Snared by rock & roll

American drummer-percussionist Gerry Hemingway joins forces with compatriot bass player Mark Dresser and Israeli saxophonist Assif Tsahar for a freewheeling gig at Tel Aviv’s Levontin 7.

Hemingway 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Hemingway 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Although 56-year-old Gerry Hemingway has spent over three decades playing in a wide range of groundbreaking projects, including fruitful long-term synergies with the likes of reedman Anthony Braxton, pianist Marilyn Crispell, bassists Mark Dresser, Reggie Workman, Barry Guy and Mark Helias, trombonist Ray Anderson and guitarist James Emery, he is also very much a product of the R&B and rock sounds he heard as a youngster in the ’60s.
“I think the notion that music was a mysterious, alluring and desirable world came first via my brothers who both were avid collectors of records. I have distinct memories of hearing a mixture of R&B and ’60s rock & roll, and being indoctrinated into the counterculture of music via the records,” the drummer recalls.
“Perhaps, because they were older, their music curiosity was something we could share and was kind of a ticket to hipness for me. The radio also held my fascination and still does. It remains one of my favorite places to discover something I don’t know about music.”
There were other formative influences at home.
“Music was in my family and my dad loved to sing and kept something of a tradition alive around holidays where we would sing Christmas carols. He also had a set of Whitechapel handbells and regularly bought over his musical friends from his years at Yale to practice holiday music which he and his group would perform at benefits and social events in New Haven, Connecticut.”
Hemingway’s musical diet quickly developed as he took in new genres and avenues of creativity. He was soon looking beyond the pop and rock music he initially imbibed and began exploring new ways of expression.
“Sound experimentalism seemed to be in my DNA, and also perhaps a partial result of an alteration of my DNA from the psychedelic era. As a kid I would do experiments with tape recorders and play feedback on my beat up guitar for hours, fascinated by what I later would understand to be overtones.”
SIBLING INTERVENTION, of a less mainstream nature, also helped to point a way forward.
“When I was about 10 years old, my brother played our family ‘Visage’ by [Italian electronic music pioneer] Luciano Berio one night and it completely transported me to a world where sound could have so much narrative and psychological dimension to it.
“I was literally transported to another experiential dimension and I naturally was curious to experiment with creating my own unique sounds. As a drummer, this also really started to be a strong part of my musical expression that began when I started giving solo concerts in 1974.”
It was shortly after this that Hemingway began an enduring creative relationship with Helias and Anderson, forming the envelope pushing BassDrumBone trio. Hemingway says that the threesome is a tight-knit unit and very much a forward- looking sum of its equal parts.
“The group is now in its 34th year and we value each other's musical and personal relationship very highly. The time we get to perform on the road is like a gift, a reunion of a family. And it does not stagnate or become content with its past accomplishments, but instead keeps a vibrant spirit and edge to its natural chemistry.”
Hemingway graced the Levontin 7 stage last October, when he teamed up with American pianist Marilyn Crispell in a highly successful performance. As Crispell explored the length and breadth of her keyboard range, Hemingway eked rhythms, colors, textures and resonances galore out of his drum set and assorted additional percussion accessories.
But, whoever Hemingway plays with, and whatever channel of artistic endeavor he opts for, there is always a solid rock substratum to be heard.
“[Rock] is at the bottom of my root system. I was drawn to this music at an early stage of life, as a partial result of the environment and influence of my brothers. I saw everyone in this period – Hendrix, Cream, The Who, Jeff Beck, Grateful Dead, McDonald & Giles, Joni Mitchell, I saw them all, often many times. And from it I think I culled a deep sense of the blues which still permeates my writing and playing to this day.”
Hemingway, Dresser and Tsahar will perform at Levontin 7 in Tel Aviv on Sunday at 8:30 p.m. Hemingway and Tsahar will also perform at the Barbur Gallery in Jerusalem on Monday at 8:30 p.m. For more info: