|845 Life: It's all that jazz for top drummer Adam Nussbaum
By Amanda Loviza
When it comes to drumming, Adam Nussbaum is the real deal.
He is a world-renowned jazz drummer who has played and recorded with the likes of Sonny Rollins, John Scofield, John Abercrombie, Art Farmer, Michael and Randy Brecker, Stan Getz, Miles Davis, Gil Evans, Chuck Mangione and Joe Sample, among many others.
Nussbaum jets around the world to perform gigs with the best of the jazz world before returning to his modest house on a quiet residential street in the Town of Woodbury.
And how he got to the top of the jazz world is quite a story.
"When I was 5 years old, my parents went away and I spent a week with my aunt and uncle," Nussbaum says, sitting at his dining room table.
"My 9-year-old cousin had a drum set in the basement, and when I watched him play, it was monkey-see, monkey-do."
"I came home with drumsticks and started by listening to the radio and playing on pots, pans and pillows."
Home was in Norwalk, Conn., and his parents were the artist Ervin Nussbaum, who made his living as a technical illustrator; and his mother, Muriel, who was involved in acting and was a graphic designer.
"I grew up in an artistically aware household," he says.
Nussbaum, now 61, studied classical piano until he was 12 but always wanted to be a drummer.
"I had a terrific piano teacher, but when I had my bar mitzvah I finally had enough money to buy a drum set."
"I feel very grateful for the musical training I had," Nussbaum says, "Because it allowed me to come to the drums from music, instead of coming to music from drums."
"My fascination with jazz started when I was 15 or 16," he says. "Growing up close to New York City gave me the opportunity to jump on a train and go and listen to the people I heard on the recordings."
"It was an undeniable experience."
Nussbaum moved to New York City in 1975 to attend City College, and that allowed him to play and network within the jazz community.
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"I started learning in school, but I also started learning in the street," he says. "Being part of the community and being in the trenches was invaluable."
"I was playing with and studying people who were better than me, and that's how I got better. I learned by doing."
In 1978 he joined Dave Liebman's quintet, and in the early 1980s was part of a celebrated trio with Steve Swallow.
In 1983 he was asked to join the Gil Evans Orchestra and also played with Stan Getz.
Then, in 1987, he began touring with the Michael Brecker Quintet, winning a Grammy with them in 1988.
During 1992, the same year he moved to Woodbury, Nussbaum was hired by John Abercrombie as part of his trio.
Nussbaum has also taught as an adjunct professor at NYU, at the New School and at SUNY Purchase and holds clinics around the world.
He has been married to wife Susan for 32 years and they have two children. Today, their home holds many of his father's paintings and sculptures.
But it hasn't always been smooth sailing.
"You know, the quickest way to change the sound of a band is to change the drummer," he says. "Because the drummer creates the sonic environment of the group."
"I've always learned more from getting fired than from getting hired," he says. "But I think people hire me because I help them feel good and sound good."
"In the end, it's not about me sounding good, it's about the music sounding good."
John DeSanto is a freelance photojournalist. Find more of his 845LIFE stories, photos and videos at recordonline.com. Reach John at email@example.com