Constantly moving, shifting gears, making discoveries and tackling newer more challenging projects, drummer-bandleader-composer Bobby Previte is one of the hardest working players on the New York scene, though it’s hard to pinpoint precisely what scene that is. Previte’s restlessly creative nature places him outside the strict confines of any one scene. In the appropriate context, he has the infinite capacity to swing his ass off, rock out with ferocious abandon, indulge in daring free-form improvisation, lay down a fat blues shuffle, underscore ballads with uncommonly sensitive brushwork, or paint pointillistically on the kit in delicate, chamber-like settings. And currently he’s having a ball triggering melodies, textures, and unleashing all manner of ambient washes with his electronic ddrum trigger pads. “Now with the electronics I can really orchestrate it more, so I’m really digging it,” he says. “I can really play more melodically on the ddrums, which I always tried to do on the acoustic drums anyway.”
Lately, he’s been using ddrum triggers on his regular drums instead of hitting the electronic trigger pads. “Now when I tour Europe I just ask for a drum set and then clip on the triggers. It’s a lot easier than carrying the pads around. And it’s also something where the technology takes me to another place.”
A drummer for all seasons, Previte is a true auteur as a bandleader, a consummate accompanist as a sideman, and a proud ambassador for the drums. A listening, thinking drummer with incredibly quick hands, Previte is in that great tradition of formidable composer-drummer-bandleaders like Max Roach, Tony Williams, Andrew Cyrille, and he brings an unparalleled zeal for playing to the bandstand every time he hits. Today his inner urge to play the drums may be in reaction to all the resistance he had to overcome when he was a kid growing up in Buffalo.
“What I got in my life is just resistance from the idea of being an artist, and so I had to fight against that every step of the way,” he says. “And part of that struggle was building my own drum set because no one would get me one. But the drum set that I built was very cool.”
Although he started off on guitar, Previte fell in love with the drums at age 13 after sitting behind his cousin’s kit and making his initial strokes. As he recalls, “Everybody in life has got one thing that it seems like they can do and some people unhappily just never find that one thing, but somehow I happened to find it because I just always remember being able to play something on the drums. I just loved the drums. It was just love at first hear. So I asked my father could I have a drum set and, of course, he refused. He didn’t want a drum set in the house. Anyway, he wanted me to be a doctor. He was way against the music but I just became obsessed with the drums, so I just had to build my own drum set.”
He describes the homemade process step-by-step: “I got this big, old heavy garbage can and turned it on its side – that was my bass drum. Then I got these plungers and I nailed aluminum pie plates to the top of them for my cymbals. I couldn’t really make a snare so I got a box with a bunch of rattley stuff in it that worked okay, and the tom toms were cool because I had these plastic baskets, which sounded really great, just like what the guys in the street do now. But I couldn’t make a hi-hat, it was just beyond me. I was able to make the drumsticks but my greatest invention was my foot pedal. I got like two pieces of linoleum and cut them out to match each other in a rectangle. Then I crimped one end of it together; just folded it over so they were attached. Then I got a coat hanger and pulled it out straight and wound it around my baseball bat very slowly into a spring and then put it between the two pieces of linoleum. I straightened one end of the hanger and stuck it up through the top piece of linoleum. Then I took out my rubber ball and just stuck it on the top, and that was my bass drum pedal. And that thing worked great. I started playing this homemade drum set in a neighborhood band but they eventually fired me when they got a gig. The leader told me, ’You can’t play that thing in public. You’ll embarrass us.’ So they ended up getting another kid in the neighborhood who couldn’t really play but had a set of Kent drums.”
That incident made Previte especially determined to get his own kit too. Through hard work and perseverance on a paper route, he was eventually able to buy his first real drum set. “I saved ten bucks a week, diligently, for 26 weeks and purchased an old Rogers set. And then the band that fired me hired me back when I got the new drum set. And that was the start for me.”
His urge to play was greater than the obstacles set before him. “I wanted it bad, I really wanted it bad,” he recalls. “And I wasn’t going to get it from anybody else so I had to get it myself. For me it was always a question of if I wanted something I had to go out and make it happen, otherwise it wasn’t going to happen. And that still holds true to this day.”
Although Previte has occasionally appeared at conventional jazz venues in New York like the Jazz Standard, where he’s played as a sideman with soprano saxophonist and bandleader Jane Ira Bloom, he’s more likely to be seen in the city’s two main alternative ’downtown’ venues – Tonic and the Knitting Factory. Whether it’s in tandem with duet improv partners Charlie Hunter or Elliott Sharp or leading his own superb acoustic quintet Bump or his electrified Voodoo Down ensemble, Previte can generally be found there pushing the envelope and creating music that is undeniably cutting edge.