Small world. Give or take a year ago, lucked up on a gig opening for Inukshuk Pass at Big V's in St. Paul. Their drummer David DeGennaro swings by to give me a ride. We’ve never met but, turns out, are both from back East. Long Island, N.Y. I ran cross-country against his high school team. We both went to the State of University of New York at Stony Brook. By the time we get to Big V's, the coincidences have piled up until it feels like an episode of The Twilight Zone.
What brought DeGennaro way out here, halfway across America, to play in a rock band? “I finished college,” he says, “and wanted to live in a city with a good music scene. Manhattan was pretty expensive. I have a sister out here. So, I came out to try it. Liked it. And there we go.” Fair enough.
I’ll have occasion to be on a bill with his band again, at Wild Tymes. Also in St. Paul. Only this time, we wind up, on the spur of the moment, playing together. Closing my set with four numbers for which I’m joined by DeGennaro along with IP guitarist Mark Martin and bassist Paul Weyandt (all’s missing is their vocalist Patti Ryan). The whole crew, including Amber Gay, when she does backup vocals, is a class outfit. But, the times I’ve been around DeGennaro, he strikes as being particularly a gentleman. And can play the hell out of a set of drums. He’s not showy, doesn’t try to prove how much technique he knows. Just nails it, plain and simple.
You look over his resume and can see an impressive background that accounts for David DeGennaro’s skill. For one, he’s been teaching the past seven years at Camden Music School in Minneapolis (where he’s associate administrator). He gives private instruction to students age seven and up, has developed a curriculum for CMS’s youth and adult rock ‘n roll ensemble and passes on a knowledge of theory. He’s also lead instructor there at Lead teacher at Camp Komoniwannarock (honest, that’s the name), a youth summer camp for ages 10-14, where they spend two weeks learning rock songs, music theory, improvisation, and showmanship, putting it all together to perform a show on the final day of camp. And has taught drums at East Metro Music Academy in St. Paul and The Music Shoppe in Maple Plain.
For good measure, he’s been performing music director since 2003 at Z Puppets Rosenschnoz in Minneapolis where a series of accomplishments includes composing the rock/puppet/yoga opera Monkey Mind Pirates. May sound funny, but, a CD for the production was recorded thanks to 2010 Artist Initiative grant from the Minnesota Sate Arts Board and won an award from Creative Child Magazine. He’s also done commissions for the Minnesota History Center. DeGennaro put in double duty, drumming with Inukshuk Pass and as pianist-composer for jazz group The Brothers D. In the past, he’s been with rockers Red Dot Garage, Cajun crew Cajun Hot Soles, Zydeco outfit Bayou Hazard, and ABBA tribute bad ABBA-Salutely. The man is versatile.
If you’re a people-watcher, Inukshuk Pass are a source of never-ending entertainment. As musicians, of course, when they’re blending their talents in a smooth combination. It just as much fun, though, to catch them between sets, hanging out. Weyandt and Ryan (actually Mr. and Mrs. Weyandt) are quintessential hell-raisers, always ready to carouse and share a good, loud laugh. Martin and DeGennaro, by contrast, are fairly subdued. “Well,” DeGennaro allows, “she’s married to Paul. So, it’s kind of guilt by association.” How does the difference in dynamics feel? “It’s great. All four of us feel like family. We’re all very close.”
They also make damned good music. With David DeGennaro doing a solid job of holding down the beat.