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Drummer Performs Philanthropy of Note

The Carpinteria man gives disabled musicians a chance to jam with pros on their own label.

October 20, 2003|Steve Chawkins | Times Staff Writer

There was a time when Jim Hamilton played nightclub gigs with his own band, performing on vibes and marimba and just about everything else. But at 88, he was in an Alzheimer's fog and didn't quite know why he was sitting at a piano in a Canoga Park recording studio earlier this year, with engineers and backup musicians milling around and a producer coaxing him to play something -- anything.

Finally, he did: "Darktown Strutters Ball." Then he played a round of old standards with elegance and zest. As he cut his first CD, Hamilton came alive at the keyboard -- a feat for a man who had grown accustomed to drifting beyond reach. And later, with the sly strains of his "Ain't Misbehavin' " filling the control room, he took his astonished wife, Ann, by the hand and danced, holding her tight.

"I was filming him and crying at the same time," said Eddie Tuduri, the session's producer and founder of Gifted Artists Records, a label for musicians with disabilities. "It was a spiritual moment."

Tuduri, 56, lives for such moments. A top rock drummer who broke his neck while body surfing six years ago, he has since created Gifted Artists as a labor of love. His idea is simple: recruit big names in music to play for free behind unknowns afflicted with autism, schizophrenia, Down syndrome and other conditions. The arrangement pays Tuduri, who lives on disability in an RV on a Carpinteria ranch, next to nothing -- but as for spiritual moments, he's got plenty.

"For whatever reason, I'm back," he said. "And the rewards are a hundredfold."

Earlier this year, Gifted Artists unveiled its first CD -- a collection of songs by the exuberant Trieana Moon of Oak View, who can belt it out like a gospel shouter and work a crowd like a lounge singer. A rare condition called Williams syndrome has limited her intelligence but endowed her with a flair for song. Another Williams syndrome singer, Meghan Finn of Ventura has a CD in the works. And a compilation features, among others, Brian Vinson of Ventura, a tall, handsome schizophrenic singing a song of lost love.

"I can't do anything on a small scale," said Tuduri, a compact, gray-haired man who favors Hawaiian shirts and jeans. "After Trieana, I thought: What about all the others?"

Tuduri has been a professional musician and amateur philanthropist for years. He started his career at the age of 12, playing weddings in his Connecticut hometown. Over the decades, he rose to the top of his field, performing with the Beach Boys, the Eagles, Rick Nelson and Jimmy Messina.

At the same time, he organized bashes for AIDS and children's charities. For 15 years, he ran annual benefit concerts for UNICEF, tapping his friends for talent.

Now most of the playing he does is in classes he leads for the developmentally disabled from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles, but Tuduri is still every bit the industry insider.

"I don't know anyone in the business who doesn't know Eddie," said Jim Calire, a veteran keyboard player who lives in Ojai. "He has a way of making musicians just happy to hang."

One recent afternoon, his friends Airto Moreira and Flora Purim were hanging at Sound Asylum, a Canoga Park recording studio where Tuduri produces CDs. The renowned Brazilian jazz artists were headed for a gig in Moscow the following week. In the meantime, they jammed with Tuduri and his Gifted Artists crew.

Moreira, a world-class percussionist, slapped a red tambourine against his thigh. Wordless and velvety, Purim trilled into a mike, occasionally shaking a Peruvian clacker made from goats' nails. Contorted from cerebral palsy, Brian Stearns broke into a huge smile and shook a rattle, helped by an aide who had taped it to his hand.

Moreira's rhythms grew faster and more complex. And half a dozen of Tuduri's developmentally disabled students from the Ojai Enrichment Center kept pace, pouring themselves into the music with congas, bongos, clackers and gourds.

Carlos Richardson, a drummer with Down syndrome, yelled, "Raucous! Work it!"

Now and then, Charles Hubby, a 41-year-old man from Ojai who favors wide, colorful ties, grew so excited he burst out with a "Babaloo!" or an "Ai! Ai! Ai!"

"Like Ricky Ricardo!" he shouted, plunging into laughter.

Before he was cajoled into drumming, Hubby was crippled by shyness, spending time in groups with his face hidden behind his hands. On top of that, the death of both parents in the last year left him mired in depression.

"Just getting to the session took everything he had," said his sister, Kristina Reja. "But then it all dissolved. The way he looked at Airto and Flora, the expression in his eyes when he was drumming -- it seemed like everything was right with the world."

Tuduri doled out compliments, gently told a couple of players to tone it down, urged his musicians into the green room for appetizers and listened intently as engineers played back the recorded tracks.

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