FLINT, Michigan—Russ Sauter exudes bombastic expressive energy, calculated attack, and tight steady rhythm often in the same song given the freedom. Influenced by the likes of the expressive and innovative, Elvin Jones, and the tasteful, funky drumming of The Meters’, Zigaboo Modeliste, Sauter can fill the room with colorful complex rhythms and fill it again with profound space.
It’s his journey with percussion that in part motivated Sauter to teach his knowledge, ability, and love for rhythm with others who seek it.
When it comes to learning an instrument, debatably one of the most daunting is the drum set. Lots of things to hit, things to stomp down on, and it’s as much an exercise as it is a musical instrument. Coordination, consistency and a good ear are key.
“On the best days I like to lay back in the pocket for 90 percent of the time and just kind of fall into the groove and help establish that. But when the music kind of reaches its peak, I like to let loose a little bit,” said Sauter, 27. “ Sometimes I have a tendency to let loose a little bit too much, but I guess I try to find that ratio.”
Sauter, Linden native now settled in Flint, began his relationship with the drumset as a student in his middle school band. He was originally supposed to play the French horn, but he gravitated more to the percussion section.
After high school graduation, Sauter reached a crossroads in his future. With an interest in science and his good grades, Sauter considered pursuing some sort of traditional pre-med path upon entering University of Michigan-Flint, but music was too much of a passion not to pursue.
“I kind of realized right before I went to college that really the only thing that I wanted to do— when I was really thinking about how to spend my life— music was the only thing that I knew I really wanted to do,” said Sauter.
But upon entering UM-Flint in 2010 with a major in music last minute, he felt highly unprepared and had a hard time getting into the swing of things his freshman year.
“It was a big struggle in the beginning … I had not done much preparation for a music degree,” said Sauter. “ I didn’t really practice some pretty essential things until about halfway through my senior year of high school. So, I wasn’t good at all the instruments in the percussion section, and I didn’t have a very good ear...it was a pretty big hurdle I had to overcome. “
Over the first few years of college, Sauter developed his ear for music by relentlessly practicing on the drum kit as well as improving at mallet instruments like the vibraphone and exploring classical-style percussion.
“Russ can blend the different parts of the kit into a single instrument, a single dynamic sound, better than any drummer I have played with,” said UM-Flint student, current jazz bandmate, and pianist, Ian Haubert.
During his first stint at UM-Flint in 2011 Sauter was involved in a Flint group called The Heard. Deeply involved with the Flint and Detroit music scenes. The Heard recorded two albums and an EP before splitting up in 2014, a year after Sauter’s drumming accident.
In 2013 when Sauter would sustain tendinitis of the elbows, a drumming injury that would force him to put down the sticks and leave UM-Flint for three years to focus on his recovery. He would return to his studies in 2017.
“I had to stop playing completely in the middle of the semester, and obviously that’s kind of problematic for a music student,” said Sauter. “It took three years to learn how to kind of get it under control. Part of that was improving my technique, part of that was just learning things about tendinitis that work when you're treating it.”
Once he recovered, Sauter would play at Soggy Bottom Bar with members of the UM-Flint Jazz band or just jams with friends. But due to COVID-19, Sauter has had to cancel any live performances, school-related or otherwise, and restructure any in-person music lessons he may have had planned.
“I, like many teachers, have tried to convert to online stuff as much as possible with my students and everything,” said Sauter. “So I've been doing a lot more videotaping and stuff of that nature.”
Besides music, Sauter is also an avid participant in meditation and follows the methods of Applied Awareness and the teachings of Todd Robinson. Sauter attributes meditation in not only helping to relax and properly deal with harsh emotions but also making him a better musician and teacher as a result.
Coming up on the final days of his last recitals and college education, Sauter is looking forward to growing his freelance music lesson business.
“I guess ‘what’s next’ is just trying to bolster the business and continue learning and playing music. I don’t have a whole lot of career aspirations I guess to be completely honest with you. I really enjoy being self-employed, and I kind of want to try to make the most out of that for the time being.”
If you’re interested in either drum or entry-level piano lessons, you can contact Sauter at (810)-347-7994.