Mixed Media

A Different Drummer

At 64, Bobby Previte is still carving out his own musical path

Bobby Previte performing at Merkin Hall, New York City. Photo: Kaye Previte

By Mark Norris

“A lot of times writing music is very painstaking and difficult. But this is the path that I seem to have chosen.”
Bobby Previte (BA ’73)

 “This is our rehearsal,” says the renowned bandleader, composer and drummer Bobby Previte (BA ’73) during a recent Buffalo gig with his new touring band, The Visitors. “Now we’re really going to do something we don’t know.”

With that he launches into his second set at downtown hotspot PAUSA Art House, laying down a slow, hypnotic groove. Suddenly, the tune soars in full flight. The band issues a flurry of contrapuntal, rapid-fire notes, and Previte responds with hammering fills. The sound is intense, the audience enraptured—no one knows what will come next.

Previte has explored uncharted musical territory like this for decades. A Niagara Falls, N.Y., native, he took advantage of UB’s cutting-edge music program during college, learning from modern pioneers like John Cage, Morton Feldman and his mentor Jan Williams.

In the late ’70s and early ’80s, he was a staple of downtown New York’s experimental scene and later earned critical praise for solo work that explored jazz, operatic theater, electronic music and even heavy metal.

“A lot of times writing music is very painstaking and difficult,” said Previte from his home in Hudson, N.Y., shortly after the Visitors’ Buffalo debut. “But this is the path that I seem to have chosen, so for better and for worse, I’m on it.”

Mostly for the better, it seems. Previte won the 2015 Greenfield Prize for Music, which includes a national commission to create work “that will have a significant impact on the broader or artistic culture.” His composition for the prize, an evening-length piece titled “In Transit,” will premier in Sarasota, Fla., next spring. Previte himself may not yet know what it sounds like, but you can bet it will be worth the trip.