Backlash: Why This Jazz Drummer Won’t Watch Whiplash

Bear with me, this one is kinda long and maybe a bit of a ramble/rant. But it needs to be, to convey the message. Please adjust your seat for comfort accordingly…


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When I first heard about a new drumming movie featuring not just a jazz drummer but a song written by my musical mentor (Hank Levy), I was curious, interested and a little excited. That’s mostly because my love of odd meters since I was 15 was fueled almost entirely by Hank having come up to our high school on a government arts grant to spread the jazz word.




Hank was writing for Don Ellis and Stan Kenton at the time, big band explorers of the highest caliber, and Hank shared his knowledge and enthusiasm in a way that ignited our young minds and made some of us want a great deal more. My high school bandleader pushed us like that as well. He held us to high performance standards, but it rarely involved yelling unless we were simply acting like fools or were utterly lazy.


Hank was the same way, and not once during his visits did he ever snap or exhibit anything even close to serious anger or beratement. When I landed the top slot in the All-State Jazz band my senior year, Hank was the guest director. Again, he demanded a lot, but he was never a berater. Ever. Not once.




When I graduated high school, I followed him to what was then called Towson State College. He led the three jazz ensembles there, and I started off in the third and worked my way up to the second. Here I got to see Hank on his much more demanding level, and he had no tolerance for laziness of lack of attention.


Either of these actions, if not corrected after fair warning, would earn you a dry marker board eraser thrown your way, and given the times and Hank’s honest but fair gruff nature, I certainly respected his message: pay the hell attention and stop screwing up the music for everyone else.




So, what does all of this have to do with Whiplash and why I won’t go see it?


Because I absolutely loathe the idea of competition. And I loathe it because it prevented me from becoming a truer artist and musician for years.


All through high school I had pushed myself very hard, with no whip cracking required from anyone. I was simply driven to be the best, and I went after it like a demon. I was actually driven by demons of a sort, ones that wanted out of my body that was consumed by an undiagnosed case of Tourette Syndrome. I expressed the never-ending blast furnace through rock drumming, and then I developed four-limb coordination to control it through jazz drumming.




When kids first applauded my playing, I finally found acceptance to some degree. This fired me up to want to get more of it and to get more of it than anyone else. I wanted to obliterate my competition, and I had the chops to do it. My body and neural pathways are wired for drumming, and I went after everyone in my way. I was young and immature, uninformed and unguided. I was an idiotic gunslinger who was learning everything about how to make my body unleash and virtually nothing about how to interact with fellow musicians and make music.


In my senior year, I took every first chair there was in the state of Delaware. All State Band, Orchestra, Jazz Ensemble, and a tri-state honors band that went to Europe that summer. I owned every bit of it, or at least I thought I did. It was somewhat innocent, because I truly didn’t know any better, even though my band director constantly reminded us that competition didn’t mean anything unless you truly improved as an artist.


I had two primary drum teachers at the time, and one was into supporting my desire to blow away the competition. The other was a disciple of Jim Chapin, who brought Jim down to the drum store once a month from New York to offer lessons. Guess who taught me more about the right path?


Now I believed to some degree that I HAD to be competitive, because there were so many other drummers out there in so many genres. Hank reminded us more than once that there was always someone better out there, and that we had to strive to do our best for ourselves.


But I remember one time, I was going to have a drum solo in a song at a festival, and I was sitting in a corner with a watch, timing how fast I could get my hands going. When it came solo time, all I did was explode and go insane… zero musicality. A couple of years later, I ran into a fellow drummer from another high school, and do you know what he remembered? My sitting in a corner with a watch. Certainly not my alleged performance that had been hell bent on showing everyone else up at the festival.


I’m probably beating a dead horse at this point.


By the way, let me add that having written several screenplays and unsold pilot TV shows, and also being involved with some small degree of film production projects on the side, I do have a reasonably informed perspective on what it takes to get a movie made and do respect the hoops that Whiplash had to jump through. You can’t even begin to imagine how insanely impossible it is get anything done in this town…


That said, it was a question asked on a Facebook drumming group that really inspired today’s blog, so I’ll close with it: “Do you think Whiplash will inspire a new interest in jazz drumming by young drummers?”


