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Local Musician Helps Pound Ridge Learn to Rock

POUND RIDGE, N.Y. – Andy Kuusisto has been playing some sort of musical instrument for as long as he can remember.

From the age of five until he was in eighth grade, the Long Ridge Road resident played the recorder, the clarinet and the alto sax in the Bedford School District’s myriad concert bands. Now, at age 42, he is a teacher and mentor to many Pound Ridge-area music students, ranging from aspiring teen rockers to middle-aged folkies.

“My dad had a guitar lying around in the basement,” Kuusisto said, recalling his metamorphous from a woodwind player to a guitarist. “During those last couple of months of middle school I picked up the guitar and haven’t put it down since. The interesting thing is I started playing bass around the same time. My friend was playing guitar and said let’s form a band and I said, ‘I’ll play bass.’”

Kuusisto, who went to high school at Fox Lane, said the bass actually resonated with him more than the traditional six-guitar guitar. He started taking bass lessons and wound up going to the Berklee College of Music in Boston to study the instrument.

“I studied the bass, but with the guitar I am completely self-taught,” he said.

After graduating from Berklee, Kuusisto bounced around Boston playing in different bands while taking on some “non-music” jobs as diverse as piano moving to carpentry to software testing. Eventually, he decided to move back to New York, which is where he discovered his love of teaching

“That’s when I started to be able to make a living doing music,” he said.

Kuusisto teaches guitar and, of course, bass – but he also does “band coaching.”

“For a while there I did a lot of kids’ rock bands. I would rent a room at Bedford Presbyterian Church and we would rehearse there,” he said. “Then we would put on a concert, kind of like School of Rock.”

Kuusisto said he was teaching youngsters how to rock out way before the Jack Black movie “School of Rock” even came out.

The band coaching eventually led Kuusisto to some other music-related work.  He was coaching a rock band made up of 15-year-old Pound Ridge boys who began writing their own songs. Kuusisto started to nurture them and then offered to produce a CD for the group featuring their original compositions.

“That got me into producing,” he said. “So now that’s another thing I do.”

But it’s not just teens that Kuusisto works with. He’s producing a CD for an area band called 52 Pick-Up, which is made up of 40- to 50-year-old women.

“They do folksy-bluesy type stuff like Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, the Beatles and Norah Jones,” he said.

When he’s not producing CDs or giving lessons, Kuusisto is himself out performing. He has two bands and does solo work as well. He also recently played bass in an Off-Broadway musical called “Crazy Just Like Me,” as part of the New York Music Theater Festival.

“It was a short run, but it was an incredible experience for me,” he said. “[The play] actually won the Audience Prize for Best of the Festival.”

For Pound Ridge residents who have yet to see Kuusisto perform, there are two opportunities coming to town in the near future. He will take his blues and funk power trio – The Libertine Project – to Mariella’s Wine Bar on Westchester Avenue on Saturday, Dec. 3, from 8 to 10 p.m.  Then, on Dec. 6, from 7 to 8:30 p.m., he will be providing music for a yoga class at Spin Cycle.

“I will be playing both acoustic and electric guitar for the yoga class,” he said. “It’s called kirtan music – sort of the music for yogi, vaguely based on Indian music.”

Kuusisto said he likes all types of music and looks for inspiration wherever he can find it.

“I always learn things from my students as well as my peers and my idols; it’s an ongoing journey,” he said. “The more you learn the more you realize what there still is to discover. I am lucky to make a living doing my passion.”

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