Joonas Nieminen: A Finnish Drummer with Groove and Finesse

What is hip? I mean really? That’s almost like asking the question found in the beginning of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: “And what is good, Phaedrus, And what is not good–Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?”

When it comes to good drumming, I don’t think we do need to ask. It reveals itself, plainly and clearly. There’s no question when you hear it. The “there” is THERE. You don’t need to go looking for it.

The other day, I had a real hunger for some classic Tower of Power, so I went to YouTube and searched “What Is Hip?” Of course, the classic version popped up immediately, from the original 1973 album… and then I saw cover version posted from a Finnish drummer named Joonas Nieminen… and I don’t really remember why, but I hit Play and gave it few seconds of listening…

Boom. There. THERE. Right there. Noooo question.

I had never heard of Joonas until looking for this song, but I watched the entire clip with respect that increased with each measure. Not one shred of ego. Hardly even a shred of anything other than pure drumming and pure drummer attitude. It was like a breath of fresh air to watch and listen to someone so focused on nothing else but construction of the groove.

Now there are many fine drummers in the YouTube universe, and I hope Joonas doesn’t mind me pointing out his clip and playing, but I feel compelled to because it’s just so right there. The absence of any kind of attitude. No wasted motion whatsoever. Economy of movement 101.

Did Joonas play the classic exactly as recorded? I don’t know, my ear probably isn’t sharp enough to catch every little nuance. To me, it didn’t matter even if he didn’t. The performance of simplicity and focus was what held my attention. The clip is an excellent lesson in these two elements, not to mention good dynamic level balance.

And that snare. CRACK! Every hit was CRACK! Sound was being produced, and this is a very important point. I once heard David Garibaldi speak at a Sam Ash drumming clinic in Los Angeles maybe 10-12 years ago, and one of the points he emphasized was the idea that we have to be our own recording engineer and monitor the volume level of each limb very carefully. We have to consciously produce the sound EACH TIME WE STRIKE A SURFACE.

I only found a few other links to Joonas’ playing and background, which you can seek out by putting his name in quotes followed by “drums” if you like. Longtime readers of this blog know that I used to find people who had something really interesting to offer and write a post like this to bring them to your attention and let you look for more info. That said, here’s the link to Joonas’ YouTube page:

I’m gonna be getting back to more of that, along with some long interviews of players you’ll enjoy hearing about in their own uncensored words. For now, click PLAY on Joonas’ clip and check out an unassuming drummer. You don’t need flash when you know how to burn steady, and that’s the real lesson. We may not need anyone to tell what is hip, or what is good or not good, but it sure is nice to hear hands and feet moving in synch with the right stuff. And when it’s there, it’s there.


Joe Zawinul: The Somewhat Long Lost Interview about Drummers and Weather Report

Have a seat, kids, I have a story to tell you, about a once young freelance music journalist and drummer who blew the biggest writing assignment of his life and has been plagued by it since 1993…

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On January 20, 1993, I borrowed by roommate’s truck and boom box and headed over the Santa Monica mountains from the San Fernando Valley to the Malibu residence of one Joseph Zawinul. I’d been sent there by Modern Drummer to interview Zawinul for a column called “A Different View,” where non-drummers were interviewed about their take on us and what they like, don’t like, wish we’d do, etc.

He greeted me with his stern but friendly demeanor, and we sat down in his living room for about two hours. I pressed “Record” on the big-ass boom box, and he spoke. Actually, no, he composed. He wrote the interview. I was just there to push buttons and check my list of twenty questions. It was intimidating as hell to be in the presence of this jazz legend, co-founder of Weather Report, and basically the most respected keyboard player on the planet. That’s all. No pressure. Nope.

So Zawinul talked and I listened. And I learned. His insights into drummers and what he liked/didn’t like were a lesson in how to play and how to be. He covered a wide range of time, from when he first arrived in America in 1959 to the present (1993), and it was probably the most informative two hours of my entire musical life.

We concluded the interview with him saying that he liked my questions (the very few that I felt needed asking after such an in-depth and informative monolog), and I told him I’d let him know when the article would be out. Those were the last words we ever spoke, and something he said earlier in the interview would haunt me for decades. “If you have too much respect, it can get in the way…”

When I got home and finished transcribing the interview, I realized that I had a few more questions that needed clarifying, but I felt extremely awkward about contacting him again. It had taken a few months to even line the interview up, and he mentioned that he was leaving for Chicago to see an ailing family member, so the last thing I felt like doing was (in my mind) bothering him. I’d wait a little while to it… which turned into days, then weeks, then months… and then never.

I blew it. Never finished the article. I’d co-written a previous piece for Modern Drummer about Stanley Clarke with my writing partner and mentor, Adam Ward Seligman, and I’d been given the Zawinul assignment because Adam’s health had taken a bad turn for a time. I was new and green writer and was completely overwhelmed by the enormity of the assignment, as well as the fear of following up. So, I tucked my tail and buried myself away with no solution in sight.

Fast forward to, I believe 2015, the NAMM show in Anaheim, California. I was there doing research about my books, The Elements of Rhythm (Vols. I & II), and I passed by the Modern Drummer booth. Several times, actually, because as had usually been the case since 1993, the haunting thought of not having completed the assignment would often come up out of nowhere. This time is showed up right in front of the booth, so I walked away, took a very deep breath, and approached Adam Budofsky. I told him the story and asked if I could send him what I’d written anyway to see if they might still be interested in using it. He said, “Sure,” so I went home and did that.

I basically wanted to know if I could print it in my (this) blog if they weren’t interested. It didn’t feel right to just put it out there without asking them first. I don’t know if Adam ever received my email, and I never heard anything back, so I retreated to my fail cave and figured I was just going to have to live with this fail for the rest of my life.

Until July 12, 2021. I did a Google search for “Joe Zawinul” and “Modern Drummer,” and BOOM! There it was: Joe Zawinul, A Different View, Modern Drummer, April 1997, published four years after I’d failed to deliver, written by my late friend, Adam Ward Seligman. Adam passed away in 1999, and we’d lost touch, so I never knew the piece was finally completed by the guy it had originally been assigned to. Oddly, things worked out, which leads us to… The Somewhat Long Lost Interview with Joe Zawinul about Drummers and Weather Report.

I finally feel like I can now ethically share Joe Zawinul’s words and insights and have wanted to forever. It’s only taken twenty-nine years, but you’ll get a different view, that’s for sure. I’ve written Modern Drummer a couple of times since to inquire but never heard back. Since there was no contract and no money paid, I figure I’ve done as much as I can to clear the proper way forward to share my afternoon with Joe Zawinul.

Throughout 2020, Covid 19 and the upside-down state of the world pretty much re-wrote reality, and certainly we’ve all had to face our share of fear. I’m breathing freely tonight as I hit these keys, and I’m hoping that getting this rather delayed piece out into the world will remind us to be brave, don’t run and hide, and lean into whatever needs solving. I never thought I’d find a solution, so, there’s a lesson in there somewhere.

So enjoy, but be careful about what you try to bite off and chew in the future. I think smaller bites might have been a much better idea…

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                                                     A Different View: Joe Zawinul

                                                          by David Aldridge, 1993

            “When you talk about drummers, it’s very important who plays bass, because a drummer alone is nothing…when he plays alone, he doesn’t exist. It’s that team between a bass player and the drummer. If you get that, you got a band.”

                                                                        – Josef Zawinul

                                                                       * * * * *

            To the Austrian born keyboardist and co-founder of Weather Report, a drummer is synergy, the sum of the rhythm section parts. Zawinul likes a drummer who is forward leaning, someone who knows how to pump a musical wave to the end, without interrupting the curl. This concept is more than a descriptive notion; it is the Zawinul foundation of pulse. He calls it rolling energy

            Since 1960, Josef Zawinul has worked with American jazz drummers in bands led by Maynard Ferguson, Dinah Washington, Cannonball Adderley and Miles Davis. In 1970, Zawinul, saxophonist Wayne Shorter and bassist Miroslav Vitous put the words “Weather Report” into the jazz world’s vocabulary. After a brief continuance with “Weather Update,” Zawinul formed his own Zawinul Syndicate, which is currently enjoying the success of their latest Columbia/Sony release, Lost Tribes. With a musical career spanning more than thirty years, Zawinul has noticed a thing or two about drummers. Perhaps that’s because he considers himself one.

            “I myself was always into drums. I played drums [and other instruments] in an octet in Austria,” says Zawinul. “We played the history of jazz as it moved up the Mississippi River, from Jellyroll Morton to Art Blakey, Horace Silver, Lenny Tristano. I played drums during the swing period.”

            Zawinul came to America in 1959 to attend Berklee College of Music. Through jazz drummer Jake Hannah, (“one of the finest drummers”), he was introduced to and auditioned for Maynard Ferguson. “At that time in Maynard’s band was a guy named Frankie Dunlop, an incredible drummer,” recalls Zawinul. “Playing with Frankie for a few months was really an experience. He was a wonderful time-keeper, he had some slickness which I very seldom heard in big band drummers. [Frankie] was not rigid, he had some really slick ways of bringing in and out a motif.”

            A two-year gig with singer Dinah Washington followed. “During these twenty-three months, we must have had six drummers… Dinah was very peculiar. Lex Humphries was in the band, a really good drummer. Next one we had was Al Jones, used to play with Dizzy. [Al] was a student of the drums, and he studied with Sonny Igoe. He was the best drummer we had, he was perfect for that trio. Beautiful taste and timing, great technique. Taste is the thing, especially when you play in a trio behind a singer. A drummer has a very important job.”

