Drummers take center stage in this edition of The Weekender.
Our Take: Learning to Drive the Beat
“For Drummers Only” was the title of the Music Minus One albums that I used for practice when I was in my teens. The music included a full band minus one instrument. In this case, it was the drums. There were Music Minus One albums for saxophones, pianos, trumpets, trombones and almost every other instrument you could imagine. It was only later in life that I realized that I should have been listening to any and all albums that featured great drummers, rather than an album that required me to play. Oh well, I doubt that this would have changed the clear downward spiral of my music career.
As a former drummer, I love to watch drummers perform. Where most folks choose seats that give them a view of the piano keyboard, I am on the other side of the auditorium checking out the drummers. I marvel at their dexterity and ability to drive the beat so well. Their stickwork and brushwork are amazing, but, in some ways, I do not cherish that as much as what they are doing with their feet. Why? Because I was not bad with the sticks and maybe even better than “not bad” with brushes. My feet. That is another story altogether. I was horrible.
“We all admire those traits that we do not have. For me, it is watching and listening to a drummer make the ride cymbal hum while pounding out the beat on the bass drum, striking beats on the snare drum and keeping a hi-hat in sync.”
My father said it was because I had no rhythm. Perhaps, but I was not, and am not, very coordinated with my feet. My footwork on a tennis court is my glaring weakness and I cannot dance to save my life. Did you know that some of the greatest drummers in the world were tap dancers? Yes, Buddy Rich, Roy Haynes and Jack DeJohnette to name three. Playing the drums for them was simply dancing with sticks in your hands.
I do wonder what I could have done using the pedals that drummers use now. Would that have made a difference? The pedals of my youth, more than 50 years ago, required a lot of force to be effective, particularly the hi-hat. What they use now has real bounce and it is much easier to hit the drums or the cymbals multiple times. Still, rhythm is the essential element for a drummer. It is a feeling, not a practiced skill. Watching the jazz drummers on the ship, you can tell the ones who are technically proficient, even superb, and then there are those who flow. With little to no effort, they make their kit rock.
The disparity between technically sound actions and natural flow is hardly limited to drumming. Sports, singing, cooking and almost any activity features those who learned a skill versus those who were bred for the activity. Don’t you love watching someone do an activity with grace, skill and natural ability?
We all admire those traits that we do not have. For me, it is watching and listening to a drummer make the ride cymbal hum while pounding out the beat on the bass drum, striking beats on the snare drum and keeping a hi-hat in sync. When I do it, my mind goes from one part of the kit to the other making sure that all is working properly. When a real drummer does it, he just plays.
In Steven Pressfield’s golf novel, The Legend of Bagger Vance, the hero is taught by his caddy to “see the field and find your authentic swing (or stroke).” I believe that each of us has something that is authentic, something that we just do without the need for constant practice or lessons.
Folks have told me that my writing seems to flow. Perhaps that is my skill. I hope so, otherwise I am wasting a lot of people’s time spewing out words for them to read.
Our Take is written by Michael Lazaroff, Executive Director – Jazz of Entertainment Cruise Productions. Feel free to express your views or pose questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Lifetime Trip to Cuba with Pat Metheny
& Blue Note Jazz Clubs
Pat Metheny, who performed on the inaugural sailing of Blue Note at Sea, is heading back to the Caribbean for a one-of-a-kind musical experience, this time sponsored by Blue Note Travel, the travel arm of Blue Note Jazz Clubs, our co-producer of Blue Note at Sea.
You can join Blue Note Travel on this awesome trip to Havana, where you’ll experience the culture and music of Cuba, including an exclusive and special performance by Pat as well as the opportunity to meet the 20-time Grammy Award-winning guitarist.
Rarely do we, at Entertainment Cruise Productions, endorse a travel program that we are not producing, but this trip looks very nice and we know that Blue Note Travel does a first class job.
For our friends in Florida, don’t miss the Sarasota Jazz Festival, starting tomorrow, March 8 through March 14, at venues throughout that city.
The Music Director is the singular Ken Peplowski. Among the headliners are vocal greats, The Manhattan Transfer and Clairdee, as well as many favorites of The Jazz Cruise, including Houston Person, Charles McPherson, Terell Stafford, Dick Hyman and Russell Malone.