My hope for those who chose to watch it is that the answer be yes. But, for those who do chose to watch it, know that the title of the movie comes from a song written by a man who was heading 180 degrees in the opposite direction. As a life-long disciple of Hank Levy and his spirit of fearless jazz exploration, I’d be betraying my admiration for this man to go see Whiplash, and if this position comes back to bite my professional ass, so be it. I’d rather speak the truth loudly any day than choose to silently support something that is diametrically opposed to what I now know to be the true and correct path for a musician.


I chose instead to watch endless hours of YouTube videos and instructional DVDs created by new and old masters, and support their production if they convey the stuff that matters. I chose to find drummers who are killing their hands and offer suggestions of how to treat themselves better so they can better express their message.


I chose to promote drumming as storytelling so the energy of magic weaving can take you over. I chose to write blogs like this, laying bear my soul for younger drummers to hopefully learn from and recognize in themselves, and then move forward to re-direct their minds and souls.




But if you must follow the competitive path, do it to master yourself and make it one hundred times bigger than it presently is. Give to the music, push out, tell a tale with Tony Williams intensity and musicality. Channel Max Roach, play with the snap and flare of Gene Krupa. Read about allllllllll the drummers who came before you and drink them in rabidly to make them a part of you.


As long as you are breathing and upright, you can be a badass. Chose to be the right kind of badass, is all I’m saying, the kind that understands honoring the music and not the ego. Slay your SELF, because it’s always competing with the bigger picture to get out.


Then go play a story in a way never before told… cuz…






Drummers, Be A Tone Maker First, Then A Time Keeper

Here’s a shorter blog post that will give you a lot to think about if you don’t already play this way. I attended a Russ Miller drum clinic recently in Southern California, and he made the excellent point about note duration and time placement. He was quite correct about hearing notes as longer or shorter in duration and how this helps you play ahead of the beat, behind it, or exactly on it.


Short duration notes (or thinking about them that way) tend to put you ahead of the beat slightly. Longer duration notes put you slightly behind, and to be dead-on, a medium duration note. Sort of like Half notes for behind, Eighth notes for ahead, and Quarter notes for dead-on. These concepts, applied to snare, kick, or cymbal/hi-hat, along with individual volume level control/coordination, are simple but a lot to think about.


But there’s more to this thought. It has to do with PRODUCING TONE, not just thinking about duration. When we hit a drum or cymbal, we sometimes stop listening to each sound we are producing and shift instead to keeping the sounds in time, which are two entirely different activities. If you focus on producing a tone, you’ll be listening at a much deeper and more intense level.


To discover this, put on a metronome, and just play along to it, striking any surface. You’ll be listening to the click and your notes in relation to it…

Now, try playing on a surface, but really listen to and WANT to produce the sound, making it as identical as possible to the last note created.


I’m telling you, this WILL improve your timekeeping, because you are focusing on the thing being created IN TIME… rather than just time itself.


The snare drum is a great place to start this exercise, especially if you focus on the rim of the snare to make a truer tone.


Like I said… simple… but game changing.

Yokoji Zen Mountain Center and a Jazz Drummer’s Request for Help

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


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

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

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

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




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


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




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





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

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


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

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

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

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


RPPW 14 – Rhythm Production and Perception Workshop, and The Elements of Rhythm Vols. I & II

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

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

There was!

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Very Good Fortune As Drummers

It’s a few days after the 2013 NAMM show, and my head is spinning less and less. The blitzkrieg of that event really is hard to describe short of trying to catch a New York subway at rush hour and making your way through the turnstiles with one hundred other hurried campers urging you along from behind…


Regardless, I’m glad I went, because it was a great reminder of just how fortunate we are to be drummers in this day and age. I say this because with each passing year, our access to music technology grows, and we have tools the likes of which I could only dream of as a kid growing up in the 1970’s.


In short, we have access to the world.


Imagine you are a drummer living in the middle of the United States, or perhaps the highlands of Scotland, the outskirts of Dubai, or maybe a small city in China… the fact that you are reading this means the borders are irrelevant. You can go on YouTube and study something about almost any drummer hero you ever imagined. You can go to Spotify and do your homework on virtually any style of music imaginable.


