Remembering David Via, Jazz Drummer

One way of thinking about this: The famous jazzers are a dime a dozen. You know their names. I know their names. Everyone knows their names.

Then there are the guys like David Via, the great Tampa Bay area drummer and drum teacher who passed away Monday after a long illness.

Dave, who loved Tony Williams and Elvin Jones almost as much as he loved the New York Yankees, committed heart and soul to the music, fully lived in the music on stage, and shared his love for the music with everyone he met. He never sought fame, and never got it, really.

But he gained a reputation as a musician’s musician, a guy whose touch was so sure, whose feel for the drums was so sensitive, that few who played with him, or came under his tutelage, or merely heard him play, will ever forget it.

That, at least, is how I remember Dave, with whom I played dozens of trio shows over several years beginning in the mid-’90s, with LaRue Nickelson on guitar, under the name Greenwich Blue. We gigged everywhere from the old Dish restaurant in Ybor City to Borders Books & Music on Dale Mabry in Tampa to a couple of places in St. Petersburg. Dave and I and vibraphonist Sam Koppelman played a private party for the Indianapolis Colts, the third time the Superbowl came to Tampa, in 2001. We “opened” for Jay Leno, the evening’s headlining act, and I recall that big-time rock drummer Kenny Aronoff (John Mellencamp) was in the crowd. When we played, Aronoff kept his eyes on Dave.

Dave’s playing, on uptempo swing tunes, bossa novas, ballads, and practically everything else, was always supportive, creative, and highly interactive. And his brushes playing was a work of art — crisp, clean, artful, precise, and sometimes cooking so intensely yet so quietly that my rock-damaged ears had a hard time hearing all the intricacies he routinely and with no fanfare unfurled.

Now, for the facts. Dave had just turned 59 when he died, reportedly following a major heart attack. He had been out of commission for several months, following an earlier heart attack in August.

Dave most recently taught drums at Jeff Berlin‘s Players School of Music, and Musicology, in Clearwater, and prior to that he taught at the University of South Florida in Tampa for eight years.

A native of Mayodan, N.C., with the twang in his voice to prove it, Dave studied  with , and Lynn Glassock. “Many many thanks to Otis Brown for selling me my first set of Gretsch drums,” he wrote on his MySpace page.

Dave performed with a long list of name artists, including Mose Allison, Barney Kessel, Charlie Byrd, Dizzy Gillespie (right), Pat LaBarbera, Slide Hampton, Carol Sloane, David Baker, Al Grey, Buddy Tate, Nick Brignola, Jimmy Heath, Claudio Roditi, David Murray, Joe Lovano, Billy Taylor, Kenny Werner, Ira Sullivan, John Abercrombie, Jeff Berlin, Rufus Reid, Sheila Jordan, Ted Rosenthal, Larry Coryell, Frank Kimbrough and Conrad Herwig.

His discography includes saxophonist (and USF jazz studies head) Jack WilkinsArtwork (Koch, 1995); pianist Paul Tardif’s Points of Departure (Koch, 1995);  pianist Ed Paolantonio‘s Dedications; and Minas, Blue Azul (1999)

More info from Dave’s MySpace page: “David has toured extensively with Jon Metzger as part of the USIA Arts America Program in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and Europe. These tours involved a rigorous performing schedule as well as teaching numerous clinics. In the States, David has performed in numerous Jazz festivals in Washington DC, Spoleto in Charleston, S.C., Indiana, Kentucky and Clearwater. He also performs with the Billy Siegenfield Jump Rhythm Jazz Project of New York City.”

Dave, we’ll miss you, your spirit, your humor, and your great playing.