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

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            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.

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            [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.”

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            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.

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  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). 

(https://open.spotify.com/album/0aFIa5DmePcz4Rl9yKaZbE?si=4A9hI4SOTwiqU7L6nlHowQ)

“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 (https://open.spotify.com/album/5hxA8xskFNqZ7XIW5aGq7q?si=VBo9jkR0RT-5tYxv4f83ag)

and AM (https://open.spotify.com/album/3woNXRvMZqx2D7RyXyM3XJ?si=igISzphTQ6STXB8bHuu7Qg)”

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

(https://open.spotify.com/album/4jym5FR0j3jAdcazPDLLDa?si=uFFrt89gR1SXXPx7r19lXg)”

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:

https://www.facebook.com/weeklydrumdiary,  and YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLgVdyiRMQJlP1muDNp7rDw/featured)

“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: https://bit.ly/weeklydrumdiary

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: https://jazzgallery.lnk.to/Album

Website: andersmogensen.dk

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/andersmogensen1

Liberty Drums Jazz/Bop Series Kit Test Drive – A Very Satisfying Ride Indeed

Hi, and thanks for stopping by. I haven’t had much up lately, been way too busy, but this read will more than make up for the gap. Yes it will.

First, the usual disclaimer: I don’t do product reviews as a general rule here, simply because that’s not what this li’l blog is about. What I do is write about people and stuff I like and believe in. Usually, I prefer to surprise folks and put up something up that they never expected to see, to give them due recognition. When it comes to products, same thing.

In the case of Liberty Drums, based in Shildon, U.K., it’s a bit of both. I met Andrew Street and Kevin Lodge at the 2015 NAMM show, in Anaheim, California, where Goran Kjellgren was sharing a booth for his Percussion Kinetics Vector bass drum pedal. I wrote a blog about Goran’s pedals awhile back for the same reasons: great product, great person.

 


 

Andrew and Kevin are the heavy lifters at Liberty. Kevin’s very intense attention to the vast array of production and logistics details, as well as his experience as a sound engineer, allows Andrew to do what he does best, which is make a seriously amazing drum. But mind you, everyone at Liberty contributes to making the final product one that’s well worth checking out.

 

 

Continuing on the matter of giving due recognition, Rhythm magazine awarded Liberty Drums the best wooden snare drum in the world last year. Modern Drummer gave strong respect and admiration to Liberty’s jazz/bop kit a few months ago, and they also created a video of it. The tuning was a bit low for my taste to sample a jazz kit, and thus was born my desire to write this blog and put up a few video samples with higher tuning and more emphasis on the jazz end of things.

 

rhythm mag liberty.jpg

 

While at NAMM 2016, I had the chance to briefly play the Liberty Jazz/Bop series kit seen here, with the following sizes of Finnish birch shells: 8×12 rack tom (12 ply), 14×14 floor tom (12 ply), 18×14 kick (15 ply), and a 14×5.5 snare (15 ply). Here’s a video clip of my exploration, shot with just a cell phone and the usual NAMMbient background madness…

 

 

Ya think?

The snare pops and sings. The kick launches, and the toms deliver from the bottom up. I say this especially, because for the following video clips I shot, I tuned the toms higher. The first clip emphasizes the kit’s overall bop performance with sticks, and the second showcases the use of brushes and how much subtle range the kit has. The third give brushes their due, and it lets you hear what makes jazz so special, at least to my ear.

The snare in particular, while not the award-winning one, stands out as musical instrument of its own. Amazing tones, the smallest little details, the stuff a jazz drummer who is close-mic’d can use to make beautiful musical statements. My jazz chops are decent I suppose, but they sounded more so to me because I could hear the sound of gen-u-ine jazz drums at my fingertips. This gave me an authentic palette to create with.

 

liberty kit

 

On a side note, as I was shedding one night, just goofing around, I could swear I smelled wood, I mean, like walking by a tree in the forest kind of wood. I mentioned this to Andrew in an email, and he said I was in fact smelling bees wax, which the inside of the shell was treated with.

Bees wax.

