Language into a Beat: An Interview with Henry Cole
We’re excited to host this world-renowned percussionist who is transforming the music scene: Henry Cole, a Puerto Rican native, alongside the Villa Locura, combines a variety of musical styles to create an entirely unique genre. His fusion of beats – from Salsa to folklore, to funk, to R&B, to jazz, to Afro-Caribbean rhythms – moves audiences to feel and dance across the globe; and when he isn’t making music, he teaches musicians in acclaimed classrooms like those of Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. Though he’s been named “the future of drumming,” Cole remains humble in his successes. His polite, cool, and unwavering attitude has earned him the respect of not only world musicians and audiences everywhere, but also, ours. We had the pleasure of speaking with Cole to learn more about his passion for the drums, the evolution of his music, and his hopes for the future of music.
Can you tell us a story of your favorite memory or a moment that made you say, “Wow. I want to do this forever. I want to be a musician.” I started playing the piano when I was 4 during school because my grandmother and my father were pianists, but when I was nine, I remember listening to the Rocky Balboa soundtrack and they feature this song, “Eye of the Tiger,” – that was the first time I fell in love with the drum set. I took that record to my neighbor and I remember she said, “Okay, that’s cool but listen to this -” and she played me a record by Striper, a heavy metal group. I remember the drums were louder and heavier, so back then I wanted to be a rock drummer. Then, I decided to enroll in the music school in Puerto Rico and even though there wasn’t a drum set, my teacher, a trumpet player, taught me how to read music, how to practice, and eventually when I was 15 I got my first drums and started playing every genre that I could. But that’s basically how it all started. You’ve studied jazz in Boston, San Juan, and New York City – how would you say these places have influenced your musical styles? I think the core of my musical style comes from being in Puerto Rico. PR is a very multicultural place to be, and as a musician, if you want to make a living then you have to be good at playing many different styles. So I say that our country (PR) is a more musical environment because we have all of these different influences – Spanish, African, American, etc – so as a drummer, I grew up with many different styles. In Boston and New York, I got more into jazz, but I saw there that everything was more separate. People were very good, but they only focused on one style. It was hard to navigate from one scene to the other, but eventually, I learned how to link every style.
What was it like working with some of the world’s most acclaimed jazz groups, like the Grammy-nominated Miguel Zenon Quartet and Grammy winner David Sanchez? How have they influenced your work? They’re my family – David is one of my mentors, and Miguel also, but I learn from everyone. You learn how they communicate, you learn the language of their particular way of thinking. It’s great to learn that from some of the best in the world. You work with all [kinds of] musicians, and you learn how they communicate and they think. The same thing with producers, you learn how they think and how they see music. They see it in a very different way than I see it, so then you learn from everyone and you blend them into your own way. It’s an experience that goes beyond anything, it’s cool.
** READ THE FULL INTERVIEW HERE