            In March 1961, Zawinul joined Cannonball Adderley’s Quintet and began a four-year tenure with Louis Hayes. He describes meeting Hayes as “another level of forwardness. I always liked that…rolling energy, a driving factor. He had a God-gifted right hand, a phenomenal cymbal beat.”

            “It depends a lot on who the bass player is also. You have some combinations, they don’t work well,” Zawinul explains. “Like in everything. But that combination, Sam Jones [bass player] and Louis Hayes, was one of the premier rhythm duos I think of anytime in jazz music. It became a very good rhythm section.”

            “I felt a feeling, really good. It had such a groove, really, really easy to play. It was in a way, uncomplicated. When [Louis] went to the cymbal, whatever he did on the side, never took away that cymbal consciousness. This is that forward driving. He played 16th notes in such a short way, that not only didn’t it interrupt the pulse, it was the pulse.

            “It was the most incredible cymbal beat. He always put those little hiccups in, and it never left the flow. Later on I will tell you about some drummers, they were very great, but whenever they played a transition, the groove, not the GROOVE, but the FEELING [and the] the SOUND of the groove stopped. When you have that simmering and the band is cooking in a simple way, you are accompanying a soloist, it’s very important to be uninterruptive yet very creative, and that takes a hell of an amount of concentration and invention.

            “I think Louis Hayes was a real young masterful drummer in that sense… plus he had phenomenal memory, which gave him freedom to really improvise nicely and play with the tune. I learned a lot from Louis Hayes.”

            Roy McCurdy followed Hayes in the Adderley drum chair, after leaving Sonny Rollins. “Roy really developed into an extraordinary band player. He was a very good soloist. A lot of drummers, you listen to drummers today, so chop orientated, it’s a theme and variation in music, it’s always something related to the song, not to just show off what you have learned. And what Roy did very well, he could play an extension [of the song].”

            “With Cannonball, Louis Hayes, the concept was, usually during tunes we take fours, you know the good old thing, a rudiment type of thing, all the bands had the same thing, play fours with the drummers. But we give everybody a little shot so they don’t feel bad. Therefore I believe let the drummer play a long solo right in the beginning of the set…you know what I’m saying?

            “Drummers are funny, when I say animals I mean a species, it’s a different type of species, you know, it’s just a thing, it the hardest instrument there is. But Roy was able to play long solos with the melody context, he had another kind of concept, he was more sitting on it, which in the beginning made it not that easy, because we were really BAM! Forward leaning, very forward leaning, but we got accustomed to it, we had then, after Sam, we had a bass player, Herbie Lewis, for a little while.     

            “Because the keyboard player is usually real flexible. I always learned in my music life – therefore I was never worried about who I was playing with, as long as the bass player and the drummer know how to play together, I’m alright, and the basic concept is some urgency. The urgency for me is, it means, the cymbal beat, which is way on top, and the distance to the beginning of the beat, to the BAP!  that backbeat is at the very last moment. That’s very difficult to describe in words – that distance has gotta be like a slingshot effect, between when he hits the cymbal, or any other instrument on the drums, that Boom! that beat, has gotta BAM! it cannot be Bot, it’d gotta be Boom!, have a little anticipation, not even early, it’s just the way you [smacks his hand on the table] slide into it, you know?

            “And that back beat if there one on like say on the snare drum, making it easy to understand, that snare drum beat if it’s too early, you ain’t got nothing, it sounds like all boxed in. Most drummers today play like that, therefore the music is hardly swinging. In my case, I couldn’t play like that. But if I hear a drummer or a bass player I really really like, then I say ‘Hey, get the bass player, or drummer’, you know what I’m saying?

            “So, the problem we had after Sam and Louis Hayes left, was not that the drummer was not on the same level, it was a little different style, a little more sitting on the backbeat sometimes, and it really depended – we had to go through a few bass players. During my tenure with Cannonball Adderley after that, six years was with Sam Jones – I was with him nine and a half years – when we had Herbie Lewis, then we had, we tried out Reggie Walkman, then we had Victor Gaskin, then we had Walter Booker. The last year and a half or so while I was in the band, we had Walter Booker. What happened with all these combinations, I think, the best Roy did was with Walter Booker, Walter Booker is a bass player – you must know about him – because of the person he is, the character, he got this communication talent, he knows how to communicate, he knows how to get around, probably play well with most people. And THAT’S what you got, whenever you speak about drummers, you GOT to have the bass player in there. Then after that we did this thing with Miles Davis, and Lenny White at that time was in Mile’s house a lot, and I liked the way he played…

            “I remember I was in Boston playing with Cannonball, and this kid comes up to me and he’s really, really young, maybe about sixteen or something, and we were working Storyville, and he said he wanted to play something with me. So we went down into Storyville in the afternoon, and this was Tony Williams, man, and it was incredible. And I said,’ Wow, watch out.’ I told Louis [Hayes] about it, ‘You gotta hear this kid’, and Louis said, ‘I heard him, he’s alright’, and I knew already then he was really, really, good. He scared people, Tony, he scared people.

            “I didn’t play much, I only made this record with Miles. But then when Wayne and me started Weather Report, I heard this guy, Alphonse Mouzon. Somebody told me that the guy was tremendous sight-reader. Plus he could really swing, he played with Chubby Checker, he had a good background, a good solid background. And he played jazz, so, we checked him out. He played in a band at the Apollo Theater where I was playing my last gig with Cannonball. So Wayne and me decided we’d get Al Mouzon, and Al Mouzon was in the band for a little while, and he was very good.

            “I don’t really remember that much how he played, and I’ll tell you why. I didn’t have that much time to really pay attention, because the band was in the beginning, that I thought it was my job – and it worked out to be that way – to hold it together. So I was really concentrating on focusing rather than concentrating on a rhythmc-melodic concept where I kind of keep the balls continuous, going. Not meaning that I’m all the time playing, but there’s always these accents. I just yesterday listened to something what we did with Alphonse, man it was good, we were really smoking.

            “But it really came to light when we got Eric Gravatt. Eric Gravette was my favorite drummer. He just had everything, man, he had everything, he could swing, he had the most incredible energy, he was PLAY-ing, man it was a dynamo. He was very small, he played a small drum kit.

            “I found Eric when we were playing with Cannonball in Washington D.C., and he played with another band. I couldn’t believe this guy how he played. Tony was already gone from Mile’s band, so I got him. I called Miles and said, ‘Man you gotta check out Eric Gravatt,’ and Eric went with all his drums to the house, and Miles didn’t even let him in! But he called him to come up there. It was all organized that he comes up there and plays for Miles, and Miles didn’t even let him in.

            “Anyhow, this was a master musician. He was a writer. But sometimes you get somebody so good he will do anything. He wanted to shape the music. In many ways it was good, and in some ways it was not. At times, where there was supposed to be a crescendo, just for the love of it he would decrescendo, and it kind of drove shit around. So after a while, we said, ‘Maybe, we know this man is great, maybe we try somebody else.’ It’s better sometimes you got somebody who is not that good, but he is totally in the flow of the music. And unfortunately that happened. I can tell you what happened. When we recorded our third album, Sweetnighter, I had a song which was called “Boogie Woogie Waltz.” And I played with wah-wah, it was a groove tune, off our third album. Our first album was a fill out, we never played a show together, we went into the studio and recorded the album in three days, the initial “Weather Report” album, just feeling what everybody would do with a few lines. 

            “The second album was a little more involved, we did half of it in Japan, live. For this album, there was a double volume album out of this whole entire first concert we did there. I felt at that time, ‘Okay, now this is enough we have done now, swinging around now, looking for each other, looking for things, very nice musical, but I want to now put more of this rhythm and blues feeling. By that time, I’d been playing eleven, twelve years in America, with some of the greatest people. So we decided to put this tune “Boogie-Woogie Waltz.” For that beat, I wanted to have a funk drummer, it was only for the record. Eric had a small bass drum… and Eric was so hurt by that, that he from that moment on, he become a rebel. And in many ways, it was something to think about because he was really, really good. But on the other hand, you need somebody who is helping you to make this shit happen, not to work against you. So, this was that.

            “So after that, we heard of a drummer in Philadelphia, I think he was related to Wayne, a second cousin, Ishmael Wilburn. A hell of a drummer. He had that big foot beat, like an Al Foster type he had that good beat. He really played his ass off, a great drummer. But the moment he was in front of a lot of people, he couldn’t do it. He was great in studios, he was great at rehearsal and he was great in clubs, You playing in big studio, man – one time, he got so freaked – and Weather Report, started, after that record, we really started drawing – “Boogie Woogie Waltz,” we had a guy, a studio drummer, big fat dude, but he laid down the correct beat, “125th Street Congress” – it was beat, by the way, a lot of rap groups are using this soundtrack, “125th Street Congress” – and I put that beat together in 1972 or something like that, my old rhythm beats.

            “So, Wilburn couldn’t make it, so we got another guy from Cleveland [Leon “Ndugu” Chancellor]. For “Nubian Sundance,” I needed two drummers. So we took two drummers on the road. Heard Chuck Mangione’s bass player, Alphonso Johnson. We wanted a drummer who could really play well with him. Got Daryl Brown from Philly, plenty, plenty potential, he played with Ismael. Daryl Brown was a lighter player, played with Stanley Clarke. but we needed a second drummer. Daryl Brown is a brain surgeon now, he’s a bad dude, man.

