Old Lyme – Percussionist Avery Wyman is ready to try his hand at the New York City music scene after making an early and lasting impression in town.
Wyman, a graduate of the class of 2022, is a fixture at the Old Lyme Inn’s Side Door Jazz Club. He works weekend evenings as a doorman at the intimate venue – it’s a small place with big names – and has played with masters like saxophonist George Coleman, bass player Nat Reeves and the late drummer Ralph Peterson, Jr.
Side Door owner Ken Kitchings recalled that Wyman arrived in the club for the first time several years ago, conspicuous as the only young person in a room filled with what Kitchings described as an audience of “a certain age.”
Wyman credited his father, a baritone saxophonist and former assistant conductor in the Coast Guard Band, with introducing him to the club. And he credited the club with introducing him to the world of jazz.
Wyman comes from a musical family of a more classical bent, which in addition to his father includes his mother, a piano teacher, an older brother who plays the trumpet, and a younger brother who plays the French horn.
“Something about it just clicked,” Avery Wyman said of the Side Door jazz experience. “I kept going more and more, maybe once a month, then once a week. Then I was trying to go to every show. I just loved it so much.”
Soon Wyman was helping out behind the scenes with a virtual livestream event headlined by Peterson, his idol, when the drummer offered him a free lesson.
He said Peterson taught him that a jazz drummer plays to serve the music, not the other way around.
“He was explaining how some drummers or musicians play for the attention play all this flashy stuff because people might go ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ because of it,” Wyman said. “But he was kind of teaching me that you play to make the music better and it’s all about the music rather than your individual self.”
Peterson, a protee of the legendary Art Blakey, died just a few months later in March 2021 of cancer at the age of 58.
This year, Wyman followed Kitchings’ lead by exploring the business end of music for his senior project. He organized a jam session to fill what he saw as a need in the area.
Public jam sessions, out of which jazz itself was born, are an opportunity for musicians to get together and play off each other. But Wyman said he has to go to New Haven and Hartford to find like-minded artists to jam with.
Kitchings said Wyman’s event filled the room with people from Connecticut and Rhode Island.
“He orchestrated this thing beautifully,” Kitchings said. “He was playing the drums and created his house band by him and I just sat back and enjoyed the ride.”
Wyman described jazz as an interactive art that differs from other forms of music like classical and rock. He said each musician plays off what the others are saying through their instruments.
“You’re expressing yourself,” he said. “You aren’t restricted to a page.”
But Lyme-Old Lyme High School music director Jay Wilson said Wyman’s improvisational acumen builds off an ability to read any piece of sheet music put in front of him and a relentless work ethic.
A teacher in town for almost 25 years, Wilson identified Wyman as one of the most talented students he has ever taught.
“If you’re a jazz lover, you will see Avery Wyman’s name in the very near future on some playbill somewhere, playing something” he said.
Wyman acknowledged it’s not easy to make it on “the scene,” as he called it. He said he keeps up with his studies in classical music even though his heart is in jazz so that he will be able to take on a wider range of paying gigs.
“The music industry isn’t if the easiest thing to make money in. It’s not like you’re a doctor making six figures out of school. So I’ve been trying to keep all my possibilities open, keeping my skills up, so an opportunity comes up, I’ll be ready,” he said.
The student expressed the same faith in himself that his teachers and mentors hold for him.
“I have a great passion for the music and I feel like I work hard,” he said. “I’m willing to put in the work and compete in a polluted industry where I hope I will be able to make it.”
According to Kitchings, the club where Avery Wyman got his start will remain open to him even as other doors open up.
“He’ll always be part of the Side Door, let’s put it that way,” he said.