Yeah, kids. That’s what you do when you hand-form every single shell that goes out the door and want to put a signature on it. You address production with a deep level of focus and care. Now, multiply that level of attention to ten years of making drums. Rhythm magazine did the math and came to a similar conclusion.

 

 

Now, on to the main point of this blog: Here’s a brief up-tempo improv I shot to showcase the overall kit’s response to sticks. I used my iPhone 6S, with sound recorded using a single overhead condenser mic, run through a board and directly into the iPhone using an iRig adapter.

 

 

The drums are super light by the way, and they are running Remo Emperor clears on the toms, kick, and an Emperor vintage coated head on the snare. Tuning could go from rock to bop in sixty seconds per drum. I‘m not kidding. In four minutes, you have two entirely different sounding kits that sound authentic on both end of the spectrum. Yes you do.

Here’s a second clip, a slower example to let you hear the drums a little clearer.

 

 

Liberty’s latest achievement – and you can be sure that it is – was getting their wares into Pro Drum Shop, in Hollywood. Do that, and you’ve summited the top of the West Coast drum store hill. They are distributed by Cymbal Planet on the East Coast, in New York, and if you live in the U.K., the Dealer link on the Liberty site will take you where you need to go (www.LibertyDrums.com)

I’ll leave you with my favourite clip, the true test of any jazz kit, recorded with no external mic, directly to my iphone. Brushes are where the real finesse of this American art form really come to life, and I enjoy giving it a shot every time I pick up a pair. Use ear buds to grasp the finest levels of detail in the snare, and I do believe you will hear what I heard… some subtle truth, laid out across a canvass built by true artisans.

 

 


 

Liberty, you guys really know how to make a drum that sings. You’ve given the drumming world a beautiful and distinctive voice to express itself with.

Well done, mates. Very well done.

 

liberty logo

 

 

 

 

Bernie Dresel and His Masterful Drumming

Every once in a while, I come across a drummer whose abilities are as intense as they are subtle. This is a pretty accurate definition of the word sublime, and that is a pretty accurate definition of Bernie Dresel.

bernie

I heard Bernie playing the other night with the Emil Richards Big Band, in Santa Monica, California, at the Typhoon restaurant. It’s a very cool jazz hang located on the Santa Monica airport, with an awesome view of the runway and the planes and jets that come and go.

But come nighttime, the attention focuses on a small stage that is well-mic’d and well lit, a very professional yet laid back setting that plays host to some of the best jazz groups in Los Angeles. Watching the legendary Emil Richards perform with amazing precision was a treat in itself, but with great and due respect to his musicianship and that of his band, it was Bernie Dresel’s drumming that drew my very intense interest.

Honestly, I’d never heard him play before. But all it took was about three bars of big band jazz time to recognize a master of the genre, a player who valued the touch and tradition necessary to impart authenticity to this venerable environment. Bernie’s phrasing and fills were just perfect. I mean seriously, you couldn’t have sung better drum parts than the ones he created.

crav

His playing was appropriate, understated, and a pleasure to study. The hour-long set went by way too fast, but it was a lesson in big band drumming as good as I have ever seen. Bernie was playing a Craviotto kit with Zildjian cymbals, and I believe he told me later he was using two K’s for rides. One was a Constantinople and the other was a more traditional K. They sounded perfect for the night.

The up-tempo songs swung just as hard as the slower ones, aided by Dave Stone’s excellent bass playing. He and Bernie formed a solid team, and they drove the band just right. There were so many great lessons being offered that I could not drink them in enough. I didn’t want to turn my back and eat at the bar for fear of missing more perfect moments.

Later, I did a little reading about Bernie, the usual Google stuff. He graduated from Eastman School of Music with a double major in music education and performance, and then came west and landed a wide variety of gigs, from Maynard Ferguson to David Byrne, Chaka Khan, Brian Setzer, the Gordon Goodwin Big Phat Band, and tv/movie studio work.

setzer

studio

Two items that really stand out on his resume are him having played with Ringo Starr on an English tv series called “Dame Edna.” He was also part of the massive collection of drummers used for “Man of Steel.”

man-of-steel

Quite a resume, to say the least. Very impressive stuff. But it gets better… yes is does. He’s got his own big band (BBB, Bernie Dresel Big Band) as well, which I’m looking forward to hearing back at the Typhoon on May 26.

http://typhoon.biz/home-2/event-calendar

If you live in Los Angeles, you really owe it to yourself to check out Bernie Dresell and his eloquent playing. You just don’t see enough of this nowadays. He’s preserving a style with style, and honestly, I can’t get enough of that. No sir, I can’t.

bernie2

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…

 

/  /

 

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.

