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As regular readers of this blog know, I’ve written posts about Tourette Syndrome and drumming based on my having lived with it since I was six. What I have not written about in depth until now is how for fourteen years, from six to 20, I had no idea what the problem was.

Music and drumming gave me the tools to express my energy, find relief, and stay sane while looking for the answer as to why my body would not and could not still. I owe a great deal of who and what I am as a drummer and a musician to this disorder, and I decided a few years ago that the time had come to write about all I had learned, and share thoughts on how to overcome something and turn it into a better thing.

That said, I finally finished the book that basically took a lifetime to write.

 

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The control that drumming gave me over my mind and body through the years got stronger and stronger, and I really believe it helped reduce the need for medication. I was able to earn my private pilot’s license and even go on to become an airplane flight instructor, which let me produce my books exactly as I wanted to, leading to this day.

There are so many music projects I have my fingers in, and now they can receive the full attention I’ve always wanted to give them. Besides playing, teaching, and recording, I can now tour and lecture about my rhythm books (The Elements of Rhythm Vols. I & II), and do the drum set/drum circle demos around the country and around the world that I’ve conducted in Southern California over the past three years.

A major section in this new book talks about that, and I’ll be writing another blog shortly about my most recent such performance, which was aided greatly (as always) by Remo and their hand drums and recreational music program (www.remormc.com).

I cannot adequately express my thanks to Loire Cotler (www.loirevox.com) for writing the foreword, drawing on her background as a music therapy professor and as an unparalleled rhythmic vocalist. I could think of no one more qualified to offer thoughts on the book. And over the past 22 years, Dr. Oliver Sacks (www.oliversacks.com) has graciously mentioned my playing and how drumming was served by Tourette’s in several of his publications, including his landmark work, Musicophilia.

 

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When I visited England last September and presented my rhythm books at an academic seminar (RPPW 14), the other highlight was being able to play for a group of Tourette kids in Birmingham. It showed me that I could, with the right planning, do this anywhere in the world… which is exactly what I plan on doing.

It’s a project that means a great deal to me, because the fraternity of drumming is what gave me a sense of safe belonging all my life… and so, to all my fellow drummers, I hope you will accept my ongoing thanks for your interest in my little blog and the work it hopes to achieve. This book is a part of that, along with rhythm pattern theory, polyrhythms, and everything else I can stick my rhythm fingers into.

As drummers, we KNOW the magic that comes with playing… I want to share that magic with a special group of people who need to believe there is more to the world than being teased, feeling overwhelmed, and wondering if things will ever get better.

Drumming has always answered “yes” to the last part, and as I prepare to take many things on the road, let nothing stop you from going after whatever you want to do with your own playing. Like Frank Zappa says, “Music is the best.”

Truer words, I have never heard… and now, it’s finally time to completely let ‘er rip… :)

 

(To purchase the book, please click on the cover images to go to Amazon.com)

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I rarely write about a product in this blog. I do appreciate the occasional solicitations for reviews and am honored actually to get them, but that’s not what this blog is about. Been there and did that for ten years as a freelance writer. However… there are exceptions to almost every case, and I met that case recently at the 2014 NAMM show in Anaheim, California.

I was visiting the DRUM! magazine booth, and I’d been back and forth a few times that day, and I noticed a guy standing alone in front of a black drum set in the booth next door. Every once in a while he’d sit down and play, then get up and hope to speak to someone passing by.

I’ve been there and done that too, manning booths at conventions, so I usually say hello just to help keep their spirits up through a long day. I looked at a brochure on the edge of the booth separator and glanced it over. Percussion Kenetics… Vector pedal… a picture of a large footboard that appeared to be rather sideways, almost 45 degree to the beater… hmm…

“Hello! Come here, please! Let me show you!”

Uh-oh.

I’d just been roped. Hadn’t even said hello yet. I thought, Okay, don’t be a jerk to this guy, ‘cause he’s been on his feet a long time too…

That’s when I discovered that the world is not flat. The universe doesn’t orbit around the sun. Ether doesn’t connect all of creation.

And bass drum pedals should be mounted sideways.

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The man getting my soon-to-be-very much appreciated attention was Goran Kjellgren, inventor of the Vector bass drum pedal.  It’s patented, and as far as I know, it’s unlike anything else out there.

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The heel plate can be loosened and slid left or right of the conventional and traditional center position to accommodate your natural leg and foot design. The single-chain drive beater can be loosened and slid left or right of center as well. You can also adjust the cam position and spring tension, as with most pedals…

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… but it’s the sideways adjustment aspect that convinces you the world is not flat. I was able to instantly play patterns with much less effort, one’s that usually required the “foot twist corkscrew the ball of your foot into the pedal” motion to get those double beats. I didn’t need this at all. As Poogie Bell mentions in the video where he discovered the Vector pedal at a music show in Germany, he discovered a similar kind of unexpected surprise.

