I first met Joe McCarthy when my friend and colleague, Tim Stanley, asked me to sub for him in Afro Bop Alliance. Joe is the leader of the band and he’s put together a ridiculous lineup of musicians. It’s incredibly fun and challenging to play with those guys. Go check out a show sometime— the music is thoughtful, beautiful, and energetic.
Joe is always playing around town. Be sure to check out his website for upcoming performances and links to purchase his music! And now: the interview.
JB: Where did you grow up and when did you first get interested in music?
JM: Meriden, CT. My mother had a varied record collection and I was exposed to many different styles.
JB: What were your early musical influences?
JM: Duke Ellington, Erroll Garner, Maynard Ferguson, Jackson 5, The Beatles and countless others.
JB: When did you decide that being a musician was what you wanted to do professionally?
JM: I didn’t decide to pursue music until the end of 11th grade. I was lucky to find a wonderful drum teacher, Art Perretta, and he told me I needed to go to music school, much to the chagrin of my parents…
JB: Where did you end up going to music school?
JM: I went to Hartt School of Music for a Bachelor’s in Music, and University of North Texas for a Master’s in Music.
JB: How did you get interested in Afro-Latin music?
JM: I had been listening to Afro-Cuban music since college. I spent a summer living in NYC studying with many of the great Afro Cuban NYC percussionists and going out every night listening to many of the great Afro Cuban bands.
JB: That must have been a fantastic experience. When I lived in New York, some of my favorite musical moments were with Afro-Cuban groups. One memory I’ll never forget was rehearsing with a salsa band in the basement of an East Harlem McDonald’s. I had to duck my head to get down those steps and the rehearsals were completely in Spanish.
Who were some of the percussionists you studied with in New York that summer?
JM: Victor Rendon, Johnny Almendra, and John Riley.
JB: What were the circumstances surrounding your creation of Afro Bop Alliance?
JM: It wasn’t until after I was in Annapolis with the [Naval] Academy Band that I decided to put together a band that would explore Afro-Cuban music. I hadn’t heard any bands in town that were playing what I wanted to pursue, so I decided to do it myself.
JB: What other types of gigs do you play around town and how do you tailor your practicing to be prepared for the variety of styles you have to play?
JM: I do a lot of different things. Since retirement I have begun to play broadway shows again in addition to whatever else I get called for. Would love to do more jazz gigs—wish more people would call me for those.
As far as practicing, I always practice. I love the drums and work every day to try and get better.
JB: Currently, what are your sources of musical inspiration?
JM: My greatest inspiration right now comes from my two daughters, Katie and Jenny, who have fallen in love with music.
The musicians I play with regularly always inspire me. My students also inspire me to play better. I’m constantly listening to all styles of music which is an endless source of inspiration.
Hometown: Meriden, CT
Years on the DC Scene: 20 years
Upcoming Gigs: Currently playing Motown at the National Theatre until January 3, 2016