Faculty Profile

Casey Scheuerell: Step Up

  Professor Casey Scheuerell
  Phil Farnsworth

A highly regarded drummer who played with Gino Vannelli, Chaka Khan, Jean-Luc Ponty, Robben Ford, and many others and enjoyed a successful studio career in Los Angeles, Professor Casey Scheuerell '74 is familiar with "the contract." His sense of obligation and commitment is part of what makes him such a respected percussion teacher at Berklee.

"I spend time learning about my students and their lives," he explains. "When they sense that I care about them, they will work harder. It's part of the contract between teacher and student. If a student steps up, I will invest in that student."

It's also part of a continuum for Scheuerell, who first signed on to the contract as a Berklee student taught by renowned jazz drummer Alan Dawson. "I wouldn't think of showing up unprepared," Scheuerell recalls. "I couldn't stand the thought of him being disappointed in me. His opinion of me mattered."

Since joining the Berklee faculty in 1993, Scheuerell has mentored several accomplished drummers himself, including John Blackwell '95 and Antonio Sanchez '97.

"Casey's one of the special cats," Blackwell said in a telephone interview from Tokyo where he was on tour with Japanese singer/songwriter Chrystal Kay. "I've been around a lot of people in the industry and Casey's at the top. He's one of the nicest guys in the world. His professionalism, his personality as a human being-they're top notch. And Casey is one of the baddest drummers in the world!"

Scheuerell has been playing drums since the age of 11. "I wanted to be a big band drummer," he says. "Count Basie was my hero." Scheuerell grew up in Wisconsin and, when he wasn't playing football, he performed in a marching band. The opportunity to study with Dawson, a "real jazz teacher," brought him to Berklee in 1972. After two years, Dawson pronounced him ready to play, and Scheuerell began performing with club bands and playing Vegas (where Gino Vannelli performed as the opening act).

He moved to California in 1976, the same year Vannelli called looking for a drummer. "In the early part of your career, you need to go where the music is, where the business is," he says. "You need to network." For young musicians, that part hasn't changed, he notes, even though the industry has.

Scheuerell enjoyed doing studio work because of the craftsmanship and the collaboration involved. But after 18 years, he decided to change coasts. "Musically, I wasn't growing," he says. "I wanted to play more jazz. I also didn't want to raise my kids in LA. I wanted a different cultural environment for them."

Blackwell was already at Berklee when he heard that Scheuerell was due to join the faculty. "I was jumping up for joy," Blackwell recounts. Scheuerell "taught me before I even knew him," contends Blackwell, who used to practice to Vannelli's 1977 recording, A Pauper in Paradise, which features Scheuerell on drums.

"He definitely has a lot of patience," says Blackwell. "He takes time to share things and tells you about his experiences. He could break down what he did note for note and help you understand his approach. He can break down any other drummer and help you understand what a drummer is doing on the kit, when to play technically, and when not to play technically."

Teaching has been a learning process for Scheuerell. "I think parenting has helped me," he says. "I started to learn how to understand students, how they function. Each is different and has a different motivation. They all have their own way of learning and their own way of thinking. I try to facilitate inspiration. This 4,000-student environment can be intimidating. Inspired students will work hard, put in the extra hours, and find their way." Scheuerell's goal is to push students out of their comfort zones and into new areas.

And for Scheuerell, teaching students about music while training them for the real world is rewarding most of the time. For the fall, 2009 semester, he was assigned to teach 29 private students with individual lessons and curricula, and two courses. "The kids are raised in creative homes; they give back, they share a lot with you." But there are also students who are no-shows for their private lessons or who get impatient waiting in the narrow, crowded hallways for their lesson to begin. "I used to wait an hour and half," he recalls. "Good things happen when you wait for lessons."

For Scheuerell, education is a passion. "I'm a musician and a teacher. I don't know that I can separate the two, as teaching seems to be an essential part of learning." He authored Stickings & Orchestrations for Drum Set published by Berklee Press and is developing a new course for Berkleemusic.com that will be based on the fundamentals of jazz drumming. Scheuerell also works with high-school students as the volunteer director of the Newton North Jazz Ensemble in Newton, a suburb of Boston where he lives with his wife, Laura and their two children. Sports and the arts are essentials in K-12 education he maintains. "You can't take these [programs] out of schools because they speak honestly to kids. In sports, if you make mistakes, you sit on the bench. With music, if you're not playing your parts, people hear that. You have to step up," he says.