Vinnie Colaiuta Plays the VISIBLE SOUND Project – Art Meets Jazz Meets Life

The other night, I drove down to the arts district of Los Angeles to check out a project I saw posted on Facebook. It described an event called “VISIBLE SOUND,” featuring Vinnie Colaiuta and some well-known session players from L.A., who would be performing as artist Tom Reyes, aka The SUSH., created an on-the-spot piece of art.

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The idea sounded awesome. A real-time collaboration, no second takes, no cleanups on the canvas. It would be what it would be, and the audience would experience it first hand. Like live theater, with a tangible finished product.

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Reyes has been exploring this process since 1991, collaborating with jazz musicians all over the world. His nickname is an acronym for Subjective Understanding Subconscious Heterodox. You’re gonna have to hit Google for that last word, which I did, and got this:

 

“…not conforming with accepted or orthodox standards or beliefs…”

 

I’d call that fuel for just about any artist. When you dissect the four words in SUSH, you really do find ground zero for Reyes and what he wants to explore. If there was ever a perfect music style for offering him a ride, jazz would be it. And if there was ever a perfect drummer for steering that bus, it would be Vinnie Colaiuta.

 

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I’ve known Vinnie since 1980, although our paths do not often cross. Like so many, I’ve followed his artistic journey and have worked to emulate his own explorations, particularly with polyrhythms and odd meters. He has always been – irrefutably – light years ahead of the pack when it comes to bending time. You stare, shake your head, and wonder how anyone’s neural pathways could even begin to hope to fire in such an extraordinary manner…

And then you contrast that with Vinnie playing a backbeat with Sting and realize there’s also a timekeeping human, sitting right there in front of you… dialing it down a bit, but being ever-present with every single rest and note.

This was gonna be good…

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The evening’s event was held in Art Share L.A., a 28,800-squarefoot downtown gallery on 4th Street, surrounded by various arts-related projects and activities. The small theater within the gallery was basically a large room with seating for about twenty or so people, and plenty of standing room.

I found a seat near the front row to get a good view of Vinnie and SUSH. They were joined by bassist Doug Lunn, who often works with Terry Bozzio in his Out trio, and keyboardist Jeff Babko, who currently plays on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

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 There’s nothing like an intimate setting to bring you inches away from artistic truth. It’s also a nice cocoon from the ever-swirling madness of Los Angeles (something I could use a great deal more respite from, actually). I was already grateful for having seen the Facebook post, and I was truly looking forward to seeing and hearing where Vinnie would take things…

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I took a few pics and quickly posted them on Facebook but didn’t want to be too nose-down once the show began…

The band came out to warm applause, and Vinnie started playing first. There was no downbeat; there was just “go.” SUSH entered after a minute, applied a healthy glob of blue paint to his hands, and began arcing them across the canvas as the guys played. There was no hurry. It was a roughly forty minute conversation of styles that merged elements of jazz, Latin, funk and tribal into a sonic and tactile event.

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The description I could try to provide would pale compared to the actual moments, but I can tell that you Lunn and Babko were a perfect fit to Vinnie in this context and that his improv chops were as on their game as ever – particular his subtle snare drum shadings and brushwork. The complex interplay of tastefully placed polyrhythms was equally rewarding, because the more you hear them used in a musical context, the better you understand how to do so.

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We spoke briefly after the show, but I did not really interview him about all of this, because I didn’t want to make it a work night. I was most grateful for the opportunity to simply meet again and say hello after many years, and I thanked him for his performance and for displaying such vibrant and honest energy with his fellow musicians. It was incredibly refreshing to hear Vinnie speak with such passion about a project that he was clearly very proud to be a part of.

me and vinnie

I believe now more than ever that jazz drumming needs Vinnie Colaiuta and his take on this sort of improv. I see so many young drummers just cranking out videos, seeking to become YouTube stars with chops, and following a non-threatening video performance path.