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I was immediately intrigued and told Goran I would mention of his pedal in my blog, making it clear that I wasn’t looking for freebie stuff (and do not). I just couldn’t get over what I’d experienced, and a quick Internet search showed there wasn’t much out there.

Question was, why not?

I don’t know. What I do know is that he sent me a pedal, the G3 model, I played it against my 26” kick drum at full blast, and then put it on an 18” floor tom turned sideways for jazz, reset the spring tension and beater angle, and I played quiet and quick.

And I liked it quite a bit.

Plus, the Vector pedal comes with a nifty yellow carrying bag and a cleverly designed drum key.

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I have not done formal product review in a decade, and I’m not going to saturate this blog with additional detail other than to say I believe the drumming world should know about this very different approach to bass drum pedal design. And yes, Goran is working on a double bass version…

I’m going to buy this pedal, and I am very much looking forward to exploring what it can do, especially as I approach turning 55. Let’s be brutally honest here: the body parts slow down a bit, so if I can keep doing things at a level from even 20 years ago, I’ll be a mighty happy camper.

And I do think that if anyone on the crew of Columbus’ maiden voyage to the Americas had been a drummer, he’d have had two reasons be excited about the world as well.

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http://www.vectorpedal.com

This past September, 2013, I had the thrill and privilege of putting on a drum circle/drum set demo for a group of kids and their parents while visiting England to present my books at an academic conference (see my blog about RPPW 14 for more details on the trip). What made this demo special is that it was for Tourettes Action UK (www.tourettes-action.org.uk), a support group for kids and parents dealing with Tourette Syndrome.

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I’d conducted three previous such demos in the U.S., all with great help and equipment support from REMO. Their Recreational Music Center (www.remormc.com) in North Hollywood, California, is home to a very large inventory of hand drums for rent, and I am indebted to REMO for having always coming through with available drums so that I could show families at a Southern California Tourette Summer Camp and a smaller group at the RMC just how cool it is to learn basic rhythms and be able to explore expressing yourself.

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You might call it “informal music therapy.”

So how did this very cool opportunity come to be? Well, about a year ago, I was searching Tourette Syndrome support groups in the U.K. and Europe, exploring the possibility of conducting drum circle/drum set demos overseas. I read an article about Tourettes Action UK, and how they were able to fund drum circles through donations. I contacted Julie Collier, their Events Manager, and expressed my interests in conducting my demo, and told her that if I could ever get funding of my own that maybe we could make something happen.

The problem was, where would I get that kind of money? And even if I did, would I buy my own hand drums and ship them over? Far too expensive. Would I buy them once I got there and travel with them by plane/train? Again, far too expensive.

The first part of the answer came from Jerry Zacarias, who formally worked at the Remo Recreational Music Center. He suggested that I contact local Drum Circle Facilitators who already had drum stock, and see if they would be interested in co-leading the demos.

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Brilliant. And very doable.

Now I had a plan. I contacted Julie Collier again, and told her of my desire to conduct a drum set demo. She was all for it, and in very short order, Julie arranged for drum set rental and a place to play.

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Now all I needed was a Drum Circle Facilitator and some hand drums.

I solicited Drum Circle Facilitators through Yahoo’s Drum Circles group. John Fitzgerald, REMO’s Manager of Recreational Music Activities, had suggested I join this group about three years ago to share my drum circle/drum set demo information, and it was the PERFECT place to seek out the person I needed to help make the event happen overseas. When Annie Scotney replied, we exchanged a few e-mails and set things up. Annie works as a counselor, psychotherapist, and is also a REMO HealthRhythm’s facilitator. I could not have asked for a more perfect combination in a single person.

Two days after the RPPW conference, Julie Collier picked me up from my Birmingham motel, and we headed to The Glee Club (www.glee.com.uk/gleeclubbirmingham), a local comedy venue. The irony of discovering a road with my surname along the way kind of let me know that the day was going to be serendipitous…

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Through nothing short of amazing timing and effort, and believe me, it came very close to not happening, one of REMO’s local U.K. distributors delivered some beautiful sets of VersaDrums and several Sound Shape kits. Tom Robinson, from EMD Music (www.emdmusic.com), really went out of his way to get those hand drums delivered, and when you are 4,000 miles away from home, you definitely appreciate people going the extra distance to help pull off something like this.

