SR- When did you first realize that you would become a performing percussionist?
Cyro- … I was lucky when I was a kid. I had this teacher and she made us invent instruments. Because what they were teaching in the schools was really boring, you know? And she says ‘Lets do a band here. A percussion band. Let’s have everybody do an instrument.’ So one kid does a shaker and mine was a coconut. I cut the coconut in the middle and I sanded it and it had this
SR- Do you feel that everyone is a percussionist whether they realize it or not?
Cyro- Definitely….many of the instruments that I play I create or my friends have made them for me. Many years ago I would get really pissed when I would get finished playing people would come up to me and say ‘Wow, man! You played this….this….refrigerator! I can’t do that……’
SR- Can you tell me about the tall tower of drums that you were playing with the Trey Anastasio Band? What is it and where did it come from?
Cyro- That’s my ‘Tambourine Machine', that’s what I call it. It comes from Brazil. In Brazil we have these little drums we call ‘Tambourines’. What you call that here is something different. There was an old guy that I met in a remote place in Brazil, he was an inventor
SR- What exactly is ‘Beat the Donkey’?
Cyro- …It is like a theater about percussion, my story about percussion since I was kid with my father playing the kitchen table before dinnertime. Like in Brazil percussion is part of your daily life and that’s what I want to show. In Brazil a lot of people play together. That ‘Tambourine Machine’ is like that; Each person plays one thing…there can be 200-300 playing drums….so when I play with Trey I can not bring all those percussionists so I just use that
SR- How did you become involved with Trey Anastasio?
Cyro- …You know this band Medeski, Martin, and Wood? Billy Martin, when he was young, used to be my student. Then many years later I bought this house in New Jersey and he bought a house near me, we are neighbors. I saw him after all these years and I said ‘What are you doing?’ and he says ‘..now I have a band and I’d like to have you sit in…’ I’m involved with a lot of music, you know, like Jazz or Classical and Avant Garde. I didn’t know about this new thing when I went to play with them. At this point I was playing with Herbie Hancock and Billy Martin said that they were playing at the Beacon Theater and for me to play with them….John Medeski who plays the organ is just amazing…the three of them together are just a perfect combination and the kids are going bananas. It was great for me because I was exposing the kids to all this crazy percussion. And it was a success…everything that I do they jump in the seats and I said ‘Whoa, man. These are the type of people that I want to play with. I’m sick and tired of playing with all these old jazz people…’
SR- You’ve played with such an impressive list of musicians and I was wondering if there was one in particular that has had the most impact on your music?
Cyro- Many. Every time I go into a situation to play music I think, ‘Why do these people call me?’
SR- Music brings together people in harmony…
Cyro- Yes. When I started to get together ‘Beat the Donkey’ I had this idea and I call this percussionist and I say, ‘I want to have music and dancers all together and do this….’ And he says, ‘Man. Why do we need ten people to do that? Me and you, we can do this with machines…’
SR- I think he’s very bored
Cyro- Yes! He’s Bored!
SR- Do you think if George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein got together and played some drums that they could work things out?
Cyro- No doubt! Maybe they would find out about themselves a bit. Maybe about sexuality or something…they must have a problem!
SR- I was wondering what is the strangest instrument that you have played before an audience?
Cyro- That is a hard question! I play some weird things…but more so in recording…like the cellophane that comes around the cigarette [pack]? You can use that and make it sound like fire but if you go to the audience its not going to have the same effect….One day I played with a guy from North Carolina, and he was crazy…he put a bird cage on his head and he played this bird cage and made amazing sounds! That was the craziest thing I ever saw but it’s not something I will try to copy!
I really enjoy conversations and this is one of the most memorable that I have had to date. As a percussionist and avid music fan it was easy to be in awe of Cyro as a mentor and hero. His brilliance and vitality are present in every thought and delivered with such a great sense of humor. What else will this master of percussion accomplish in his lifetime? I’m sure that it will be plenty and it will always be in the spirit of bringing people together.
By: S. Remington Article originally appeared on PhreshWater.com 01/03