Frankie Dunlop – Johnny Rowland Showed Me the Key to Coordination

Frankie Dunlop Christmas card to Scott K Fish

SKF NOTE: An excerpt from the edited transcript of my 1984 interview with Frankie Dunlop.

Just before this part of the interview we had been discussing Frankie’s formative years as a drummer. The reference here to Charli Persip and Ed Shaughnessy is from earlier in our discussion, Frankie talked about watching those two drummers in New York City jazz clubs, studying their hand-feet coordination and their use of double-bass drums.

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Frankie Dunlop: [T]he one who really showed me the key to coordination was my teacher in Buffalo, Johnny Rowland. When I left Buffalo to move to New York, he’d been percussionist with the Buffalo Symphony for thirty to forty years. I’ve been in New York [City] for twenty-five years and Johnny’s still with the Symphony. So he’s got to be seventy-five, eighty years old.

He’s a very good instructor. He had that love in his heart and a will to share his knowledge for a small amount of money. And he didn’t have to do that. And even though he was involved with symphonic pieces and the classics, he knew just what to teach a new drummer so he could play jazz or whatever he wanted to play.

If you asked a thousand young drummers if they wanted to study with the percussionist from the Buffalo Symphony they’d say, “No. I can’t get what I want out of a cat who’s playing in a symphony. I’m a jazz drummer.”

But my experience was the complete opposite. I learned more about coordination from Johnny Rowland at a time when even the average drummer in Buffalo thought it was a drag that I was studying with him.

He showed me all the intricacies and gave me the kingpin lessons in all the things that would lead me to coordination and independence. How to be able to play modern. And I realized from one simple little exercise that you could practice on your knees that this was the same kind of stuff that I heard [Charli] Persip and [Ed] Shaghnessy playing.

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Neil Peart – My Antipathy Toward Machines

Photo courtesy TheFamousPeople.com

SKF NOTE: As of this writing I don’t remember where or when this interview with Neil Peart took place. The latest reference I’m finding is to the Rush song Prime Mover which was released in 1987. When I figure out the back story I will update this post. Having left in October 1983, I was no longer on staff at Modern Drummer for this interview, but that’s all I know.

What’s most interesting here, I think, are Neil’s answers to my asking him to separate his acoustic drumming from his electronic drumming so that I — and interview readers — can better understand how Neil puts those two parts of his drumming together onstage and in the studio.

Integrating electronics with acoustic drums was, in the 1980s, still a very new practice. I lacked the means to familiarize myself with electronic drum gear. I relied instead on asking drummers using the gear live and in the studio to explain using the electronics.

Scott K Fish: You’re admittedly no longer just playing drums onstage. Can you clarify what happens onstage?

Neil Peart: You have a split second decision when the synthesizer is triggered. I have them straight through my monitors so I can fall into them naturally. Either you go with it or you don’t.

If the timing is wrong, or the machine is screwing the sequence up, you ignore it.

It’s one thing to follow it through the whole song. The hard part is having them come in for bits and pieces.

You start with the timing and stay with it. The hardest is to play the song with your tempo close enough to exact that when the sequencer triggers you don’t have to slow down or speed [up]. That’s why you’re on the edge when it starts, ready to disregard it.

If it’s wrong you just block it out of your mind and play the song. It’s the same as if a click track was blasting in your mind and you’re not allowed to follow it.

SKF: What’s a tough song you play with sequencers?

NP: Prime Mover. The sequencer comes in part way through the song, goes away, then comes in later. I start the tempo as close to that sequence as I can because it’s not running at first. I’m playing in free space without even a click track.

We play through a couple of changes and then — BANG! — the sequence comes in at a dynamic point. I have to be at the right time, the same tempo as I was before, to go forward with the sequence.

We have a few songs like that. I have to be so conscious of the feel, and I have to rehearse it so much before the tour, to get those transitions and feels together. I only use headphones now on Red Sector A where it arpeggiates.

There’s no strong point of demarcation in the sequences and it’s really indistinct in an arena because it’s a bottom end 16th note pulse. If I can’t hear it really well it’s impossible to stay with it. And I have to stay with it through the whole song.

It’s the same as a click track. Once you’re used to it you don’t hear it anymore. Your beats obscure it. I’m conscious of them setting up but I don’t notice the sequences if they come in and stay in. If one sequence doesn’t happen, you play as if it were there.

Mistakes happen.