/ /

            [At this point in the interview, we shifted the focus to each individual drummer, and Zawinul provided short backgrounds on them. I only asked him two questions, shown in italics, because he knew exactly what he wanted to say about each drummer.]

            Chester Thompson: “We auditioned Chester in L.A. When you’re a band leader, you’re a goddamn coach in an insane asylum, dealing with all those characters. Dom left and Alex became their percussion player. From Peru, great background, played in Puerto Rico, he could read, write, a phenomenal musician. Chester was a wonderful drummer, together with Al.

            “Chester was a perfectionist. We had all these time things, and between Chester and Alex, those two guys, it was really cooking. We played a type of forward rhythm and blues, very modern rhythm and blues, very forward moving.

            “Al Johnson left to join a group with George Duke. When Jaco joined, his style and Chester’s style of playing conflicted. So, I started looking again. Jaco and Chester couldn’t grove together. I heard something in Jaco’s playing that was necessary [for the band]. Sometimes you have to make those tragic decisions. It wasn’t the humanity, it was just a matter of beat, it was just the way they played together, it wasn’t lining up. But when Alex sat down at the drums, it lined up perfectly. So we had Alex playing drums, with Manalo Badrena on percussion. And that was a great band (Heavy Weather).

            Alex Acuna: “Alex had it. He had the folk music character and background which is one thing I put above everything, that folk music vibe. Coming from the mountains (outside of Lima), he had this whole great, great background, this music background. He played classical music, he knew how to do all that stuff. He came from the rich tradition of American jazz drummers, Philly Joe Jones, Elvin Jones. I think Elvin was his favorite. Then Tony, of course, so he somewhat was a conglomeration of all those different people, yet with his own touch to it. And he could swing, and he was powerful, very powerful.

Peter Erskine: “Going into the next section…maybe that was because he was very young and didn’t have the patience yet, and hadn’t learned how to pace himself, to be satisfied sometimes with just playing time, and play little things rather than play and then come back. If those intervals are too short, it hurts the music. And break is the correct word, because it breaks. Whoever said break, whoever found that word…that’s really on the nail, because that’s what it does, and there are very few guys who can do it – and Louis [Hayes] was one of them, and Eric [Gravatt] was one of them – that flow never stops. And in the beginning, that’s what we had to work on…because when you have a quartet, you gotta be really on with the feeling, the time, and he had all that, plenty feeling, plenty chops, he had the correct beat for our band, he had it, he was the right drummer for that particular time.

            Omar Hakim: “Michael Urbaniak recommended Omar Hakim. Omar said he wanted to play with Victor Bailey, and Jose Rossi (on percussion). Omar was not coming from the jazz tradition, so it was kind of hard for him to get that hump, that hump on the back, that forward leaning, he didn’t have that, but everything else what he had was so good that we [Shorter and Zawinul] just changed, we are very flexible. So we changed the music around to the needs of the talent we had. And it was considerable, the talent. Omar was an incredible drummer. He played with a lot of feeling, very intelligent.

            “I analyzed one time, I wrote this song, “Procession.” When I mix a record, I analyze every part, totally. That’s when you really learn about guys, how they’re thinking, what they’re thinking, how they interact with other things happening. That was one entire composition he actually played, it could almost stand by itself, it was so nice, always just a nice groove, it never left the groove, but what he played on the inside, like little snare things, the hi-hat…he was a composer on drums.

            “That’s one thing, for me, that’s the most important thing for the drummer, that a guy plays in the context of the music, but creates a part which can almost stand alone as a part. Not just a continuous [Zawinul sings a pulsing cymbal beat], you know what I’m saying?  It’s there all the time, you don’t never feel that the momentum leaves. Yet he played with some really intelligent things. That’s what for me the greatest virtue is, when the drummer, who can interact, reflect and compose while playing his instrument, and yet being the motorhead, the warhead as I call it. Everybody has the role of a warhead at times, and often I am the warhead to drive that whole thing. But you gotta have the right drummers, and we were very, very fortunate to have the opportunity to have people who want to play and want to grow, ’cause nobody knows it all.

            “The formation of Weather Update (a title used to please promoters) saw the return of Peter Erskine, playing Yamaha electronic drums, improved about four times from the last Weather Report, and he was very, very good then. He had played for a lot of different people, learned his ways around.

1987-The Syndicate, CBS/SONY: I heard Cornell Rochester with Jamal Adeen played bass with Gerald Veasley. You need really two to get one, because the drummer can only play as good as the bass player allows him, and vice versa.

            “Cornell was totally individualistic, could really groove, really great, he could really play. He was a very respectful guy, when they are too much like that, something is amiss. If you have too much respect, it can get in the way. He was one of the greatest soloist I’ve ever heard on the drums, but too holding back…to find that real in the middle, that golden thing, it’s hard.

            Mike Baker: “A tremendous drummer, an excellent singer, ’cause I like when somebody can sing. He could sing and was an excellent drummer, but if there’s anything drummers should pay attention to, it’s not to bash too much on cymbals. They take up a lot of sound, cover up a lot, and by him playing hard on the cymbals, the cymbals washed over into open microphones.”

            Rodney Holmes: “Rodney is from the Bronx, 25 years old, I think he got it all, the finest technician we ever had, most precision drummer we ever had. Plus he can swing, he’s gotta a great feel. I think our band has improved since he got in the band.

            “Gerald Veasley and Mike were both great, yet they couldn’t find that little thing. But Gerald and Cornell had that. The second part of the drummer is the bass player, and the third part of the drummer is the percussion player, and they all gotta make up one.

            Who’s taken your music the furthest?

            “I think Rodney, maybe, of all the guys he might be able to go do that…because he has a technique which is so similar to Dennis Chambers. It’s very difficult to say. Some people react very well, and non-reacting is just as good sometimes. I don’t like necessarily people who when you do something they immediately want to do something also. That bothered me with Omar Hakim, because he had this feeling, obviously, that he always needed to play. And as great as a drummer as he was, and as great a musician he was playing the drums, this is also the difference. Some people are the greatest drummers and some people are the greatest musicians playing the instrument.

            “To take it further, Omar really tried hard to be a member of the band and to be a self-promoter, and that’s a hell of a job. You want to use the band as a stepping-stone, but on the other hand, you sincerely want to be a member of the band and help the band, which he did. But often, I thought he played way too much.

            “So when you asked me who took the music the furthest, it was always the guys who played the least. ’cause Wayne and me are highly rhythmic, and the we play off each other, it was always very rhythmic. So we were already percussion players, but then when you go into a transition, and I want to play some harmonic stuff, often I have to lift my hands up, because Omar was there all the time.”

            Do you use extensively written out charts?

            “Well sometimes, yeah. I’d say…it depends also because we changed so many times the concept. I think when Alex was playing in the band, he allowed the most to happen by not being all over the place. By being in there, and just playing with the music and off the music. Never self-promoting, that’s a great danger. For that period, [he] was great. Gravett was great in that other period, because he was so powerful as a musician, and the way he did his transitions.”


            In my original cassette tape transcription, I must have somehow missed Zawinul’s final reference to something when he said, “This and too busy, I cannot live with.” Whatever “this” was will remain mystery forever. But with those closing words, Zawinul paused, and I could tell our interview had some to a good ending point. I pressed “STOP” on the big-assed boom box and thanked Zawinul for his time.

            He walked me to the door, shook my hand, and complimented Adam Ward Seligman for being a gentleman. Apparently, Adam had been working on some writing project that took him into Zawinul’s studio a few years before, and he was the first journalist to learn of Weather Report’s breakup. But if I recall the conversation correctly, that news would be delayed until Ralph J. Gleason could formally write about it.

Zawinul had respect in his eyes for my friend Adam, who as I mentioned did go on to finish my ill-fated assignment. He was a true writing professional, and between the two us, I hope drummers and any musicians reading these two interviews can combine them to get a realistic picture of how Joe Zawinul viewed drummers, in a much simpler time and a far saner universe.

Anders Mogensen – New Album release and 20 Questions with a Master Jazz Drummer

Imagine you’re hiking through the Himalayas. You come upon a clearing and find a lone shack, with a man practicing martial arts in the front yard. His style is immediately fluid, dynamic, instantaneous. You easily recognize half a dozen classic schools in his movements, mastered and applied with no effort. He could hold his own with anyone in the world. Yet here he is, in the middle of the Himalayas…

Danish drummer Anders Mogensen is one such badass. A bonafide jazz drumming badass. He’s a time maker, not merely a timekeeper. There is no daylight between the start and finish of his flow. It’s seamless and as masterful as anything you’ve ever heard from American jazz drumming legends. In the true tradition of master artists, he’s a humble one, who lets his sticks and feet do most of the talking, and intelligently so.

While not quite as metaphorically isolated as our hypothetical mystic, Anders may not be known to a lot of drummers outside of Europe. Regardless, with over two hundred and fifty albums to his credit and serving as Director of Jazz Studies at the Carl Nielsen Academy of Music in Odense, Denmark, Anders has kept his plate full for many years, serving up master chef versions of diverse drumming styles that he’s also fused into his own unique voice.

