Primary Instrument: Drums
Jazz drummers, in general, are philosophers when contrasted with the dumb jock model often attributed to boomer era fossil rock. Mr. Gray is a thinking drummer with an expansive kindliness about him that shifts to striking capacities of concentration when he engages his kit.
One commonality I find with this run of drummers is their embrace of flow. Outside now a fat offshore slop front is busy soaking Boston and all the sounds of rain, downpour, focused splashing below the bad roof gutter, car tires mildly hydroplaning on Hampshire street and a syncopation of drippings adds up to some counterpart of flow drumming.
Luther also has water cascades, whitewater rapids and quiet frog splashes in vernal pools worked into the repertoire. Faucet splashes from urban sinks, a slow dripping leak and a morning shower are in there too as well as the various rounds of waves at oceanic edges...flow.
1.What brought you to music?
When I was a kid my folks had a big furniture cabinet with the record player inside and the speakers built into the corners and a horrible record collection. But they had Ray Charles What'd I Say. I wore that out. Later my dad gave me his clock radio which gave me the freedom to listen to whatever I wanted in my room. I'd sit for hours listening to the soul station playing Legos. I never followed the directions. I either figured it out by looking at the picture of the spaceship on the box, or I just made up my own.
2.Describe your role models, muses and mentors.
I learned mostly from records so the list of musicians who've influenced me is long. Thelonious Monk's music is very important to me, as is Art Blakey's.
I was lucky to have 2 mentors, Steve Bagby and Mickey Newman. I studied with Steve in college. Unfortunately he got really sick. So I'd go with him to gigs, help him carry his drums, and finish up when he'd get tired. As a result I had the opportunity to play with people like Ira Sullivan and Red Rodney. In the car he'd tell me stories about sitting in with Coltrane's band, playing with Wayne Shorter, and coming up in Chicago checking out folks like Wilbur Campbell and Steve McCall. We kept in touch until he passed away 2 years ago. I have some cymbals he gave me.
Mickey was the only person who succeeded in teaching me anything specific. He'd show me stuff on the drums for an hour then we'd go sit and listen to records for the rest of the day. He has the best ride cymbal rhythm I've ever heard. I studied with him for 2 years until one day he told me I could come over and hang out anytime I wanted, but I had to figure the rest out myself.
Like anybody, I've learned from from musicians I've played with, hung out with, and just watched. I've been fortunate to play with some really great musicians. One of my first steady gigs back in DC was with Butch Warren. Playing with that kind of bass line a couple gigs a week for a few years makes an impression. Joe Morris is another. He's a world class musician. Playing with him has influenced me tremendously. He's remarkably insightful and has a very unique way of hearing and playing music. It's inspiring.
3. Describe your community of colleagues and audiences.
Boston is a funny place for music. I've been here about 10 years and I feel like I'm just starting to get the hang of it. There's a niche audience that, while not always large, tends to be well informed, open minded and receptive. Outside that group it can be rough.
There are some very interesting musicians around, but it can take a little while to find them.
4.What are the important elements you apply to your personal approach to performance, repertoire and composition?
I want there to be something uniquely interesting about a performance. People can listen to anything they want. There's got to be a reason for them to listen to you other than everybody they like is dead, and you're the least watered down version available.
As far as repertoire is concerned, I like music with rhythmic vitality that is organized in interesting ways. Music that ranges anywhere from abstract to concrete and swings in it's own way.
5.What role does teaching have in your work?
I like teaching. I've done it for 15 years. I like teaching how to play, not what to play. Not the cult of personality model where your goal is to secure fans through teaching. That leads to stagnation and narcissism. A lot of what I teach I learned from Mickey Newman. It helped me, so I try to pass it on. I try to help establish a strong foundation from which a musician can develop his or her own pedagogy to ultimately express themselves more effectively.
6. How have changes in the economy impacted your work?
There's less work because there's less money. Unfortunately, a number of places have discontinued live music and more expensive things like touring and putting records out have become significantly harder to do. Traveling overseas has really declined. As a result you have to be more judicious where you direct your efforts and utilize more ingenuity and creativity to get stuff done.
7. If you perform beyond your region or overseas, how has that changed over time?
Lately, there are fewer opportunities because the funds aren't there.
8.How has technology and changes in the way music circulates impacted your work?
Recording has become a little easier and less expensive. I haven't been involved in any download only projects, so I can't speak much about revolutions in circulation. Myspace used to help because folks could check out a little of your music very easily, but for some reason everyone seems to have moved on to facebook. I guess folks find what you looked like in high school more entertaining than listening to your music!
9. Describe your current and potential future projects and collaborations along with things you would like to do.
I've got some really strong recordings with Joe Morris that are slated to release before too long: a guitar quartet record withJoe, Jim Hobbs and Timo Shanko on AUMFidelity, a trio with Steve Lantner on piano and Joe on Guitar on ESP, and a guitar drum duo. There's a live Steve Lantner Quartet record with Allan Chase and Joe (on bass) that supposed to release this fall on HatHut. That's another great one. A quartet with Pandelis Karayorgis, Dave Rempis and Forbes Graham that we're working on. In the band Clear Audience we're rehearsing new material. We've only recorded one record and still have a stack of tunes 2 inches thick. And there's a Taylor Ho Bynum's Spider Monkey Strings record we recorded at Firehouse12 that releases very soon as well.
Playing as a sideman or cooperative in all these excellent bands has given me forum for a wide range for expression... so much so, that I haven't felt a pressing need to lead anything myself. I also don't want to be redundant and do something that sounds like something I'm already doing in another group. Currently I've been writing tunes for a traditional free jazz record, working on some material for a solo drum recording, and finishing up a CD of a band I have called Lawnmower. The CD is scheduled to release in late winter on Clean Feed. It features Jim Hobbs and two guitarists from indie rock days, Geoff Farina and Dan Littleton. We recorded it last summer at my friend Andy Hong's studio. Everybody created such beautiful and interesting sounds, and Andy captured them beautifully. I'm very proud of it. It's different from anything else I've heard.
As for future projects, I'm too superstitious to discuss specifics prematurely. But there are a number of other projects I'm working on, as well as other things I'd like to do and people I'd like to work with. Some duos, groups with more esoteric instrumentation, drone oriented music... I just need to find the time.