new works from my favorite author’s pen.

Saw Avatar in 3D but got to the theatre late and had to sit way too close. Was still a good movie.

I really enjoy learning. I wish it happened more often. I learn a lot from my Composition lessons, and from my Special Topics course with Jeff Campbell and Chris Ziemba. My colleagues at Eastman are sometimes fantastic.

I badly want to go on a little jaunt soon. Hope to make that happen.


Music that i have kinda liked lately:

John Cage-Williams Mix

Edgar Varese-Poeme Electronique

Ingrid Jensen-At Sea

Ravel-Ma Mere L’Oye

This Sunday, Bobby Marino will premiere my solo work for Timpani: Marie Laveau in Baltimore, MD. I am stoked, thanks bobby!!!

Talk to you guys soon.

8) So I lived up to my promise of wanting to update this more frequently and failing. I am chalking this up as a success.

Things are great. I am trying hard to find the good in every situation. Musically that has not been hard to do lately. “PLUS+MINUS” played a great gig at SUNY Binghamton alongside the Britton Brothers Band, and it went very well. The students were very cool and supportive, and it was fun to do a workshop with another very different band.

I graduate from Eastman very soon! I have learned a lot but I am also ready to be finished. Things are winding down this week. The New Jazz Ensemble will be the thing I miss the most from these last two years, and we are finishing the year appropriately. Ryan Truesdell, Bob Brookmeyer and Maria Schneiders assistant, is in town with a huge stack of music that he collected from the archives of Gil Evans. To play Gil’s music is a thrill enough, but this is stuff that has not been played in like 50 years by anyone, and some of it has probably never been performed. Ryan did a ton of work to copy parts off of sometimes barely legible scores and we are hearing the results. Tonight was our first session and there are two more. Some of the instrumentations are bizzare, like tonights “cello-2 trombone-bassoon-rhythm section-piccolo” tune, or tomorrow nights session, featuring “3 oboes, 2 flutes, 3 bassoons, trombones and rhythm section”. Crazy but it all sounds wonderful.

A few other concerts are happening soon, Ethan Helm’s MEOW MACHINE and Ben Thomas’ ITCHING AND BERNING are both making their debut performances with me in the drum throne. Both feature very hard songs that I am determined to make it through.

A huge congratulations to my buddy Matt Raskopf, who will be touring this summer as a member of the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra. This is a huge accomplishment for him and im very proud. Go Raskopf!

I am into some music lately that people might want to check out. I will type it below:

J Dilla’s hip hop beats

Morton Subotnick’s electronic works, especially Sidewinder and Touch

Knights on Earth (Mike Chiavaro and Grey McMurray, old ESM friends)

Christian Scott–all. Especially Rewind That (Thomas Pridgen on drums…wooh!)

Erykah Badu’s new record New Amerykah, Part 2. KILLING.

Im looking forward to a great summer filled with lots of music and fun. Contact me, i love hearing from people, old friends and new ones. Really, it would be great and I PROMISE to write back! I will be posting some video and audio from my Masters Recital and the ++- gig very soon. Some stuff from my recital is already on YouTube, search Aaron Staebell. Thanks for your support. Get in touch. Go music.

9) Trying to maintain the happy demeanor, busy times however and some bleak outlooks in the non-musical sector of life have proven this to be more difficult than usual. All things considered, things are wonderful, and I have a great summer ahead of me.

Played and clinic-ed for the West Shore School District outside of Harrisburg, PA 2 weekends ago as part of George Clements’ District Percussion Ensemble concert. George organized 4 percussion ensembles plus soloists and duets from throughout the district to perform. The concert culminated (or at least concluded) with a performance by Percussion East, our conglomerate percussion quartet of Eastman dudes. I was joined by John Driscoll, Ivan Trevino and George on three pieces for percussion: Levitan’s Marimba Quartet, Fragile for marimba quartet and my newest work: Pleading for Forgiveness, for percussion quartet and laptop. I will upload videos to YouTube soon, but the piece was performed very well by the guys. It is a 3-movement work based on the idea of redemption of society in light of the tumultuous times in which we are currently living. I was happy with the way it all went. I also worked with the Allen Middle School Jazz Ensemble and those kids can play! Kudos to George for working so hard and being such a great educator and musician.

