The Police was just the start

Drum­mer’s works vast, var­ied

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - LIVE MUSIC - By Mark Jor­dan Spe­cial to The Com­mer­cial Ap­peal

Whether he likes it or not, Ste­wart Copeland will be pri­mar­ily re­mem­bered for his role as drum­mer for the mul­ti­plat­inum rock band the Police.

But in­creas­ingly that cel­e­brated-but-short chap­ter in his nearly 40-year ca­reer (the Police only lasted about nine years in their orig­i­nal run in the ’70s and ’80s, briefly re­unit­ing only once, for a world tour in 2007) is be­ing drowned out by a vast and eclec­tic body of work that has greatly ex­panded the 63-year-old Copeland’s pro­file as a mu­si­cian.

In 2016 alone, Copeland has de­buted his per­cus­sion con­certo “the Tyrant’s Crush” with the Pitts­burgh Sym­phony; per­formed his new, live sound­track to the 1925 silent film ver­sion of “Ben-hur” sev­eral times; and reunited for sev­eral gigs — in­clud­ing one this Satur­day at the Ger­man­town Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter — with the im­pro­vi­sa­tional cham­ber group Off the Score.

“There’s a lot of va­ri­ety in my sched­ule,” he says mod­estly. “It’s ab­so­lutely true I get to fol­low my bliss. And I am ex­tremely grate­ful for that, by the way. It couldn’t pos­si­bly have been in this life, cause I just don’t re­call any­thing that great that I’ve done to de­serve any of this.”

Even be­fore the Police dis­banded in 1986, Copeland was branch­ing out into com­po­si­tion, start­ing with film, tele­vi­sion, and video game sound­track work (“Rum­ble Fish,” “Wall Street,” “The Equal­izer”). From there he tran­si­tioned into more fully re­al­ized “clas­si­cal” works — con­cer­tos, op­eras such as “Holy Blood and Cres­cent Moon” and bal­lets such as “King Lear,” com­mis­sioned by the San Fran­cisco Bal­let.

In fact, for a long stretch af­ter his post-police band An­i­mal Logic with jazz bassist-com­poser Stan­ley Clarke, Copeland didn’t play the drums at all, fo­cus­ing in­stead on writ­ing. It wasn’t un­til the 2000s that he picked up the sticks again, play­ing with Les Clay­pool and Trey Anas­ta­sio in Oys­ter­head and jam­ming with the reunited Doors among other projects be­fore the Police 30th an­niver­sary tour.

Since then Copeland has more con­sciously in­cor­po­rated his drum­ming into his mu­sic. Many of his newer works are more per­cus­sive, in­clud­ing his “Ben-hur” sound­track, which draws on his child­hood grow­ing up in Beirut the son of a CIA agent, a fas­ci­nat­ing story in it­self, told in some de­tail in Copeland’s 2009 mem­oir “Strange Things Hap­pen: A Life with The Police, Polo, and Pyg­mies.”

Off the Score, the project that brings Copeland back to the Mem­phis area, where he first per­formed with the Police in 1979, is in some ways the per­fect en­cap­su­la­tion of the drum­mer’s ca­reer, a meld­ing of clas­si­cal com­po­si­tion with rock im­pro­vi­sa­tion. The group was born when Copeland’s man­ager, aware of his long held de­sire to not just write for but ac­tu­ally play with clas­si­cal mu­si­cians, sug­gested he team with an­other artist on his ros­ter, pi­anist Jon Kimura Parker. The two quickly re­cruited a di­verse ensemble that also in­cludes Metropoli­tan Opera head vi­o­lin­ist Yoon Kwon, dou­ble bassist Mar­lon Martinez, and Judd Miller, who plays elec­tronic valve in­stru­ment, sort of the elec­tric ver­sion of a trum­pet.

“We start with a score, and then we screw it all up,” Copeland says of the group’s ap­proach to com­posers as di­verse as Stravin­sky and Aphex Twin. “The screw­ing up part makes bet­ter sense when you’ve got the re­ally tight or­ga­nized sec­tions. It’s the con­trast be­tween the two, that kind of ten­sion and re­lease.”

Off the Score per­forms spo­rad­i­cally as its mem­bers’ sched­ules al­low. Copeland, for his part, is fin­ish­ing up his opera “The In­ven­tion of Morel,” a “pe­riod, sci-fi, ro­man­tic black com­edy” set to de­but with the Chicago Opera The­ater and Long Beach Opera next sea­son. Copeland also hosts “Sa­cred Groove,” a reg­u­lar video se­ries — view­able on his web­site, stew­art­copeland.net — that shows him jam­ming in One­time Police drum­mer Ste­wart Copeland per­forms Satur­day at Ger­man­town Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter.

his Cal­i­for­nia home stu­dio with fa­mous friends like Snoop Dogg, Neil Peart, Ginger Baker, and Police part­ner Sum­mers.

That may be as close as fans will get to a Police re­union any­time soon, how­ever. Dur­ing their ten­ure, the band was as fa­mous for be­ing com­bat­ive among each other — the sharp-tongued Copeland de­scribes be­ing in the band as “both heaven and hell at the same time” and likens the ex­pe­ri­ence to a Prada suit made of barbed wire — as they were for hits such as “Rox­anne,” “Mes­sage In a Bot­tle,” and “Ev­ery Breath You Take.” But with suf­fi­cient ac­com­plish­ments out­side of the group, Copeland is more philo­soph­i­cal about the group’s place in his ca­reer.

“(The Police) songs have built up power,” says Copeland, who quickly dis­pels any hope of an­other re­union with band mates Sting and Andy Sum­mers. “Even if all three of us ar­tis­ti­cally and mu­si­cally might have some­thing else to say, it’s just the rit­ual of it, the litany of it, show­ing up on the day and play­ing that mu­sic. Its not the mu­sic that’s in my heart, but it’s the mu­sic that’s in the heart of 80,000 peo­ple’s hearts. And they’re beat­ing right in front of you. That is ex­cit­ing. But then we’re all artists with stuff to do, and right now ‘Rox­anne’ ain’t it.”

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