Drumming Up Memories with Charlotte Jazz Musician Alfred Sergel IV
Alfred Sergel IV has three decades of experience as a professional jazz musician — not as a jazz singer or jazz pianist, but as a jazz drummer. Between performing with Grammy honorees and recording with Billboard-charting artists, Alfred (or, as his friends called him, Al) still finds time to create original music that merges new-age pop sensibilities with old-school jazz melodies.
"I want to curate an experience that is musically excellent, but also creates an experience where people walk away and are inspired to do something they’ve always wanted to do."
On his start as a drummer:
I’m a band director’s son, so I was always around a band room. He started as a band director and then eventually landed at a college, so I was always the little kid walking next to the drumline, fully supported by my parents. My dad brought home -- from the band room -- an 18-inch cymbal that was part of the marching band cymbal set.
Starting in seventh grade, my dad was my drum teacher. I remember my dad gave me a birthday card with a handwritten note that said, “One year free drum lessons with your dad.” It means so much to me … my parents were so encouraging.
On his interest in jazz:
In my junior year of high school (around 1988), I heard this record by Wynton Marsalis called “J Mood.” And I had never heard anything with such vibe. I had heard Miles Davis and John Coltrane, but in terms of stuff that was happening at that time, I had never heard anything that had harmonically grabbed my attention so much as that record. Those early days of Wynton’s music were sort of my introduction to jazz.
So I’m reading these liner notes, and I’m introduced to names like Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, Philly Joe Jones, Jo Jones, Ed Thigpen, Roy Haynes … and I’m writing down all of these names and going to the library to research these drummers and their discographies. So that’s how I got into jazz.
On leading the Alfred Sergel IVtet after years of being in other groups:
It’s an education (to lead a band), for sure. Starting my own band raised my respect level for all of the artists that I’ve worked with, including Chad Lawson, Noel Freidline and Jason Upton. When you’re just in someone’s band, you don’t see the work that’s involved. It’s not just the work; it’s the investment. Looking back now, I know there have been gigs where I’ve played with those guys and they’re compensating me but they’re probably not making anything because the opportunity was worth it for them to do it. And I’m encountering those same situations now. Like certain events I have coming up, I need to do those, but I need to take care of the guys as a band leader. So I’m going to have to invest in that, as an independent musician, carving out the time for the variety of things that you have to do to make it happen.
On his single “Y Closed:”
All of my song titles have meanings, because my songs come from my daily life, and “Y Closed” is definitely one of them. North Carolina has a lot of trees, and Charlotte has a lot of trees, and that’s one of the beautiful parts about it, but it only takes a slight wind to have a power outage. So I was going over to the YMCA to work out, and I’m walking up to the door, and on a white poster board, it said “Y Closed For A Power Outage.” I walked away to the car, and I’m singing this melody and recorded it into my iPhone. I put “Y Closed” on the voice memo and didn’t even think about it.
On his hopes for his music:
I really want to write music and curate or foster an experience that is musically excellent, but also create an experience that is beyond all of that, where people walk away and are inspired to do something they’ve always wanted to do. Like me, where I write these songs and play them for people and (it) challenges me and it’s hard to get timing, but I’m still going to make time to do it. Whether or not it pays my bill, it makes me a better dad, it makes me a better husband, it makes me a better musician, it makes me a better person to have that expression in my life and pursue that creative calling. I want my shows and my music to do that for people. Like, “Hey, if that thing burning in you is going to help you be a better person … you should do that.” If anything, I would hope that my music and my shows and even my life would tell people that it’s not easy, it’s hard, and I have to push through a lot of insecurities, but I’m doing it and it gives me life. And if you have something like that in your life, go for it.
Music featured in this #WFAEAmplifier chat:
Alfred Sergel IVtet - “Jury Duty”
Alfred Sergel IVtet - “1204AM”
Alfred Sergel IVtet - “Das Ditch”
Alfred Sergel IV - “The Meek”
Alfred Sergel IVtet - “Y Closed”
Alfred Sergel IV - “Say the Words”
Alfred Sergel IV - “Here Yet Gone”
Alfred Sergel IV - “Sleepless Journey”
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