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 whole career on one cymbal, recorded on one LP. Kind of crazy.

This can best be illustrated by a very hilarious jazz robot video on YouTube:

Now for arguments sake, let’s say I could get a hold of that exact ride cymbal that Tony used for recording Nefertiti. Let’s also say I invited everyone over to play on it. How many people would sound just like Tony did on that record? Probably no one! OK, some folks would be so close, but there are so many more factors to the sound we perceive than just the cymbal. Let’s look at a few:
  •  The room sound
  •  The mic sound
  •  The mixing board sound
  •  The recorded tape sound
  •  The outboard gear (EQ, reverb, etc.) sound
  •  Tony’s stick sound
  •  Tony’s touch
  •  The sound of the mix within the band
  •  The mastering sound
  •  The vinyl sound
  •  The remastering for CD sound
  •  The actual CD pressing sound
  •  The speakers/head phones sound
  •  Everyone’s personal ear sound

I can go on and on about different factors that had a hand in the sound of that particular cymbal in that particular recording. The fact is, even if we sample the recording, we’ll never get another moment like that. And that’s exactly what it is: a moment in time. Something that happened, and was recorded for future listening, but the exact moment is long gone, never to reappear again. Sorry to burst your bubble folks.
  •  The true artist is a man who believes absolutely in himself, because he is absolutely himself.   Oscar Wilde

Be youself…

~ MB


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