This last tour I made up a new drum solo based on horn samples, orchestral shots, and all that; carefully constructed like a song. I worked on it for days. Naturally, one night none of that worked. I hit the pads and all I got was a click.

I had to improvise the solo without it. Everybody said it came off fine. I was livid. Again, my antipathy toward machines. I feel enormously betrayed when they let me down.

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Alan Dawson – Respect for the Roots, History of Jazz

SKF NOTE: This interview circa 1986-87 is from my sit down with Alan Dawson in his Massachusetts home for Modern Drummer‘s 10th Anniversary issue. I’ve posted several excerpts from the interview — audio and print — on this blog.

In this excerpt, I had mentioned to Alan Dawson that jazz journalist Burt Korall recently asked me to identify the top jazz drummers to emerge in the 1980s. Not jazz drummers still playing in the 80s, but drummers who first caught the drumming public’s eye in the 1980s. I didn’t have an answer for Mr. Korall, and I asked Alan Dawson if he had an answer for Korall.

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Alan Dawson: I’m not sure who we consider jazz drummers in the 80s.

Scott K Fish: How about Harvey Mason and Steve Gadd? Are they jazz drummers?

AD: They can play jazz, but I think they themselves would disagree in being categorized as jazz players. I have heard a number of purists say, “No, they don’t play jazz. I’ve heard them go ding-dinga-ding, but they don’t do it right.” I guess you’d have to ask, Who’s a mainstream [jazz] drummer of the 80s? Who’s a fusion drummer of the 80s.

SKF: Years ago, were people referring to drummers as swing drummers and bebop drummers?

AD: Yes, I must admit they were. I first came up in the Swing Era, so I bridged swing and bebop. They had terms that I remember, at least locally in Boston. When they first started talking about bebop drumming they used to say, “Yeah, he’s on the kick.” I don’t know exactly what they meant by that.

Guys here in the mid-40s were very much influenced after having heard Dizzy Gillespie and Art Blakey and Bird playing with Billy Eckstine’s band.

When I was playing swing I’d say, “Well, that guy’s not modern. He’s not into the swing thing. He’s playing the Dixieland thing.”

As people mature they have a tendency to have more of an open mind toward the things that came before. When I was coming up I didn’t want to hear any Dixieland. I didn’t want to think about Dixieland. Jo Jones was it. If you didn’t play like Jo Jones — forget it.

Later on it was, “That guy’s still playing the swing thing. He’s not bopping. He’s not playing on the kick,” when Max Roach, Kenny Clarke, and those guys came along.

I guess there’s that kind of tendency when you’re young. I think as you mature, not only do you gain tolerance for what came before, you gain respect for the roots and history of the music.

As that happens you start playing more along with your own style of things you’ve heard in other [previous] styles.

For instance, when I started out I really didn’t want to hear the bass drum going boom-boom-boom-boom. I still don’t really hear it, but I didn’t even play it. The bass drum was the last of the three essential pieces of equipment that I got. I had the snare drum first, then a hi-hat, and I played that for a couple of years before I got a bass drum.

When I got a bass drum, it wasn’t the bottom of things to hold things together. To me, it was another voice. It was another piece of equipment. It was bigger than all the rest of them, so I had to do something with it other than boom-boom-boom-boom.

I had to learn later, when I was with Lionel Hampton, that, yes, you’ve got to learn how to go boom-boom-boom. Then you do whatever else you want to do, but if you can’t just play time with the bass drum — forget it.

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Still Smiling, Marveling at Elvin Jones’s Drumming

SKF NOTE: Happy birthday, Elvin Jones. Earlier this week I came across a Blue Note album I didn’t know existed: The Magnificent Thad Jones Vol. 3. What a lineup of musicians.

Alto Saxophone – Gigi Gryce
Bass – George Duvivier
Drums – Elvin Jones
Piano – Tommy Flanagan
Trombone – Benny Powell
Trumpet – Thad Jones

I’ve written before of how I came to know Elvin Jones’s drumming. Understanding Elvin’s drumming took much longer, but was well worth the studying.

Slipped Again is the first track on this Thad Jones album. Elvin’s playing is classic. At first listen, Elvin had me smiling, marveling, and sometimes mentally trying to keep time during Elvin’s drum breaks.

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When Jazz Was Played by ‘Routine’ Musicians

SKF NOTE: I still find great value in reading biographies and autobiographies of past jazz masters, including those musicians who were at the beginning of jazz. Danny Barker is such a musician. I bought his book, A Life in Jazz on April 3, 1993 and underscored those parts telling stories of early drummers and shared timeless words of wisdom.