I was contacted by his publicist recently and was asked if I’d be interested in doing an interview about his upcoming release as a bandleader, titled The Jazz Gallery. Normally I like to peruse the Interweb on my own, find interesting drummers out there, and then write short pieces about them to give them unexpected press and attention. But lately, the urge to offer more in-depth information is replacing the shorter pieces, so yes, I definitely wanted to share some background on this very talented drummer/composer/bandleader, not only to promote his hard work and efforts, but to hopefully inspire fellow drummers who want to dip their toes into the composer/bandleader world and shape their own destiny.

So let’s get right to it. Here are 20 Questions submitted to Anders Mogensen, a very musical drummer I hope you will want to learn more about. He is indeed an endless student of his craft and is clearly someone whose playing reflects the integrity of jazz in the spirit of the learned masters upon whose shoulders he has built his broad encompassing musical embrace.


  1. When did you first get into drumming, and what was your overall training path in your younger years?

“I was sent to a private classical teacher at the local music school in Holstebro, Denmark, at the age of six. When I was eight, I joined the local marching band. Soon I was playing with marimba orchestras, wind symphony orchestras, symphonic bands and brass bands. Where I grew up, the local music school was very strong with great teachers. So, my formal training was very, very good. Full focus on sight reading and technique.

“At the age of ten, I started to get classical piano lessons as well. Meanwhile my big brother, who played trombone in the various bands mentioned above, listened to Weather Report, Freddie Hubbard, Woody Shaw, VSOP etc., so I was very influenced from an early age about playing the drum set. At the age of 16, I started to gig professionally, playing in local variety/cabaret shows. That made it possible for me to enroll in Berklee at the age of 20. In Denmark, parents do not make a college savings for their kids, so I paid for that myself.

“At Berklee, I got my first real drum teaching. My teachers there were Ed Uribe, Joe Hunt, Ian Froman, and outside Berklee I took lessons from Bob Moses. When I returned to Denmark, I was fortunate to get a lot of work as a touring musicians, and I recorded with saxophonist Bob Berg and The Brecker Brothers.”

2. What tools do you use for composition? (home recording set-up and software)

“I use my piano. I studied classical composition and analysis, and I am still very interested in that. I use those tools to compose along my jazz composition background, mixed up with all the rhythmic knowledge I have. I use Sibelius for scores and lead sheets. If I need to compose a theme over a tricky bassline, I will use Sibelius as a sequencer.”

3. Who were some of your major influences as a drummer and as a band leader?

“Mainly Elvin Jones, Tony Williams and Jack DeJohnette. But I studied the whole scope of drummers, current as well as the legacy. I am also very influenced by Alex Riel (Denmark), Anders Kjellberg (Sweden), Audun Kleive (Norway) and Jon Christensen (Norway). I have also studied various drummers from Brazil, Cuba and Africa, and with tabla players from India.” 

4. When did you put together your first group? What was the configuration?

“My first group as a leader was a project that came out of my debut recording, Anders Mogensen – Taking Off (Storyville Records, 1995). 


“It featured two Miles Davis alumni on Saxophone, Rick Margitza and Gary Thomas; Ron McClure – Bass, and Niels Lan Doky – piano. Niels produced the album. With this release, I toured Northern Europe with a band with Rick Margitza, Ron McClure, and Swedish piano wizard Lars Jansson. That was my first project.

“My first real band was Anders Mogensen External Experience. We made two albums: 

Taking off Again (

and AM (”

5. What was your first record date? How many do you estimate you have to your credit?

“My first record date was with Bob Berg, Niels Lan Doky, and bassman Jesper Lundgaard. Unfortunately, it was never released, but it led to my record deal with Storyville Records and Taking Off

“I appear on approximately two hundred and fifty recordings. I am proud of all of the recordings but worth mentioning is Jerry Bergonzi Quintet – 7 Rays (Savant), Doky Brothers (along with The Brecker Brothers) (Blue Note) and lately The Modern Jazz Trio with Jerry Bergonzi – Standard Gonz


6. What were some of the biggest challenges for your first recording as a band leader?

“I was fortunate to have a producer, so when it came to the selection of music, we had great communication about that. I do not think I would have been that confident if I did not have a producer.  It was recorded in New York City, so I also had to travel – which I love.”

7. Are you involved with the engineering aspect of your recordings, or do you leave that more to the main engineer?

“I do not know anything about that at all. But I am very keen about how it sounds, and I have my favorite engineers that I like to work with. It is very important to trust your engineer, and it takes time to find the right one. Both for the actual sound and the actual personal behavior.” 

8. What are some of the production issues challenges you’ve learned about with respect to recording your own drums to produce your own exact sound?

“It is very important that the engineer knows that he is dealing with a jazz drum sound. Generally that means approximately 80% overhead and 20% support from the closed mounted microphones. If the engineer is good, he or she knows how to get my sound on track. If they are not capable of that, I will find another engineer.”

9. Does your live playing technique differ much from your recording studio technique? If so, can you characterize the differences?

“There is a bit of a difference. Live, I have to adjust to the acoustic volume in the band and the room. In the studio, I will also think about dynamics, but generally I can play louder.”

10. Do you have a regular practice routine any sort of physical conditioning to keep you in shape behind the drum set?

“When I am on the road, I have a practice routine on my practice pad for approximately 1 hour – that is usually as much as I would have time for.  I will do rudimental exercises and maybe focus on certain weaknesses I might have. To challenge myself, I often do rudiments in quintuplets or septuplets. 

“When I am not on the road, I will do a practice routine of about six hours. Here I will dig into Brazilian stuff, Afro-Cuban stuff, jazz coordination, technique and drum transcription. I will schedule my practice so that each topic will be on for forty-five minutes and then move on. I will always start with a serious warm up. Usually with rudiments played very slow.” 

11. In addition to being head of the jazz department at Carl Nielsen Academy of Music, what courses do you teach at the university, and how did you become affiliated with them?

“At Carl Nielsen Academy of Music, I teach drums, ensemble and a rhythm class (for all jazz students). I have been an associate professor since 1999 and Head of the jazz Department from 2004. I had kids when I was only 25, so I needed a steady income, but I have always been interested in teaching.

“I was recruited for this position, which I was and am very honored about. Being able to teach on the highest level of music keeps me in the loop for developing myself! My students are very good at practicing, so I need to practice as well to stay on the top of the beat!”

12. What sort of on-line training content do you offer, and how did you develop it?

“Since 2006, I have been doing DVDs and streaming masterclasses. I have made material for all levels, but within the jazz idiom. Latest I have made Weekly Drum Diary, available on Facebook:,  and YouTube,

“Every week I present a new 4-5 minute video with a corresponding pdf with the actual exercise in. I enjoy doing this format. I recently did two live masterclasses, which is also a great format.  Interested drummers can sign up for Weekly Drum Diary here:

13. What sets your latest recording (The Jazz Gallery) apart from your previous projects in terms of your own performances?

“The Jazz Gallery is with Ben Kraef (Tenor Saxophone), Andreas Lang (Double Bass) and me. Both Ben and Andreas are based in Berlin. Andreas is originally from Denmark and went to Carl Nielsen Academy of Music. During this pandemic, I started to think about what possibilities we have on the European Jazz scene. I contacted Ben and Andreas, since we have had plans for years, but we were never able to make some kind of gathering happen. We booked a Berlin studio and went in and recorded originals along with Billy Strayhorn’s immortal UMMG (Upper Manhattan Medical Group). We are all very much inspired by the American jazz scene, and both Ben and I have lived in the US. So, it is interesting for me to hear how we, in Europe, play jazz with this kind of sound and approach.  

“It is also interesting for me to travel around and see where we have common ground, to create this kind of music. We all three love this setting (sax-bass-drums), and hopefully, it will remind the listener about Sonny Rollins trio or various bands around Elvin Jones. As a drummer, playing without chords gives one a vacant room where the chords from a piano or guitar would be. In other words, there is much more space for my snare drum and bass drum. Saxophone trios are always fun to play in!”

14. What do you enjoy most about playing with this particular piano-less configuration, and how do accomplish more with less in this case?

“Since this is a chord-less setting, it opens up a whole new world of possibilities for the drummer. It is very important that the drummer is on top with the form of the tunes to build up tension and release. I have been listening to so many sax trios that I feel very comfortable to record with this kind of instrumentation.”

15. Can you please comment on highlights of the individual tracks that stick out to you?

“‘Three for Elvin’ (Kraef) is a 3/4 swinging blues type of tune. It combines Elvin Jones’ world of triplets with a forward motion significant with the walking bass.

“‘Fredensgade’ (Lang) is a melancholic piece of music. Here showcased with the brushes. It reminds me of a black/white movie from the Fifties.

“‘At Stake’ (Mogensen) is a paraphrase/counterfact on Benny Golson’s ‘Stablemates.’ I love to play ‘Stablemates,’ and I have practiced it for years on the piano. The melody comes out of my improvisation on the tune, along with using traditional counterpoint for the bass line in the A sections.

“‘Aswan’ (Mogensen) is inspired by African music. I read a book about Africans who came to the U.S. way before Columbus! A part of history that I did not learn about in school. But at least I am aware about this now. The groove could remind the listener of drummer Ed Blackwell and his mallet works.

“‘Tit er jeg glad’ (Nielsen arr. Mogensen) is one of my favorite psalms by the Danish composer Carl Nielsen. I chose to change the chords into a more Nordic sounding piece of music and the time signature into 3/4 meter. The groove is definitely inspired by the Norwegian drummer Jon Christensen.

“‘Forever’ (Kraef) is Ben’s beautiful ballad. You can hear Ben’s love for American music but with his personal take on it.

