SKF NOTE: Earlier this week I pulled Neil Peart’s Far and Away: A Prize Every Time from my bookshelf, where I placed it, half read, months ago. Time to finish. For no reason, everytime I read Neil’s book I am taken by how good a writer he was.
On page 136, for example, Neil writes:
“Appreciating the moment is not a passive endeavor, at least for those who want to appreciate as many moments as possible.”
SKF NOTE: Last night I finished reading Robyn Flans’s book, Jeff Porcaro – It’s About Time: The Man and His Music. Robyn and I first met in the 1980s when I was Managing Editor of Modern Drummer and she was one of MD‘s prolific freelance writers. I remember from conversations with Robyn during those years how much she liked Jeff Porcaro as a person and drummer.
Her book, then, is exactly what Robyn said it is. It’s a biography of Jeff Porcaro as a human being and the music he created. Other than a glossy insert with Jeff’s handwritten drum part for Toto’s song, Rosanna, this biography stays mercifully clear of music notations. Several times Jeff uses words to describe drum parts or concepts. But this book is not written for someone primarily looking to learn Jeff’s licks.
Robyn Flans is close to the Porcaro family. That’s clear throughout this book. That familial relationship with Jeff, his family and friends really works to Robyn’s benefit as a writer, and to our benefit as readers. The people interviewed here trust Robyn. For an interviewer that makes all the difference in the world.
I didn’t know Jeff Porcaro. While he was not a drummer I followed, I recognized myself in Robyn’s book as one more person, on a long list, drawn to Jeff’s drumming whenever it comes around.
So, thank you, Robyn, for this book. It’s a good read sure to stand the test of time.
SKF NOTE: Reading Water Isaacson’s biography of Benjamin Franklin, I was pleasantly surprised to learn the famous Gadsden Flag (“Don’t Tread on Me”) was inspired by a drummer’s artwork. Read on.
“Back in Philadelphia, a group of Marine units were being organized to try to capture British arms shipments. [Benjamin] Franklin noticed that one of their drummers had painted a rattlesnake on his drum emblazoned with the words ‘Don’t tread on me.’ Franklin suggested that this should be the symbol and motto of America’s fight.
“Christopher Gadsden, a delegate to the Congress from South Carolina, picked up the suggestion…and subsequently designed a yellow flag with a rattlesnake emblazoned ‘Don’t Tread On Me.’ It was flown in 1776 by America’s first Marine units and later by many other militias.”
Source: Benjamin Franklin – An American Life, by Walter Isaacson, Simon & Schuster 2003
SKF NOTE: How many drummers were (are?) impacted by the Elvin Jones Trio with Joe Farrell on saxophones and Jimmy Garrison on bass? I remember my first experience hearing this trio and I wrote about it here.
Elvin had variations of this trio. There’s a live album with Elvin, George Coleman on tenor sax, and Wilbur Little on bass — which is a killer too. And just as I hope we haven’t heard all the recordings of Miles Davis’s Second Great Quintet, I hope there are more — much more — Elvin Jones Trio recordings to come.
Yes, I know there are several piano trio albums with Elvin on drums. As wonderful as those albums are, they are not Elvin Jones led sax-bass-drums trios.
Was I fortunate to see Elvin Jones play live? Yes, a few times. But never in a trio.
For drummers who never had, or will never have, the chance to see Elvin live? Elvin’s populated YouTube with recordings and concert footage. (I’ve watched two different Elvin Jones Trio videos.) Elvin has a discography second to no drummer.
For good measure, there are Elvin Jones interviews, profiles, and record/concert reviews such as this one from the Christmas 1969 Down Beat. I’ve included the entire interview. But, first I’ve isolated the Elvin focused parts of the review.
Elvin Jones Trio concert review excerpts:
…quite a few voices were heard expressing surprise that the trio was not ‘further out.’
…the mighty man gives so much of himself whenever he plays….
…you will not find harder-hitting, more direct jazz anywhere today. Elvin and his two team-mates epitomize all that has been important about jazz since Buddy Bolden called his children home.
…Elvin Jones was one of the first of the free thinkers.
[Joe Farrell] Even on a tune like Stella By Starlight, when the drummer almost hammered him into the ground while trading fours with his acrid tenor saxophone, Farrell kept coming back, totally undaunted and attacking, headstrong and strongheaded.
On the opening number…Elvin charged at his drums, battering away like a demon until I thought the set would take off. Rolling from tom-tom to side drum, beating the heads into submission, he is truly deserving of every plaque and plaudit he has ever won. Yet even in the outer reaches of the maelstrom he creates, he keeps that extreme tastefulness that recalls the great Max Roach at his most commanding and undeniably masterful.
...For Heaven’s Sake…Elvin’s tasty brushwork…. Elvin, unlit cigarette clamped firmly between his teeth, grunted and grinned as he worked up his tasty brush patterns. At times like this he is not interested in hogging the spotlight or in blowing his two sidemen off the stand. He revels in showing that he knows how to slip into the role of ‘just the drummer’ — albeit a very handy one!
SKF NOTE: This Slingerland ad brings back memories. Pre-internet, when magazine drum ads were a key source for studying drummers’ sets, this ad was among the best. To begin with, this is a back end look at Buddy Rich‘s drum setup. How cool was that back in 1969 (possibly earlier) when Slingerland first ran with this advertisement in Down Beat magazine..
In retrospect, it’s interesting to see the rectangular moleskin pad affixed to the bass drum batter head in addition to the felt strip visible on the left inside of the batter head. Moleskin was used to protect the batter head against repeated bass drum pedal beaters striking against the head. Cheaper to use moleskin than to buy a new bass drum head.
I don’t think all the other drummers pictured in this ad used two floor toms. But, then again, this ad is showing Slingerland‘s “Buddy Rich Outfit No. 80 N.”
Buddy’s positioning of his bass drum mounted ride cymbal always puzzled me. Of course, I tried doing that with my ride cymbal, but it was uncomfortable for playing certain kinds of music. That was a bit of conflict. Yes, the great Buddy Rich positions his 20-inch ride cymbal this way. Why can’t I? What’s my problem?
As I matured, as I studied other favorite drummers’ setups, I understood drum and cymbal positioning is really a personal matter. I should use what’s comfortable for me.
I was never comfortable using drum thrones as pictured in this ad. Drum stools always worked better; were always more flexible.
At some point after this ad appeared, drum companies reversed their message. This ad tells us the world’s great drummers play great Slingerland drums. Later, ads were telling us we couldn’t be great drummers without playing a certain brand of drum.