Showing posts from March, 2011

The Myth of Tony Williams (or, Why Are Drummers So Neurotic?) - Part 2

Part 2 - The Myth of Sound

So, what we have here is a case of drummers chasing unicorns, because they think if they can catch one, life will be better. That brings me to another topic that reappears with alarming frequency: people chasing after a myth in hopes of recreating it and perhaps incurring some special grace or karma because of it.

I have just never understood the desire to copy someone else! Really. I’ve never had much inspiration to do that. My thoughts are that, well, it’s already been done, so maybe I should do something else. A good example is the book I did with drummer Bill Bruford: When In Doubt, Roll! I did all the transcriptions for the book and have had people say things to me like, “How long did it take you to learn all those drum parts you wrote out?” To be honest, I never really learned to play any of those parts on drums, unless there was something I needed to play to figure out. I had no reason to actually learn the parts because I never played in any of the ban…

The Myth of Tony Williams (or, Why Are Drummers So Neurotic?)

OK, I’ve had this discussion way more times than I care to remember, and it just seems to keep coming up. Just remember: this is my blog, so it’s my opinion.

Part 1 - The Sound of Myth

I belong to various drummer forums on the internet, I’ve also written about drums since 1983, and I’ve worked in drum shops off and on for many years. So I’ve come into contact with a lot (and I mean A LOT) of drummers. One thing I still don’t understand after all these years is why are drummers, especially jazz drummers, so neurotic about cymbals? A typical conversation starts something like this:

 I really dig that ride cymbal Tony uses on Nefertiti. It’s amazing. If I could just score a cymbal that sounded exactly like it, I’d be a better drummer.
Then they go on and on waxing nostalgically about Tony’s ride cymbal. And this will evoke similar response from many other drummers until the whole thing is something like 75 posts! WTF? I mean, Tony was a great drummer, but so many people seem to base his …

A Matter of Perception

In talking to various drummers, and reading online drum forums, one thing that keeps coming up is the idea of cymbals (and Gongs/bells/metals) breaking in. Im my own experience, I feel that this is a 2-sided issue.One side is that yes, metals after being played do seem to break in. I have found that particularly with new Gongs. I remember getting some new ones from Michael Paiste in Switzerland in the summer of 2005. While I liked all 3, and they sounded good, they also felt stiff under the mallet. One in particular. a 23.5" Volcano, just didn't thrill me. I kept playing them and the metal vibrated. In November I did a 2 week solo concert tour. Over the course of the first dates of the tour, the sound seemed to open up more and the Gongs felt more responsive. After the clinic I did at PASIC, in Columbus, Ohio, I excitedly called Michael and told him how great the Gongs were sounding now.I had this same thing happen again a few years back when I got a new 24" Paiste Venus…

Re-imagine Yourself - Part 2

In Part 2, we are going to look deeper at the percussion pieces written by non-percussionists that I mentioned in part 1: Feldman, Cage, Xenakis, and Stockhausen.Morton Feldman was one of the iconoclast composers of the 20th century. A prolific composer, he unfortunately only wrote one solo percussion piece, The King of Denmark, which has become a mainstay of percussion literature. Feldman wrote King for percussionist Max Neuhaus. Much of Feldman’s music is played at pianissimo or less, making it perhaps the quietest music out there. As a composer who played piano, Feldman was not bound by any sort of routine drummer’s ideas or licks. Neuhaus wrote about the piece in the original LP liner notes:The piece was written for me to premier at the New York Avant Garde festival in the fall of 1964. Feldman and I had several meetings at my studio on East Tenth Street over the previous summer. He wanted to hear my instruments and explore techniques. With Morty, at that time, it was always about…

Re-imagine Yourself

As drummers, we can be an insular lot. We are always listening to, and talking about, other drummers. We watch drum videos and go to drum clinics. And even within that we can become very niche oriented, perhaps only being interested in metal or fusion drumming, at the exclusion of other styles. This sort of inbreeding often leads to stagnation, as we recycle the same licks and beats over & over. In order to deconstruct yourself, you often have to re-imagine yourself.

