A PORTRAIT OF
February 6, 2017 | by Rusty Aceves
Scott Amendola - photo by Lenny Gonzalez
We take a look at Scott Amendola's momentous career, as he shares his thoughts about his personal project.
Fresh from his studies at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, drummer and composer Scott Amendola arrived on the Bay Area scene in the early 1990s – a pivotal time of musical re-invention when the rigidly traditionalist Young Lions movement had aged enough to become the era’s established veterans and the polished, digital gloss of 80s neo-fusion had been homogenized into the bland pastels of “smooth jazz.” The so-called “Acid Jazz” revolution from the U.K. had spread to the States and adapted itself, bringing jazz, hip-hop, funk, old school soul, reggae, R&B, and DJ culture together, and with San Francisco a hot bed for this exciting and inclusive new frontier, Amendola’s arrival was perfectly timed. The drummer’s early work with 8-string guitarist Charlie Hunter’s band and its offshoot, the iconic guitars-and-drums quartet T.J. Kirk, were showcases for an omnivorous musician with irreproachable technical facility who was steeped in the jazz vocabulary, yet clearly relished an explosive funk wallop and a swampy second line groove with equal affection. It’s an approach that clearly resonated with listeners, providing the foundation for the heights Hunter’s band reached on their seminal Blue Note releases, and remains a fertile area for exploration in his continued collaboration with the guitarist, as evidenced by their 2014 duo album, Pucker, focused on Amendola’s music.
A deeper look into the drummer’s career reveals an artist who has always stood beyond fleeting trends and flavors of the month. In perusing his extensive discography and performance history since those formative years, one is struck by a constantly shifting musical perspective – from the rural Americana of Bill Frisell and folky murder ballads of Noe Venable to the open-ended structures of the Rova Saxophone Quartet and the torchy expressiveness of Madeleine Peyroux. Amendola’s steady duo project with Hammond organist Wil Blades exemplifies gutbucket funk at its greasiest, and his affinity for guitarists has paid copious dividends on albums by Pat Martino, Jim Capilongo, G.E. Stinson, Tony Furtado, Henry Kaiser, and particularly Wilco six-stringer Nels Cline, whose half-dozen trio albums with Amendola and bassist Devin Hoff (or more recently Trevor Dunn) as the Nels Cline Singers are wildly inventive and deeply rewarding. In the more improvisational and experimental settings, the integration of Amendola’s drumming with live electronic manipulation has expanded his sonic palette yet further.
Amendola’s career as a drummer and sideman tells only half the story of this truly multi-faceted musician, however. His work as a composer looms large in his creative life, and the primary outlet for his own music has remained the Scott Amendola Band.
“I started the Scott Amendola Band in the spring of 1998 as an outlet to realize myself as a composer and bandleader. I'd had the composer's bug for a long time, but had been very intimidated by composing. I finally decided to buckle down and get the music out of my head that's been swirling around for a while. My music goes from being groove-oriented to ballads to totally free, through composed pieces to sketches. The Scott Amendola Band is my outlet for compositional improvisation. The first record represents a starting point for a long journey — a never-ending journey of expression, conceptual journeys, revelations, emotions, and creativity.”
Of course, the primary vehicle for one’s own compositions requires careful consideration in terms of personnel, both in regards to the choice of instruments that will express the textural and harmonic character the composer envisions as well as the rapport he has with the musicians who will bring those compositions to life. Over its nearly two-decade existence the SAB has recorded three albums, each with a quintet lineup that has subtly shifted over the years, changing bassists from Todd Sickafoose to John Schifflett, replacing guitarist Dave Mac Nab with Nels Cline, and switching from saxophonist Eric Crystal to second guitarist Jeff Parker. Through it all, violinist Jenny Scheinman has remained a constant, adding sumptuous melodic lines that have become a calling card for the group.
"A band is the sum of its parts, and I've learned how to think in terms of the parts and compose accordingly. It's a challenge that constantly pushes me to find myself and be more and more honest with who I am."
Amendola would use the invaluable experience of writing for his band on what would be his largest, most ambitious project – a commissioned orchestral piece for the Oakland East Bay Symphony. Entitled Fade to Orange, the piece was scored for the orchestra along with his Nels Cline Singers bandmates Cline and Dunn, premiered at Oakland’s Paramount Theater in April of 2011. A studio recording featuring Cline, Dunn, the Magik*Magik Orchestra and remixes by Yuka Honda, Beautiful Bells, and Mocean Worker was released in 2015.
“I've realized a way to express myself beyond the drumset which is unbelievably rewarding. Blood, sweat, tears. Pain and love. Fortunate passion realized.”