April 2004

Ray Drummond

Visit Ray "Bulldog" Drummond's Web site (raydrummond.com), and you'll find a link to the Bulldog's Lair, where the master bassist sounds off on the issues of the day, jazz-related or otherwise. As for Drummond's nonvirtual lair, it's in Teaneck, N.J.-a modest house he's inhabited for 23 years with his wife, Susan, and his daughter, Maya, now 24. (That is Maya, age nine or so, on the cover of Drummond's Maya's Dance album.) "We have lots of fun here," Drummond says, and his warmth and generosity make it easy to believe.

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Jimmy Katz

Ray Drummond

The oldest of six children (four brothers and two sisters), Ray Drummond was an army brat, attending 14 different schools in 12 years. In the early '60s his family settled in Monterey, Calif., where his widowed mother still lives and where he stays when he's teaching at California State University Monterey Bay. "During the school years I'm pretty much out there," Drummond says. "But I'm rarely gone longer than two and a half weeks at a time."

Drummond is a self-taught player, with no music-school baggage to speak of. He earned a political science degree in 1968, held down a corporate job and attended Stanford Business School on a fellowship, working toward an MBA. "Music was a passionate hobby, and I turned that hobby into a professional career," Drummond recalls. "When I was about 24 I made the switch. I did only one year of my MBA and then said no, I'm going to go to San Francisco and play bass."

After cutting his teeth with the likes of Bobby Hutcherson and Tom Harrell, Drummond moved to New York in 1977 and rose to the heights of his profession. At 57, he is one of jazz's most in-demand bassists, revered for his pure tone, impeccable time and incisive solos. In his estimation, he has played on over 400 recordings. "Not many," he remarks, unfacetiously, citing Milt Hinton and George Duvivier as the music's most prolific bass players. Drummond also has eight dates as a leader to his credit, not to mention two zesty outings with the Drummonds, featuring pianist Renee Rosnes and drummer Billy Drummond (no relation). As a sideman, the Bulldog continues to work not only with greats such as Abbey Lincoln but also with emerging talents such as saxophonist Tim Armacost.

Head down to Drummond's basement and one can view his sizeable collection of vinyl, CDs, books and an upright piano. "It's a serious disaster," Drummond says of the space, which is cramped and cluttered but could be far worse. A far cry from a plush home studio, perhaps, but this truly is the Bulldog's Lair, where all his compositions are born.

On the wall above the piano is a framed photo of Drummond and Kenny Barron switching instruments at Bradley's. Drummond was a fixture at the now-defunct Greenwich Village piano bar. "It was a communication center," he says, ruefully. "Somebody would die, someone would get married and the whole world would know about it in 24 hours because of Bradley's. That kind of thing is sorely missed."

Drummond does what he can to keep that sense of community alive. Whenever he plays the Village Vanguard, for instance, he hosts what has become known as "chicken night" and orders up a bin of tasty fried fowl from a nearby eatery. (Rosnes' tune "Bulldog's Chicken Run" was thus inspired.) The latest chicken night came during Carol Sloane's January engagement at the club, and there's sure to be another during Steve Wilson's engagement in April. When the Bulldog is in, the famous Vanguard kitchen is at its homiest.

Personal File

Computer?
Drummond is still using his first computer, purchased in 1997. "I'm a Mac guy. I have a 1.2-gig hard drive and I'm only using about 60 percent of it. Finale 97 is on there, which goes to show how much I'm using it. I'm still running OS 7.6.1. At work I have a G4 and I use 9.2."

Reading?
"I get most of my news from the Internet-the New York Times online, and other major papers like the Chicago Trib, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, L.A. Times. The last book I read was Bill Moody's The Sound of the Trumpet. Moody is a drummer himself. The hero of the book is a piano player, but he's also like a Sherlock Holmes figure. This book is about what happens when some Clifford Brown tapes surface that have never been heard before. A murder takes place, and one of the reels goes missing."

Car?
"I have a '94 Honda Accord wagon, my wife has an Accord sedan and my daughter has a Honda Civic, so at the moment we're a Honda family. I was a Peugeot guy. I went through two of them in 20-some years. The reason I have the Accord is it's the only wagon that's big enough without getting a minivan, which doesn't handle like a car. They stopped selling this wagon in the States in '95. But in the rough winters I really miss my Peugeot."

Vacation?
"We're vacation people. Locally it's Montauk, where we have a place we love to stay, and we like to harass Percy Heath, who's practically the assistant mayor there. Everybody knows Percy, because he's been there for over 40 years. Our international destination is Aruba."

Food?
"I've got a gas grill out there that I'm learning my way around. I used to be a coal-fired guy. My stuff is pretty simple, good hearty stuff. I would never even try to go into Italian cooking, that's [my wife's] province. Italian mamas, you've got to leave them alone. They've got a whole repertoire that their mothers gave them, and I don't tread on that."

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