Student takes his banging skills to NYC

Carissa Bowlin

Pete Sustarsic, a member of the Kent State jazz band, looks over while miming a new piece of music during practice. The practice was in preperation for the trip to New York.

Credit: Andrew popik

A trip to New York City is sightseeing, attending shows and observing the culture, but for Kent State percussion performance major Pete Sustarsic, it is a preview of what he will soon call home.

“Percussion encompasses a broad range of instruments, really,” Sustarsic said. “It is anything played by being struck. This can be with a mallet, stick or your hand.”

Although Sustarsic can play anything from the timpani to the bongo, he wants to take his skills on the drum set to the Big Apple.

Sustarsic packed his bags with the Kent State jazz band and headed to New York City. There, the band attended a professionally instructed jazz clinic by world-renowned jazz expert David Berger at Jazz at Lincoln Center. They were then able to observe professionals in action at four different occasions, three at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Berger paid close attention to Sustarsic and said he was impressed with what he saw.

“The drummer is the leader of the band,” Berger said. “This drummer (Sustarsic) is one of the strongest players in the band. He has a good idea about how he needs to lead the band and how the music works.”

Other band members agreed.

“Pete is the most reliable drummer I’ve ever played with,” said Nick Asad, a Kent State jazz band trumpet player.

Berger warned the band about how risky the music business really is and said it’s not always fair.

But he did not try to talk them out of entering the business, he just wanted to help them think about it realistically.

“To be in this business you need to really determine if you have 100 percent commitment,” Berger said. “Only do it if you have to, if it’s your true passion. If not, find an easier way to make your living.”

Sustarsic has thought long and hard to determine he will return to the city and begin his career.

“Things keep bringing me back to New York: recording shows, trips like this jazz band workshop. It’s really quite natural for me to go,” Sustarsic said.

His first glance at New York was unexpected.

“There was a fashion trip announced in one of my general art classes in high school,” Sustarsic said. “I wasn’t really a part of the fashion scene, but I thought, ‘A trip to New York, sure I’d like to go.’ ”

In fourth grade Sustarsic actually got his start as a musician playing the violin, but in fifth grade band was offered percussion. He’s been taking private lessons ever since.

“Percussion is something I really had to do,” Sustarsic said.

Sustarsic plans this to be his career, so he doesn’t have a fall-back option to performing on percussion.

“A lot of my friends did education or marketing while keeping their music as a side gig,” Sustarsic said. “I didn’t want to make that option available for myself. I want to do what I truly enjoy.”

For a man who makes so many jokes, he takes his future seriously, and isn’t leaving himself any room for failure.

This commitment is evident to many directors as Sustarsic makes his way through Kent State’s percussion performance major.

“Pete’s really headed somewhere,” said Chas Baker, Kent State jazz band director. “He’s got that desire and commitment.”

Sustarsic has certainly done his homework to make this happen. At the university, he performs with four ensembles: Kent Orchestra, Wind Ensemble, Percussion Ensemble and Jazz Band One.

Outside of school, Sustarsic helps to pay his bills by gigging a couple times a week between three local bands for which he covers the drums set: Mattison, a local jazz-pop band, Rockamapopolis, an indie rock band, and Hemingway Shot Gun, a traditional rock band. These bands play at bars and small venues throughout Ohio.

Sustarsic has had to teach himself to play the drum set for these kinds of gigs.

“Schools around here offer classical percussion studies which is good for a base,” Sustarsic said. “What I really love is playing on set, and I’ve had to kind of teach that to myself.”

With a bit of travel, there are schools that give instruction on drum set. Sustarsic has been accepted to the Musician’s Institute in Hollywood, Calif., and The Collective in New York. After performing in New York for awhile, Sustarsic would like to continue his education at one of these schools.

Contact print beat reporter Carissa Bowlin at [email protected] .