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That said, I really owe John Fitzgerald a tremendous amount of thanks for putting me in touch with Tom and for sharing in the exchange of e-mails to help work out the logistics. John put a lot of trust in me to not let this thing fall flat on its face, and I really appreciate the leap of faith, because the next thing I knew, I was looking at a stage filled with REMO hand drums, courtesy Tom Robinson and delivered by Adrian Harris, and a Yamaha Stage Custom drum set with a set of Zildjian cymbals, courtesy Rob Hoffman and Birmingham Sound Hire (www.birminghamsoudhire.com.uk)

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When Annie Scotney arrived (pictured above), the number of hand drums tripled. Her inventory included several REMO hand drums, in addition to several of her own private collection. The final piece of the show puzzle came in the form of another guest, a hand drummer/percussionist who was also a neuroscience researcher. Daniel Cameron had been attending RPPW 14, visiting from The University of Western Ontario, Canada, and we spoke briefly about our mutual interest in drumming and neurology. I invited him attend the event, and his presence contributed greatly to the overall success of the afternoon.

It was show time.

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Julie Collier introduced me to the group, and I spoke briefly about my background and experience in using music as my informal therapy in dealing with Tourette’s. Next, I introduced and demonstrated the different components of the drumset, and then I played a little to show how I used jazz coordination to explore individual limb control. I also demonstrated how I use brushes and mallets to create different types of sounds on the cymbals and drums.

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Then, I sat down and played several different types of beats and grooves to show how the drum set parts all worked together. I explained how the drummer interacts with the other band members, and next, I invited kids up to play the drums and explore them freely. That’s when the real fun began.

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The stage lights were incredibly bright, and I apologise for the amateur level of my iPhone photos, but clearly, there’s nothing like seeing the smiles on Tourette kids’ faces when they are allowed to let go and just be themselves. At first, they are often not quite sure what to do with the freedom, but that uncertainly only lasts about a minute. Next thing you know, the exploration of cymbals and drums is leading to sheer joy.

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I let everyone who wanted to play come up and just go for it. Some were a little shy at first, but the cool thing was, the other kids were extremely supportive and encouraging. The parents were equally enthused, and they too encouraged their shyer kids to give it a go. The neat thing about these demos is that it always seems to help bond families a little closer, and when you see it happening first-hand, you never forget just how amazingly unifying a shared musical experience can be.

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After the drum set segment, I introduced Annie Scotney, and she proceeded to work pure drumming magic. She immediately engaged the young drummers and led them in a series of performance exercises drawn from her experience as a REMO HealthRhythms program graduate. Annie’s demeanor and understanding of young people was simply an amazing series of moments to watch unfold, because every bit of this afternoon was improvised and unrehearsed. This woman’s musical magic was incredible to experience…

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Things only got better when Daniel Cameron took the stage after my brief introduction of him. Daniel laid down a simple 4/4 beat that everyone could follow, and I kept time on the drum set as the best part of the rhythmic entrainment began to take over. Daniel walked through the crowd and made sure that each kid with a drum was playing, and he gave them all very personal attention. It was nothing short of extraordinary.

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I like closing the show with this kind of drum-along sequence, because it really is the most magical portion of the demos. Something just clicks, something I can’t find words for. It’s the stuff of drumming, the truest groove, the deepest beat.

It’s the reason we play.

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I can’t begin to tell you how impossible and unlikely the flawless execution of logistics was for this truly international event, combined with the perfect amount of serendipity. I had realized a dream of taking the Tourette drumming show on the road, and it went off without a hitch, but certainly not without a great deal of help.

Julie Collier, Annie Scotney, Daniel Cameron, John Fitzgerald, Tom Robinson and Rob Hoffman collectively showed me that dreaming big and aiming high can become doable, and once accomplished, provide fuel and inspiration for more such events.

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And you can be sure, this show IS definitely going back on the road… along with a truly special surprise that I’ll be writing more about very shortly…

This post is about an organization I have recently become aware of and have taken a strong personal interest in regarding zen.

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http://zmc.org/

As a jazz drummer in high school, I found that my brief couple of years studying the martial arts opened mental doors I had no idea even existed. When I walked through them, I began reading about zen, and this carried over greatly to my development and inner explorations as a musician on a level that was rarely discussed in my 1970’s world. Today, many publications and discussions can be found, but at the time, I had little to draw from, with more questions than answers…

Some of the most fulfilling and inter-connective thoughts I ever had came from those times. However, as I grew older, I fell away from exploring the inner depths as much as I should have. Life can do that, but I wish it hadn’t, because I found far greater meaning from my playing when I did go there. My ego was better restrained, my sensitivity to the instrument grew, and my grasp of what really mattered in this world expanded far beyond just landing a famous gig or getting press or getting on MTV or whatever… all of which were accomplished, but… so what?

