Jamestown drummer jams on the open seas for 5 months
When Aaron Cote started taking drum lessons at the age of 10, he probably didn’t dream that his rhythmic pursuits would one day lead him to adventures on the high seas. Cote, who was born and raised in Jamestown, has just returned from a series of voyages on which he performed for passengers on the Holland America cruise ship Noordam.
Cote got his bachelor’s degree in music performance from Butler University in Indianapolis, and followed that up with a master’s degree in music performance from the University of Illinois. While he was at school, he performed on a Carnival Cruise Lines ship that was touring the Caribbean. He had other nautical opportunities, but chose to complete his studies before pursuing them.
After college Cote decided to go back to sea, and searched the Internet for jobs that would allow him to do so. He applied to Holland America and got a quick response to a video he submitted of him playing drums.
“On the morning they received it, they called me and offered me a job,” Cote said. “They told me that in a couple of weeks they wanted me to go to Italy. I said OK.”
On the ship, Cote’s job was to play drums in a jazz trio called the Neptunes that performed in an upscale lounge on the ship from 6:30 to 11:30 p.m., seven nights a week. He served in this capacity for 141 days, making a total of three complete circuits of the Mediterranean Sea over the course of six different cruises.
“Holland America’s line is known for a more mature audience,” Cote said. “We had a lot of people asking for Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Cole Porter. A lot of mid-century type things. A lot of people danced and a lot of people came for the happy hour. We might have 100 to 125 people packed into the room.”
When another drummer missed the ship in Barcelona, Cote had a chance to play with the show band, which performed in the ship’s large theater. He filled in until a permanent replacement could be found, playing both jobs on a nightly basis. “I ended up getting a lot of good experience playing different shows with both bands,” Cote said.
When it was time to reposition the ship from Europe to its winter home in the Caribbean, Cote was on board for the Atlantic crossing from Civitavecchia, Italy, to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He followed that up with two 10-day rotations through the Caribbean before heading home to Jamestown.
Cote was offered another contract for a passage from Fort Lauderdale to San Diego through the Panama Canal, but opted to return home to enjoy some time off.
One of the reasons Cote decided not to take the contract was because he said the working conditions were not as nice as those on the Noordam.
“Plus, I was gone for almost five months, and that was a lot. They wanted me on for two months, but you can’t have a personal life on a ship. They charge you for Internet and they charge you for phone cards. So by the time you make money, you want to spend it to try and keep in touch with people at home. At that point I would rather just stay at home and enjoy having a personal life.”
Now that Cote is home, he is interested in immersing himself once again in the local music scene, and that includes offering individual and group music lessons. He can be reached at cote email@example.com or 662- 2174.
Fortunately for Cote, his voyages were not all work. He had numerous opportunities to get off the ship in various places, seeing more than 20 countries along the way. There were some pleasant surprises for the young musician. As an example, when the ship pulled into Livorno, Italy, he had chance to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
“I got a chance to really see Europe in depth, its history, and really rich culture that I had studied in my history books all the way through school,” Cote said. “The coolest part for me was to walk into a place that I had read about in a history book in the eighth grade.”
Among the memorable sites for Cote were the Roman Baths in Carthage, Tunisia, the Acropolis and the site of the first Olympics in Greece, and the city of Pompeii in Italy. He also fondly recalls the time he spent in Kusudasi, Turkey.
“It’s right around the corner from Ephesus,” Cote said. “It was incredible to see where Paul the Apostle was in prison, and where John the Revelator was buried.” The tour also included a trip to the house of the Virgin Mary in Ephesus, a holy shrine for the Roman Catholic Church. “I thought it was a pretty big deal for a kid from Jamestown to walk into the Virgin Mary’s house in Ephesus.”
Cote also discussed the recent disaster of Costa Concordia, the Italian cruise ship that hit a reef and ran aground in Tuscany last month. “We have training on a regular basis a couple of times a month. At some of the training sessions they would show us pictures and tell us stories of how accidents really do happen. We have been trained in how to respond in these situations.”
Cote said he wasn’t shocked that it happened. “It’s part of reality,” he said. “I’m glad that I had a company to work for that I trusted and that prepared me for such situations.”
Cote became a valued employee while on the Noordam and will have opportunities to return to Holland America if he wants to. In the meantime, he has offered to serve as a substitute if needed to come in to finish a contract or work on cruises for less than one month.
“We live in a cruise destination,” Cote said. “Holland America has a tender port in Newport. So the fact that there is a ship that can pretty much see my house means I don’t really have to leave here. It’s a pretty nice place.”