Written by Patrick Jarenwattananon from National Public Radio
If you drive northwest on New Hampshire Avenue out of Washington, D.C., you’ll pass a few shopping plazas, a freeway or two, a house of worship for nearly every imaginable denomination. Around the point where the suburban sprawl begins to thin out, there’s a one-block-long dead-end street on the right called Spotswood Drive. That’s where a man named Walter Salb once lived; he was a beloved and respected drummer, and by most accounts a larger-than-life character. His 2006 Washington Post obituary ran with the headline “Drum Teacher Was Scurrilous, Rude — and Greatly Admired.”
Growing up outside Washington, D.C., Allison Miller was one of those admirers. She’s now a greatly respected drummer in the jazz hub of New York City, and then some — more people have probably heard her backing singer-songwriters such as Brandi Carlile, Natalie Merchant or Ani DiFranco. But before all that, she regularly visited Spotswood Drive for lessons. In fact, Salb’s mentorship remains so important that Miller started a scholarship fund in his name, and recently dedicated a new tune to him — a searching, slow-burning meditation with lots of percussive coloring between the lines.
Miller is an awfully busy player, but in recent years, she’s carved out time to lead her own group Boom Tic Boom. On the heels of its new two-LP live recording — and, preceding that, a 2010 self-titled record — Boom Tic Boom was recently invited to play Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. So along the way, she and the band came by the NPR Music offices for this Tiny Desk Concert. They began with “Big and Lovely” — for Miller’s friend, musician and activist Toshi Reagon — and closed with “The Itch,” a tricky little line with a clattering introduction and wide-open groove.
In between was “Spotswood Drive,” the tune for Walter Salb. “He was a very close friend of mine, and mentor, and just kind of [a] great guy,” Miller said between songs. “Sometimes great guy. Kind of like a grandfather in a way — in an odd way.”
- “Big And Lovely”
- “Spotswood Drive”
- “The Itch”
- Allison Miller, drums
- Marty Ehrlich, alto saxophone
- Dan Tepfer, piano
- Todd Sickafoose, bass
Producers: Patrick Jarenwattananon and Bob Boilen; Editor and Videographer: Michael Katzif; Audio Engineer: Kevin Wait; photo by Emily Bogle/NPR