Before that, on May 14, I was fortunate to attend a concert in Buffalo by a collective known as “New Sonic Initiative”. They are people writing new music and getting it performed, and the stuff that I heard that night ranged from duo bass and drums to full-blown-Morton Feldman-esque music experiences. Not everything on the concert was great, but it was promising to see an effort being made to create artistic pieces and have them heard. The turnout was also quite impressive…Buffalo, you might be on to something.

Plenty of cool events coming up: Brownman will be in residence next week at my school in Greece, working with the bands and the students. We are also playing a mini version of Brown’s “Tribute to Miles” series in Buffalo on Friday June 11 at the base of the HSBC Tower. My dad is going to play bass! It will be great!

This summer I look forward to my usual fare of playing musicals, which I secretly really enjoy. I am playing for “Bare” for Fairport Summer Arts and a production of “Rent” with the JCC. I look forward to both of these, and collaborating with some great musicians and other creative minds.

I will also be playing next Wednesday June 9 as part of the Rochester Jazz Star final Gala Concert. I did not enter this contest with my own group for a number of reasons, but thats ok, I dont know that there was much integrity in the voting process. Anyways, I am supporting Michael Sinicropi in the final round, mostly because hes the only person who asked me, so lets do this!!! I will have more thoughts on that after Im done, I dont know quite what to expect from Michael or from the event itself.


on the car ride home from Harrisburg, we had a drummer nerd-out.

STEVE GADD on Chuck E’s In Love (Rickie Lee Jones)

STEVE GADD on AJA (Steely Dan)

STEVE GADD on LAYLA (Eric Clapton-One More Car, One More Rider)

BERNARD PURDIE on any Steely Dan

ALSO good stuff that Ive been checking out:

KNIGHTS ON EARTH (move slow, life ends)-great new record from some old friends

BEETHOVEN (String Quartet No. 15, 3rd mvt)

THE ROOTS (Dilla Joints-available for free here:…The Roots tribute to beatmaker J-Dilla, whom I have also been enjoying. ?uestlove sounds amazing on this.

DAVID CROSS (Bigger and Blacker)–hilarious, highly inappropriate comedy. ❤

Finally, I have been thinking about this sentiment, and it has inspired me to push towards some more performances of my music/projects in the fall:

“We need to decide what what we want to be known for, and then get working on it.”

In other words, we need to make sure that our daily activities line up with where we want to be headed.  (from

Stay cool.

10) These are easier to write when there is a lot to make you happy.

My new neighbor, Dave Chisholm, is a wonderful guy and a great musician. It has been a pleasure to have a friend living downstairs that shares so many musical ideologies and is also a cool guy to hang out with. Please check him out at

He also draws cool comic books.

Dave is the newest member of my band, Bending and Breaking. We have started a regiment of weekly rehearsals in preparation for some upcoming gigs and more notably, beginning the process of making the first Bending and Breaking album this year! I hope to have things underway soon. The current lineup of the band is:

Doug Stone (Sax)

Dave Chisholm (Trumpet)

Chris Ziemba (Keyboard)

Ben Thomas (Bass)

Me (Drums/Composition)

Its going to be great.

The other really major development is that in November, Ben Thomas has arranged for he and I to play a series of concerts with the great saxophonist/improviser Tony Malaby! Tony has been one of Ben and my heroes for a number of years! We will be playing in Geneva, as well as a few concerts around Rochester. Hopefully this is a successful few days, and I hope that everyone will be able to come and check it out!

I have been working hard to promote myself, though I often find it hard to do so. I dont like to be so in-your-face about it but I think I have to, if i want anyone to hear my stuff. Therefore I have done the following:

1. Updated my Facebook Fan page:


2. Created a BANDCAMP page, where people can download my music–some for a cost, but a lot of music for free…I hope to post a lot of rehearsal footage so that people can keep tabs on where we are in the process.


3. I updated my Youtube channel so that you can watch many cool videos of me playing drums.


4. I am updating this site right now.

[You did it.]

Some things to think about in order to Strive To Be Happy:

-College football is starting, so is regular football.

-I have been revisiting music that I used to like, and I figured out that I still like it. That might be something you would try too.

-The poetry of e.e. cummings is always inspiring to me, and whenever I read any critical analyses of his work, they talk about how he destroyed any conventions that had been previously established. I like that idea, he turned out ok…

-Stilton cheese with apricot on a bruschetta toast. Really good.