You can enroll in Berkelee’s on-line music study, take lessons from Billy Cobham and have him comment on your video reply, Skype with Daniel Glass to thoroughly learn the history of your instrument, or post your own drumming explorations and light fires in fellow players.


You can refine and perfect your time-keeping with dozens of electronic metronome options for your smart phones or tablets, learn world percussion from Pete Lockett with his website videos and DrumJam app, grasp and explore the secrets of polyrhythms with Wolfram Winkel’s Polyrhythm app.


You can VASTYLY improve your ear for studio drumming with the hundreds of kit options in any number of electronic drum kits, record your own music one note at a time using any instrument imaginable from virtual studio technology, write your own drum books using electronic page layout programs like InDesign and notation software like Finale. You can express any thoughts you have with blogs like this one.


You can communicate with fellow drummers in any number of on-line forums, make contact through MeetUp groups all over the country (and start your own MeetUps as well). You can reach out directly to your drum heroes in many cases, and you can voice your opinions in drumming groups on Facebook. You can create your own free music website with MySpace, and you can reach out to the world through Twitter.


NONE OF THIS existed when I was a kid growing up in the 1970’s.


Every time my blog is read, a post shows up on a world map, showing what country the reader logged in from. I love, absolutely, LOVE, looking at this little map, appreciating the time someone like yourself took out of their day to check out my ink and thoughts on drumming.


I attended my first NAMM show in 1983, the year that MIDI was introduced. Yep, I was there when the digital revolution truly began. I remember smacking the brick-hard Simmons electronic drum pads and thinking, “Holy shit, this is gonna change everything…” The Linn drum machine followed, along with the Oberheim OBX drum machine, and I played both in Texas, thinking the same thing,


Today, I can fire up my iPad, tap out some rhythms, save them for export to Pro Tools, sing into a mic and capture ideas, convert them into sound files, mix it in a coffee shop, and post it within MINUTES. Yeah… everything absolutely changed, and we as drummers can own pieces of the world in almost unfathomable ways.


We now have no limits, nor borders, and no reasons not to turn the rhythmic world on its head with our ideas, opinions and explorations. We can create a temporal blitzkrieg anywhere we want, any time we want.


And the best part? We can make our own good fortune, no longer having to wait for anyone or anything else to shape it for us.


Good fortune, indeed.

The Elements of Rhythm Vol. I: The Essence of Rhythm Pattern Theory


When I was a music major in college, drummers had to take music theory. We had to learn about tonal relationships, chord patterns and progressions, harmony, etc. What we did not learn was that were a finite number of building block rhythm patterns that all the larger, more complex patterns come from. In other words, there was no rhythm pattern theory. Just tonal. So, I created an approach to rhythm pattern theory to fill the void.

The Elements of Rhythm Vol. I presents and explores the basics of this theory to create the fundamental patterns. I am re-printing them here to let drummers (and all other musicians) see how it works.

I believe that if musicians study and master the patterns, they can greatly expand their rhythm capabilities. Once you see how the patterns evolve, you’ll recognize that there is a very systematic and fascinating structure that underlies notation. Here are a few excerpts that cover the fundamentals:





The tables that follow in Volume I re-create these patterns using several different beat note values, and all the patterns are written out in sheet music form to practice. For example, if you take a measure of 4/4 and lay out all the possible quarter note/eighth note possibilities, there are exactly 256 of them. One valuable application is in the area of jazz and big band reading. Same with small group Fake Book reading.



In the Introduction to Volume I, I related a story about seeing Peter Erskine play one night at a summer jazz band camp I was attending. He had to sight-read a fairly challenging chart, and the next day in class, he said he was glad to have seen some “familiar friends” on the sheet music pages. That phrase stuck with me for years, and when Terry Bozzio showed me a 2/4 group of patterns that he said were the essential basics, the phrase came back and really lit the fires.

Here are a few of the larger 2/4 patterns:



I’ll be putting up more samples shortly, but you’ll get the idea here pretty quickly. Just remember: there are a finite number of building block rhythm patterns that all the larger combinations come from. Program yourself with the basics, and you are loading your performance computer with all the software it needs to make you a lean, mean, rhythm machine.

(excerpts reprinted from The Elements of Rhythm Vol. I, with permission, Rollinson Publishing Company, 2012. All rights reserved.)

Chad Sexton’s Drum City – Yes Google, We’re Open!