“‘The News’ (Lang) Dark is groove and mysticism. I love this! I do not think the news for that day was too promising.

“‘Freshman’ (Mogensen) is an original of mine. It is a tribute to my son, Tobias, for when he started grammar school. New school, new friends, and it reminded of my own years when you entered new school and got new friends. I recorded it several years ago with Søren Bebe Trio feat. Marc Johnson on an album called Eva. I think this chord-less take is very nice. 

“‘UMMG’ (Strayhorn) is a medium tune. I do not understand why this tune is not being played more. It is a great composition – as everything Ellington and Strayhorn did together.

“Generally, the music on this recording is very strong! It is right down my alley! I hope the listener will appreciate it as much as I do!” 

16. Will current Covid gathering and travel restrictions in Europe allow you to tour with the group? Do you perform remotely using Zoom or other technology to offer virtual performances? If so, how has it been adjusting to the new performance reality?

“As soon as we can get out of this pandemic, we will be going out! I certainly hope that we will be able to travel anywhere. I love this trio! 

“I have made several recordings where I have recorded drums and then different other musicians has added their music to my grooves. I have been part of Michele Brangwen’s Dance Company in New York City. I recorded the drums in Odense and sent the tracks to trumpeter Tim Hagans, who composed music over it, or Tim had some grooves he wanted me to record to work further on. After finishing the music, Michele would make choreography for her dancers! That has been an amazing project to be part of. 

“Lately I have been working on a recording with saxman Walt Weiskopf (member of Steely Dan). We recorded piano and drums in Copenhagen, Andreas Lang recorded his bass in Berlin, and Walt is finishing the recording in Virginia where he lives now. Very interesting to do things like this, but it is a bit lonesome!” 

17. Is there any particular aspect of drum set study you wish you’d devoted more time to in your early years or through your career?

“This is a great question. There is no doubt that I wish I had studied harder in my youth (mid 20’s). When I came to Copenhagen after Berklee, I became the talk of the town. I played with everybody. If I could change anything, I would have loved to go back to the United States to finish up my degree at Berklee or take a Master’s at New England Conservatory. I do not regret anything, but when the question comes up, this is my answer: as I mentioned earlier, I had kids around the age of 25. I have four of them, and I love them above anything else. I have traveled and played jazz music all over the globe, so I cannot and will not complain, but when the question occurs, I would have loved to have worked deeper into the music.”

18. What do you feel are some of the most important pieces of advice you can offer young drummers who want to become bandleaders?

“First of all, practice, practice, practice. Read all the biographies you can lay your hands on – not only on drummers or musicians but general knowledge about all people who you admire. The drummers you admire the most, figure out where they came from. And study them. 

“Then check out the business side of music. It is a very diverse music world we live in. Be consistent. Believe in what you do. And do it 100%. Read and study business books – not only from a music perspective but from businesses in general. I know there is a lot of criticism of how nobody can sell CD’s now a days. But with all the streaming services, you can get your music out to a very broad spectrum of the world and reach your audience in a whole new way! 

“When you do have music to release, do yourself the service and play the recorded music for people you admire and respect. And tell them that you would like an honest answer on how the music is. I was fortunate to have a producer when I was young. That is not a possibility now a days. But you need somebody to judge your music before it is out there, because once it is out there, it will not go away! It stays there forever! You need somebody to be tough on you!”

19. What advice can you offer drummers in terms of developing a critical listening ear to, a) lock in step with the bass player, and b) contribute to the song as a whole?

“You need to record yourself constantly. To make sure that you develop the sound you have inside your head! I usually tell my students to record themself. Then buy a book with empty pages. On the left page, you write the negative critique, and on the right page, you write the positive critique. You do that with all the recordings you do. It is important to have negative critique, but it is also important with positive critique. After you do this many times, hopefully you will have less notes on your left page and more notes on the right page.  You do not need an advanced recording device, just your cell phone or Zoom. 

“Concerning a) and b): that depends on your level and the level of who you play with. As a drummer, it is always important to lock up with the bass player – you are the fundament of the music, the groove, the part of the music that makes people want to dance. When that is in place, you start to listen to the music as a whole piece. Not only a theme, a sax solo, a bass solo etc. It is a very good exercise to listen to music that way as well.

“Listen to a full track, for example, John Coltrane’s Quartet many times. Maybe twenty. Then try to feel how bass and drums build around McCoy Tyner and John Coltrane, and how it all connects.  That is just one band you should do this with. You can do it with all music that you enjoy. Listen, analyze and imitate.”

20. What’s the best performance advice a seasoned musician has ever given you?

“That is very interesting, but I never really got any – directly. In jazz there is a lot unsaid going on that you need to decode! That takes years to figure out. I always take it as a good sign, when you can keep going on the road with an established musician. If they were dissatisfied, they would probably say no to the offer to go on the road. So, I never really got any performance advice.” 


It really is true that jazz knows no borders, so if you want to hear what mastery from shores not native to the origin of this classic improv art form, give Anders a good, long listen on Jazz Gallery and check out his YouTube channel. There are lessons to be learned from his subtle and true voice, one that is a sure to inspire and educate the player who wants to refine their understanding of the art of minimal. You won’t need a parka and snowshoes to find him, but if you did, it would certainly be worth the hike and the listen.

Jazz Gallery is available on AMM records, findable with this link:



Robyn Flans: 20 Questions with The First Lady of Drumming Journalism

robyn flans media

Few names resonate through the world of drumming journalism like Robyn Flans. In a male-dominated industry since its inception, the drumming world came to know Robyn’s work through Modern Drummer for nearly four decades. She interviewed the top names of the day, and she helped shaped the fledgling world of drumming journalism by being in the right place at the right time with the necessary skills to capture the essential stories and voices of our drumming heroes.

Interviewing Robyn has been a project on my mind for some time. I thought that drummers familiar with her work would enjoy reading about how her craft evolved, and certainly, up and coming drummers need to know where the origins of deep drumming ink came from. I sent Robyn twenty questions and gave her unlimited length to reply. What follows are her responses to a wide variety of topics.

But before we dive in, gotta mention that Hudson Music is about to release Robyn’s much-anticipated biography of Jeff Porcaro, aptly titled Jeff Porcaro – The Man and His Music. It can be pre-ordered  from Hudson on their website (as of Sept. 15 2020 ) prior to release and is scheduled for Amazon release on October 9, 2020.

porcaro book cover

That said, let’s find out more about the first lady of drumming journalism…

      1. How did you get into drumming journalism? What was your first introduction to journalism in general?
      RF: I’ll take the second part of this question first and go way back in time. I always loved to write, and the Beatles changed my life. Engineering a meeting with Paul McCartney at the Beverly Hills Hotel at thirteen years old with a few girlfriends (that’s a whole other story) was a dream come true, and one of my friends and I actually turned it into a story for one of the teen magazines of the times. Don’t even ask me why! So, I was [first] published in 1968 in a  magazine called Teen Screen.
      robyn paul
      Then there was a teen magazine called Datebook that gave little credentials to teens and would publish their interviews. One particular night of that same year, a couple of members of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band were answering the phone lines at a local radio station, and I said to my friend out of the blue, ‘Let’s call and ask them if we can interview them.’ They told us who was handling their press, I called the next day, and we set up an interview for Aug. 9th backstage at the Hollywood Bowl where the band was playing with a bunch of other groups. We showed up with our tape recorder and interviewed them, and when the photos didn’t come out, we had to go back to their next concert.
      That became a friendship with [the] band that has lasted through until today. We would find our favorite groups like the Rascals, call up to their hotel rooms, and tell them we worked for Datebook, and when we’d show up at their hotel doors, lo and behold, we were very young. But then again, so were they back then. And we prided ourselves on asking pretty good questions.
      But as time went on, I followed my original dream and went to UCLA as a theatre arts major, although I did take some journalism courses and was in a creative writing group. When I got out into the real world, I found out I was not cut out for the emotional dealings of an actor and pondered how I could combine my love of music with my love of writing. And that’s how that began.
      In about 1980, I contacted an editor at Billboard magazine named Jean Williams and asked if I could do concert reviews. It was pretty ballsy since I had never done anything before, and she was so great to give this then novice a chance. She told me to bring in clips. I didn’t have any, so I went to some local clubs and reviewed some of the local acts. I met with her and she gave me a shot. The first gig she sent me out on was Chicago’s concert at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles after they changed labels to Warner Brothers and they had a huge party attached where they bussed press and VIPs up to the observatory for a Bacchanalian feast. It was an amazing first gig – but all that to say it gave me my next idea for your next question…to call Modern Drummer!
      flnas early modern drummer
      2. What was you first drumming assignment? Scale of 1-5, how difficult was it?
      RF: After that wonderful Chicago concert, I pitched Danny Seraphine to Modern Drummer. By then I had a few published concert reviews, and since MD was fairly new, they took a chance on me. And it became a cover story, too, I don’t recall it being terribly difficult, although I’m sure if I went back and read it today I would see that I improved vastly through the years. Danny obviously liked it because we became friends from that day forward, and he in recent years he’s hired me to do most of his bio writing.
      flans seraphine
      3. Favorite interview (s)?
      RF: Impossible to say! So so many of them. Obviously the two interviews I did with Ringo are a couple of the highlights of my life for Modern Drummer. But I have also worked for some other great publications such as People, Country Weekly, Mix and the Ventura County Star where I’ve had the opportunity to conduct some very deep, memorable interviews with such people as Linda Ronstadt, Criminal Minds star Joe Mantegna, Michael McDonald, and Vince Gill.
      flans ringo
      4. Toughest interview(s)?
      RF: Don Henley for MD because he was very unkind. He was extremely abusive to me – verbally and emotionally — and ultimately pulled the interview because I stood up for myself. Also Charlie Watts, only because when I arrived at the hotel in San Francisco for the interview, he had forgotten I was coming and had been up all night “with Mick and the boys” drinking. He was sloshed. And he continued to drink when we sat down in the lounge to talk and proceeded to test me as to whether I knew any of the old jazz drummers. He wouldn’t begin the interview and basically refused to talk about playing with the Stones. It wasn’t that he was intentionally mean like Henley; it was just the alcohol. In fact, after the sort of non-interview, he insisted on taking me to dinner in the hotel, and I complied since my flight home wasn’t for several hours.
      5. How do you conduct your interviews? Record verbatim, take notes over the phone? How do you conduct them now? What would you have done differently after so many years, if anything?
      RF: I’ve always used standard cassettes and recorders – even now. I had great Marantz broadcast recorders and little Sony handheld ones. Now they are very expensive because they are near obsolete, but it’s what I’m accustomed to.
      When I do phone interviews, I have a device that taps into the phone line,  which goes into the recorder and tapes the conversation. Old school. I never taped over any of them, so I’ve actually been able to digitize them and offer them as audio interviews on my website .
      Haven’t had a chance to put many up since changing websites, but people enjoy hearing the uncut interviews in real time, with people laughing, breathing, dogs barking, phones ringing, etc.

