Tyler Dempsey is a professional drummer and drum instructor who gives lessons out of his home and at private studios in Wilkes-Barre and Moscow. He is the house drummer at the Deerhead Inn in Delaware Water Gap; weekend drummer at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse at Mohegan Sun Pocono, Plains Twp.; and plays every other Monday with his trio at Crotti’s on Ash, Scranton. He is a graduate of Abington Heights High School, earned a liberal arts degree from Penn State University and studied jazz performance at New Jersey City University. He lives in Clarks Summit with his dog, Finley.
Meet Tyler Dempsey…
How did you get started playing drums?
My cousin Corey gave me my first pair of drumsticks. I really looked up to him, and I saw him playing. He was a huge inspiration, and I wanted to be just like him. His brother Todd gave me my first drum set, so it was the cousin connection that got me started. I was probably 7 or 8 years old.
Given your age, what interested you in jazz as opposed to mainstream pop music?
Corey gave me a Buddy Rich CD. I had been listening to pop music before that. I remember him giving me the CD and specifically thinking I want to do this for the rest of my life. I do like other types of music as well. I play with some indie rock groups and a country group, but I love jazz. It’s really expressive music, and I like the improvisational aspect of it.
What about hearing the jazz music for the first time made you want to make music a career?
The recording that I referenced, something about the excitement and the power of hearing a big band really got me going. The idea of being a musician as a professional came a little later on. I saw other musicians that I looked up to and mentors and teachers of mine, and I just liked their lifestyle. I liked the freedom of being a musician, having some days free and a flexible schedule. I also liked the travel of it. I think it was the mentors and teachers that I was around that got me hooked on being a professional.
Where is the coolest place you’ve traveled to play music?
I subbed on an 80-day tour for about a month. We drove from Scranton to Texas to California and back. We got to see a lot of the country, and there were some really cool spots in California that we played. That was a jazz tour, but we played in venues that Jay Leno has played and other bigger venues, so it was really cool.
What groups do you perform with?
Recently I joined a group called Lewis & Clarke; they’re an Indie band led by Lou Rogai. He heard me at the Deerhead Inn and decided he really wanted jazz musicians to try playing his music. I also play with a band called Porter and Sayles, and that was through the jazz connection as well. Now I’m leading my own trio at Crotti’s on Ash. That’s more of an electric jazz thing, which isn’t done too often around here. There’s a guy named Matt Vashlishan who plays ewi, which is an electric wind instrument, so that’s kind of a rarity. I have Joe Michaels on bass and myself on drums, and we play a lot of original music. That’s been kind of pushing the limits of the type of music going on around here.
What is your favorite part about being a drum teacher?
I like the problem-solving aspect of it and seeing issues that students have and trying to figure out the best way to address it. I end up learning more about what’s going on and look at things in more depth to uncover what’s happening. If I wasn’t teaching, I’d probably be doing things in drumming and not think about what it is and how to explain it, and the teaching brings that out of me. I have to think more analytically.
What is something performing has taught you that you try to teach your students?
I’ve been told before that your job as a sideman or a drummer in general is to make everybody else sound good. So being a team player and just to make it like we’re playing music, not working music. It should be fun and engaging for everyone.
How did performing lead you to teaching?
I took a bunch of lessons over the years, so I was surrounded with different teachers. I kind of picked up on their teaching styles and different ways of doing things. It was always an interest of mine to share things with other people.
Do you play any other instruments?
In high school, I tried to take advantage of as many musical opportunities as possible. I did band, orchestra, choir and music theory. I was a bass in the choir and played the upright bass in the orchestra. I also took piano lessons in high school. I still fool around with the piano and bass a little bit, mostly to try to write music and improvise rather than to write actual songs.
What led you to stick with drums?
It was that initial attraction. Even though there are other cool instruments and I have fun playing them, the drums have been unwavering. I don’t know what it is about the drums, but I just know that I like being in the driver’s seat. A lot of people describe playing the drums as driving the boat or the bus; you have a lot of responsibilities, and it’s kind of an important job to be a drummer in a band, and I like that drummer.
What are your hobbies and interests outside of music?
I really enjoy fitness. I like going for runs and going to the gym. I have a puppy named Finley. We spend a lot of time together. I like taking him for walks and playing with him. I enjoy exercising and would love to run a half marathon or full marathon some day, but that’s a huge undertaking.
Have you had a time or moment in your life that helped shaped you into who you are today?
In terms of music, I was asked to do a high-profile gig, and I got fired before the show. It wasn’t in a nasty way, but (they decided) to use somebody else, and that was a real hit to my ego. That was kind of a turning point, and I realized there’s a level of preparation for every situation. I’m not always going to be the best guy for every situation, and there are of course people who do things better.
Photos by Emma Black