Stephen Kendall Gadd (born April 9, 1945) is an American drummer, percussionist, and session musician. Steve Gadd is one of the most well-known and highly regarded session and studio drummers in the industry, recognized by his induction into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 1984. Gadd’s performance on Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” and Steely Dan’s “Aja” are examples of his style. He has worked with popular musicians from many genres, including Simon & Garfunkel, Steely Dan, James Taylor, Eric Clapton, Kate Bush, Joe Cocker, Grover Washington Jr., Chick Corea, Lee Ritenour, and Al Di Meola.
Gadd is a native of Irondequoit, New York, a suburb of Rochester. When he was seven years old, his uncle, a drummer in the US Army, encouraged him to take drum lessons. By the age of eleven Gadd had sat in with Dizzy Gillespie. In a Modern Drummer interview Gadd mentioned that some of his influences at a young age and later on included Buddy Rich, Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, and the “less is more” style of Rick Marotta.
After graduating from Irondequoit’s Eastridge High School, he attended the Manhattan School of Music for two years before transferring to the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, playing in wind ensembles and concert bands. After Gadd finished college in the late 1960s, he played regularly with Chuck Mangione and his brother Gap. His first recording was on Gap Mangione’s debut solo album, Diana in the Autumn Wind (1968).
Gadd was drafted into the U.S. Army and spent three years as a drummer in the Army Music Program, most of which was spent with the Jazz Ambassadors of the U.S. Army Field Band in Fort Meade, MD. While living in the Washington, D.C. area, he briefly took lessons from the noted jazz drummer Michael S. Smith. Following his military service, Gadd played and worked with a band in Rochester. In 1972, Gadd formed a trio with Tony Levin and Mike Holmes, traveling to New York with them. The trio eventually broke up, but Gadd began to work mainly as a studio musician. Gadd also played with Chick Corea’s Return to Forever but left the group. In the 1970s and 1980s, he toured internationally, and recorded with Paul Simon and also with Al Di Meola’s Electric Rendezvous Band.
In 1976, Gadd and other session musicians in New York City, including Richard Tee, Eric Gale and Cornell Dupree, formed the group Stuff. Their work included appearances on NBC’s Saturday Night Live, both performing on their own and backing Joe Cocker. By the end of the 1970s, Gadd was an accomplished drummer, with transcriptions of his drum solos on sale in Japan. Corea once commented, “Every drummer wants to play like Gadd because he plays perfect…. He has brought orchestral and compositional thinking to the drum kit while at the same time having a great imagination and a great ability to swing.”
In 2005, along with Abraham Laboriel, Patrice Rushen and others, Gadd was awarded an honorary Doctor of Music degree from Berklee College of Music for outstanding contributions to contemporary music.
Way Back Home: Live from Rochester, NY by the Steve Gadd Band is nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album at the 59th Annual Grammy Awards.
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