5 Questions with Andrew Fletcher

Andrew Fletcher has been featured in The Asheville Post, but not by name. It was his piano that was almost taken by our writer, Elizabeth Newman, in her great piece about Chicken Alley. For anyone who frequents live music venues—especially jazz joints—in Asheville, you’ve most like run across this dapper pianist somewhere along the way. Andrew is a ubiquitous member of the Asheville music scene. We decided to catch up with Andrew—never an easy feat with his schedule—to encourage him to be a part of our 5 Questions series.

5 Questions with Andrew Fletcher
You’re a constant in the Asheville music scene, playing piano for a number of acts. What are all the acts that you play with (along with some you may have played with in the past that we might recognize)?
I think I’m most recognized for being the guy who plays piano on the back of a truck driving through downtown. That’s fun. As far as bands go, I’m a full-time member of Firecracker Jazz Band, The Roaring Lions, and my newest project is Hank West & The Smokin’ Hots. I also moonlight with the Red Hot Sugar Babies and Big Nasty Jazz Band. Other than those groups, I float around the jazz nightlife and sit in with various groups, occasionally with touring acts that like my style, like Pokey LaFarge & The South City Three. I recorded a few tracks on Secret Agent 23 Skidoo’s latest album. In the busy season, I’ve gone as many as two weeks without a night off—all locally. (Thanks, Asheville!) During the summer, three gigs in a week feels light.

I’m a full-time member of Firecracker Jazz Band, The Roaring Lions, and my newest project is Hank West & The Smokin’ Hots. I also moonlight with the Red Hot Sugar Babies and Big Nasty Jazz Band.

How did you get started playing the piano, and who have been your influences?
I got started in the usual way: I was 10, my parents offered me piano lessons and it sounded cool so I did it. The first few years were tough, but I started to get better without hinting at any real talent for it. Pam McNeil in Tryon was my piano teacher for several years, and she did the best thing a teacher can do for a student: she made me really love music. I was like most kids, I didn’t practice enough and I hated scales. For about five years I rarely played. At the time I was living in the very small town of Tryon when a very talented young piano player named Reese Gray moved in.

Reese had played with the Squirrel Nut Zippers and led bands. He was a really colorful character. I saw him play piano at the coffeehouse one night and I was blown away at what he could do with that instrument. I had never seen anything like it, and I knew I needed to know how to do that. We ended up getting to be really good friends, and over the years and a couple bottles at a time we would listen to Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong Hot Fives & Sevens, Halfway House Orchestra, Raymond Scott, Bix Beiderbecke, Duke Ellington … all the jazz greats of the 1920s and ’30s. Over a couple more bottles he would teach me songs on the piano his way and I gradually took to it. He taught me how to play stride piano, a style often miscalled ragtime, but actually the first popular style of jazz piano. Reese went on to be a founding member of the Firecracker Jazz Band, and we stayed close. I probably went to a hundred or more Firecracker Jazz Band performances, going back to 2003. When Reese moved out of town a couple years ago, Firecracker was looking for a piano player and Ami (Worthen) and Jason (Krekel) of Mad Tea recommended me because they had recently seen me play at a party. I had one rehearsal and I played my first gig on Feb. 14, 2010. I was nervous as hell, and I played terribly. But I’d played 17 years without playing a gig, and once I had a taste of performing music, I’ve never looked back.

How about your life away from music? Tell us about your “real” job and hobbies.
Away from the piano, I freelance as an IT Consultant, where I help individuals and small businesses do anything related to tech, whether it’s getting a wireless network to cover a whole building, advising on purchases, PC repair, training, whatever. I’ve been doing that since I was 16. I dabble in a little bit of Web and graphic design. Music was pretty much my hobby before it became my profession. Now I read, play chess, and I’m a political news junkie.

What do you enjoy about the music scene in Asheville?
As music lover, I love how dense and diverse it is. Within a few blocks you can see a wide variety of music, some of it for free. A couple years ago I saw the Monotonix (legendarily raucous Israeli garage punk band) and got my head split open by a flying trashcan. The next day, I went to Asheville Lyric Opera and took in some Verdi. I go to every Asheville Symphony performance that I can, and I love the vinyl DJ scenes at The Admiral, Tiger Mountain, and Broadway’s. As a musician, what I love about Asheville is how many opportunities to get your music out there are available. I’ve got a mobile piano on large wheels and in the summer I can go play on the street for two hours on a Friday night and make just as much as I would playing a packed bar. It’s not a lot, but it’s enough to get by doing what I love to do. My feeling is that Asheville as a music destination (other than the well established bluegrass and old-time scenes) is just beginning.

You’re also known for your fashion statements. Tell us a bit about your fashion style.
I’ve written all about this here. My fashion sense boils down to “Does it fit and make me feel confident?” I love classic American looks, but it’s fun to treat clothes as costume sometimes, especially when I’m going to play a show.