Far better that you should strip yourself bare and lay it all out on the stage. Far, far better that you leap, dance, spin, and balance it all out. If you do, you’ll find yourself in the truly live moments. You’ll step out of your comfort zone and explore. In doing so, you’ll keep the process of exploration alive, which is ultimately the goal for any art.

It’s awesome that Vinnie is doing this, reminding the drumming world of his jazz roots and the value of revisiting them. I definitely think we need art like this, moments in real time, to renew and refresh our view of the world and how to live in it.

Playing is about living, something our cell phones and social media bombardment often makes us forget how to do. If you explore a little of that every day and step into the mix rather than just watching it, you’ll feel yourself breathe.


 

SUSH will be releasing a documentary soon on the VISIBLE SOUND project (www.visiblesound.org), and I encourage you to check it out. I also encourage you to consider the following notion…

 

megatrends  book_hightech

 

In his classic 1982 book, Megatrends, author John Naisbitt used the expression, “high tech, high touch,” predicting that the more technologically advanced we became, the more we would need organic contact with humans to balance things out. In 1999, Naisbitt  wrote an entire book about the subject (and you gotta love the German version book cover).

Couple the notion with this classic Bruce Lee quote, and hopefully you too will honestly and fearlessly explore what your art is really about and not run into a light pole while checking emails…

 

“Let the spirit out — Discard all thoughts of reward, all hopes of praise and fears of blame, all awareness of one’s bodily self. And, finally closing the avenues of sense perception, let the spirit out, as it will.”

– Bruce Lee

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.]

TAMA_LOGO

Vinnie Colaiuta Is Now with Ludwig and Paiste

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

Unreal.

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.”

My Audition for Frank Zappa, Long Ago…

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In January of 1980, I had the chance of a lifetime when Frank Zappa was holding open auditions for Vinnie Colaiuta’s replacement. Everyone in town was lined up for this shot, and I was lucky enough to get a chance at the chair.

I’d met Vinnie when he played one night at the Baked Potato, where we struck up a conversation. I ‘d been listening to Joe’s Garage and was blown away by what Vinnie was doing with polyrhythms and how smooth he made the odd meters flow.

We stayed in touch, and one day, he let me know he was leaving the band and asked if I was interested in getting an audition. I was 20, had been playing odd meters for about five years, knew a little about polyrhythms from the Gary Chaffee books, but was not a killer reader by any means.

Still, the opportunity for the experience begged that I give it a leap. I spent probably two weeks listening to every Zappa album I could get my hands on, embarking on a crash course in extremely advanced drumming. I don’t think I left the house during that time, because I did NOT want to miss the call to go audition.

It came on a grey and dreary afternoon. Los Angeles had been pummeled with rain, and the sun was nowhere to be found. I drove over to a North Hollywood rehearsal studio, took a deep breath, and went inside. I introduced myself to the guy at the desk, and a few minutes later, he ushered me into the actual studio…

The band was rehearing a version of “A Love Supreme,” only it was “A Mouth Supreme” or something like that… funny as hell. A duplicate of Terry Bozzio’s double bass kit was set-up, and in front it stood The Man himself.

Zappa welcomed me and described what he wanted to play. I asked if he minded if I jotted the directions down, and he had no objection. Arthur Barrow was playing bass, and he was also Zappa’s musical director. When Zappa was away, Arthur led the band’s rehearsals. I was in some pretty heavy company and was trying to remember to breathe…

The song was in 13/8, subdivided 4/4 + 3/8, (four measures) with a measure of 12/8 afterwards. I really wasn’t sure what to play, but I knew I’d better listen to everything Arthur did, because he was holding down the fort.

We started, and it was absolutely surreal. I grew up in a small town in Delaware, and had been in music school for two years in Baltimore. I’d moved to California on a whim to meet a famous percussionist/composer named Julius Wechter (leader of the Baja Marimba Band) who, like myself, also had Tourette’s. My world had been spinning for months, meeting famous drummers through Julius and being exposed to musical opportunities I’d only dreamed of…

So now, here I was at ground zero of the ultimate real deal.

