Michael Glaser

studio-drummerRhythm of the City

Written by Brett Levine     

Photo by Jerry Siegel


“I basically played on a kit some kid had in his basement,” drummer Michael Glaser says. These are not the words you expect to hear from someone as they tell the tales of their recent two-week tour of Europe playing with a UAB jazz faculty and student ensemble, but Glaser is not your usual drummer. “I also got to play with Downright in Switzerland,” he continues. “It was a great opportunity. We knew that the ensemble and Downright would be there at the same time, so we took some time to practice. Then we were able to fill the stage with players and give the students an experience they might never have at the same time that we gave the audience a set they would really enjoy.”

This combination of focus and calmness characterizes Glaser’s approach to drumming. “I spent a lot of time in high school simply enjoying music,” he says. “I had begun playing drums then, learning by playing along to top 40 songs and having lessons here and there. I was also singing in my high school choir. But I started taking music classes at Davidson College, which had a strong liberal arts curriculum. I loved what I was learning, and I realized I could make this a major. Whether I could make it a career or not was something I didn’t know at the time.”

Strong encouragement from an exceptional drum instructor during his sophomore year led Glaser to transfer to Belmont University for his junior year. There he played with the top jazz combo, learned from a diverse range of talented musicians, and enjoyed the Nashville music scene. But Davidson College was always on his mind. “I had invested a lot of myself in Davidson, so I returned for my senior year,” he says. “I decided to focus on playing with the best musicians I could.” His determination led to two years of playing with electro-LUXE, a power pop band deemed Charlotte’s best new band by Creative Loafing. “We recorded everything to tape on an eight track machine,” says Glaser. “I learned a lot about producing and studio techniques during that time.”

But just when it seemed like his career was moving in the right direction, an unexpected injury almost derailed his dream forever. In 1994, he started having repetitive motion injury pain. “Now that I know more about myself and my physiology, I understand it was the result of a myriad of factors,” he says. “All I knew then was that I couldn’t play. I didn’t know quite what to do, but I knew that I wanted to come home and to heal.”

Glaser returned to Birmingham, reconnected with Wendy Jarvis, who would become his wife, and took a two-year hiatus from music. In 1997, he began, tentatively, to play again. “I started using brushes to play a snare drum in a roots country band. It was as far away from power pop as I could get,” he says. Finding the ability to play slowly returning, he began to play jazz with other local players.

In 2000, Glaser began to play with Chad Fisher. He also joined Meteorite, a project that was his main focus for almost six years. “Meteorite played a combination of original music and cool covers,” Glaser explains. “It was a way to explore funk, jazz, and fusion in an innovative way with a group of players I really respected.” He also began giving private lessons at the same time, something he continues to do. In 2009, Glaser became affiliated with UAB. “I had the opportunity to begin working with Steve Roberts and the department of music. The department asked if I would be interested in teaching drum kit to students at the university level, which is something I had always wanted to do,” he says. This opportunity led Glaser to work more closely with other members of the faculty at UAB, fostering the partnership that resulted in the recent UAB jazz tour of Europe.

One of Glaser’s passions is transcribing and performing. “I am fascinated by the constant shifts between performer and band leader. So, for several years I have been transcribing and arranging songs that I am passionate about performing, writing arrangements for a very specific number of instruments—often two horns, piano, bass, and drums,” he says. “I think arranging helps any musician to understand a song at a deep level. By creating charts for a band, I have the opportunity to both perform and to express my ear.” Always one to blend a serious love for music with a wry sense of humor, he presented a recent arrangement as being by Michael Glaser’s Reputable Quintet. “Well,” he says with a smile, “You know that when you hear an original arrangement if there is one thing you want it to be it is reputable!”

Michael Glaser is a Birmingham drummer who simply shares his passion for music. He is a part of almost more groups than he can name, including The Chad Fisher Group Swing Edition; The Chad Fisher Group; String Theory; The Birmingham Seven; Rob Alley presents An Alabama Songbook; Matthew DeVine & The Big Greasy Brass Band; The Roberts Jazz Project; Mingusphere; Magic Shtetl (klezmer); The Not Too Loud Trio; and a drum ensemble for African dance classes with Guinean master dancer/drummer Youssouf Koumbassa under the leadership of drummer Mitch Caponetto. Glaser lets his performances speak for themselves and strives to make his contributions to his city through his constant engagement with its people and its culture. From the funked out sounds of Meteorite or Downright to the traditional jazz of the UAB ensemble to his forthcoming release with The Birmingham Seven, out in September, Glaser feels the pulse of the city, keeps the beat, and locks the groove of life in Birmingham from day to day.

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