Tyler Damon

In Memory of Pete Magadini

Photo by Jack Damon.

I would be remiss in not acknowledging the passing of my teacher, mentor and friend Peter Magadini (b. 1/25/42, Great Barrington, Massachusetts, d. 8/13/23, Boise, Idaho).

I met Pete serendipitously one evening while house-managing a show at Constellation in Chicago. I had been looking to sharpen aspects of my playing that I had been cultivating in a personal, visceral kind of way and was seeking a teacher in the city to help give shape to these sometimes successful, but often underdeveloped, musical gestures. I knew I was trying to punch above my weight and had been for some time. He passed me a card and gently urged me to get in touch. Sam Ospovat, who played that night in Ava Mendoza’s Unnatural Ways, shared that he had previously studied (“…and probably still should be…”) under Pete and likewise encouraged me to reach out to him. I went home that night and searched for some evidence of Pete’s work online and swiftly had my mind blown. He was unveiling a world of which I was largely unaware and I wondered what else he might reveal. So, I called him up. Ask and you shall receive.

By Summer’s end I was visiting Pete every other week or so at his South Loop condo where he lived with his wife Hélène and their dog, Ryder. His tutelage was tailored to each student’s needs, culled from over six decades of experience as a working drummer and a lifetime of kaleidoscopic study across many percussive disciplines and teaching methodologies, all held in equipoise. It took little time for him to discover the holes in my playing and set about remedying them. He had high expectations of his students and demanded serious work and effort, bolstering and refining our existing foundations and positioning us to carry these ideas in any direction we desired. It was the most focused period of study I’ve ever undertaken on the drums. Without Pete I would not be playing the way I am, nor would I have become a teacher myself.

Though he only ever asked to be compensated for hour-long lessons, he was exceedingly generous with his time. I’d typically spend two or three hours with him during many of our visits, and not just in dialogue about the drums. Pete was a great conversationalist, incredibly funny and never without a good story to tell. I’m not really sure where to begin, and I will surely leave many figures out, but the stories he shared with me about the social and musical connections Pete made in the world are staggering and multi-directional, so I’ll share a handful of them.

Pete told tales of developing as a performer in country & western bands while still only a teenager in Phoenix, and of working with legends such as Lee Hazlewood and Phil Spector in the studio. His familiarity with the genre eventually led to his later work with country music star Bobbie Gentry. Musically boundless by nature, his work was not confined to country or rock and roll. His ultimate musical love was jazz, and to greater musical experiments, in many forms. Remembering the earlier sixties in the Bay Area, Pete recalled jam sessions and lunches with a young Ferrell Sanders, known then as “Little Rock,” just before Sanders relocated to New York City and connected with Sun Ra who christened him “Pharoah.”

His interest in polymeters and polyrhythms seems to date back primarily to his time studying under Tabla master Pandit Mahapurush Misra at the Ali Akbar Khan School in Berkeley, California, 1967. Pete inferred that the demands of the class filtered out the would-be hippie dilettantes and was ultimately whittled down to only four students – one of which was Richard Alpert, better known as the new age spiritual teacher Ram Dass, just before his storied departure for India. I can’t speak on Ram Dass’ Tabla abilities, but Misra’s instruction, in great part, placed Pete on the path that would become his life’s work.

His 1970s period saw collaborations ranging from the aforementioned Ms. Gentry to Diana Ross, drumming for her on her first ever solo tour, to George Duke (prior to his work in Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, and who also appears on Pete’s 1975 Polyrhythm LP), to the Canadian Electronic Ensemble (music that is still unheard and unavailable to the general public, but is my favorite, and the most genuinely outside and forward-thinking, of all the work he shared with me privately). His resume likewise includes work with John Handy, Mose Allison, Chet Baker, Al Jarreau, Don Menza and Sonny Stitt, among many others. His career as a working musician extends far beyond what I am listing here, and largely only includes what Pete shared with me personally. Pete even developed his own prototype bass drum pedal which unfortunately never made it to market. Stated succinctly, his career bears the mark of a chameleonic, tenacious artist with an implacable drive for music and creative realization.

Pete’s pedagogical work is perhaps how he is best known and remembered, primarily in the field of polymetric and polyrhythmic studies. His two major works on polymeter and polyrhythms, Polyrhythms: The Musician’s Guide and Polyrhythms For The Drumset (originally Poly-Cymbal Time) remain unrivaled in the field. He also published several other music books ranging from early childhood art and musical education (Music We Can See And Hear), beginner and intermediate drum instruction (Learn To Play The Drumset), to rudimental variations for the trap kit (The Complete Drum Set Rudiments).

Aside from all that I’ve mentioned above, Pete was simply an affirming and encouraging figure to me. He was charitable with his gifts of music and teaching and I benefited significantly from his efforts and our time spent together. I am blessed to have crossed paths with him in this life.

So long, Pete.

(Pete’s obituary can be viewed HERE)

August 29, 2023   [permalink]