Recently, the desire to go back inside and continue exploring the deeper sides of playing have returned, mostly as the result of hearing and reading about the Yokoji Zen Mountain Center, near Idyllwild, California. A friend of mine had initially moved there to do training, but the center had been hit hard by fires and floods. She and some fellow residents stayed to do what they could, often digging through the mud all day at high altitude to clear things out. When I finally got a chance to visit recently, I decided that I too wanted to do something to help.

Why? Because without question, I have been drawn back to what really matters to me deeply about drumming and living as a result of hearing about the center. Before the fires and mudslides, it was pristine and what you would expect such a place to look like…

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But when a rapidly-spreading fire struck in July 2013, the wind, embers, and years of unburned surroundings quickly created a living nightmare…

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Shortly after the fires, the rains came. In fifteen minutes, enough water fell to send five feet of mud sliding down the mountain and directly into the path of Yokoji…

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Despite the center’s damage, Yokoji’s peace and quiet felt immediately reminiscent to me of something I have felt when practicing techniques I explore to maintain physical sensitivity and focus behind the drums. Be still. Be quiet. Listen and then speak. This is the essence of jazz drumming, at least to me. I got good and lasting reminders of what being an artist is about… which is to live and to accept life on life’s terms… which aren’t always as we’d like…

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Joe Zawinul was fond of saying, “There’s only now.” He used to watch people walk and could tell you about how they played. Miles Davis would observe deeply in a similar way. What they were looking for was presence, looking to see if YOU were present, because if you were, it would show. and it would definitely be reflected in your playing. As I walked the grounds of Yokoji, I felt my quiet foot steps and once again heard the music they made.

These lessons and so much more have come back to me that I am compelled to write about the center and offer my help in any way, because at a distance and then directly at ground zero, something is me has re-awakened, and I am grateful.

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If you have an interest in the deeper philosophical aspects of playing, and if zen happens to be a part of your world, here’s a link to the Yokoji Zen Mountain Center’s fundraising campaign. I’ve only written two posts in three years about fundraising, and with worldwide readership of this blog, I sincerely appreciate and respect your considering what I write and why I write it. Please feel free to share this link and this post as well with musical friends who share similar interests.

http://www.crowdrise.com/yokojizen

This is a link to the Facebook page of the same fundraiser.

https://www.facebook.com/zeninmyheart/info

I can’t and won’t profess to know much about zen, but you’ll see more than a few links out there using the word to promote commercial interests. This is not such a post, and regular readers know my work well enough to understand my intent. However, I can say that I will be writing a lot more about my return to the wonder of living, playing, and being, and I hope it can be of some benefit to you. Anything you can do to help the Yokoji Zen Mountain Center may, in the end, provide a place for a future player to discover something deep and profound. For me, being of service is part of that.

In closing, let me leave you with this: What’s really moving your sticks? When you find the answer, forget that you ever asked the question…

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In June of 2013, I received a Yahoo Society of Ethnomusicology groups e-mail regarding a call for papers and presenter for RPPW 14, Rhythm Production and Perception Workshop, hosted this year by the University of Birmingham, in Birmingham, England. I had never heard of the workshop but was immediately excited at learning of their existence.

One of my long-term goals is to share my books, The Elements of Rhythm Volumes I & II, with the academic community. The comprehensive list of fundamental building block rhythm patterns and the indexing system used to number and identify them could be applied in many areas of study and research, so, I submitted an abstract of my books and theory to see if there might be an interest.

There was!

rppwjpeg14I was invited to be a poster presenter at the conference, which meant I needed to create a 4’ x 3’ poster to be displayed on a board in a room filled with other presenters. The poster had to convey what my books contained, so I condensed the two volumes into two sections on this:

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The left side shows the logical progression of a beat divided into parts, and then the parts being assigned 0’s for silence and 1’s for sound to. This illustrated that rhythm patterns could be created and roughly depicted at any beat division level.

Below that table, the possible number of combinations per beat and beat division level were calculated. Then, the 0’s and 1’s were shown being combined with each other to create the actual number of possible patterns. In this case, it was for beat division level 2. I refer to these combinations as Absolute Sound Shapes.

Next, rest and note shapes replaced the 0’s and 1’s to create the notation version of the Absolute Sound Shapes. This is the approach to rhythm pattern theory introduced and explored in-depth in The Elements of Rhythm Volume I.

