That’s the sound of me relaxing my feet after the full-on four days at NAMM 2015!
As usual, it was completely insane, but it was also a great deal of fun. I thought you folks might enjoy my take on a few things I saw and some of the people I met.
In 2013, I did a daily blog of it (https://davidaldridge.wordpress.com/2013/01/24/namm-2013-live-blog/), which was a tremendous amount of work. I loved it, but I felt like I was back in magazine-writing mode. I like the fun-writing mode much better.
Now as I always mention, I write about what I like, I do NOT accept free products in return for ink, and I very rarely even talk about products, much less accept solicitations for their review. I find THEM, not the other way around. It’s so much cleaner and truer this way.
Same with the people. I love discovering interesting people in the music business who aren’t in the business of overtly selling themselves. They are the ones who really rock.
I owe great thanks to Mike Belitz, owner of Ultimate Support Stands, for providing me with access to NAMM yet again. A fellow pilot and overall awesome guy, Mike made this adventure possible. Check out his drum covers and his iPad holders when you get a chance, at www.ultimatesupport.com
And now, without further adieu, here’s an overview of my hiking excursion across the Anaheim Convention Center and all points in between. Good gawd, my feet… what the hell was I thinking…
Anthology Gear Wear
Man, Brian Griffith had some serious high-end leather stick bags and cymbals bags. I mean, serious craftsmanship. Pricey yes, but he was low-key and let his works speak for themselves. I saw his booth as I walked in on the first day. He was across from a painfully loud amp booth, so I gave him an extra set of earplugs to endure the madness.
Awww hell yeah! A.J. Zakarian had me from the git-go when I saw a pair of sticks in one holder and a beer bottle in the other, mounted on a cymbal stand. Talk about full-fisted glory! I loved the grip handle for the four-cup version too.
A.J. said this was his first NAMM show, and when I came by at the end, he said Guitar Center had come by… which led to some very good news for him. Nice guy, lives in Vegas, not pushy about his stuff at all.
Michael Downing had a display against a wall, and I was being pummeled by bombastic percussion coming from every direction. I was kinda curious about his patented, free-floating drums, so I gave them a whack. In complete fairness and honesty, I could not hear myself really playing and being able to fully appreciate the snare and toms, but the kick drum…
… wow… even through all the sonic insanity, it SANG. I’m a fiberglass Fibes kinda guy, but to be able to hear the kick through the aural assault kinda said something. I also liked Michael because he fought and won a good patent fight. I love fighters who prevail. Here’s a picture of his drums, and one with his wife, Louise.
Oh my goodness, what beautiful drums! I love the color and finish of this blue/teal sparkle, and I have been a fan of them since reading about their departure from Yamaha a couple of years ago. I wrote a blog about it that is still getting a lot of readership (https://davidaldridge.wordpress.com/2013/04/02/yamaha-drums-loses-sakae-rhythm-its-legendary-drummaker/)
Again, a sort of underdog who decided to bark big and loud with an incredible product. Yes, THEY were Yamaha’s drum maker, for many years.
I just read an article in the current Modern Drummer about the new Yamaha line being made in China, and they referenced how they used to outsource their drum manufacturing to “a company in Osaka…” with no mention that it was Sakae, which bothered me until I realized that it spoke VOLUMES about the headway Sakae has made in the market!
I’d never heard of this audio company until my good friend and guitar player Don Ortiz (http://dinaprestonband.com) told me to check out their TouchMix digital mixers that can have iPhone and iPad interaction. I do my own recording, and this looked soooooo cool! Plus, I got to hear Omar Hakim playing in a demo band, and that alone was lesson on studio drumming.
You can pre-set these bad boys and save the settings, modify all kinds of effects, and do a lot more than I likely will understand for quite some time. It’s something I’ll probably get down the line, but for now, I have to say that the product explanation and demo to a newbie like myself is what I liked the most. I wasn’t dismissed or talked down to.
Roland Session Mixer
This thing was so cooool! I saw the HS-5 in the Roland booth with several instruments feeding into it (guitar, bass, drums, keyboards). Instant attraction, because it will let me rehearse with a band using my electronic kit. Simple and clean.
There was no one demo’ing it, just a bunch of strangers plugging in and cutting loose. That’s a pretty good measure of how well something works.
It’s a sound controller that you manipulate by moving your hands over illuminated sensors. I just LOVED this! The video links speak far better than I can describe. It took the designers about ten years to make things happen. Well worth the wait.
Mu-Fx Mutron Emulators
I had a MuTron phase shifter when I was in high school that I played my drums through some times, inspired by Billy Cobham and Carl Palmer’s electronic experments. It was exciting and very cool to see the Mu-Fx version re-birth of these products!
Tempo GPS Devices
The Anycase GPS tracking device is a little pricey, but you can put these in your drum cases and hardware cases to track your precious cargo. I think it’s a really cool idea if you are into the high dollar end of things. You buy a monitoring subscription plan, and you can also download an app that will let you track you instrument and even know if it’s been moved!
