Jazz student finds passion in drums

COURTESY // Taylor Cuffie

It’s not everyday that one comes across a musician who plays in nine different bands, but Sonoma State University student Taylor Cuffie manages to maintain the heavy workload that comes along with being a college student while pursuing his musical passion.

Cuffie is a 22-year-old fifth year at Sonoma State, majoring in jazz studies. He was born in Connecticut but spent his childhood in Morgan Hill, California. Cuffie primarily plays the drums but also enjoys playing upright and electric bass, the occasional piano and the guitar, as well as singing.Cuffie’s favorite instrument is the drums. 

“I think the drums will always be the one I come back to at the end of the day,” said Cuffie. “I’ve always felt the most comfortable with them and that’s the first instrument I got really attached to.”

Cuffie experienced an immense amount of musical inspiration from both of his parents at an early age. Both Cuffie’s parents studied music in college and naturally they hoped to incorporate their love for music into their children’s lives. Being the youngest of five children, Cuffie followed in his sibling’s footsteps by trying out a few different instruments just as their parents encouraged them to. Growing up in a household with parents who played different styles of music such as jazz, R&B and classical music also served as an inspiration for Cuffie’s musical passion. The flute and the piano were the first instruments that Cuffie experimented with until he ultimately decided to stick with the trumpet.

 At the age of 11, Cuffie decided the trumpet was not the instrument for him, instead he chose to pursue concert percussion. It wasn’t until a few years later that Cuffie decided his instrumental calling was in fact the drums. 

“I didn’t actually start playing drums until I was 15, and that was because I saw my high school’s jazz band playing some really cool stuff and then I thought, ‘Okay, this is what I want to do,’” said Cuffie. 

Cuffie describes his parents as hardworking and understanding people who are extremely supportive of his passion as an artist. Cuffie’s parents are responsible for the purchase of his first drum set at age 15 and have encouraged him through the process of developing a musical talent ever since. 

“Taylor plays drums with the sensitivity and dialogue of a musician ahead of his age. His dedication to his craft is apparent in all aspects of his life and is a rare thing today amongst young musicians,” John Courage, a musician friend of Cuffies, said. 

Cuffie expressed that while there are several perks to being a musician, his passion is certainly not free of the negative aspects which are part of any profession. 

“For me it’s trying to innovate and not bring myself down when I don’t make something completely new. I find often times that I’m working on variations of old ideas or thinking of ways in which I can switch up the recipe for a specific groove,” said Cuffie. “When I perform, I always want to do something that doesn’t detract from the music but still elicits a reaction from the audience and I feel that if I don’t, then I’m not necessarily doing a great job as a performer.” 

Cuffie credited the secret of juggling the responsibility and time commitment of being in nine bands to the importance of communication. He explained that a lot of the bands that he is a part of are more than capable of managing a gig without him being there. There are some occasions where he has to call in a sub, but his fellow band members are always understanding.

“Taylor is a very expressive and individualistic drummer with an obvious drive and discipline that make it a pleasure to collaborate with him,” Joshua James Jackson said. Jackson plays in bands like Sam Chase and the Untraditional, The Crux, Frankie Boots and the County Line and Sharkmouth with Cuffie.

Cuffie explained that communication is key when being involved with so many bands. Cuffie experienced difficulty when trying to decide which band he considers his favorite, due to the fact that each band allows him to practice something new and he is constantly surrounded by loving people who bring their own unique take on music.

“If I were to pick a band I want to gig more with, it would be my contemporary jazz group, ‘THAT’. This was a group formed out of mine and the keyboardist’s, Nate Dittle, senior recital,” said Cuffie. “We took a bunch of oddly phrased contemporary tunes, messed with their forms and then flew off the handle while still retaining some sort of tight groove. They’re a lot of fun to play with, and I feel that I get to express everything that I want to to the utmost with them.”

Cuffies performances are located primarily in Cotati and Petaluma. In terms of pursuing music as a future career, Cuffie expressed that at the moment that is his current plan but because he is still so young, his plans for the future could potentially change.

Cuffie finds inspiration in bringing his audience and himself joy.

“The constant pursuit of joy for myself and others. I want to help people feel better at the end of their day, and I want to do the same for myself when I play,” said Cuffie. “A lot of people are hurting out there, and I can’t make everyone feel better, but I’m happy to be a small part of an idea that’s geared towards spreading joy and acceptance.”

Cuffie also mentioned that his peers as well as the jazz faculty at Sonoma State serve as inspirations for him as an artist. His peers are constantly coming up with new and interesting pieces for him to play which he says encourages him to improve on instruments that he may have not been playing very often. Cuffie describes the jazz faculty at Sonoma State as world class musicians and people who genuinely care about student’s well being, not just their musical abilities. 

“My drum teacher, George Marsh, has been like a surrogate grandfather figure to me for the past four and a half years, and every lesson I have with him leads to my brain being wracked with all of these new rhythms that he concocts for me in his drum laboratory up in Santa Rosa,” said Cuffie. “He’s really taught me to open up my brain and approach the drums in a way I didn’t think was possible. Long story short, he’s kind of a genius.”