[JPL] Jazz drummer's dreams are coming true

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Mon Nov 13 12:45:17 EST 2006


Jazz drummer's dreams are coming true

Posted: Nov. 11, 2006

Laurel Walker

With two aspiring artist sons - one visual, one musical - I tell anyone
who'll listen, and only half in jest, "Support the arts so I don't have to
support the artists."

It's immensely encouraging, then, to find that a locally grown artist, a
young Waukesha drummer who followed his dream to the jazz clubs of New York,
has not starved. It's rewarding, too, that he's coming home this week to
share some of his experiences and his drumming talent Friday with the
hometown crowd.

Pete Zimmer, 29, a 1996 graduate of Waukesha West High School, first learned
how to properly hold a drum stick at age 10 under renowned drum instructor
Jim Sewrey and his Project Create Percussion Ensemble at Carroll College.

He cultivated his composing interests and musical talent while in high
school, under his band teacher at the time, Rick Kirby.

It's fitting that Zimmer returns to Carroll College, where Kirby is now
director of the college jazz ensemble. He'll talk about drumming and being a
jazz musician in New York at a 3:15 p.m. clinic open to jazz drummers and
will then perform at a 7:30 p.m. jazz ensemble concert. Both events will be
at Shattuck Auditorium on campus.

Being an aspiring drummer who hopes to make it big in New York City is
probably like being a standout high school athlete who aims for the NFL or
the NBA.

"It's not easy," said Zimmer. "It takes a long time to get established. It's
all about going out at night, meeting people, sitting in (on jazz sessions).
It's all about networking and making connections. In the meantime, you're
still trying to survive and pay rent."

The effort is starting to pay off.

After more than five years in New York, the Pete Zimmer Quintet has just
released its third CD on Tippin' Records, Zimmer's own label.

The music is getting radio play and critical recognition in the industry.

"Slowly but surely," he said, his group is getting more gigs.

He's been banging on the drums since about age 5 and he says his mother,
Barbara, now of Muskego, never had to tell him to practice.

He got serious when he discovered other musicians "who felt as passionate
about it as I did" in state honors ensembles - for which participation was
based on auditions.

He had his eyes on the East Coast.

Yet college so far from home seemed overwhelming to a young Waukesha man, so
he attended Northern Illinois University. It was fortuitous - his closeness
to home - because in his freshman year, his father Jerry was killed along
with six friends when their van crashed on an icy road en route to a day of
ice fishing.

He transferred for his final two years to the New England Conservatory of
Music in Boston, a city that was a good stepping-stone to the Big Apple.

When he finally moved, he worked for a "temp" agency doing a variety of
non-music jobs just to pay the bills while trying to establish himself in

For awhile he also worked for a private company that contracted with public
schools, where music programs have been cut, to provide music instruction.

Meanwhile, he played wherever he could, freelancing his drummer's skills -
something he still does regularly as he builds a reputation in jazz.

He's been composing since high school - thanks to Kirby's encouragement, but
in 2003 he pulled together four fellow musicians he knew to form a quintet.
In 2003 they recorded their first CD, "Common Man," with all-original

It which was called an "impressive debut" by the Philadelphia Daily News.

The group next released a live recording, "Burnin' Live At The Jazz" and
just weeks ago released "Judgment" - featuring Boston legend and master
tenor saxophonist George Garzone, one of Zimmer's mentors.

So far, so good.

Sewrey, the drum teacher who's had other students find commercial and
artistic success with their percussion skills, keeps track of Zimmer.

"I'm very proud of that young man," he said. "That's the benefit of teaching
- seeing young people grow and make their mark. I'm so excited for them

Zimmer seems to have patience for success. Recent advice from an established
jazz musician in New York with many CDs under his belt struck a chord,
explaining the secret of success.

"This profession we're in, you think some day you'll arrive, you'll make it,
you'll be big," Zimmer recalls him saying. But it's a slow evolution, a
gradual process. And it takes hard work.

"I'm not getting rich by doing this, that's for sure," Zimmer said. "Like
99% of the jazz musicians, we have to make a lot of sacrifices and sometimes
it's frustrating wondering how am I ever going to get ahead in this world.
But I'm starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel."

He doesn't regret his move to New York - a place packed with great

"Ultimately, that makes you a better musician because you really need to be
at the top of your game," he said.

While he looks at that light through the tunnel, you can catch a bright
light yourself at his Friday appearances at Carroll College. He'll also
perform Nov. 25 at the Jazz Estate in Milwaukee.

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