As much as I've played drums for most of my life, I've thought of myself NOT as a drummer, but as a singer. I listen to a lot of singers/vocal music, and have taken a lot of ideas and inspiration from the human voice. Many of the singers I listen to are from other countries and sing in languages I do not understand. This is even better, because I don't get hung up on the words, but hear the voice more as pure music. In this context, I try to phrase more like a singer would than a drummer. I also make my no…

Deconstruct Yourself - Part 3

The next time you go to a rehearsal or gig, leave a part of your drum set behind. Maybe a cymbal, maybe a tom, maybe your hi-hat. Change your set up to change the way you play and get out of the predictable licks & ruts you are living in.

Change the way you set your kit up; Instead of the usual high/mid/low toms, set them up mid/high/low. Use just a China cymbal & hi-hats.Use just a floor tom and no other toms.Use a 2nd, different snare (like a 10”) in place of a tom.Play just a snare/bass/cymbal/hi-hat.

I once went to a gig with a snare, bass, 2-16x16 toms (one mounted and one on the floor), and the basic hats/crash/ride. At the time, I usually played with a monster double bass kit with 5 toms and tons of cymbals & Gongs. I was bored and just wanted a change. The band thought I was crazy, but I still rocked.

Another time I set up left handed and played that way. Now that really made sure I couldn’t play the same old licks.

One of my favorite drummers, the great German improv …

Deconstruct Yourself - Part 2

Let’s take a look at the career of the recently retired Bill Bruford. Bill had a way of exploring the boundaries of drum set playing like few other drummers. While during his time with YES, he stuck with the standard 4-piece drum set and cymbal set up. Starting in 1972, he joined King Crimson and fell under the influence of fellow Crim drummer, Jaimie Muir. Jaimie came out of the burgeoning UK improv scene and brought with him a certain whimsy (or madness) to his percussion playing. Beside the standard drum set up, he used sheet metal, found percussion, noise makers, toys, etc—all to create a fantastic percussion landscape over the top of Bruford’s more standard rock drumming pulse. When Muir suddenly left the group, Bruford took over both rolls and added Gongs, bells, wood blocks, and other sounds to his set up. His drum set eventually became a mixture of Ludwig, Hayman, and Premier drums.
Crimson packed it in in 1974 and Bruford worked in various bands, including Gong, Roy Harper, an…

Deconstruct Yourself - Part 1

Let’s look at breaking out of the drum set cliches that most of us are stuck in. The 1st place to start is the snare drum. The snare drum comes from western military drumming—it is a marching drum. By attaching 1st gut cords, then coiled wires, against the bottom drum head, a short, snappy sound is created. This has become the ever present 2 & 4 in popular music and drum set playing. But is it always needed? Why not go for something else…The 1st thing you can do is turn off the snares—a simple idea, but few people ever choose that option. Better yet, take the snares off of your drum so you won’t be tempted to turn them back on.Cover your snare drum with a towel/canvas/thick padding to change the sound.Lay some small cymbals/Gongs/metal pieces/junk on the snare head to change the sound and give you different striking options. Johnny Rabb is a good example of someone doing this in a rock context with his Drumbal cymbal.How about replacing the snare drum with some other type of drum?…

The Art of Synethesia

"Synesthesia is a condition in which one sense (for example, hearing) is simultaneously perceived as if by one or more additional senses such as sight. Another form of synesthesia joins objects such as letters, shapes, numbers or people's names with a sensory perception such as smell, color or flavor. The word synesthesia comes from two Greek words, syn (together) and aisthesis (perception). Therefore, synesthesia literally means "joined perception."


I’ve read that one of the things about synesthesia is people don’t usually notice that they have it because they feel like everyone experiences things that way. It’s only when they investigate things do they realize that there is something different about their experiences.

Most of us have heard about the more common forms of synesthesia, like seeing colours in relationship to numbers, or tasting words, etc. It’s only through investigation that I discovered how I perce…