Artist of the Issue: Andrew Lei


Josephine Alling '20

Andrew Practicing

Who was the man behind the electric bass during the performance of “The Man in the Mirror” on Martin Luther King Jr. Day? Groton’s exceptionally talented bass player: Andrew Lei ’19.  He frequents the stage with gigs ranging from band performances at Hard Rock Cafe to accompanying talented Groton singers at Open Mic.

An ardent performer, Andrew began his musical career in middle school, inspired by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Andrew’s English teacher would always play the band’s songs in class. Beginning to enjoy rock music through this playlist, Andrew was prompted to form his own band with his classmates. He initially started out as a keyboardist, but it wasn’t long before he also picked up the electric bass. His band was quite successful, playing different venues around Arkansas from marathon events to gigs at local town squares.

Up until he came to Groton, Andrew had learned to play music solely relying on his ear. Learning to play without sheet music is a consummate accomplishment for musicians and demonstrates a high degree of musicality. In fact, Andrew was such a talented bass player that Kenji, director of Groton’s jazz ensemble Soul Sauce, promoted him to principal bassist as a freshman. From that point on, Andrew was engulfed in the world of jazz. This meant he had to learn to read sheet music which he described as “one of the most difficult challenges I faced when I first came to Groton and started playing jazz.” 

When asked about his favorite musical moments at Groton, Andrew immediately recalled his trip to China with Soul Sauce. Last spring, they travelled to Beijing, Hangzhou, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. They played jazz standards by Duke Ellington and Count Basie as well as more contemporary tunes like “September” by Earth, Wind, & Fire. Andrew said his favorite memories during the trip came not only from performing, but also experiencing  new cultures. He specifically enjoyed the Jingze Art Centre in Shanghai. The centre is usually not open to the public and is located in Jingze, an ancient water town renowned for their well preserved cultural artifacts and peaceful scenery. Andrew said that he has “never visited a more beautiful exhibition of various art forms.”

  Andrew also noted his Faculty Sponsored Activity (FSA) as a highlight of his musical endeavors at Groton. The purpose of his FSA was to record jazz standards using bass alone. “Typically,” he said, “the bass always takes on a supporting role, so I wanted to see if I could do more than that.” And he did. He used electric bass for the head (melody), chords, and solos in his pieces. For the normal bass line, he played acoustic bass and also used its body to create percussive lines to imitate the sounds of a drum set. Using these techniques, he made recordings of several pieces including “Spain,” “Black Orpheus,” and “Dear Old Stockholm.”

Another activity Andrew participates in on the Circle is the Guitar Project. He has been a member since fourth form and described it as a laid-back group. This year, other members include Nico Bowden ’21, Wally Capen ’22, Kate Clark ’21, Aaron Jin ’19, Anna Pimentel ’21, and Karla Sanford ’19. Greg Passler, who gives guitar lessons at Groton, runs the rehearsals and encourages students to arrange the music amongst themselves. Mr. Passler commented that Andrew is “an integral part of the group. He is able to switch from electric to string bass, depending on the requirements of the music we are playing. His bass parts are always excellent – greatly enhancing the harmony and rhythm of the song, and his improvising is often a model for the rest of the group.” Andrew said that he loves the atmosphere that the members are able to create with just a group of guitars.

  When asked about his favorite genre of music, Andrew replied that it would probably be Japanese-Pop, or J-Pop. “I know this is probably a weird answer,” he said, “but compared to ordinary modern pop, J-pop is secretly more sophisticated.” He added that even though he can hardly understand Japanese, he is interested in the music as it is essentially a fusion of various genres, with roots in jazz and early rock. “The foreign lyrics just serve to keep the songs from growing too familiar,” he said. “I don’t need to understand the literal meaning to appreciate the underlying impressions.”

  But what it is about music that sparks his deep passion and love? “The aspect of music that interests me the most is connection,” Andrew commented. “I feel that some emotions are more available in a musical context, where both the player and audience can understand each other. They are hard to explain with words, but I’m referring to the chicken-skin inducing moments that other people often label as ‘good vibes.’”

Looking ahead, Andrew plans to either pursue a dual degree in music performance and another concentration, or at least maintain a music minor. When he leaves the Circle this spring, he will be missed, but also remembered as a zealous musician.