SmartMusic Teaching Software
I used Finale to create the rest and note shapes in my two volumes of The Elements of Rhythm, but I had not really looked at their other family of products until this year.
I’m glad I did.
SmartMusic is a subscription-based program that lets educators create lesson plans with music and send them to students who also have a student subscription. The program plays the music, you play along through an interface, and it lets you know if you performed the piece correctly. You see red dots for missed notes and green dots for correct notes.
I was hooked immediately and will be exploring how use this to teach the materials in Elements over an electronic platform.
Giovanna Cruz, SmartMusic Education Manager, took her time explaining and getting me dialed in, which again, I very much appreciated.
Scott Yoho, who interviewed me for his Finale blog in 2013 (http://www.finalemusic.com/blog/creating-anything-you-can-imagine-with-finale/), also offered to help me sort out some technical aspects for an upcoming book, which I definitely appreciated.
I am huge fan of the whole Make Music organization (http://www.makemusic.com), and I am really looking forward to further incorporating their products (which I always pay for, no freebies) into my future publishing and teaching projects.
Weezic Electronic Sheet Music
I saw this booth downstairs in “E” hall, and I liked what I saw. Nicholas Arbogast explained how the product worked, and I want to look into it further for additional teaching and practice potential. Like SmartMusic, you can export files for students. I was getting overloaded by the time I found their booth, but it did get my attention.
Okay, okay, it took me years, but I finally got to sit down and see how this really works. Oh hell yeah. Sold. Loved it. As a learning tool, as a practice tool, so many applications.
As a drummer, I have a weakness in the music theory department, but you can type in chord names and hear the sounds. Grab a Real Book, pick your favorite song, type in the chords, and hear them… learn what makes them work and what you like about them… I can’t wait to do a lot of THIS!
I wrote a blog about these pedals last year (https://davidaldridge.wordpress.com/?s=vector) and promptly bought two of these to explore single and double-bass drumming. The swivel footplate lets you set the pedal up so that when you sit down, your thigh is straight and your foot angles off to the side naturally.
All the power from your thigh can be directed without diffusion, so, no force is lost. Playing heel-down becomes incredibly easy as well, I mean, you notice it in a second.
This year, owner/designer Goran Kjellgren came out with a long-waited, bonafide double pedal, which just smoked. I watched as Jonathan “Sugarfoot” Moffett sat down and immediately smiled, and he signed on right away as an endorser.
Very interestingly, I heard him saying that he had been mounting his kick pedals at an angle to the bass drum rim for years to accomplish what Goran had designed…
I’ll be adding that to the arsenal for my 24” Fibes kick drums/noise maker soon as possible! It was a blast to hang out with Goran and hear about the company’s progress over the last year, which included a very favorable review in Modern Drummer. Some other good news was his new distributor in the U.K., a company called Liberty Drums…
(Goran Kjellgren, Vector ergonomic foot pedal designer/genius)
I had not heard of these guys before this year, but you could not miss the lime green kit and crowds gathering around it. Owner/builder Andrew Street is a helluva guy, and I got to know him and his crew over the four days and enjoyed our conversations very much. He literally hand-builds the drums himself, along with Operation Manager Kevin Lodge.
I liked their small jazz kit, especially the snare, because it had authentic be-bop jazz shading sounds to it. By this I mean I could do press rolls, single-stick buzzes, nice accents… everything I wanted to do across the sound range palatte. I am primarily a Ludwig Supraphonic junkie, but Andrew’s craftsmanship kicked serious jazz snare drum ass. It just did. And his smaller snare drums have a hip-hop crack that will (and did!) cut through the insanity of NAMM bashings from all four sides.
Liberty is a custom drum company, a boutique sort of deal. I really liked these guys as people, and I got to know Andrew and Kevin along with John Watson (USA Artist Relations) and Kwesi Yvorra (UK Artist Relations). I was most appreciative of the opportunity to meet a small company on its way up, and I would recommend checking them out.
(Jonathan “Sugarfoot” Moffet, blazing on away on Liberty Drums)
Zildjian Constantinople Cymbals
A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog here about how I’d fallen in love with Paiste’s 2002 series and had found what I considered to be my sound. I was never able to fully afford a complete set, and in the meantime, I played my classic A series.
But this year, I was able to check out the full line of Constantinoples for the first time… and I just melted. I’d seen an older Elvin Jones ad about them somewhere before NAMM, and I figured, maybe I should check this out.
The attack of the 22” rides gave a really nice balance of definition and wash. Does that make sense? It was like hearing Eric Gravett playing on old Weather Report albums, one of my favorite all-time cymbal sounds.
The crashes had the same effect on me, with nice tones and a similar kind of wash. It was the BALANCE of the two elements that really got me. The 14” hi-hats sounded good too, although I’m a little more inclined to go with 15” hi-hats for a bigger fusion sound, and I love 13” hi-hats for tight funk. They only make a 14”, but I’ll check them out further in local stores to see if it works for what I want.
