The Drake Gives plays a role in student development by funding music education

The Drake owner and founder Alec Glasser stands in front of the restaurant on Thursday in Laguna Beach.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Alec Glasser was 12 when he picked up a saxophone for the first time.

As a youth growing up in the Queens borough of New York City, Glasser didn’t see a path forward for himself in athletics, but in music he discovered a sense of self and so much more.

Music became more prominent in his life by high school, which he attended in the South Jamaica neighborhood. The local plan for integration exposed him to new genres of music, including the blues and jazz.

Before long, Glasser was redirected from a music career. His father secured a job for him at the Drake Hotel in Manhattan, where he came across stars in the field.

Alec Glasser stands with Matthew Timmes and sous chef Nick Gstrein.
Alec Glasser, founder of the Drake restaurant, middle, stands with his general manager and partner Matthew Timmes, left, and sous chef Nick Gstrein.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“In large part, I did it because the Drake, at that point in time, was a very iconic music venue in New York,” Glasser said. “All the great blues and jazz guys played there during that period of time. I used to hang out in the kitchen on my breaks, and all the musicians hung out in the kitchen. I hung with John Coltrane, Miles Davis, all the great ones.”

Glasser was an elevator operator at the hotel. That stint — working inside a 10-foot-by-10-foot space — taught him a lot about understanding people and how to make them happy, he said.

It is a time in his life that never left, even as he went on to practice law and work as a real estate developer.

Glasser, who received a heart transplant in 2018, opened a nostalgia-rooted business venture the next year in the form of the Drake, a restaurant and live music venue in Laguna Beach.

Owner and founder Alec Glasser welcomes guests to the Drake restaurant.
Owner and founder Alec Glasser, welcomes guests to the Drake restaurant in Laguna Beach.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The business harks back to Glasser’s experience working at the hotel. Elements of the design pay tribute to that experience, including the image of an elevator dial above the front door.

“It was a great opportunity to see how fine dining came together with wonderful, very high-level music,” reminisced Glasser, who has lived in Laguna Beach since 1978. “It was one of the only places that I’ve ever been where you had fine music and fine dining under the same roof.”

From the conception of the restaurant, Glasser said he wanted to have a nonprofit to go along with it. The Drake Gives became that nonprofit in 2021, since aligning itself with another musically motivated nonprofit, Save the Music.

To date, four fundraising events put on by the Drake Gives have raised more than $500,000. The next event is happening on May 14.

“The power of music changed my life,” Glasser said. “It wasn’t just playing an instrument. What happened for me was it was an opportunity to socialize, to get out of my shyness a little bit and make friends. I learned how to work in groups. When you’re playing in a band, you have to work together.

“Something about music, ... about learning an instrument, there have been a lot of studies to the effect that by playing an instrument, people who play instruments become better problem-solvers, they have a sense of fortitude and will toward a goal. … There are a lot of benefits that go along with learning an instrument that go way beyond just entertainment value.”

Most recently, the financial backing has gone to support the needs of the Anaheim Union High School District, which on Jan. 24 received a contribution of $205,000. A district spokesperson said the multiyear grant will go toward instruments for Ball and Sycamore, a mariachi grant for Brookhurst, and a digital lab grant for South, all of which are middle schools. Savanna High will also benefit from a digital lab grant.

“We’re in a community where music-making has a very long and meaningful tradition in our district, and these instruments are going to be beneficial in getting into the hands of students who wouldn’t otherwise have the means or the access to these types of opportunities,” Ball band director Nate Wilson said in a statement. “We are eternally grateful, and we’re excited to see the way it’s going to impact their lives moving forward through high school into higher education.”

The Drake owner and founder Alec Glasser stands in front of the restaurant on Coast Highway.
The Drake owner and founder Alec Glasser stands in front of the restaurant on Coast Highway on Thursday in Laguna Beach.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Henry Donahue, executive director of Save the Music, said Glasser reached out to the group as the restaurant was getting up and running, hoping to launch a social impact component that would contribute to the development of students.

Save the Music aligned with those goals in helping to make music accessible to those in public schools.

“The idea is that the school commits to budgeting and paying for the teacher, so it’s got to be a certified teacher in the regular budget teaching music as a class during the school day in a room dedicated for music,” Donahue said. “Then we make the capital investment in each school to get each of these programs off the ground, so it’s mostly instruments, equipment and technology.”