Please check out the stuff I talked about above (cool things), and above that (my promotional stuff). I hope to have lots more good news to report soon!


Strive To Be Happy, Volume 1 (No. 1-5)

1) Lately, Ive had more and more questions from people, basically asking “where do your compositions come from?” This is a tough question to answer, because my first reaction is “they come from me”. Then I usually joke about how my brain is all wild and disjunct and so therefore my tunes and playing are as well. But in a more honest attempt to answer this, (and make my website more worth checking out) I am going to try to list some things that I think are cool or worth thinking about. Some stuff will be things Ive just discovered, other times Ill write about old favorites. Hopefully this will give people an idea of what my thought process is like on a regular basis and at least give us something to talk about. Comment if you are so moved, otherwise enjoy.

St Vincent-“Marrow”. Sweet track.

Playing drums for the musical “Hair” has proven to be very much fun.

Leonard Bernstein always amazes me. Most recently, West Side Story.

Yankee Candle: Sage and Citrus, Lakeside Birch, Autumn Leaves

“If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser people than yourself. (Desiderata)

More to come. Seems like fun though, right? Check back often.

2) Here we are, with two short weeks left until September. Here are some thoughts:

Working hard (mentally) on the idea of making Rochester a more viable “scene” for music. Yes, Im sure millions have tried this before me, but I think I have some good ideas. Step 1-attract excellent musicians to be in the area. Had a great conversation with old friend Simon Fletcher, who is relocating back to ROC. Matt Stuver, original Bending and Breaking member, moves back to town on Monday. Chris Ziemba has locked it in for another two years. Geoff Saunders continues to live in town, working on his band Walri, as well as some of my projects. Of course, current Eastman students are abound, and thats a start. (If I forgot someone, my apologies).

Anyways, thats one step. My goal is to encourage people to make bands. Good ones, that they put a lot of effort into. I want to turn that into a small festival in town, NOT the RIJF, but something more modest, while still keeping it competitive (aka not just letting any old band in, especially just because they happen to be local)…more on this as it happens.

I enjoyed some vacation this month. Go to the Adirondacks, or any wilderness, and just enjoy it. Do it.

Lately listening to lots of things….couldnt be more excited for Imogen Heap’s new record, so Ive been checking her out on YouTube in preparation. SUPER hip what she does as a “solo” artist. John Mayer has something new sometime soon for us, I think…jazzwise, still into a lot of Dave Douglas, Seamus Blake Live in Italy is really nasty…Steve Lehman still intrigues me, and I am interested in hearing more Tyshawn Sorey.

Reading a really interesting book about Bjork, her biographical stuff is very cool. She is looked at in Iceland as a nationalist composer…Iceland is still very young as an independent nation, and shes quite prominent, obviously, and apparently shes kinda alone in that. Skuli Sverrison is also Icelandic and pretty amazing at the bass…I know they are friends, but it makes you wonder whats happening outside each of our own little circles.

Ive been trying to eat healthier lately. One week down and its going well. Hopefully I can get myself into some kind of shape. Hard to do when Im so busy but well worth it i think.

More soon, strive to be happy.

3) Check out my friend Brownman on Guru’s newest Jazzmatazz record. Guru’s rapping is good.

I didnt think I would like Stefon Harris’ URBANUS record, but so far, I actually do.

Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pak Coalition is awesome. I really like the substitution of tabla for drum set. Dan Weiss does it really well too.

Very excited to be a part of Eastman’s New Jazz Ensemble again this year. We are supposed to be welcoming Bob Brookmeyer and Fred Sturm this year–two of my favorite big band composers. Here’s to hoping that both of their health’s hold up.

Gran Torino was a sweet movie. Sometimes over the top acting, but the story was very good.

Imogen Heap’s new record IS as good as I had hoped, although some of her songs are starting to sound the same as other ones on previous records.

Sriracha hot sauce was a great call by Ben Thomas. Thank you Ben! I love eating eggs on Sundays with sriracha and soy sauce right in the mix.

I played at the Buffalo Wing Festival over the weekend, yet did not eat a single wing.

Check out my article on creating musicals communities, its in the same section as this. Let me know what you think. Be happy!

4) Things are good. Here are some good things:

Just heard Lee Konitz. 83 years old. Still taking chances musically. I am guessing that he didnt just start doing that a few years ago. Good to think about.