      6. Do you play drums? Any instruments? How long?
      RF: I played piano for a little while when I was young. And no, I don’t play drums. Just love them.
      7. Did you ever study with any known drummers? Any you interviewed?
      [Note: Answer intentionally left blank because of above answer to question #6.]
      8. How has the drumming world changed in your opinion from when you first started out interviewing people? Attitudes? Professionalism? Student-teacher interactions? Drumming education in general?
      RF: I don’t think anything has changed in the “attitude” department, because as Steve Porcaro wrote, it’s really about “Human Nature.” Or upbringing. It’s important to have a good attitude and be professional if you’re a drummer or a plumber, and whether you have a good attitude or are professional or are even in the game for the right reason is who you are as a person, not some world change. There will always be the ones who are in it for the love of the music and those who are in it for stardom or money; those who show up late to gigs and don’t show respect for the love of their job or the person who employs them, and those who know better, those who are cocky and those who are humble, those who are self- centered and those who are selfless.
      Drumming education, of course, has expanded due to the Internet and the incredible amount of resources available, both in web teaching and all the drum clips of prior performances that have surfaced. That can also be a negative if person-to-person teaching is replaced completely. I know my kids were truly inspired by their band teachers and private teachers and that the in-person experience can’t be gotten on a computer.
      9. Who do you miss the most of those drummers we’ve lost?
      RF: Oh Lord, don’t get me started. Jeffrey! His friendship, his groove, his laughter, everything about him, daily.
      robyn and jeff rick malkin
      My dear friend Eddie Shaughnessy. He became one of my best friends during the writing of his book Lucky Drummer [Hudson Music]. The last several years of his life, I happened to live nearby his home and helped him out a lot, and we spent a lot of time together. Then as things began getting tougher for him, I ran his errands and did whatever I could for him. He helped me out, too. I miss him every day as well.
      Larrie Londin and I were also very close friends. His passing broke my heart. I spent a lot of time with Larrie when he came to L.A. and also his family whenever I was in Nashville, and we gabbed on the phone so much that whenever I called the house and his wife Debbie answered, she would tease as she’d call him to the phone, “Larrie, your girlfriend is calling.”
      I truly have been blessed to have gotten close to so many wonderful people in the drum industry. While those are probably the closest who have left us, – two others come to mind that were also dear friends – Louie Bellson, who I first interviewed back in the ‘80s and continued to do so almost to his passing. And Earl Palmer who was one of the dearest people on the planet.
      flans bellson
      10. Who do you wish you could have interviewed?
      RF: Buddy and Keith Moon (although I count myself as very lucky to have seen Keith play live a few times with the Who).
      11. Why do you believe drumming journalism is important? What matters most? Is this happening in today’s drumming journalism world (print/on-line)?
      RF: Not just drumming journalism, but all facets of music journalism with all musicians. Guitar is just as important to the guitar players as drumming is to the drummers. It’s one thing to see them play on the Internet, but to hear what they are about, their techniques, philosophies, about their successes and failures, is important. I have always approached drummers as if they are more than just technicians. They are people, too. I think good drum journalism allows the reader a view into the person as well.
      12. Who inspired you as a journalist (in any medium)?
      RF: I’ve gone through phases. Mostly I appreciate broadcast journalists as far back as Walter Cronkite. Today I like Anderson Cooper and Jake Tapper.
      13. How long were you with Modern Drummer? Why did you leave, and what did you do afterwards?
      RF: I was an independent contractor with Modern Drummer for nearly 40 years. When my editor Bill Miller passed away from cancer, a new editor took over, and we had some artistic differences. I continued and still continue to freelance. For a period of about six years I wrote quite a bit for a local daily paper called The Ventura County Star, covering local events as well as celebrity profiles and really enjoyed it until, like most publications, their budget cuts last year put an end to that.
      For a good while I was enjoying a podcast, first radio and then video, but after a few years, became weary of that. I also started two websites – where I offer select audio interviews [and] where I offer writing services. I still do quite a bit of work for Mix magazine, thank goodness!
      flans drummer interviews
      14. What projects are you involved with now?
      RF: In addition to the above websites and Mix, I recently finished work on a book on Jeff Porcaro. It should be released some time around fall by Hudson Music.
      15. Have you written any books? If so, what are the titles?
      RF: In addition to the above and co-author with Ed Shaughnessy on Lucky Drummer, I wrote three books early in my career – Musicmania (Sharon Publications, 1983), a compilation music history, Inside Duran Duran (Starbooks, 1984), an unauthorized biography, and Journey (Cherry Lane Music, 1983), also an unauthorized biography, but to date considered to be very in demand, since it’s out of print and really the only book of its kind.
      inside duran duran
      16. What advice or pieces of advices would you give to today’s budding drum journalists?
      RF: There is very little print journalism left today. I don’t know if I would tell anyone to get into journalism, period! Sadly. I guess the only thing to do is if you are passionate about it, contact whatever outlets there are and be willing to take very little money, because mostly they have become online versions of their former selves since their advertising earnings have decreased, and obviously it trickles down to all those who contribute.
      The only journalism that really exists anymore is broadcast journalism…
      17. Did you ever have a nightmare of a technology issue related to an interview (lost notes, disk crashed, equipment stolen or broken)?
      RF: In my 40 years, I have probably had a handful of technical nightmares where either my recorder batteries failed or were failing so that the voices sped up like chipmunks or the cassette was flawed, or [like] just the other day, I was on the phone with an audio engineer, and I hadn’t noticed the phone connect wasn’t plugged in all the way, and it did not record his voice. I had to do the interview all over again. It’s a drag when it happens, but if you are apologetic, everyone understands.
      18. Do you speak any foreign languages, and have you read any drum magazines in those languages? If so, what were they, and what did you think of the publication?
      RF: I speak some Spanish, although not fluently, but it actually did help me in some assignments with the Ventura County Star. I’ve had some of my work published in German and Japanese publications. I cannot read them unfortunately, but they look nice.
      19. What were some of the challenges you faced as a female journalist in a male-dominated drumming world? Any problems? Well received? No real issues?

      RF: I do think drum journalism – and even music journalism on the whole — is somewhat of a boy’s club, but I’ve managed to carve a niche somewhere in it and gather respect, for the most part. Before social media, though, unless you met me at a NAMM convention, most people assumed I was a male, which, in itself, is sexist. I’ll never forget the expression on Steve Smith’s face the first time in the ‘80s I showed up to interview him. Thankfully I won him over in a matter of minutes, but I knew he was not expecting a female. Since then we’ve become good friends, and he even hired me last year to write the major bio in his beautiful coffee table art/drum book, The Fabric of Rhythm [check status, include publishing info].
      the fabric of rhythm
      20. And last but not least: How does it feel to be interviewed?
      RF: The first couple of times it was very strange, but it’s gotten a little easier and this format – writing – is much easier than speaking or video because obviously it’s my preferred format.

Thank you, Robyn, for sharing your story and contributing so much vital writing to the world of drumming. Countless drummers everywhere owe much of what we know about our heroes thanks to you. Best of luck in all your future journalism and writing ventures!

Floyd Sneed: The Unmistakeable Backbeat of Three Dog Night

When I was a kid growing up in Delaware in the 70’s, I listened to a lot of top-40 radio while in elementary and middle school. Three Dog Night was one of my favorite groups, and it was the first group where I distinctly remember listening to the drummer for the feel he created. That drummer was Floyd Sneed.


He played a clear, acrylic Zickos kit with double bass, which at the time was about as cool as it got. Floyd was built like Billy Cobham, so his physical presence behind the kit was formidable. His solid grooves and use of backbeat were what really got my attention. If you’re ever in Hollywood and want to see his kit, walk through the doors of Pro Drum Shop and look up and behind you, on the shelf above the door. Pro Drum has a YouTube channel which you should check out, and here’s a link to some backstory on Floyd’s kit and a few other interesting kits:


Disco was about eight years away from invading the airwaves, but Floyd employed a kind of groove that clearly preceded what would become the classic sound, and he also played it in a way that Billy Cobham would later popularize on his China cymbal. “Black and White” kicks that groove in well, and I remember getting a very strong sense of feel that made me appreciate keeping time quite a bit.


