The Nuanced Drummer – Love as Explored by Reggie Quinerly

Reggie Quinerly feat

In a very meta love song called “Words to Love,” feathery, sweet vocals are punctuated coolly, in refreshing places, by the innovative drummer Reggie Quinerly. His new CD, also titled “Words To Love,” is full of deep, memorable melodies drenched in emotion and soul.

The track “You Bring Out My Best” is one of many examples of superb instrumentation (heady, moody input from the sax) where the interplay with the laggy, lazy, behind-the-beat drum feels like a midnight rendezvous with a lover. “Times We’ve Yet to See” discusses the timeline of a relationship (rich vocals here) whose beat is ticked off by Quinerly steadily, calmly, yet unforgivingly; a reminder of the unyieldingness of the passage of moments. A collection of almost philosophical songs with a light touch that allow the listener space to ponder love in all its forms.

What was your first experience with the drums?

It’s kind of hard to recall a time before I knew about the drums and rhythm.  I was always surrounded by it, but like many drummers from my region and hometown of Houston, Texas my first experience probably came from watching the drummer at my local church.  I remember being transfixed by the depth of sounds that came out of the instrument and from that moment forward I knew the instrument would be a part of my lifelong journey.

What moods do you like to express through the drums?

Whatever mood best supports the song I’m performing.  I always try to hear the band from the listener’s perspective, so I try to play appropriate to the musical setting while interacting with musicians to form a cohesive musical conception.   

What do you have in your kit, and what accessories are the most fun or interesting to use?

My kit is actually pretty basic in terms of percussion accessories, just a standard four-piece kit with a couple of cymbals.  I always keep a variety of sticks, mallets and brushes on hand.  Even after all this time I’m still trying to explore new ways to maximize my sound with a limited number of drums.  It really comes down to approach, how can this current drum setup be used to approximate the sound of Brazilian street drummers for one song, turn around and incorporate the melodicism of Max Roach on the next?  I’m always searching.

How did you come to write around the idea of love?

My approach to creating music has been to find projects that push me out of my comfort zone.  I didn’t start out with the intention of writing only love songs, but after the first couple of songs were written, I thought about how interesting it would be to focus on a concept so universally accepted.  In my opinion we can never have enough songs that positively promote genuine emotions.   

How do your compositions approach love in different ways?

The beautiful thing about art is that it can be interpreted on so many levels.  Throughout the “Words to Love” album I was inspired to show how love can be euphoric, reflective, apprehensive and oftentimes unexpected.  During the songwriting process I thought about how I could use the theme of love to show a connection between romantic partners, friends and the bond between family members.  

Everyone relates to the lyrics differently so I’ve discovered it’s always better to just hang up the picture and allow the listener to put the color wherever they see fit. 

Where do you find inspiration- do you look for it or does it hit you at particular or random times?

For me it would have to be a combination of both.  I’m always looking for new things to learn and new ways to re-purpose information I’ve previously come across.

What qualities do you look for in a vocalist (male and female)? In other instrumentalists?

My ear gravitates to musical artists that can deliver a wide range of emotions through their artistry.  That’s it.

How would you compare the feel of this new CD with your earlier albums?

Good question…  Each time I go in the studio my aim is to become a little more comfortable than the last time.  Feel-wise I hear it all as a continuation. That’s a hard one for me to answer, check back with me when I record my tenth album. Ha!  


Which track is the most surprising? Which is your favorite? Do you hate questions like this?

My wife can attest to the fact that I’ve probably listened to this album 1,000 times!  I’m always hearing something new that the cats played.  I don’t really have a favorite, but I CAN say that the title track is my toddler’s favorite.  She sings it in the car, in her stroller and in the bathtub.  It was so unexpected to hear her singing it out of the blue…  Then my wife lovingly yet sternly reminded me, “If you have listened to that album 1,000 times that means we have listened to it at least 800 of those times!”   

Where (country or venue) would you most like to perform that you have not yet been?  

No specific countries or venues come to mind. Anywhere where good music and receptive hearts are gathered.

What is the biggest misconception about percussion’s role in jazz (does it necessarily – always – have a ‘role’)?

That the drums have to always be loud. There’s a difference between volume and intensity.  Some of my favorite drummers, composers and musicians realize the important detail of dynamics. Understanding that detail gives you greater control of your instrument and allows you to be a better storyteller.  

In giving your master classes why is the concept of ‘teamwork’ so vitally important to the give-and-take of ensemble jazz?

Teamwork is important in every aspect of human interaction. In jazz ensembles it is imperative to underscore how teamwork creates the framework by which spontaneous composition occurs.  Students have to understand how their instruments relate and blend together in order to have a constructive dialogue. It really all boils down to listening and how individuals accept a collective approach to sound creation. 

What is the most rewarding part of being an educator?

That’s a very interesting question because in any given week I’m working with elementary/middle school age children all the way the way up to seasoned adults.  

I would say I receive the most reward from cultivating a judgment-free space where my students feel free to engage, interact and even challenge the educational process. I learn from their conversations all the time and I feel fortunate that my students feel respected enough to share their thoughts, feelings and emotions. 

How do we really capture the younger generation to keep making and creating jazz? Is it possible to keep it going and growing?

The only answer I could offer is accessibility. We are all teachers. We are all students.  So my responsibility is to show young people that there is a whole world outside of their tiny little neighborhoods. Music is a part of that gateway process. It doesn’t mean that everyone will like it, but if years from now my students remember the time I mentioned Bach, Aretha Franklin, Phillip Glass, Duke Ellington or Miles Davis, I’ll feel satisfied. The young people that will fall in love with this art form will seek it out.

In my opinion there has never been a time where this music wasn’t going and growing. Growth takes many forms and the information is all out there waiting to be discovered.

For more information, visit

Photos courtesy of and with permission of Reggie Quinerly.
© Debbie Burke 2018


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