The second portion of the poster presented the Binary Rhythm Pattern Indexing System.  I developed this simple system to number and identify the Absolute Sound Shapes within each of the combination tables. In this example, a measure of 4/4 is divided into four parts (quarter notes) and assigned four different rhythm patterns. Below each pattern is its Binary Indexing Number (BIN). Those BIN’s are highlighted in each of the four combination tables found at the bottom of the poster, showing how the patterns evolves sequentially in each table.

On of the greatest honors for me was inclusion in the official RPPW 14 programme, which got used quite a bit during my three-day visit!

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After a 10-hour flight and gracious re-cooperative hosting by my friends, Bob Gentry and Tilly Casson, I left London by train and headed to Birmingham, two hours north. I hadn’t been back to Europe since I was in high school, and this was a lifelong dream to both return and to present my books and theory to the academic world. From September 11-13, I was completely immersed in the environment of some of the top rhythm perception researchers in the world. Surreal hardly even begins to describe the level of intelligence I was surrounded by.

Poster presenters were each given one minute to introduce themselves before the group each morning, and I was fortunate enough to be chosen for the first day. After listening to several Ph.D’s and Ph.D candidates give their 60-second summaries, I offered my books and theory as something that came from the layman’s world but could be applied to many levels of academic research. As far as I know, I was the only non-academic presenter at the conference.

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After the morning lecture sessions, we broke for lunch in the poster presenting room. Mine was at the very furthest end, but quite a few curious and interested individuals found their way by to check it out and ask me questions. For the next two hours, I lived a dream I’ve had for thirty years: being able to show a unique and finished product and entertain questions and discussion about it.

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Some of the people who came by included Dr. Andreas Daffertshofer, a researcher from the University of Amsterdam who specializes in human movement. Dr. Guy Madison is a research professor at Sweden’s Umeå University and is also a drummer, as was Dr. Carl Haakon Waadeland, from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Daniel Cameron is a neuroscience researcher and Ph.D candidate from the University of Western Ontario and drummer/percussionist who even joined me a few days later in a drum set/hand drumming event I presented for local group of kids and parents through Tourettes-Action UK, a support group.

But I’d say the highlight honor was meeting and speaking with the host of RPPW 14, Prof. Alan Wing. In the world of rhythm and timing research, he is the big dog rock star. He co-wrote a paper forty years ago that has remained the standard by which timing and rhythm perception questions are largely measured. I thanked him for the invitation to present and gave him a copy of my books, something I’d wanted to do for years.

My plan is to keep attending such conferences, make contact with the academic world, and work to bridge the gap between science and the arts. Our world as drummers is fascinating and relatively unexplored by science. I want to encourage this and hopefully offer my books and theory as source material to enhance that exploration.

To this end, I’m going to be collaborating with Dr. Gareth Dylan Smith, a drummer and head of the Percussion Studies division at  London’s Institute of Contemporary Music Performace. We are going to specifically work to promote the drum set as an instrument of academic study across many platforms. Gareth is also the author of I Drum, Therefore I am (Ashgate Press), and I wrote a short blog piece about him here two years ago.

I can’t really describe what it’s like to see a dream that took so long all the way through other than to say this: it’s worth every minute, every struggle, every sacrifice, and every step you take to finish what you start. When you do, you learn to live and keep living. It’s huge, and it’s fuel for much more to come…

Many years ago, I was having a conversation with a very dear friend and singer about music. I told her that as I drummer, I tended to focus on the bass guitar and the overall song structure to do my job. She in return offered this simple thought: “I focus on the lyrics.”

Well, yeah, ya think?

But over the years, I remembered that conversation almost every time I paid attention to song lyrics, which just wasn’t that often. I realized that unless someone was doing something very interesting, or extraordinary, lyrics just didn’t hold my focus when I was working on keeping time.

Recently, I met someone extraordinary.

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Nina Storey is a Los Angeles-based singer/composer who can leap like a Cirque du Soleil star. She landed absolutely effortlessly on everything I heard, and I was riveted, waiting to hear where this acrobatic vocalist was going to spring to next, from a whisper to a solid right cross. This kind of facility is not something you hear every day…

She was playing at a free concert venue down the street from my house, and on a rare day off, I was walking around Atwater Village and heard some live music in the distance. A few other singers performing were very good, no question, but without question, Nina Storey was fearless.

And very engaging. A small group of obviously loyal fans sat front and center, and the joy in their faces was mirrored on the joy of giving coming from the small stage. Much like live theater, there is no place to hide if you miss your mark… which Nina did not miss once.