Once upon a time, there was a large drum store in North Hollywood filled with stacks of drums, cymbals, awesome snares, and plenty of practice rooms for teaching. Then the complete and utter financial collapse of 2008 came along, and a lot of drummers had to seriously tighten their belts. Sadly as a result, the large drum store closed permanently… at least according to Google.

But in reality, Chad Sexton’s Drum City re-opened in 2010, not far from its original location. It was scaled down considerably, but sometimes this is a really good thing, because it became an even more personal environment, and that’s why I’m writing about it today.

As some of you know, I work as a flight instructor in Los Angeles, and the fog was far too thick today to get anything done… so, I decided it was going to be David’s drum day. I hit the Guitar Center in Pasadena, and then wanted to follow-up on something I’d read recently in Modern Drummer. There was a short article about Chad Sexton, and what caught my eye was the odd reference to Chad often spending time at Drum City…

I knew it had closed at the original location, and I had been past the empty building several times since. No information was available about a new address, so, when I read that mention, I Googled the name, and did indeed find a new address, a Facebook page, the whole deal.

Cool. Time for a road trip.

I headed over, walked inside, bought some Regal Tip nylon 7A’s to keep my finesse in shape, and started talking to Mac Sexton, the store’s owner and manager. Yes, he is Chad’s brother. Mac has run everything from a Godiva chocolate store to a Barnes and Noble, so he knows his way around a shop. He and Chad grew up around drums, since their mom worked at Joe Voda’s Drum City, in Nebraska. Mac and Chad studied with Joe, and Mac even remembered hearing his mom doing business by phone with Mrs. Vic Firth… which pretty much speaks to the depth of human contact Mac and Chad were imprinted with, and which drives their business model today.

(The Drum City crew: Mac, Chad, and Linda)

What does any of this have to do with Google? Well, Mac told me that after they moved, Google had not updated the new address. People didn’t know where the store was, and after a few requests, Mac started getting a little stressed from it. He sent Google an e-mail once again asking them to change the address… and with that stress followed the very simple comment, “Are you guys trying to put me out of business?”

Boom. Goodbye Google e-mail address.

And when Mac searched again for Chad Sexton’s Drum City, he saw the message, “This business permanently closed.”

So, one day not long after, when the Google photo-mapping car just happened to be cruising through the neighborhood, Mac saw it, went outside, and flipped it the bird, with both hands. He then sent Google another e-mail, saying, “Hey guys, if you’re wondering who flipped you off, it was ME!”

As Mac was telling me this story, I mentioned that I write a little blog about drumming and wanted to let people know that the store WAS still open. After he told me the Google tale, I asked him directly, “Are you’re sure you don’t mind me mentioning this?”

“Nah, go ahead.”

Which is great, because it would be a sin not to share it.

But it would be an even bigger sin if I didn’t tell readers how much I enjoyed visiting this scaled-down version of the previous store. Why? Because the minute I set foot in the door, I was transported back to my teen years, where I formed my love of drumming at The Percussion Center, in Wilmington, Delaware.

Chad Sexton’s Drum City felt exactly like the small shop where Dick Kenny offered drum sales, drum repair, and lessons. Guys would come in, hang out, and form a community. THIS is what is missing in the big chains, and THIS is what every drummer needs to feel in their lives if they really want to know where the heart and soul of rhythm comes from.

Mac told me that they obviously can’t compete with the big chains, don’t want to sell cymbals over the Internet, and unfortunately don’t have the room to hold clinics. But let me tell you what this place DOES have to offer: old school, real deal, one-on-one contact that formed the foundation of everything that I am as a drummer today.

As we talked, Mac, showed me his Regal Tip Combo stick, and I fell in love with it. I swapped it out for the 7A’s and we just stood there, trading stories about out mutual love of Ludwig, while we played rolls on a practice pad on the counter.

Yes! Yes Yes Yes! THIS is what makes drumming cool! It’s the sense of community and the connection to history. And this is what made my day and reminded me what I needed to get a lot more of.

(Daniel Glass, from Royal Crown Review, and Chad)

Several customers came and went during my visit, and Mac gave each one of them the sincere time of day. This was in stark contrast to my visit to a large store the day before in Los Angeles. The guy behind the counter didn’t engage me in any way beyond, “Will that do it?”