Chronos Electronic Drums
Gotta save my favorite for last. The look and feel of Chronos eletronic drums floored me the second I sat down behind them. The mesh heads felt awesome! The kick pad especially. I like to play six-stroke rolls around the kit, especially on the snare, and I got exactly what I wanted in terms of feel.
But the aesthetic of the colors… oh good lord. Nothing out there compares. I mean NOTHING. The lacquered birch shells were simply stunning.
Roland and Yamaha, you guys have serious competition. Yes you do.
You have to add your own sound module, and they were using Yamaha. Multi-cables fed into the module, same as with a Roland unit. I’m leaning towards Roland for several reasons, which is a whole ‘nother story.
Again, I liked the PEOPLE in the company. Mark Thompson, Director of Sales and Marketing, took his time talking to me, and I got a good sense of what he and the company were about. Chronos is based in Fremont, California, but Mark lives and works in Austin, my hometown, which made an impression.
I’ll mention that I gave him copies of my three books to show him what I was doing, and that I told him I needed an electronic kit to take on the road to teach the books and do clinics. I hope I can make this happen, because now I see very much how I’d like to do it and with a kit that looks and feels very good…
The kit I’m sitting behind by the way was set up with the Zildjian gen 16’s, and they sounded and felt pretty good. For now, you can buy the shell packs and other set-ups direct, with all the information on the website.
Karen Stackpole (http://www.bayimproviser.com/artist/48/karen-stackpole), reknowned Paiste gong endorser, a one-of-a-kind percussionist, sound engineer, and longtime writer for DRUM! magazine, who pushes the gong envelop every chance she gets with her San Francisco Bay-based Machine Shop. A dedicated motorhead, she’s now also a certified biker chick astride her beautiful Buell. A close friend for many years…
(Two drunken masters of the staff, perfecting their combative art)
John Aldridge (http://www.vintagedrumshop.com/Engrave.htm), my brother from another mother, master drum engraver and writer, editor, REO drum tech, Ludwig endorser and doer of all things in general. We were photobombed by an eyeball, which was kinda creepy and amazing… and yes, John is the younger looking one!
Osami Mizuno (http://home.att.ne.jp/delta/osami/), and his three young drums students from Japan. This was my first time meeting Osami, who carries the Alan Dawson knowledge teaching flame with his school in Japan.
I wrote about Osami not long ago (https://davidaldridge.wordpress.com/tag/alan-dawson/), and his book, Illusions in Rhythm for Drum Set. A challenging and mind-expanding book from a gifted teacher, whose students Tomohiro Yoshikawa, Takushi Ikeda, and Hiroki Masuda were attending NAMM for the first time. It was a real pleasure to spend time with them and explain my books and the applications for Elements.
Catfish Keith, and his wife Penny Cahill. I’ve known Catfish (http://www.catfishkeith.com) since we were roommates in Santa Cruz, California, in 1984! He’s one of the most famous Delta blues players out there, who regularly tours Europe with his awesome brand of authentic six-string serenading, but it’s Penny who keeps the show train in the rails!
Nordika Tyrsdottir, the Viking drummer (http://www.vikingdrummer.com), a new friend who caught my attention immediately in the bar at the Hilton. She was standing there with a Soultone, cymbal for a shield and an ax in her belt. I had to say hello, and on her business card, it said she was also a defender of dogs. She got my vote immediately.
Nordika is endorsed by Soultone and is looking to put together a very interesting drumming show based on Viking themes. Nordika is also an athletic trainer, so I seriously doubt the shield and ax are just props!
Vic Salazar, the last person I met before I left was someone I’d hoped to meet for a long time, owner of Vic’s Drum Shop (http://www.vicsdrumshop.com). Vic was walking by looking Chicago-dapper in a suit, and I introduced myself briefly, seeing that he was heading out the door.
Again, for me it’s about the people. Vic took a few minutes to talk, and I had to tell him how much I loved his website and the effort he puts into clinics and social media. It’s a ton of work, good lord I know this personally, and he told me he does it pretty much all himself.
Vic’s store and presence in the drumming world are a solid force, and I really like this, given how many smaller shops are beaten down by the Borg, so to speak. Massively large music stores will simply never be able to shake your hand and remember your face.
Vic is a rather distinctive and intense-looking individual, who instantly made me feel the on-going connection to the awesome world of the drumming community. I hope to check out his store in my future travels, that’s for sure.
Okay, had enough? Now imagine your feet feeling like your eyes do right now, and you get a slice of what NAMM is like. Go if you can, walk all of it if you must, and bring comfortable shoes and a heating pad for them later at night. You’ll be glad you came, and your feet will forgive you eventually… but ONLY if you know where the secret location is of the awesome and glorious bean bag chairs!
And folks, that’s gonna remain a secret… :)