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So why, as drummers, should you be interested in learning about a singer? Simple. As an artist, you either go for it or you don’t. And when you are in the company of someone who does, you can learn a great deal. Nina’s reaching from high to low and all points in between reminded of many nights when I would be playing in the zone, and it was the most exciting feeling in the world to wind it up and let ‘er rip across the musical universe, aiming for the very far away…

The stage offers us many teachers, and I have to say, school was in session for far too short a class. We spoke afterwards, and it’s been a long time since I met a genuine person in this all too often cold town. Maybe it’s because she hasn’t lost her Colorado roots. All I know is, it was a real treat to hear someone bare their musical soul and leap.

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So much so that the next night, I went to hear Nina sing at a Michael Jackson tribute in Hollywood’s Room Five. I’d had a long day, had to drive through L.A. traffic (which sucks your soul with every tenth of a mile traveled), AND, I blew off my gym workout… which is extremely rare. As musical luck would have it, I walked in just as Nina was singing “Man in the Mirror.” She has a truly joyful presence on stage, unlike anything I have seen from a performer in years. She makes you want to listen to every single note, every leap and return back to the springboard. And I did.

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She then sang one of her own songs, and she held the small but very focused audience’s rapt attention. I was deeply inspired, and I was reminded that a true artist, one who is fearless, gives their all no matter where they are, be it a small room or the Hollywood Bowl.

This was the lesson. THE lesson. Give it your all, every bit of it, and let the joy of playing and fascinating exploration of the unknown lead to the incredibly awesome unexpected. Live you life, play your life, share your play, fill the room with your energy, your 99-yard throw, your swing for the fences, your deepest heart reach…

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On Nina’s new album (Think Twice), “This Naked Woman” truly showcases her vocal finesse, and is a re-release of a song I was blown away by on her 2006 YouTube video, shot by Michael Lopez. The final cut is called “Through Me,” and it’s one of the most beautifully haunting melodies I’ve ever heard. I’m listening to it on a loop as I write this piece, and in “Through Me,” some of the last words are “… put those pieces back somehow…” and they remind me that long ago, a fearlessness coursed through my veins too, along with an infinite joy of reaching for the forever.

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As I prepare to finally and fully unleash every bit of musician, educator, and artistic explorer, I’m very glad I had a rare day off to meet a rare contributor to the energy of what really matters. The pieces of our artistic being can become so easily fragmented in this often brutal journey. Mine certainly have, but in the space of just a couple of days and a lot of YouTube and Spotify listening, I can feel the right stuff coming back as I re-learn by example…

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… and my eyes are once again trained upon the very far away, more fully appreciating that forever and special place, where the artist lives and gives without fear.

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When I was a kid, Cream was part of the mystical rock world that I was just starting to get a taste of. Led Zepplin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple were in my veins, but I didn’t know too much about this drummer named Ginger Baker, other than he played double bass and had a solo called “Toad” that was fairly percussive in its use of rolling tom fills and two badass kick drums.

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In middle school, I remember reading an article in DownBeat about a rock drummer challenging jazz drummers to battles. I thought, “This guy sounds pretty arrogant to go after the jazz world.” I didn’t pay much attention to him after that.

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Yeah. So much for middle school enlightenment.

In high school and some time beyond, I heard about Ginger Baker here and there, his work with Blind Faith, his own group Ginger Baker’s Air Force, but I never really listened to him. His trademark tom fills were unmistakable, but at the time, I was looking for blazing chops like what Billy Cobham was offering up.

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The closest I ever got to really paying attention to Ginger Baker’s music was noting that a girl I was dating when I was in my early 40’s looked remarkably like the redhead on the cover of a Blind Faith album.

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Again, so much for teenage, young adult and middle-aged enlightenment.

All that changed about a month ago. I was house sitting for a friend, just doing some cable channel surfing, when I came across Beware of Mr. Baker. I’d heard about it, and some of the highlights that I won’t spoil and reveal here, and I figured, what the hell…

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And now I am transformed.

Folks, if you want to get an education in how to be a fearless explorer with an unbridled passion for an instrument, watch Beware of Mr. Baker. Turn your phone off, and watch this soon. I had no idea how much of a jazz drummer Ginger Baker was, how much he was profoundly affected by African drumming, how much he worked to bring it into the mainstream, what kind of ups and downs this man has known.

I was incredibly inspired by his pursuits. Forget that he had an amazing knack for pissing people off. Forget his family life. Forget that his addictions are the stuff (sadly) of legends, but his passion… his fire… his love of every beat he plays… now that’s the stuff. Although, we can forget none of the above, because they all contributed to who he was, is, and what he created.

