Percussionist/improviser Doug Perry blurs the lines of genre and allows musics of all styles and backgrounds to share the same stage. Originally a jazz drummer and vibraphonist, Doug has expanded his activities to include classical percussion, electronic music, rock and popular music. His creativity and versatility has allowed him to participate in a wide range of musical settings, whether it be playing timpani in an orchestra, vibraphone in a jazz combo, or providing original music for multimedia collaborations. Doug performs as an orchestral, solo, jazz, rock, and chamber percussionist all over the USA, and as far as Afrca and Europe. Doug has appeared as a marimba soloist with the Norwalk Symphony Orchestra, and the Neue Eutiner Festspiele Orchestra in Eutin, Germany. He was also featured as a soloist in the popular touring video game music concert Video Games Live, performing an original arrangement alongside vocalist Jillian Aversa. Doug was also the instrumental division winner of the 2012 Naftzger Young Artist Auditions, in which he competed as a marimbist against many other instrumentalists, vocalists, and pianists. Most recently, Doug was invited to perform Steven Mackey's It is Time with the New World Symphony Percussion Consort, where he was featured as a steel pan soloist. Doug has appeared on television a number of times, having appeared on Ghanaian television, PBS, and NBC's “America's Got Talent”.
As a jazz musician, Doug has performed with many of the most respected musicians in the industry today, including Christian McBride, Randy Brecker, Dave Samuels, Gary Thomas, and Joel Frahm. He is a recurring guest soloist in Hall High School's Pops 'n' Jazz, and can be heard on Brian Scarborough's album titled “Second Storm.” As a composer, Doug has received commissions from as far afield as Germany, where he premiered his Concerto-Improvisation for Vibraphone (2014). A frequent collaborator with other composers, he has premiered many new works in various ensembles, and has recorded and produced music for both video games and film, and can be heard in Crystal Dynamic's Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris (2014), ArenaNet's Guild Wars 2 (2012), and Schell Games' I Expect You To Die (2016). Doug can also be heard as both a performer and an arranger in all of the current releases by the video game music arrangement community known as the Materia Collective: Materia (2015), Successor (2016) Nibel (2016), and Versus (2016). Currently an adjunct professor of percussion at Western Connecticut State University, he has had experience teaching percussion privately and in a classroom setting, teaching jazz ear training and improvisation, and coaching jazz, rock, and chamber ensembles.
Doug holds degrees from the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University and the University of Kansas, as well as an artist diploma from the Yale School of Music, where he was awarded the Horatio Parker Memorial Prize. Doug is a founding member of the New Haven-based group Triplepoint Trio, and a core member of the mixed chamber ensemble Cantata Profana.
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Check out the below video of Doug performing Undertale Variations!
Check out the below interview with Doug!
How and when did you get introduced to the world of percussion?
I grew up in a pretty musical family. My mother plays viola and my father plays tuba, and both of them play in the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. I had music all around me as a result, whether it was listening to them practice, being dragged along to their rehearsals and performances, or listening to the music that they enjoyed outside of work. My father is an elementary school band director as well (teaching in Wethersfield Public Schools), so he works with all of the basic instruments in your typical public school band program. In my early childhood, they tried to get me interested in learning how to play an instrument (I think they started with trying to get me to play piano and violin), but I had a very short attention span and didn't really show any interest. From what I gather, they had pretty much conceded to accepting that I probably didn't have any musical talent or inclination. When I started 4th grade, which was when students at my school had the option to choose an instrument, I basically verified their assumptions by insisting that I play percussion. This didn't go over well; my father responded to this by coming home with pretty much every other instrument I could have chosen (save for the saxophone, which was also forbidden in the household) and had me try them all. I was barraged by comments like "look at that! You can already make a sound on that instrument" or "I think you would have a great embouchure for this instrument!" Sadly, his efforts were all in vain--nothing could sway me from my determination to play the drums. My parents devised another plan to dissuade me from pursuing percussion: they alerted me that if I wanted to play percussion in school, I was required to take piano lessons. They assumed, since I had shown little to no interest in piano when I was younger, that this would extinguish my interest in playing percussion. Sadly, their plan backfired once more; I agreed to their terms, which meant that not only was I bringing percussion into the house, but that they would also have to pay for me to have piano lessons outside of school.
By the time I was in high school, I had stumbled upon jazz. My high school, Hall High School in West Hartford, has a very strong jazz program. In no time at all I had fallen in love with playing jazz vibraphone. I assumed that was the road I would be going down after graduating and starting college, but instead I entered the classical percussion studio at the Peabody Conservatory. It was there that the broad world of solo, chamber, and orchestral percussion was revealed to me. I had no idea how large the scope was, which excited me tremendously. I never stopped playing jazz, but the study of classical percussion ended up occupying my studies and activities for the next nine years.
I can't really tell you why I wanted to play percussion so badly when I was a kid, and why I didn't end up going to school for jazz. I'm glad it worked out the way it did, though.
How have you prepared for your performance of the Keiko Abe Premiere, and what do you think about the piece?
Well, as of today, I haven't actually finished learning the piece yet, so I can't answer this question fully! I am enjoying learning the piece very much, though. I have a lot of fun learning music by Keiko Abe due to her background as an improviser. Abe's pieces are typically conceived through improvisation, so as an improviser myself, I find it a great opportunity to get inside of her head and see where here instincts were guiding her. I'm normally pretty amazed by the types of things she can play off of the top of her head--as I learn the music, I can see evidence of her improvisation by the idiomatic nature of the writing. However, the figurations themselves are still challenging, despite their idiomatic nature. It's very revealing to the breadth and density of her career--in order to be able to improvise music like she does, one must be improvising and performing constantly!
Otherwise, my process for learning this piece is the same as any other marimba solo I'm tasked to play: I work slowly and steadily. As a teacher, I am constantly reminding my students to slow things down. Trying to play large sections of music quickly and repetitively is very tempting to an eager learner. However, working slowly and methodically will cement a deeper understanding of the music, and will preserve it in your memory for a longer period of time. It feels slower in practice, but is much more efficient in the long run.
What advice do you have to any upcoming percussionist in CT?
That's a broad question with a lot of different answers, depending on who's asking it! I think my answers probably apply to any young percussionist (not just one from Connecticut).
I once heard a great speech made by Neil Gaiman to the 2012 graduating class of the University of the Arts in Pennsylvania, where he had three goals for any young artist to aspire to achieve: making good art, making it on time, and being an easy person to get along with. From there, he goes on to say, "and even then, hitting two out of the three is good enough most of the time!" This has always resonated with me as a musician, and I think is helpful for any young percussionist who is beginning a freelance career. It's not just enough to play well--you have to be organized and punctual, and you need to treat your colleagues with warmth and respect. This may not be how you get your first gig, but it is how you keep your first gig.
That being said, getting your first gig isn't always easy. We live in a day and age where the freelance career path is changing dramatically. As listeners age and technology changes, the traditional platforms in which music was distributed and digested are beginning to transform and be replaced by new mediums and outlets. It's very important, especially as percussionists, to continue to be curious, creative, and entrepreneurial about what our individual career paths could be. Don't be afraid to use technology to the advantage of your career goals, and don't be afraid of your personal definition of being a "percussionist" not fitting the mold perfectly. Getting to know your local network is as important as it's ever been, but with the advent of social media, your network can be even broader. Trying something new is not nearly as dangerous to your career as not trying anything new--complacency, apathy, and even at times caution can be a young musicians worst adversary. If you can find something that makes you say "what if?", and you can keep yourself motivated to pursue an answer to that question, you open up the potential for all sorts of possibilities and opportunities to pursue along the way.