His backbeat always seemed (at least to me) to hang back just a bit, creating a very cool platform for the other musicians to contribute over. Some guys just have it in their blood, and the rest of us have to work at figuring it out. I still cogitate on it from one measure to another at times…


Three Dog Night owned the airways for a brief period during the 70’s, delivering one pop hit after another with no Pro Tools, and I would seriously doubt any click-tracks. It was human beings playing human feel, with incredible harmonies. As disco began its insidious invasion, I lamented the loss of simple pop music, but I often thought about Floyd Sneed and his great feel. “Out in the Country,” “An Old Fashioned Love Song,” “Never Been to Spain,” “Joy to the World,” and “Mama Told Me Not to Come” are just a few that come to mind.


Many years later, I had the opportunity to meet Floyd when I was writing for Easyriders magazine. He lived near the offices, and he was playing in a little bar around the street. I introduced myself during the break and told him how much I had loved his playing over the years, and we had a great conversation. Turns out he was as equally interested in art, and he has done a lot with it as a mode of personal expression.


We met a few more times at the same bar, and one night, he gave me a small paperback about Three Dog Night. I have no idea what ever happened to it over the years, but it meant a lot coming from a drumming idol.


Every generation has their music and the values they associate with it. Mine will always be the 70’s, an era that emphasized the human element of real-time performance. Floyd’s grooves, feel, and musical fills hold a special place, and if you want to hear good, solid, musical drumming, check out the streaming tunes available for a bit of old school schooling. You might just find yourself tapping your toes, bobbing your head and humming… the way you do when something works the way it should and is played as it should.


For me, Floyd Sneed’s playing is a backbeat model for drummers, someone I will always look forward to returning to, providing reminders of when music was truly magical to me, and how to keep my own feet tapping and head bobbing…


For more information on Floyd Sneed, checkout his website at







Five Top Practice Areas For Increasing Your Drumming Speed

Welcome to the AfterTimes. We live in strange days and a new world as of only a few months ago. It’s filled with a great deal of uncertainty that until now we’ve only seen in movies. Kids born today will be referred as Generation WTF, I’m sure of it.

As we wait for better days, some things never change. The need to practice and improve our drumming craft doesn’t have to succumb to Covid-19 or anything else if we can stay healthy and stay focused. Since a great many drummers of all ages want to increase their speed, here are five top areas for you to work on.

  1. Use Proper Technique: Sloppy practice equals sloppy neural programming. Garbage in, garbage out. Take care of technique, and speed comes much easier. This means LEARN YOUR RUDIMENTS and PRACTICE MOVING VERY SLOWLY AND PRECISELY. Exaggerate your movements to discover the full range of motion of each rudiment you’re learning.
  2. Think Fast: You have to be able to hear the speed you aspire to. Sing patterns out loud. Doing this energizes your entire mind/body connection. Hear them in your head and re-create them, over and over and over and over. You’re priming your neural pathways by doing so. Use a metronome while you do this. You’ll be quite surprised at how effective this technique is.
  3. Relax: Part of proper technique is relaxing. This is different from executing the movements precisely, because if you stiffen up as you speed up, you’ll choke yourself out. Breathe, keep you shoulders relaxed, and the SECOND you feel your muscles tighten up, STOP. Shake your hands off, stretch your legs and calves, then get back to it.
  4. Visualize Your Performance: Close your eyes and see yourself practicing, gradually increasing your speed. This also helps develop the mind/body connection, and if you don’t believe me, ask professional athletes and coaches who’ve been using this technique for decades. See your hands starting slow with say, paradiddles, and then moving faster and faster. The same applies to your feet.
  5. Vary Your Stick Weights and Pedal Tension: Use three different weight sticks (light, medium heavy), and alternate between them as you practice. Try playing marching sticks as quietly as possible to discover the degree to which you can refine your control, then switch immediately to light sticks (7A), then medium (5A), or some similar combination. Likewise with bass drum pedals, although this does take little more work. If you can find small weight to attach to the beater stem, give that a try, or adjust the pedal distance quite a ways back form the head. This will definitely make you work harder.

Most of us have nowhere else to be right now, so give these ideas a shot and see what happens. Ultimately, we want to be able to play whatever we do musically, and there is a time and a place to unleash and make a blistering musical statement. If you put time into developing these five top areas of improving your speed, you may soon discover that your inner drummer has a Ferrari waiting to be revved and cut loose. All you have to do is turn the practice key, and you’ll be leaving these strange days in the dust before you know it.  Good luck!

Readiness Potential and Drumming: Priming Your Neural Pathways Like A Boss

In the spring of 1985, I lived in Santa Cruz, California. It’s a beautiful beach town with hills overlooking the pristine Monterey Bay. I was attending Cabrillo Community College with hopes of transferring to UC Santa Cruz to study the more esoteric aspects of drumming and psychology in a self-study environment. One of the classes offered at Cabrillo really caught my eye because of the link between drumming, the body and the mind, so I enrolled in Physiological Psychology…

It was a fairly dry class until the day the professor introduced us to the concept of Readiness Potential, and that’s when my drumming world turned itself upside down. The concept was simple: when you think abut doing something, conducting an action of any sorts, the nerves associated with that action come alive with a kind of “Ready, Set” priming. The nerves await your “Go” signal before completing the action.

For example, suppose you want to reach for a glass of water on a table. Your mind sends the “Get ready to reach for the glass, activate all nerves pathways asociated with completing this action, and wait for my signal” command. You’re cocked and locked, so to speak…

I was absolutely enthralled with this notion, because it’s applications to drumming and all music performance were immediately clear.

Think about the times you have heard a song and wanted to learn the drumming part. You listen closely, and somehow, your body seems to already know how to play the part. You can almost feel your limbs coming alive with the desire to play…

Get the picture?

When you hear a drum part, you are in effect thinking about it, and by thinking about it, you are sending the signals to your nerves and muscles to play the part… if you can hear and understand it clearly in your mind FIRST. By employing Readiness Potential in your practice, you can strengthen the link between your mind and your body without ever touching a drum set or a pair of sticks. It’s not a replacement for actual physical practice, mind you, but it certainly helps at a deep level. Gary Chaffee mentioned this idea of keeping the neural pathways primed in his Patterns series of books, and I remembered that phrase when I thought about how to apply Readiness Potential to my own practice and playing.

I found a link recently to a scientific study that backs this idea up:

Now, here’s how are some ways you can actually apply Readiness Potential to your practice routine…

Since most of us are right handed, take a second to just look at your left hand. Now, visualize it hitting the snare drum and hear the sound (this phenomena is referred to as audiation). Now, visualize hitting it with matched grip, then switching to traditional grip.

Next, visualize moving your left hand back and forth from the snare to the mounted tom. Then, snare to cymbal…

If you are sensitive enough, you will feel the slightest energizing of your arm and the desire to move it. THAT’s readiness potential.

Try hearing the most famous drum fill that Phil Collins ever played, and visualize your hands playing it. If you can feel THAT, you know exactly what I’m talking about…

Readiness Potential is incredibly powerful as a practice and performance tool that has not been discussed largely to date. It’s application to polyrhythms in particular are awesome, and in terms of practicing dynamic level balancing, equally valuable.

Jazz drummer George Marsh, author of Inner Drumming, uses concepts of Tai Chi to develop a flow from mind to body as applied to the drum set. You can apply Readiness Potential to that book, or any drum study book, by hearing the patterns SLOWLY… and if you’ve ever wondered why drum teachers were SO insistent that you practice slowly, this is why. You are programming your mind with either precision or rough edges… slower really is faster in the long run…

So for now, try some simple exercises like visualizing moving your arm up and down, or your foot up and down. Sit quietly, see it in your mind, and hear the sound of the drum in your mind. You are sending signal to make the action happen… but don’t play. Just THINK about it, hear and see it in your head, strengthen and develop your ability to conceive it first. Do this for 5 minutes, then go play the same patterns you were thinking about…

Do with your weaker limbs first, by the way, and then see what happens…

You can also apply it to sheet music: Look at a piece of music, like say, a page out of Stick Control, and just hear it in your head. Play it all the way through, and sound it out in your mind.

You are sending practice signals to the nerves and muscles to perform the music without actually playing the music.

Try this with a single line of music, and envision, say, your left hand playing it. You are actually practicing the use of your left hand without moving it.

Now, imagine all four limbs playing a simple pattern. You can practice the drums in your mind to keep the neural pathways prepped and sharp…

The potential for application of readiness potential is virtually unlimited…

If you can discipline your mind in this way, you can practice drummer ANYwhere, ANYtime… it’ll open some very interesting doors, I promise you…





Now, suppose you hear a drum pattern and think about it, trying to figure out how to play it. Your brain starts sending the “ready, set” signals, which accounts for how sometimes you hear something and feel like you already know how to play it.

I found a link recently to a scientific study that backs this idea up:

I’ve been interested in this subject for many years, but what are the practical applications for you?

Try this sometime: look at a piece of music, and just hear it in your head. Play it all the way through, and sound it out in your mind.

You are sending practice signals to the nerves and muscles to perform the music without actually playing the music.

Try this with a single line of music, and envision, say, your left hand playing it. You are actually practicing the use of your left hand without moving it.