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If I say much more, I’ll surely spoil the viewing for you, so, I’ll keep this post short and to the point: there are simply too few human beings on the planet with the insane guts to go live life like it’s going out of style the way Ginger Baker has done, and at 74 (he just turned recently), he stands as a testament to… tenacity? No limits? Balls to the wall? Crazed endurance?

I don’t know. All I’m sure of is that every drummer who ever had a notion outside of the box needs to learn more about this man. Director Jay Bulger portrays Ginger Baker with as much realism and candor and I think anyone could, and it makes me wish that more drummers could be documented in such a way. For now, we have something to watch that reminds artists why it is some important to not just walk in line and follow everyone else’s footsteps. Worlds are discovered by going where others have not yet trod, which is a metaphor to be cherished every time we play.

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If you want to see how it’s really done, Beware of Mr. Baker will walk you down a fascinating road that the namesake’s traveler probably shouldn’t have survived as long as he has… but when a single name can evoke images of fearless percussive intent, you know the guy did something right, and quite a few times at that.

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Q: What’s the last thing a drummer says in a band?

A: “Hey, guys, why don’t we try one of my songs?”

Ba-Dump.

Yeah, we’ve all heard them, the drummer jokes that have haunted four-limb halls since forever. But somehow, I’m betting they don’t really apply to Max Roach, Elvin Jones, Louis Bellson, Billy Cobham, Jack DeJohnette, Peter Erskine, Terry Bozzio, Bill Bruford, Dafnis Prieto, Antonio Sanchez… Et. Cet.Er.Ahhhhhhhhhhh….

When I was in high school, I diddled around on my brother’s piano, and I sort of played guitar a little. I could make some basic chords, and I could hear the music in my head… but that was about it. We had to take music theory in jazz band, and I was utterly lost from note one. I could not read piano music well enough to really explore it at home, and it just didn’t appeal to anything that mattered to me at the time.

And then a few things changed.

Jazz composer Hank Levy came to our high school on a government arts grant and introduced us to odd time signature big band jazz. Oh HELLLLLLL Yeah!!! Man, that stuff just lit my brain up like the last day of Burning Man! Around the same time, Billy Cobham released Spectrum, and people took his compositional skills seriously. He could obliterate the drums AND do it playing to his own music, his own way, exactly as he envisioned it.

Okay… now learning about music was becoming a little more interesting…

My ADD from as-then undiagnosed Tourette’s was pretty much an impediment to learning anything, even when I wanted to master it. But my body wanted to cut loose, and I could hear music in my head all day… so I decided to see if I could write some songs to let me get the music and the movement out, like Billy Cobham.

I sat at the piano in our home and plunked out one note at a time. Some nights, I would just sit there and wait for the music to begin in my head, and I’d slowly explore and try to capture the sounds. Pretty soon, a few simple odd meter songs began to form. I did my best to write them down, and at one point, I even wrote out some basic horn parts to have the jazz band play. I remember the day I passed those parts out, having no real understanding of harmony and voicings, but wanting to hear it nonetheless. I didn’t even have a composer score with all the music in one place. I just waved my hands and conducted from memory.

I wrote a few more basic songs and sketched out the parts for some other musicians, and I remember how cool it felt to hear my thoughts being played by excellent players. It was pretty surreal. And… the best part… during those moments, I was definitely respected and viewed as a composer, not just a drummer. I can’t stand the last part of the phrase, by the way.

Which brings us to my original statement: why drummers should learn to compose music. In the documentary,” Beware Mr. Baker,” which all drummers should watch, Eric Clapton is asked how Ginger compared to John Bonham and Keith Moon. Clapton could not say enough about how fully developed and evolved Ginger was a musician. You can see the respect in Clapton’s face immediately when the subject comes up. It was a pivotal point in the documentary for me, a reminder of how fearless one needs to be to reach out and explore new lands and take big creative leaps.

Today, the amount of technology available for drummers to learn about music and composition is staggering. Pro-Tools lets you record, cut and paste; Finale lets you compose one note at a time and hear the music played back using many different instruments. These are what I use, but there are plenty of other options available, including ones you can use on your smart pads and smart phones.

You can use free time virtually anywhere to study at your own pace, use voice mail to capture the raw idea and refine it later, and even use an app like Tempo Slow to record and then, get this: play it back at slower tempos. You can also download and study your favorite songs literally at your pace!

But why should you learn to compose, really? So that you can experience the ultimate artistic freedom. You can explore, refine, find good players, and then let them help you bring your music dreams to life. In short, you can evolve, and in doing so, contribute to taking drumming to higher and higher levels.