Arthur told me just keep time, and that’s what I did. We played that 13/8 deal for a few minute, then played some variations on the 12/8 measure with a 7/8 turn-around… I was able to make sense of it, but when it came to playing reggae in 13/8, I was toast. I couldn’t conceptualize it, and while it was frustrating to not continue, I had no complaints.

Zappa shook my hand and thanked me for coming in. He looked you right in the eye, and there was a value in that moment I have cherished for years.

That day taught me that ANYTHING is possible, and I mean MILES beyond what you might think. Not too long ago, I sold a cymbal to the drummer who eventually got the job. We talked about the audition, and I learned that he’d attended Cal Arts, where he learned a great deal about advanced drumming, polyrhythms, etc.

If my reading had been at a higher level, maybe things would have been different. Who knows… but when I had the opportunity to audition for Arthur Brown (as in The Crazy World of Arthur Brown) a few months later, in Austin, I went in and gave it everything I had. I landed the gig, recorded with him, got my drumming heard on an MTV video, eventually got interviewed for Modern Drummer… and basically, went places I never expected to go.

I put drumming and music aside for many years after that to pursue other opportunities, becoming a professional writer, and later, an airplane flight instructor. I also worked on a book about the fundamental rhythm patterns, which took forever… It’s done, a publisher is reviewing it, and now, all I want to do is play and continue the exploration of odd meters and polyrhythms from many years ago.

I remember having a strange dream several months after the Zappa audition while I was living in Austin, wasting a lot of time in bars and being foolish with my time and health. He looked me right in the eye and said, “You just don’t have what it takes.”

Now that’s a helluva message in a dream, and I realized it was true… unless I chose to change my world, get back on track and focus on what mattered. The rhythm book became that focus, and now, the crosshairs are once again back on the correct path of playing.

It’s too late to give Frank another shot, but it’s never too late to give it your best shot. That’s what I got out of that day in North Hollywood, and with everything I’ve seen and done since then, music remains the best…

Drummers as Brilliant Musicians

I grew up in Delaware, blue collar, playing mostly rock for many years. In the 70’s, we had little in the way of seeing our heros, not like we have today. All we had was vinyl for the most part.

I was introduced to jazz in 8th grade, and it changed my world. I had no idea how sophisticated drumming could be, which was not to say that rock was unsophisticated… there was just another level out there that I was blown away by. I took jazz drumming lessons, learned how to improve my coordination, and my musical mind was never the same…

In 1979, Vinnie Coliauta blew all our minds with “Joe’s Garage,” and he took polyrhythms to a whole ‘nother stratosphere. We have only on the last ten years or so, really started to get caught up with Vinnie’s ideas to where this level of playing seems “normal.”

Thomas Lang has shown us where Jim Chapin’s four-way coordination seeds can grow, and that level of playing is also becoming more the norm.

Point being: drummers continue to expand the instrument beyond anything our drumming forefathers could have possibly imagined. We have taken the instrument to levels that have expanded our minds considerably, and I feel it is our duty as drummers to continue to do so…

The problem is, and has been for years: we are so relegated to the job of being time keepers that we are not encouraged by and large to leap to new performance levels if it interferes with the beat… and this is absolutely absurd.

The drum set is a musical instrument in its own right; Terry Bozzio has led that development like no one else, and he is to be applauded for that effort. We as drummers are responsible for expanding this instrument’s limits, and we need not wait for anyone else to tell us that it is okay to do so. Thomas Lang’s solo playing may not fit most musical situations when he gets all four limbs going… but on his own, he has created his OWN musical situation, where all of that activity is appropriate, because it is defining a new level of performance.

Short version here? Go for it. Take this instrument and leap off the edge. Make Elvin Jones, Max Roach, Baby Dodds and anyone else who has gone beyond really proud of your leap. Don’t wait for permission.

Just play and see what’s out there… and let your “brilliant” out.