Here’s Danny Barker telling readers a memorable story about his grandfather and early jazz musicians.

[My grandfather] Isidore referred to musicians who played jazz music in the many six-piece jazz bands about the city as “routine” musicians. It was a slur. To him, “routine” meant playing by ear, with no music, in the now “classic” jazz pattern: melody, then variations on a theme. All hot jazz bands were now using this set-up and playing free.

If you couldn’t read well, you could still master this pattern of playing, jazzing a melody: noodling around the theme, doing many things on your instrument with taste and within reason. Once you learned the pattern and played the routine it was OK. The better you mastered the style the greater you became.

This style of playing music had become popular, and so many were now playing it. Who cared if you read music? You were free: free to take liberties, free to express yourself from deep inside. The public was clamoring for it.

Routine? Sure. But everybody could not master this pattern. Many tried but never could get it just right and master jazz so that they could play with other masters of jazz.

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Ed Soph: Learning Opportunities? Times Have Changed (1985)

Ed Soph

SKF NOTE: This is another excerpt from my 1985 Ed Soph interview. The back story is posted here. Ed makes several notable points here about the passing of opportunities for young drummers to study great players in club settings. Of course, the internet has compensated for that, I think. Not in all ways, but in some ways.

Ed Soph: I ran into Papa Jo a long time ago in Frank Ippolito’s old shop on 8th Avenue. And I went up to Papa Jo and figured, well, s**t, a way to introduce myself and to ask him if he could give me a drum lesson.

I said, “Gee, Mr. Jones, I sure would like to get a drum lesson from you.”

He says, If you want a drum lesson from me, come up to such-and-such a club. I’m playing there every night.

And I’m thinking, “You dumb m**r, Soph.” Click! These guys didn’t go to teachers. They went to clubs and watched the cats play. That’s gone now. How many kids can afford to go to that…club in New York that charged $17.00 to get in to hear Chick Corea, Roy Haynes, and Miroslav Vitous — and then there was a $10.00 drink minimum.

Then, if you’ve got to pay parking on top of that? Come one!

Scott K Fish: They pay that kind of money to see rock bands.

ES: But, those kids aren’t there to learn how to play drums. How can they be if they’re in a ten thousand seat auditorium? My God Almighty, you’ll learn more listening to the record.

I’m talking about going to a club, getting up into the Peanut Gallery — like they used to have at Birdland — and just sit there and check somebody out. Or go to the [Village] Vanguard, and get there early, and get to that spot that’s right back there by the drums — and watch Elvin.

That’s the learning opportunity right there. But times have changed. It’s not happening anymore like it was. Can you wonder why people get discouraged?

Twenty-seven dollars is alot of money for anyone? If my wife, Carol, and I had gone down there it would have cost us about $70.00 in expenses. But I hope Miroslav, Roy, and Chick got every penny of it. I know they didn’t. But I hope they got their take. But it would be nice if they’d give a concert in the afternoon. In the old days clubs used to have matinees for kids or for musicians who weren’t working.

Again, you see the strength of clinics, of presenting the music in that sort of environment. You really get bent out of shape thinking about that. But something always comes along to fill the gap. But that gap will never be filled.

I mean, can you imagine going into a club and watching Sid Catlett, or Dave Tough, or Tiny Kahn? Or, for Christ’s sake, just going down and listening to Mel Lewis play. Holy s**t!

And the thing is, Scott, that you or I could take a kid — and I’m not talking about value judgement on the kid, I’m just talking about exposure — we could take a kid who’s into Eric Carr, or who is into Neil Peart, or who’s into Alan White, and you could say to this kid, “Come here. Have you ever seen Elvin Jones play drums?”

“Who?”

“Come here, kid. You’re coming with me tonight.”

You could sit that kid down in that Peanut Gallery at the Vanguard and that kid’s mouht would be on the floor after the first chorus, simply because he’s never had any opportunity to be exposed to it.”

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The Hunt for Gary Chester Memorabilia

SKF NOTE: Here’s a recent SOS from Katrina Chester and Tony Cruz. They are working on a Gary Chester documentary. In this video they are asking all of us to consider letting Katrina and Tony have access to any Gary Chester memorabilia you have.

I’ve known and worked a bit with these two. Excellent people in the midst of important work. For what it’s worth, please help then if you can.

Thank you. // Best, skf

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