Welcome to Mike Quigg, the latest addition to the Music Time Teaching Staff. Mike is a well-known drummer around the Oakland music scene, playing freelance with a variety of Jazz, Funk and Soul groups, in addition to his regular trio, Bastet. He’s also got a wealth of musical experience as a practiced & educated drummer, bassist and pianist. Please enjoy this story of Mr. Mike!
How did you first get started in music?
My mom danced and taught ballet, and my dad was a big music fan. We had this really huge record collection, and almost every night he would put something on, like classic rock or soul. And my mom would always play classical for her ballet. My older brother played guitar, and he was 7 years older than me. My sister, who is 6 years older than me played piano. So music was always around in the house.
It’s actually a funny story how I got started on drums. I don’t remember this, but my mom tells me. I was about 8 years old, we were driving around in the car, and I was in the passenger seat just going nuts – playing drums on the dashboard, banging my head all crazy. She said I turned down the music, looked over at her all seriously and said, “Mom. I need to take drum lessons.”
For my 9th birthday, my parents got me a drumset. I started playing on my own, then got private lessons from when I was 10 until about 15.
It’s amazing how your parents, both so much into music, waited until you sparked your own interest. It sounds like they didn’t push you at all.
Yes, it was all very organic. It think it was my 2nd grade teacher that told my parents at parent-teacher conference how I was always banging on the desk with pencils and stuff. Then my next teacher said something more like, “Your son really has a gift. You should get him drum lessons!”
I think my parents knew I had it in me, but they really wanted me to show an interest before committing to buying me drum set, which is like, the loudest, most annoying instrument when you first start!
So then you started drum lessons. Did you also play in school band?
I was playing in lessons, and also playing with my brother’s rock band. He was in high school, close to finishing and I was in 7th grade. I would go jam with him and his way-older friends. When I started high school, I was in this space and engineering magnet school with a lot of physics and math. There were no music classes.
Then, as I was taking lessons, the studio had this Saturday afternoon community jazz class. We would play standards and learn about improvisation. Once I got into that, I fell in love with jazz especially. My junior year, I dropped out of the science program because I wanted to take jazz band & I couldn’t do it with that program! So I only had formal jazz band for 2 years in high school.
What do you remember about that Saturday jazz class? Obviously it had a huge impact on you!
So I had my regular drum teacher, Mike Costa. He was very stern about technique and rudiments, although we learned about funk and rock, he was really into Latin percussion. He invited me to the Saturday program with the music store owner, Ken, who is a guitar player. When I first went to class I thought, “Wow, there’s structure to this music, but I can also do whatever I want?!” I don’t know, it had so much freedom to it, freedom of expression. I just saw that very tip of the iceberg and it just made me want to go down that path. I really believe in expressing yourself through music, and improvisation, and jazz!
Nice! So that community class definitely set you on a course of playing and learning jazz. What sort of music education did you have after high school band?
After high school, I went to Delta Community College in Stockton and played in the jazz band and other percussion ensembles, while also doing general education there. I ended up meeting some great musicians during that time. We started a jam session at this place called the Black Water Cafe in Stockton. We played every Monday night, for about 4 years.
Wow! 4 years?! Let’s talk about that.
It was Randy (keyboard), me, Guilio (bass), Rick (my jazz teacher actually), and a really great trumpet player named Mike, from Lodi. We would do every single Monday! Sometimes there would be nobody there, but honestly that was one of my biggest growing periods – playing music at a jam session, every week, for 3 hours! I learned how to play with people. You can be the most amazing musician in the world on your own instrument, but if you don’t know how to play with people, then you’re lost.
Can you tell us a little more about how the jam session worked. Did you guys rehearse? What was the format?
We would bring all of our gear in there, and do the standards, you know, Great American Songbook, the songs every jazz musician is expected to know. Or sometimes rappers would come in and we would just play beats for them. It was all over the place! Definitely a jazz-centric thing, but whatever someone wanted to play, we’d play. That was kind of our rehearsal, we’d just get better playing together. Sometimes someone would bring in a chart for a tune we didn’t know & we would try it for the next few weeks to get it down. We’d always try to expand the repertoire. I probably learned more doing that jam than in any formal setting.
Let’s talk about your gigging and professional playing. Do you have a regular group, or are you mostly freelance?
For the last few years I have been playing regularly with a trio – Me, Guilio on bass and a guitarist from Detroit named Justin. We’re called Bastet. It’s all original music, modern jazz. We call it “grazz” – it’s grunge jazz! It has a lot of rock influences. We just finished our 4th record. Everything else besides that has been freelance.
I actually just finished recording my own record two months ago! I wrote all the songs, played piano, bass, drums, sang all the vocals and arranged all of the horn parts. I’m going to be releasing that in September.
Is it similar to the “grazz” that you’re playing in the trio?
No, it’s actually groovy, funky kind of pop. There is some jazz influence on it for sure, but I would not consider it jazz in any way at all.
Did you write all of the music recently, or has it been developing over a long time?
There’s this whole other path that I haven’t mentioned yet! When I was in high school, I also started taking stand-up bass lessons. I fell in love with playing bass! Then, since we always had a piano in the house, I had kind of just taught myself to play piano over the years. I can read, I know my chords, and I can also just play by ear, so I can use the piano to write music. I probably have 15 or so songs that I’ve been writing over the years, and I just picked my 7 favorites to record for this album.
Awesome! It must be really exciting to be getting your music together, especially after all these years. Let’s talk about your freelance work. Do any gigs over the years stand out to you?
About a year ago I got to do this 5 night run at the Black Cat with a pianist named Laurence Hobgood, he was Kurt Elling’s piano player and musical director. Anyways, he’s an incredible pianist, and it was his gig. The music was really challenging, all these odd time signatures and everything. That gig was me, Guilio on bass and Ernie Watts on tenor – he used to play with Marvin Gaye!
Wow! Sounds like an intense gig. So we’ve definitely hit upon a few stories of formative musical experiences for you. Since you’re now part of the teaching staff here, let’s end with just a general take on your teaching philosophy.
I’m a big fan of showing fundamentals, however I know it can be really boring to show fundamentals without connecting back into where those fundamentals can take you. By looking at where a student is at, you can see the fundamentals that need work. If you can show that by working on that fundamental, by really getting it under your belt, it will lead to other places, and that will keep growing. It’s all building blocks to help students find the freedom to be creative. It’s not just going through the exercises in a book and regurgitating the information. You can show the fundamentals, but really, it’s all about being creative with it. “Where do YOU want to take this? How do YOU see this?”