Glad to be going to Toronto to join my friend Brownman in a tribute to the “Plugged Nickel” years of Miles Davis’ career. I am the Tony Williams impersonator. Should be interesting, I am not Tony Williams but I do know a few Tony Williams jazz beats.

Really excited for a few projects I am planning:

1. A 3rd presentation of my song cycle “Visit”. Possibly with some of the original members.

2. A new presentation of a collection of American Folk Songs, hopefully with some new collaborators. This excites me.

3. Eventually some new stuff for Bending and Breaking

4. FINALLY getting down to business on this Abuelita album.

Rediscovering some music that I like lately: Old Rufus Wainwright stuff, the Miles Plugged Nickel stuff, Harold Danko records with Rich Perry, Joni Mitchell “ladies of the canyon”…really beautiful, thanks to Geoff Saunders for hipping me to that.

My friend has an interesting theory that the apocalypse has been taking place since World War I. He has some good support for this claim. Might be true.

Studying a lot with Harold Danko and Clay Jenkins at Eastman. Starting to figure some things out. I go home each day really having figured something out, usually.

Really liking watching The Office, started it in March and am almost 90% caught up. Also love Fringe. This is when I have time to watch TV.

Some things you should check out:

KKBB Apparel

Stephen Guerra’s Big Band


John Hollenbeck’s new big band record

Vijay Iyer’s new trio record when its out

“Nothing touches a work of art so little as words of criticism. They always result in more or less fortunate misunderstandings.” -Rainer Maria Rilke

Until next time, friends….

5) Busy busy busy busy busy busy. Things are busy.

Tonight, Ben (Thomas) asked me who my top 5 favorite drummers were. It started when I said that Jim Black, good as he may be, would not crack my top 10. I think these are my top 5, based on how theyve influenced my sound. (Mostly Jim Black doesnt get there because I dont really think I try to sound much like him, nor do I try to borrow from his conceptual ideas.)

SO, my top 5 favorite drummers would probably be (in no particular order):

1. Paul Motian

2. Brian Blade

3. Nasheet Waits

4. Jorge Rossy

5. Tony Williams

5a. Jack DeJohnette

It is so stupid to not include like…Elvin Jones here, for his stretching of the beat, or Billy Kilson for his complex grooves. Clarence Penn for his interjections and John Hollenbeck for his inventiveness. Even someone like ?uestlove should be on this list. So a top 5 is nearly impossible. But the question was Top 5, so I think that if I hadnt heard one of the guys in the top 5 (6…), I wouldnt play the way that I do at all. So check out all of those guys if you havent already. Motion on his Electric Bebop Band stuff….Blade in his own band, or with Wayne Shorter….Nasheet with Fred Hersch, Jason Moran, Tony Malaby….Jorge’s stuff with Mehldau is a chapter in my life itself….Tony on Plugged Nickel or Four and More, and Jack with Keith Jarrett. There are so many other great drummers, but those are my favs.

Also listening to a lot of Bob Brookmeyer in preparation for our concert with him on December 2nd. His work with the Vanguard band in the 80s is stuff that I hadnt heard but it is RIDICULOUS! I love his newer stuff but the old stuff just proves what a legend he really is.

Enjoying the weather lately. The air feels good at this time of year. Cold and crisp but not painful yet. Go for a walk maybe.

Excited for my new project, UNDER OPEN SKY, to take shape. First rehearsal tomorrow night.

Played on young Ethan Helm’s music tonight. Very cool, inventive stuff. Glad the younger guys are writing.

Was honored to play on old friend Matt Stuver’s Doctoral recital on Halloween. Ziemba, Dave Baron, Matt and I made what I thought was some really great music.

Rochestarians, if you havent eaten at Gusto on East and Alexander near the Old Toad, you need to get in there. AMAZING Italian food. Some of my favorite eating ever. Was recently reminded of this with a bowl of Squash soup and a Four-Cheese woodfired pizza with onions and black olives. Get it.

Other listening:

Bernstein West Side Story and Candide (not just the overture)

Wayne Shorter quartet, various live bootlegs

Bill Frisell, various

Claudia Acuna, En Este Momento (YES! too popish? impossible.)


Vijay Iyers new trio record. Apparently is wonderful.

Strive to be happy. It isnt that hard these days if you just look around.