Certain choices in life come to define us. We may not understand the significance at the time, but as the years go by, accomplishments become a revelation. When Drew Tucker chose to play the vibraphone in his teen years, he had no idea where it would lead him, if anywhere. To those outside the percussion realm, it’s a peculiar instrument often confused with the xylophone. Its full capabilities are only realized by someone who dedicates themselves to the instrument. Two identifying features of the vibraphone are the resonator tubes that are paired with each bar and the sustain pedal. Both allow for a resonance of sound. By definition, to resonate is defined as such:

  • to continue to produce a loud, clear, deep sound for a long time

  • to have particular meaning or importance for someone

  • to affect or appeal to someone in a personal or emotional way

Through his roles as musician, educator, and social entrepreneur, Drew’s work resonates daily. He’s been called a “visionary of life, not just music,” and his activism within the arts community affects lives on a large scale. You might say he’s become one with the instrument, and everywhere the music has led him has felt the resonance of his presence.

     Music came early in Drew’s life. He was playing piano at age four and drums by middle school. In high school, he was looking for a way to define himself, to be significant musically. There was already someone “cool” playing drum set, so he moved over to auxiliary percussion. At 15, he was in the drum and bugle corps but didn’t make the drumline, so he played the vibraphone in the pit. To improve on the instrument, he took lessons and learned theory. He was fortunate to have a supportive father and a music scene in South Florida that allowed him to play jam sessions and gig in jazz clubs throughout his teen years. After high school, he tried the traditional college route to further his music education. First, he ran into a bad program at a local state college, dropped out, and applied to Berklee College of Music in Boston. He got in, but without a scholarship, so had to foot the bill through his own means. The staggering cost of completing his education there sent him back to Florida without a degree or the educational opportunities he was looking for. He said depression hit him hard when he returned from Boston, likening Berklee to the highest drug, musically, and then crashing into the reality of having to make it somewhere else. Subsequently, he gave up music for awhile and went into graphic design and advertising. Miserable and staring at his vibraphone turned laundry hamper, he decided to go after his own education.

     Intent on improving his playing and expanding his musical experience, Drew went to Europe with a marimba in tow. Heavier and bigger than a vibraphone, this was no small undertaking. He spent four years traveling and playing classical music in Belgium, France, and Germany. Despite his background in jazz, he said he played no jazz there at all. While learning a lot during his time there, he said he left because the atmosphere was too academic. Fellow players were playing for each other rather than an audience. In a concert setting, the audience would watch more for the spectacle of it than any real understanding of or affection for the instrument. Back home, Drew was determined to make music that mattered, something people could connect with, and get back to teaching kids.

     At heart, Drew is an educator and an activist. He has a strong desire to teach young people and enrich their lives through music. The domino effect of creativity in the arts reaches into all aspects of their lives. On his return from Europe, Drew resumed teaching lessons and working with local marching bands. In 2007, he combined his desire to teach and build a stronger, richer community through the arts with the opening of Tucker Academy. The idea was to fill in the gaps of music education in the public school system by offering private lessons and providing performance space. The lessons learned didn’t only apply to music. This creative outlet taught teenagers a new way to express themselves. It showed them the value of practice and hard work. Their grades in school went up, and their lives improved overall. They learned skills that would transcend the study of music. It would serve as the beginning of a grassroots approach to building stronger communities.

     Eventually, Drew tested his civic ideals on a larger scale. With government funding, he worked for a redevelopment firm as cultural arts director. It wasn’t long before he realized that the perception didn’t match the reality. Saying the right things in public didn’t translate to the common good. He was able to open a few places that were to serve as arts centers in underserved communities, but ultimately ran into politics and gentrification rather than the accessibility and community revitalization they’d promised. In the end, he found the work to be in conflict with his integrity, and as money was never a motivating factor, he quit. Striking out on his own, he opened Arts Garage Performing Arts Academy in 2011. The creation of the Arts Garage would merge his lesson center and performing arts space into one central place. They’ve been able to offer after-school and summer camp programs to over 400 students. Their mission is to provide access for all, regardless of means. For those kids who lack family structure, it’s an oasis of support, positive expression, and fellowship. Through what is now called Urban Programming, Drew is able to create arts opportunities and lay the foundation that stronger communities are built on. People come together to support one another and the music facilitates that. Positive vibes for all.

     Vibes provide the musical heartbeat for all of Drew’s creations. Whether he’s building stronger communities or composing music, Drew understands that connection is what matters. Touring solo with his band, The New Standard, he performs music that an audience can relate to by giving them a frame of reference within a mostly original composition. The diversity of the vibraphone and accompanying instruments allows him to lead or support as the music demands. The result is unusual arrangements within a recognizable context. There is a reason his band is called The New Standard. Growing up, he listened to and studied jazz standards of the past, classics of their time. The popular music he heard in his formative years had a lasting effect in becoming the new standard we can relate to today. At its heart, his music is all about relatability. He melds soul, funk, jazz, and hip-hop influences into his original compositions that are loosely based on existing songs. It is in no way a remix of those songs. The sound, groove, and musicianship is completely original. This unusual instrument leaves a lasting impression of sound diversity, spectacle, and musical connection.

     Drew’s life is a well-rounded mix of music and social activism through the arts. As a musician, he’s collaborated with Pit Bull, Ricky Martin, KC and the Sunshine Band, Gloria Estefan, Shaun Martin, Nancy Zeltsman, and many others. He is the front ensemble consultant and technician for Stryke World and Blue Stars Drum and Bugle Corps. At Boca Raton High School, he serves as the percussion director. He’s a sought after educator in mallet education. His ideal job involves teaching and performing in an educational setting, whether it be at the high school or collegiate level. Teaching during the day with a performance at night makes for a perfect experience in Drew’s mind. He’s currently working on an entrepreneurial book for arts majors that will describe how to bridge the gap between an impractical degree and earning a living from it. Beginning shortly, there will also be an accompanying podcast.

     Drew Tucker is a musician who’s built a life out of creating good vibes. It started with the instrument itself and has emanated into all facets of his work. Creating melody and harmony isn’t exclusive to his musical compositions. He embodies that in his social activism, and leads by example. Strong communities need strong leaders who practice what they preach. A ‘vibe’ is defined as a person’s emotional state or the atmosphere of a place as communicated to and felt by others. The vibraphone allows Drew to express himself in an emotional and musical way. His community involvement, educational work, and mentoring spread good vibes that come from his heart and soul. The integrity of the man is expressed in everything he does. If there is a human counterpart to the term ‘good vibes,’ it’s Drew Tucker.

Visit Drew’s website:  http://www.itsnotaxylophone.com/

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Bev Miskus

Blogger of all things music related in Nashville and beyond.

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1 Response

  1. Spencer says:

    Awesome article, very well written! I absolutely love Drew’s music. Thanks for this

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