2011-07-14 / News

Sounds of the drums beating fill the recreation center

By Margo Sullivan

The muffled beat of the drums – African, Brazilian, Cuban – scattered the sound of music over East Ferry Thursday night, as curious passers-by dropped by the Jamestown Recreation Center to see who was jamming.

They found Ryder Anderson and Donovan Martin, both 9, and Donovan’s brother Devon, 7, playing traditional sets, plus a little improvisation under the instruction of Jamestown native Aaron Cote.

The Parks and Recreation Department sponsored Cote’s youth drumming class as part of the summer program. It’s the first time drumming has been offered, according to Jill Goldstein, program supervisor.

Cote, 25, studied drumming with Bolokada Conde, a West African master drummer, and earned a master’s degree in music performance at the University of Illinois. He did his undergraduate music work at Butler University.

“I left to get the experience I couldn’t find here and bring it back,” he said.

So far, his plate has been pretty full, he said. Besides his classes at the rec center and teaching private drumming lessons, Cote is performing with Lois Vaughan and jazz singer Michelle Cruz, also of Jamestown.

Cote met Cruz at the Newport Jazz Festival, and they are booked for several upcoming appearances, starting July 27, when Michelle Cruz and her jazz quartet play the Sidebar Cafe in Providence. Then on Aug. 2 at Newport’s Washington Square, Cote will join the John Monllos Trio. Cote and Cruz are the featured act aboard the SeaFair Megayacht on Aug. 3 for a party following the George Wein and Friends tribute at Bridgefest.

Cruz sings in both English and Portuguese, he said. Her latest compact disc has been a favorite on the Boston radio channel, WGBH.

Cote started playing music on his parent’s piano. “When I was young, I was very interested in music. We had a piano at home,” he said. He added that at first, he played by ear. He then took formal piano lessons for a few years before he started to learn drums.

“I learned every style of drumming,” he said, from jazz and rock to orchestra and marimba. So far, Cote said, the youth drumming class has started to learn the ABCs of percussion, meaning African, Brazilian and Cuban music, and to follow traditions, such as call and response, in which one player echoes another’s song, and looping, in which the musicians play the same song over and over.

But last week, Cote was quizzing the young musicians on traditional African music and the call and response. He played a part on the sticks or on the drum, and then pointed to one of the youngsters.

“High, high, high, low, high, high, low, low,” Cote said, sounding out the first part of the song. Then he added a second section: “Low, high, high, low.”

First, Donovan answered by playing the exact same part. Then it was his brother Devon’s turn, and then 9-year-old Ryder took over.

“Generally, the African traditional teaching method is to mimic sounds orally,” Cote explained after the class. “As I teach young kids, I try to use words they understand rather than sounds that they may have trouble differentiating. When writing the music on paper, the general idea is to represent both the rhythm and the melodic contour.” He added that that isn’t typical in West African music.

Cote also tries to keep the instruments authentic. For a recent class, he packed a Djembe, an African drum fashioned from a goatskin and a hollowed tree, and a replica Cuban conga drum.

Those aren’t the only percussion instruments the youngsters have tried. Earlier, Cote put them on double-headed brass drums called Dunun drums and let them work the bells and shakers.

And he also brought a regular drum set to accommodate one young musician’s special request.

“My goal is to make sure everyone gets to learn what they want as well as learn as a group,” he said. Cote also wants the students to have fun while they’re playing, and he’s patient when Donovan, for example, offered an excuse not to practice his music at home.

“I don’t have any drums at home,” he said. Cote smiled, but wasn’t falling for the line.

“You don’t need drums to practice at home,” he said. He pounded out some music by tapping his hand on the stage floor inside the recreation center.

Cote is also looking for new students, including adults. He will present some drumming basics at a free workshop – the Aaron Cote BridgeFest World Percussion Workshop – at 2 p.m. on Aug. 2 at the Newport Public Library.

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