 

Unknown

 

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.

 

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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.

 

116201653-2

 

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.

 

drums-sterk-jpg

 

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.

 

medrums-bw

 

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…

 

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Osami Mizuno: Why Drummers Should Know About Him and Illusions in Rhythm for Drum Set

Meet Osami Mizuno, a jazz drummer and educator from Japan, who has dedicated a great deal of his life to preserving and promoting the memory, philosophy, and playing techniques of the late legendary Alan Dawson.

 

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He created a so-named drum school and record label, with Dawson’s widow’s blessing, and he’s written three volumes devoted to presenting the in-depth aspects of what made the acclaimed Berklee drum set instructor such a powerful influence. One of those volumes (Alan Dawson Drum Method Vol. 2) was published with Steve Smith.

It would be an understatement to say that Osami is a man on a mission.

 

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Osami met Dawson while studying at Berklee in the 1970’s. There he also met and befriended Vinnie Colaiuta, a fellow student of the master, and in 2006, the two collaborated on a book that explained several of Vinnie’s core advanced drumming concepts, some of which were inspired by his own studies with Dawson. That book is Illusions in Rhythm for Drum Set.

 

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I’d heard of this book a few years ago, but I never saw it in any music stores. Then recently, I connected with Osami through Facebook. I honestly can’t recall who first friended whom, but it doesn’t really matter, because what resulted was making contact with a guy who can explain Vinnie.

And believe me, that’s intense…

Illusions in Rhythm for Drum Set is an 83-page mental workout that walks you through how to essentially create time within time within time. Section 1 begins with counting exercises and explorations of how basic triplet and more complex polyrhythmic divisions can be grouped within and across the bar, within the context of 4/4.

These preliminary exercises warm you up for the main event, found in Section 2, that introduces Superimposed Metric Modulation. Vinnie coined this term, and as Vinnie and Osami convey it, SMM layers one or more new pulses over an existing pulse, often extended over the bar. The original pulse maintains its tempo, but the secondary ones sound either faster or slower, or both at the same time, yet still occur proportionately within the entire time framework.

Section 3 focuses on exercises for soloing, using the previous two sections as foundation. Simple rhythmic themes, such as a group of 16th note triplets and rests, are introduced and then transformed into contexts of repeated patterns in clusters in varying metric contexts. When you are finally able to see and recognize these patterns’ absolute same-sound forms in the different relative contexts, a very enlightening transformation occurs.

In 1987, almost thirty years ago, Vinnie visited Japan and first demonstrated SMM using a sequencer. He was light years ahead with this new concept, that of shifting time within time within time, but Osami latched onto it, and with tremendous personal dedication and publishing effort, he produced an extraordinary text with collaboration from an equally extraordinary drummer.

Both men were inspired by a teacher they revered. Illusions in Rhythm for Drum Set is a tribute to that reverence, and within its challenging pages lay the secrets to much of Vinnie Colaiuta’s temporal genius. For Osami Mizuno, this labor of love gives his own drumming and personal life great purpose.

 

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Dawson

 

The legacy of Alan Dawson is broad, yet not as widely discussed as other drummers of his era. But when you learn that Dawson’s first student was a young Boston drummer named Tony Williams, you may find yourself wanting to know a great deal more about the man and his percussive progeny.

Osami Mizuno is hoping you will, and is very much looking forward to sharing that knowledge with drummers around the world.

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http://home.att.ne.jp/delta/osami/

 

[Illusions in Rhythm for Drum Set is available directly from Osami’s website, via PayPal.]

 

[Lastly, Osami would like to thank Tama drums for their many years of support.]

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