Now, imagine all four limbs playing a simple pattern. You can practice the drums in your mind to keep the neural pathways prepped and sharp…

The potential for application of readiness potential is virtually unlimited…

Hey Drummers, Compose Your Musical Future!

Howdy again from ATX, home of SXSW and some very entertaining bats who erupt from underneath the Congress Avenue bridge. I moved back home two years ago to regain some perspective on a lot of things, including music and drumming. I wanted to share a few thoughts with you about both in this piece, focusing on how we create our true musical future.

Many years ago, a friend of mine from high school (guitarist Chris McDermott) said I should write my own music to showcase myself and my style of drumming. I’ll never forget that conversation, a brief phone call that changed everything. I was heavily into odd meters at the time (1979) and had been since high school, when composer Hank Levy came up from Baltimore on a government arts grants to teach us his style of music. Hank was writing for Don Ellis and Stan Kenton at the time, and he believed a rhythmic revolution was long overdue.

I had very little music education and did not really think I could write my own music. There was no Garage Band, no Pro Tools, no laptops to help you construct music one step at a time on an electronic grid. There was blank sheet music, pencils, and inspiration. For someone with my level of ADD, learning how to read music was agonizing. The symbols barely made sense, and it was extremely frustrating to even think about following my friend’s suggestion of somehow showcasing myself…

But… there were cassette recorders…

I started singing my ideas into a cheesy-assed Radio Shack cassette recorder, hoping that some day, I could find the focus to write the notes down and bring things to life. I dreamed of there being technology like we have today, which probably seems impossible to imagine that it was not around. Every couple of years or so, I’d go back East to Delaware and be fortunate enough to spend a day in the recording studio of another high school friend (keyboardist Paul Harlyn), who’d let me tinker and explore. We’d capture the ideas on tape, and I continued to dream of the day when I could buy all the equipment I needed to spend hours diving into the sonic palettes that awaited.

It would be many years later that I’d finally acquire some equipment and begin my own electronic explorations. I bought a TEAC 4-track from Paul Harlyn in 1987 and started making my very first actual compositions, and here’s one that I wrote in a Washington D.C.

“Morning Walk Through Tibetan Gardens”

I used an Ensonique sampling keyboard, layered a few tracks, and BOOM! I was a composer! It was pure magic to bring these sounds in my head to life and actually MAKE something happen, taking charge of my music and life for the first time. I could finally combat my ADD and be patient enough to take the small steps necessary to bring the ideas out and make them happen. It was a game-changing moment.

Now, fast-forward to today. I’ve accomplished a lot outside of music, written books, screenplays, learned to fly and teach flying, traveled the country as a writer for a Harley magazine… but cranking out my own CD of original compositions still remains unachieved. It’s really the last big goal, because it’s the one I’ve had on my mind forever but had to put behind some of the other larger goals.

And here’s my point. Well, two actually. One… as drummers, if you aspire to lead your own band, to create your own music, know that this is the best time in history to do so, because you have incredible tools at your disposal, more powerful than is sometimes believable. Learn them, use them, and do it TODAY.

Second point… Don’t ever tell yourself you aren’t a composer. Every time you create a beat for a song, you ARE COMPOSING. You can learn the basics of song construction, simple music theory, and you can noodle around with the endless sound possibilities on a synthesizer until your fingers fall asleep. You’ll hear cool sound here and there, learn to cut and paste loops, add some effects here and there, and make music that YOU enjoy playing.

Here are a few samples of explorations from 1987 to 2020, to give you an idea of how things evolved. I hope they give you some inspiration to explore, and to reach out to musicians from around the world to collaborate with. I hope to do this in 2020, as I’ve seen a great of it being done lately and know just how possible it is.

1987-1990: Still living in Washington, D.C., aching to get back to California. I had a one of the original square Macintoshes, with Mark of the Unicorn software that I never fully mastered. Most everything else was just multi-tracked onto my faithful TASCAM 244. I still have those tapes, and I found a newer version of the 244 in a pawn shop for $50!


“Go Dog Go”


“Funk 5 Dub”


2004-2007: I was living in San Luis Obispo and had a Roland TD6, a Korg keyboard (model unknown), and a Fender Squire Strat and Precision Bass set-up. I was using Cubasis, running into a big blue Mac desktop that surely weighed 100 lbs. I used a TASCAM analog to digital converter to bring all the sounds into the Mac, and it was a lot of fun to see where things could go.


“The Crawl”


“Ghost 23”


“Some Thunk Funk”


“Nature Boy”


2017-2019: Between my last few years in L.A., and then once in Austin, I could more fully dive into ProTools, my Roland Handsonic, and a handful of other Roland synths to discover some cool sounds.


“10-4 Tribal Groove”




“Chasing Mr. Z”


“The Hunt”


“Madge Likes Mars”



I play all the instruments on these clips, trying to lay down ideas that I’ll share with like-minded and more skilled musicians to help bring them to life. I hope you’ll do the same with your music, and compose your own future. Drummers lead, we don’t follow. We drive the band and energize the music. There’s no reason we can’t do it for ourselves if we so choose.

And there’s no better time than now to do so.

– David Aldridge





Two Grooves, Keep Your Hands Low

Happy New Year from Austin, Texas, and my nifty new rehearsal studio. I finally found a great room (Music Lab) where I can put allllll of my drums and percussion equipment, including my vintage Fibes and my cool little Gretsch Catalina Club Street kit.


Here’s two short clips for you to demonstrate something I’ve spent a fair amount of time on over the past few years: keeping my hands low, until I need to unleash. The economy of movement saves energy, reduces travel distance, and gives me more control over dynamics than I’ve had in previous years.


Clip #1 is straight 4/4 groove on the Gretsch kit, something simple but fun to play. I end it with a 6-stroke roll (RLLRRL), played low to maximize rebound and volume control.

Clip #2 is on the Fibes kit, a 5/4 funk groove with a few Cobham-inspired licks thrown in. It’s a louder kit, obviously, so the hands are coming up a little higher than with the Gretsch groove, but the idea is still the same: use the least amount of energy to get the most out of what you’re playing.

I use a lot of wrist snapping and finger squeezing to get the snap and precision that help keep things flowing. The reserves volume is always there if I need it, but at 60, I do find that conserving energy helps me get through the night without cramping my hands and losing my breath!


I hope you enjoy these samples, and when you’re practicing, try keeping your hands low to the drums during timekeeping and fills. I use a lot of last-second velocity to bring the stick down quick and then pull it back, as gravity isn’t quite able to do the job alone.


Here’s hoping 2020 gives you everything you want in music in more, and as always, thanks for checking things out. There will be many more such clips coming, so please check back or subscribe to the blog. See ya!

Meet Gary Leach and Beats Exotiques – Drum Grooves For Independence



Three years ago or so, I was experimenting with posting video clips on Periscope. In a short period of time, a following developed, including positive comments and encouragement from an English gentleman named Gary Leach. He posted his own videos, shot in a small room, using his iPhone. What struck me about Gary the most was his sincere enthusiasm and desire to impart his vast knowledge of beats to whomever might spend a few minutes watching and listening.

Fast forward …

After working with exhausting detail to produce and explore his grooves, Gary took the self-publishing plunge and created Beats Exotiques – Drum Grooves For Independence. And take the plunge he did. His organization of materials is impeccable. The level of detail is extraordinary. The cultural range of grooves is indeed exotic, drawing from Africa, Brazil, Cuba and many more countries.

The grooves he presents incorporate both ride cymbal and cowbell, with enough of the latter to satisfy even Christopher Walken. They are beats that Gary enjoys playing, so in a sense, the book was really a labor of love. They are organized into Easy, Intermediate, and Advanced examples, with 850-plus bars of rhythms and ostinatos collected over the last ten years.

Like I said, he plunged.

You can see examples inside the book at the website,, where you can also download MP3 examples of every groove in the book. This aspect in itself is invaluable, as the MP3 files may be used by the non-reading drumming to learn the patterns. Gary developed a visual aid system that employs empty and darkened boxes, aligned horizontally, to depict the silence and sound of each pattern. It’s novel, useful, and easy to grasp.


Okay, that’s the technical end of Gary’s book. Anyone can write a review. I want to tell you about the person. As regular readers of this blog know, I rarely ever mention a product. That’s not what this is about. What it is about is discovering interesting PEOPLE and their path. Without fail, every comment Gary posted about my short little Periscope videos was positive and encouraging. He’s the real deal. He honestly cares about teaching, sharing, improving a student’s playing and breadth of knowledge.

I used to watch his clips sometimes when I was the only person on Periscope seeing his videos. He played and talked like the whole world was watching, and that was intriguing. He really loved figuring out how to make the groove GROOVE, make it sound right and honest. You’d see him tuning it up on the spot, and I really enjoyed this. Point being, you could see where the exhaustive list of patterns found their study origins, and it really gave me some interesting context within which to appreciate his book.

Speaking from personal experience, I KNOW this project took a tremendous amount of effort, and it shows. If you want to broadly expand your groove knowledge with rhythms from around he world, and if you fancy a bit of cowbell to break up the monotony, Beats Exotiques will show you the way. It’ll take a bit of time to get through over 200 pages of examples, but you won’t be bored.


And when you do take a break, check out the man himself on drummercouk (YouTube). You can hear examples the beats, played by Gary. There’s heart and soul in his sticks and lessons, and that’s something we drummers can never get enough of.