Now that my books are done, I can get back to focusing on this aspect of my musical world. I have drafts of songs at www.myspace.com/davidaldridgedrums you can listen to and get an idea of what romps through my head most of the day. The tracks are admittedly rough, just sketches, about seven years old… but they are assembled enough to let other musicians get an idea of where I’d like to see them go, and that’s good enough for now…

In closing this post, let me share something I read in DownBeat many, many years ago when Bill Bruford working with U.K. and then his first solo album (Feels Good To Me). He said that when he composed, he heard the drum parts first, and then he filled in the bass parts, and built things from there. I still do this with many songs, and it’s a great way to start at getting your compositional feet wet.

How ever you do it, don’t tell yourself you can’t. Every time a band teaches you a new song, you compose a new drum part. So son’t stop there. Go all the way.

And then, bust out the guitar jokes…

Q: What does a guitarist say when he gets to his gig?

A: “Would you like fries with that?”

Bada-BUMP!

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I saw a post on Facebook that got my attention the other day, and I wanted to mention it here. Drummers Collective is part of The Collective, a multi-instrumental school based in New York City. In 2010, The Collective had to relocate their facilities for the first time in 26 years. It set them back quite a bit, and the post I saw was in regard to their fundraising effort, designed to offset relocation and legal costs.

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Drummers Collective has a reputation of a solid and valuable facility, and if you look at the faculty roster, you see New York heavyweights. There’s also a Guitar Collective, Bass Collective, Guitar/Key Collective and SOJ Jazz Center.

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When I was 18, I took a train up to New York from Delaware to study with several well-known drummers who were advertising in the Village Voice. It was an extraordinary week, and I did it again the following year. If you’ve never been to the Big Apple, it’s hard to imagine and convey the level of intensity this town offers, but I swear, when you set foot onto Manhattan, you feel like you stepped onto the third rail of a subway. I’ve never visited Drummer’s Collective, but they offer drummers an invaluable training environment in the center of the jazz universe. It would be quite a shame to see that opportunity disappear.

So, here are a few links to the fundraising efforts for you to check out and explore further.

http://www.fracturedatlas.org/site/fiscal/profile?id=6454

http://thecollective.edu/630/Please_Contribute_To_Our_Cause

https://fundanything.com/en/campaigns/drummers-collective-rebuilding-our-school

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Anthony Citrinite, director of The Collective (and also a drummer), has asked musicians to share their message, so, please do this if you believe the school has value to your fellow musicians.This link give you an idea of how the school is continuing to evolve.

http://thecollective.edu/609/The_Collective_Relocation

There’s nothing quite like the power of NYC, and for those wanting to live the artist life, THIS is where you go. Please check out the links, see what’s there, and consider helping out your fellow musicians by keeping a unique learning environment going.

Ed Shaughnessy, 1929-2013 RIP

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As you have probably seen in many places on the Internet, the legendary drummer of “The Tonight Show” passed away from a heart attack in his home, in Calabasas, California, on May 24th. Ed Shaughnessy was 84, but he was timeless. So much can be found about him, and his book, “Lucky Drummer,” contains a lifetime of stories that built the man many drummers stayed up late to watch and learn from.

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I posted a blog about his back accident last year, and a follow-up regarding his recovery a couple of months later. I wanted to share an e-mail he sent me regarding the accident and how much he appreciated you readers sending hims cards. If you were one of them, this e-mail is really for you:

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The other note I wanted to share with you was something of a life-changing one. When I was 20, I was watching “The Tonight Show” one night and saw a public service announcement that helped me answer a question that had been plaguing me for fourteen years. From the age of six to twenty, I lived with an undiagnosed case of Tourette Syndrome. Drumming had always been my salvation and sanity provider, and watching Ed Shaughnessy play was something of a routine.

My life had been incredibly frustrating up to that point, not knowing what was the matter with my body. The night I saw that PSA, I knew in an instant, absolutely, what the cause was. I got the answer to my question because I watched “The Tonight Show,” and I watched it mostly because of Ed.

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Having the opportunity to share this story and thanks directly with Ed came less than a year later, when I moved from Baltimore to Los Angeles. As I mentioned little in a previous post, I heard Ed play in a club in the San Fernando Valley called Dante’s, and he was as gracious as you have ever heard and then some. Having the drummer from “The Tonight Show” came to your table after every set and talk… priceless.

Our family of legendary jazz drummers from the great swing and be-bop era grows smaller every year. We must view them as national musical treasures. If they are on-line, think about sending them messages of thanks and respect. I suspect they will greatly appreciate it, as did Ed. He will be missed, but not forgotten.

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