Whether he was riveting audiences as a member of multiple bands in the Northeastern Pennsylvania music scene, mentoring kids in Greater Pittston-area school districts, teaching young drummers in a private setting or sharing stages with music industry greats, Tommy Wynder had an impact on those who met him.
That impact is evident as Wynder’s community has gathered to arrange a benefit in the wake of the 42-year-old Pittston native’s untimely June death.
For Tommy: A Celebration of Life will take place from 4 p.m. to midnight Sunday at the River Street Jazz Café in Plains Township. The event will feature music by Andy Sleboda, Soul Reunion, The Five Percent, A Proud Monkey, Brian Quinn of Candlebox, M80 and Nowhere Slow. In addition, a “superjam” will feature Robb Brown, Dustin Drevitch, Kermit Alphonso, Krysten Montgomery, Jeremy Wood, Jaime Hutch and more.
All participating musicians performed with Wynder in some capacity and many were close friends of the accomplished drummer.
Food for the gathering will be provided by area chefs Jim Guasto of Grico’s Restaurant and Catering, Michael Langdon of Alter House, Chris Mullin of Glenmaura National Golf Club, Gene Philbin of Peculiar Slurp Shop and John Tabone of Bar Pazzo.
Guasto, who helped organize the event, went to Pittston Area with Wynder, but said he and Tabone knew the artist mostly through his teaching of their children.
“Tommy was always a person of positivity, never drama, always out for the benefit of the community, whether he was teaching kids or doing events with the schools,” Guasto said.
“When I first heard, I texted John and said, ‘We have to do something.’”
Wynder’s drumming prowess was widely respected.
He was a sought-after musician and a driving force in local bands Option, Souled Out, The Five Percent, 123 Go!, M80 and Nowhere Slow. Wynder has also performed professionally with Aretha Franklin, Rob Thomas, Jewel, Gin Blossoms, Adam Deitch and more.
“He was such a monster,” benefit organizer Dustin Switzer said of Wynder’s ability. “It’s a huge loss.”
Switzer first performed with Wynder in The Five Percent, when guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Neil Nicastro brought Wynder in on drums.
“It was like, ‘holy cow. Look at this guy.’ It was a totally different world,” Switzer said of Wynder’s contribution to the band.
“When I first met him, I was still trying to figure out how to play bass. I would look back at Tommy for approval. Whether I was messing up or not, he’d say, ‘dude, it sounds great,’ and he’d keep me going. He was so good, he could play whatever he wanted, but he’d simplify things to lock in with what I was doing. It’s the sign of a true professional. He was really good at making you feel better about yourself.”
Switzer described Wynder’s personality as “huge.”
“He was hilarious; he was acerbic; he had endearing sarcasm,” Switzer said. “He would do whatever it took to help out the up-and-coming drummer.”
Remembering a local legend
Switzer said, were it up to him, he would have Wynder remembered as a legendary drummer. To honor Wynder’s memory, some of his closest friends and musical colleagues offered their thoughts as well:
Andy Sleboda graduated from Pittston Area a few years behind Wynder and the two ended up playing in local hardcore band Option after Wynder recruited Sleboda to play guitar. Sleboda still remembers their first show.
“The show was over the moon – the involvement of the crowd, and a raw emotional nerve I’ll never adequately describe. Tommy is just a pure legend – even back then, the early ‘90s. There were many bands at those shows and, after a while, I went in with a certain confidence knowing that I had the best drummer before anyone even played. The band traveled the coast, and Tommy was the only reason my mother would allow me to go on the road with college kids older than me. She liked Tommy, always called him a gentleman.”
Sleboda also remembers Wynder for his personality.
“Everyone has these great stories and memories of his drumming. But let’s not forget his smile. Tommy shone bright that way, and he was funny as hell too. … The last time we spoke was a month or two after my father passed. He gave me a buzz, and we talked for a few hours. No one talks on the phone these days; he must have known it was something I needed. He will always be my big brother.”
Guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Neil Nicastro has fond memories of Wynder from his tenure in The Five Percent, and Nicastro began with his first performance with Wynder.
“We played a mix of oddball covers and originals, so it was a difficult gig for someone to jump in on. Tommy did it effortlessly, so much so that we begged him to join the band. It wasn’t until later on that I realized he was the drummer from Option. That band and the hardcore scene were a huge influence on my desire to be a musician. We gelled so well because we both enjoyed such a variety of music. We were together for almost every major performance of my original music. When I think of him, I’ll remember him smiling, with that quiet confidence, after some ridiculous drum fill that only he could have done.”
If you go
What: For Tommy: A Celebration of Life
When: 4 p.m. to Midnight, Sunday
Where: River Street Jazz Cafe
Admission: A donation of $20 will be collected at the door