Gerry Hemingway — an inventive veteran of percussion — performs a solo program of original compositions and improvisation at the Simons Center at 6 p.m. this evening (Fri. June 6) as part of Spoleto’s Wachovia Jazz Series.

[image-1]“When I came to jazz, my whole perspective shifted,” he told City Paper from his temporary digs at the Baker House on Colonial Lake, upon his arrival in Charleston. “I was curious not just about straightforward mainstream jazz. The door I entered was partially by way of the fusion, which was one of the bridges from rock to jazz for people in my generation. It expanded from there.”

Hemingway landed in town two weeks ago (for his first time) to rehearse as percussionist with the pit orchestra and conductor Emmanuel Villaume for the featured opera Amistad, composed by one of his old cohorts, Anthony Davis (the opera runs through Sat. June 7 at the Memminger Auditorium). Hemingway and Davis collaborated on various jazz, world, and chamber musical projects through the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s.

“Anthony and I have done hundreds of projects,” Hemingway says. “The very core of the things that are in this opera — and at the very core of most of his work — all, more or less, found their beginnings during his time in New Haven. I know his music inside and out, and it’s influenced my music. He’s interested in meter. We were both pursuing the subject of layered meterings — like simultaneously having 11/4’s going on while other phrases loop over in 4/4, and other things going on with multiple levels. It’s poly-metered, more or less, because it’s more phrased, with longer arching ideas and rhythmic groupings. It’s kind of elaborate. Other people have explored these ideas. Back in the ’70s, were really into this sort of stuff.”

Along with a firm grasp of arranging complex rhythmic patterns across a battery of sound sources, Hemingway’s fascination with creating new sounds with percussion instruments prompted him to switch directions from a more conventional drum role into something more expansive and deep.

[image-2]“At one point, I play a floor tom on it’s side with my hands, as if it were a south Indian mridangam,” he says of this evening’s program. “I do these things where I play 10 [a 10-beat pattern] with one hand, three with the other hand, four on the foot, and two against three with the other foot, and get all these things going. When most people hear this, they kind of put their head down with the feeling of a four-beat groove. The groove is the key. The repetition of phrase lengths with the hands and the phase cycle on the foot is important. They all have to sort out in the end.”

[image-3]“It’s a different type of virtuosity than a lot of the work typical of the [popular] drummer world, which based primarily still on the model of speed,” he explains. “The complexities that are being explored have to do mostly with linear thinking — like the sequence of stickings and so forth. And they’re very clever and very difficult. I’ve studied quite a bit of it, and I’ve taught it quite a bit. But what nobody thinks about is the multi-layered stuff, where things aren’t so virtuosic-sounding, but go into another dimension and sounds more interesting. That has a lot to do with the harmonic language. I couldn’t literally do harmonic things in the same convention of the guitar or piano, but I could explore the notion and layering timbres, sounds, and pitches in different ways. What interests me is the idea of continuous sound, which is not really what the drums are designed for. That’s what led to [me using] bowing sounds, rubs, scraping sounds, and other things that had a continuum to them, which allows me to stack sounds and create a piece with harmonic coherence.”