No, no actually, that won’t do it. In fact, it does nothing. And I don’t want to feel like that when I go into a drum store. Ever.

So, if you happen to be in the Los Angeles area and want a dose of humanness with your drumming, you know where to go:

10424 Burbank Boulevard  North Hollywood, CA 91601
(818) 762-6600

It’s ironic that I did find Chad Sexton’s Drum City on Google (I guess they got the two-handed message!), but I don’t suppose Mac has had much reason to go back and check it lately.  He’s just a guy running a business that, like most small businesses today, are still feeling the hit (okay, more like a nuclear blast) from 2008.

And so, I would like to ask you readers a small favor: if you can’t stop by the shop in person, drop them a line at  and say hello. Let them know you support small drum shops, visit their Facebook page (chadsextonsdrumcity), or swing by the website (

Those of you who are regular viewers of this blog know that it is commercial-free, no ads, no e-mail collecting, etc. I just write what I believe in, and human contact is at the top of the list, particularly in a soulless city like Los Angeles. I also like stories with happy endings, and it’s ones like this that help me forget the stress of my insane day job and make me want to get back behind a drum set for a living like I dreamed of doing when was a kid, once upon a time…

Keith Carlock Drum Clinic, Los Angeles 4-17-12

The word “strange” is relative in Los Angeles. For example, tonight on my way to Musician’s Union Local #47 Hall to check out Keith Carlock’s clinic,  I’m sitting at a light, and look over and see a guy walking along with a three-foot iguana on his shoulder.

Yep, sure enough, that was an iguana on his shoulder.

I get to the hall, walk in, take a seat, and I look at Carlock’s Gretsch, Brooklyn drum set, and that’s when I see strange. The snares and floor toms were tilted forward and down.

Yep, sure enough, those drums were definitely tilted forward and down.

But for Steely Dan’s latest driver, this is absolutely normal. And when he got his “Moeller method wide-open fluid rebound damn Keith you sure do make that look easy” flurry of chops into high gear, it all made plenty of sense.

Keith’s clinic was supported by many vendors (Gretsch, Zildjian, DW, LP, Remo, Vic Firth), and the room was packed. He opened with a very gracious thanks to Stan and Jerry from Professional Drum Shop, who hosted the event with an all-day sale and then the main event in the Musician’s Union hall.


Okay, so Keith gets down to business with an improv solo that had something called “musical composition” to it. You may have heard of this term: it’s what real musicians do when they play. He didn’t just sit down and say, “Blazing chops time, ohhh, check this out….” and then proceed to make his hands invisible at the highest volume possible he composed on the spot, and it worked out nicely.

And lemme tell ya, that guy has a right foot. It sounded mighty powerful pumping through the open-tuning kick. His open-handed left hand on the snare was equally impressive played against a stick in the right hand. Very interesting…

Next up was a play-along to some music he recorded in New York with a group of guys he hangs with when their schedules mesh. The guy truly loves to groove, and I have to say, he really is as interesting to watch as he is to listen to. The way Keith moves is very different from most drummers, and you might want to catch a few YouTube examples to really see what I mean.

A question and answer session followed, focusing on the usual content of grooves, improvising, some talk about the Gretsch kit and K Zildjian cymbals, and the introduction of his new signature stick. All of that tech information is available on his web site (, so head there for the details.

The raffle give-aways included a Professional Drum shop 50th Anniversary video and coveted hoodie, an 18” K Zildjian crash, two pairs of Keith’s Vic Firth sticks, a small LP drum, and the grand prize, a Gretsch snare drum right off Keith’s kit.

But the real highlight was when Stan and Jerry invited everyone up on stage for a group photo, a tradition that Professional Drum Shop has maintained since forever. THAT was truly cool!

If you get a chance to catch the rest of Keith’s now 12-city clinic tour, you will see and hear a very different kind of player. His hands are all about the rebound, and watching his right hand pump a solid groove was a lesson in how to get the most out of your movement. And yeah, it does look kinda strange, but it’s not like he’s showing up with an iguana on his shoulder…

How Jazz Drumming Helps All Styles: Just Watch Buddy Rich

If you are not a jazz drummer or have not really listened to it much, you might want to give it some practice time. Why? Because the control and finesse you’ll develop carries over into every kind of drumming when it comes to volume, four-way coordination, speed and power.

