On Thursday, Freddy Dugard & the Hit Squad performed at the LIRR Air Train Jazz festival for their fourth year. Freddy Dugard plays drums with different cats in the neighborhood, but this group specifically is his hit squad, made up of Norman Por on keys; Rondew Monroe on bass; V. Jeffrey Smith, who has a long list of credits which include the likes of Paula Abdul and Freddie Jackson, on saxophone and guitar; along with featured singer and Grammy-nominated songwriter “LaLa” LaForrest Cope. She worked closely with many celebrity artists like Whitney Houston, for whom she penned the big hit “You Give Good Love.” The group certainly lives up to their name when you hear them play. Our World was able to sit down with the band leader for an interview.
Freddy Dugard, like many great musicians, started playing music at a young age and he never let anything stop him. The first instrument he picked up was the trumpet, or rather its sister instrument the bugle horn at his Catholic School; “There was a drum and bugle core, so everyone was picking up bugle. I picked it up, realized I couldn’t play it, and came back to the next thing. I saw drummers banging on tables and I said noise will make me work.” However, his mother wasn’t willing to put up all the money when her twelve-year-old son asked for a drum set. Having an entrepreneurial streak from the beginning, Dugard already had a paper route he was working which allowed him to save up the 80 dollars to put towards the drums. His mother gave him the last 20 dollars he needed and he bought his first mother of pearl Gretsch brand drum set. Growing up in Queens, he would hang out at Carmichael’s diner which used to host jazz bands in the basement. World renowned musicians would come through to sit in and play. Walter Perkins was one of them, who got Freddy Dugard interested in jazz and became one of his many teachers. Walter walked him through the rudiments of his instrument and the basics of listening and playing jazz music. He was able to get some training by going to the jazz mobile in Harlem, where all the kids were going to study with skilled musicians. Then he enrolled in formal lessons at the Long Island Drum Center; his teachers are world renowned—Frank Bellucci, Don Famularo, Frank Marino, and Horace Arnold were some of the big names. Freddy Dugard has been a hard worker all his life, but always found time for his passion. He was an athlete in high-school, setting the record for fastest sophomore sprinter in the nation after beating the Olympic gold-medalist, Willie Smith, in a 300 yard dash. His training paid off when he got a full athletic scholarship to Tennessee Tech University where he studied music. Later in life, he became an officer at Riker’s Island and he kept on banging the drums. He even formed bands made up of his colleagues to do small tours within the facility, mostly as a morale booster for the other officers, but he noticed it also lifted the spirits of some inmates who listened in.
His list of musical inspirations could fill a book, but a few of the names are contemporaries like Omar Hakeem and Lenny White, both natives to Queens; and Billy Cobham—who played so well he almost made Dugard want to quit. Some classic inspirations are Baby Dodds, one of the most important drummers in early jazz; Max Roach; Art Blakey; Elvin Jones; Tony Williams, and more names for days. Despite being as well-versed in jazz as he currently is, Dugard feels it’s important to always keep learning. Dave Garibaldi from Tower of Power came into town offered drum lessons. The lessons weren’t cheap, but the knowledge gained from such an investment is priceless. In Dugard’s opinion, anything you feel passionate about is going to fuel an automatic drive within you to learn more. When you’re so intrigued by your passion you long to know everything from the history to the small details. “That’s how you know you really love something, you know a lot about it—not everything—but a lot.”
Freddy Dugard is also interested in philosophical thought, and feels that all styles of music can teach you something depending on how you approach it. He explains that Jazz, for example, has many different moods and attitudes. An artist can play something with an aggressive sound, and what may sound like banging noise gains a quality of beauty when put into meter and context. “Jazz alone has put me into sensitivity,” he claims. As opposed to a genre like rock, where the music comes on strong and keeps its strength steady through the piece, jazz is fluid; it can change from loud to sensitive just within the course of one song. With his experience as a certified Remo Trained Health Facilitator, he uses the power of the beautified noise we call music to change lives through music therapy. He likes to play a variety of styles like rock, funk, and R&B. The style in Jamaica Queens has it’s own title called the “Jamaica funk,” based on learning and combining jazz, funk and R&B. When playing jazz, an artist will pop out a funk beat while maintaining the same vibe and emotions that were already at play. Freddy Dugard and his Hit Squad can be seen playing at the Smoke BBQ Pit Restaurant every Thursday from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM. If you can’t make it on Thursdays, you can always catch them every Wednesday evening, same time, at the Sangria Tapas Bar & Restaurant on our very own Sutphin Boulevard. More information can be found on Freddy Dugard’s website, including links to their music on YoutTube. Should you desire to hear more music played by local talent every Thursday, stop by the LIRR Air Train Terminal from 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM, so long as you’re not at Smoke BBQ Pit jamming to Freddy Dugard’s Hit Squad.