Steve Gadd coming home for jazz festival

05:00 AM, Jun 16, 2013

Steve Gadd (Bill Zules)/


Written By Jeff Spevak Staff music critic

If you go

What: Bob James & David Sanborn, with Steve Gadd.
When: 8 p.m. June 27.
Where: Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, 60 Gibbs St.
Tickets: $40 to $85.
For tickets: (585) 454-2060 or rochesterjazz.com.

In the English-speaking world, professional ironists have long noted that “God” is “dog” spelled backwards. This wordplay reflects an interesting arc of Steve Gadd’s universe — dogs at one end, God at the other, and Gadd can see the connection.

His life is a multitude of arcs, all of varying degrees of importance, all intersecting. The arc of song that soars from the goofiness of “The Hustle” to a jazz classic like “Caravan.” The arc of his family life, which long ago out-ran his time as a serious addict.

More coverage: Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival ‘13

And there is the arc of his professional associations as one of the most sought-after drummers in music. At one end of that arc are superstars such as Eric Clapton, James Taylor and Paul Simon. At the other end, less-illuminated, but nonetheless rewarding, musicians such as the marimba player Mika Yoshida Stoltzman. Gadd produced and played on her album, Mikarimba, just one in a dizzying array of projects he’s been involved with over the past couple of years.

Whether it’s a Clapton or a Yoshida Stoltzman calling, Gadd always answers the phone. “It’s hard to turn down good work,” he says. Good work that always seems to have gotten in the way of completing his own projects, until a burst of creativity and downtime from major tours allowed some of them to come to fruition. For instance, Live at Voce, the 2010 Steve Gadd and Friends release with Hammond B3 jazzman Joey DeFrancesco and The Gaddabouts, featuring guitarist Andy Fairweather Low, “who I met through Eric Clapton,” Gadd says.

It is a tuneful yet incestuous network. Simon’s wife, Edie Brickell, writes and sings the Gaddabouts’ lyrics. She and Steve Martin just released a bluegrass album, so Gadd also has gotten to know the comic/writer/banjo player (who played last year’s jazz fest).

He’s not only one of the funniest guys I’ve ever listened to, he’s a pretty fine musician,” Gadd says.

Yes, Gadd moves among fascinating circles of people making intriguing sounds. “It covers a wide range of music,” he says. “And I like that.”

But the jazz saxophonist David Sanborn and the pianist Bob James are in range now. The new album by the contemporary jazz giants is Quartette Humaine. It is inspired by the pianist Bill Evans’ recordings with saxophonist Paul Desmond.

When the two needed a drummer, they did what many musicians do: They called Steve Gadd.

The three have a long history together. They’re on the road now, which brings them to the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival on June 27, the seventh day of the nine-day event. Willie Nelson is the biggest name playing Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. But Gadd is very much the face of this 11th annual event. Alongside Lou Gramm, Chuck Mangione, Son House and Renée Fleming, the work by the humble drummer from Irondequoit is as significant as any contribution that Rochester has made to popular music.

I haven’t been back in a while,” Gadd says. “I have a lot of family and friends that I love, and they love me.”

Love is a word that Steve Gadd uses a lot.

Back story, in brief

Briefly, the familiar history: First set of drums at the age of 3, jamming with Dizzy Gillespie at 11, a graduate of Eastridge High School and the Eastman School of Music. Three years in the Army during the Vietnam era, toting drumsticks rather than a rifle with the U.S. Army Field Band and the Army’s touring big band, The Jazz Ambassadors.

On to session work in New York City, following his old Eastman roommate, the renowned bassist Tony Levin. Don’t blame Gadd for the onset of disco just because he played on Van McCoy’s 1975 hit “The Hustle.” Gadd has appeared on hundreds of albums.

A sampling of the musicians he’s been associated with is notable for its diversity: Laurie Anderson, Frank Sinatra, Paul McCartney, The Bee Gees, George Benson, B.B. King, Chick Corea, James Brown, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Peter Gabriel, Bette Midler, Jim Croce, Jon Bon Jovi, Chet Baker, Charles Mingus. That’s him playing on Steely Dan’s finest moment, its album Aja. And that precise, rat-a-tat-tat of Simon’s “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover” is also Gadd.

Setting himself straight

The frenetic New York City arts scene has chewed up and spit out many musicians, and Gadd was no stronger than the others. Alcohol, coke, pot and pills were a daily routine, eroding his finances and family. He had two daughters from a first marriage. He and his second wife, Carol, lost a set of twins in pregnancy, then a little girl who lived for five hours. When their son Duke was born, Carol issued an ultimatum. Several years of ultimatums, actually: Clean up or get out. Gadd resisted. The marriage broke up as Gadd bottomed out. He was alone for months, thinking about what he’d done to his life.

Out of that wreckage emerged a new Steve and Carol Gadd. A spiritual one. They moved to Pittsford, in part to get away from the dangerous distractions of the music industry. “I’ve been in recovery for 25 years, and that’s a spiritual program, as well as physical and mental,” he says. “I believe in a higher power. I believe that we’re all connected. Infinite intelligence.”

Infinite intelligence, that’s God. Just as they share many of the same tattoos, the Gadds share the same spirituality.

She’s real consistent in it,” Gadd says. It’s a non-denominational view of the world, a New Thought movement, available in books such as A Course in Miracles. “It’s a great guide for me,” Gadd says. “There are a lot of different guides for different people. They all say the same things in different ways.

I believe our spirits go on after our bodies cease to exist,” he says. “Love is the answer, and forgiveness. Those are basic things I live by. They seem very clear when things are going good. When you’re in a battle, you have to work harder.”

They had a second son, Giancarlo, then six years ago the Gadds left Rochester, moving to Phoenix.

It was work, a production sort of thing, and my son Duke was involved with it,” he says. “Even though it didn’t pan out in the end, it was incentive enough to move out there. It got us out of the cold. We like it there. It’s affordable. And there’s a good airport.”

A good airport is important to Gadd. It is how he gets to work.

Finding peace

Gadd’s website is filled with quotes that he calls “Prayers for Peace,” including hopeful words from Duke Ellington, Carl Jung, Mahatma Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, William Shakespeare, Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Albert Einstein suggests “widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures.”

To that last sentiment, the Gadds share their home now with five dogs. Bulldogs seem favored, but all are welcome. There have been many others, but a dog’s arc burns bright and too quickly for those who love them.

They make me laugh; they’re big lovers,” Gadd says. “They’re definitely all love, so that’s the connection. No matter what happens, that comes through in them. That’s what they want. They just want you to be next to them, sharing feelings. That’s what they live for.”

So the spirituality of the Gadd God is reflected in the Gadd dogs.

The musicians whom Gadd works with do not have to sit through preachy solos by their drummer. Gadd is a quiet man.

Words fall short,” he says. “The example means a lot more.”

Every day is a test. “If you’re driving, you can sorta judge your inner peace by the way you react when someone cuts you off,” he says. “If you’re screaming and yelling, and you’re by yourself, chances are your inner peace isn’t working that day.”

Cultivating inner peace, that has been Gadd’s gig for the last quarter century.

If you can stay bright, that can affect people in the world,” he says. “If you’re dark, that can affect people around you as well. Bad feelings are like bad addictions. They’re not going to make you happy.”

A haiku for Gadd

Playing the silence

because less is better heard

in jazz and nature

JSPEVAK@DemocratandChronicle.com