When I was a kid, it was rock drumming all the way. I thought jazz was my parent’s and even my grandparent’s music. I pictured Benny Goodman playing a clarinet, or a Dixie land band, and that was all I needed to quickly head in the other direction.

But in 7th grade, I stated taking lessons with a guy that all the drummers in the neighborhood were studying with, and the lights really came on. Dick Kenny owned The Percussion Center, near Wilmington Delaware, and he sat me down for some proper schooling. I had my rudiments going on, which helped greatly with hand control, but Mr. Kenny introduced me to four-way limb control, via jazz drumming.

Getting Jim Chapin’s independence concepts under my belt took a great deal of work, but suddenly, I had four limbs that were becoming four separate instruments. The control I developed carried over into volume, which is critical to creating your actual sound. When you think about it, you are ultimately your own sound man, establishing the volumes between limbs that either balance with the other players or do not.

Of course it almost goes without saying that if you want fast hands, jazz is where you begin. You can develop very musical speed if you study the masters and incorporate rudiments into a music style that demands thinking and precision. Once you get the speed and control under your belt, you can apply to metal or anything else and shred the living daylights out of your kit. Believe me, it’ll happen.

As with most of these small posts, I just want to introduce an idea and hopefully inspire drummers to carry it far beyond. Watch this Buddy Rich video a few times to see the most amazing drummer the world has ever known tap into an energy that could be applied to any musical style. Listen to the single strokes on the bass drum, or the left hand/right foot insanity. The single strokes on the snare about half way through will have you shaking your head.

Buddy was 53 when he recorded this solo…

And that’s the real lesson: grab that Third rail on the subway track and feel a gazillion volts surge through your body. With jazz drumming, you can learn to control and direct that energy, and once you understand how, your musical world will never be the same.

Vinnie Colaiuta Is Now with Ludwig and Paiste

The Earth just tilted. Vinnie has switched to Ludwig and Paiste.


Ludwig could not have possibly landed a bigger name in their esteemed stable of players. The new line of Atlas hardware rocked the NAMM show, but can you imagine the insanity going on in Monroe, NC right now? If every employee over there is not beaming from ear to ear, they should be. Their stock just went UP.

Same with Paiste. Rock drummers have long gravitated to this Swiss cymbal maker’s excellence, owing largely to John Bonham, Ian Paice, Carl Palmer, and a host of European drummers. I strongly suspect that jazz drummers will find a very renewed interest in the line, something I too am going to check out. Their darker jazz rides do have an amazing sound…

My real excitement is, however, in seeing Ludwig get a HUGE shot in the arm. Last year, I made a decision to invest in the drums I loved as a kid, because it took me back to that special time. All my heroes played Ludwig (Bonham, Palmer, Paice, Don Brewer, and even Buddy Rich), and I regretted getting rid of a couple of classic kits more than once.

So, one very rainy day. I paid off the vintage 70’s green sparkle Bonham-sized kit I’d put on layaway and drove it home, amazed at the leap and feeling of elation. Six months later, I bought a beautiful 5-piece Centennial kit, made of North American maple. The 6.5 x 14 maple snare has a ringing crack that has redefined my small kit sound and musical vocabulary.

I watched Ludwig for many years through their ups and downs, the evolution of their website, their whole product line… they got hit hard when Yamaha, Pearl, and Tama kicked it in during the 80s, and the road back has not been easy. A lot of name artists left Ludwig, but the faithful stayed. I remember a salesman at West L.A. music pointing to a 100-year celebration kit on the shelf and telling me the price. I bluntly told him I thought it was insane, to which he replied, “Ludwig drummers are fanatics. Someone will buy it, because it’s Ludwig.” A week later, the kit was gone.

Ludwig’s marketing theme is that the company is a family, and that it is the hallmark of drumming tradition in this country. They patented the first bass drum pedal, so there’s quite a bit of truth here. When they put Vinnie’s picture up on Facebook behind a beautiful natural wood finish kit, they only needed a two-word caption to send a message that has just rocked the drumming world: Welcome home.

And as Late, Late Show host Craig Ferguson is fond of saying, “It’s a great day in America.”