Paul Motian – Songwriter Drummer

Paul Motian (Photo courtesy ECM Records)

SKF NOTE: Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts described his first hearing of jazz pianist Bill Evans’s early 1960s trio as a group where no one, including drummer Paul Motian, served as timekeeper. Instead, observed Watts, he heard and felt the trio-as-one playing loosely in time.

In the mid-1980’s, Motian’s no-time/time playing first attracted me to his drumming. Before I first heard Motian with the Evans Trio, I listened to his albums Dance (1977), and later, his debut ECM album, Conception Vessel (1972).

I was already exploring ways of drumming outside the restrictive ding-dinga-ding ride cymbal, and hi-hat on beats two and four. Examples I’d heard of “free” drumming were interesting, but not exactly what I had in mind.

Motian’s drumming on Conception Vessel and Dance, a mix of color and swing, attracted my attention. Although, on the first several hearings I didn’t fully understand Motian’s musical concept, I always liked the overall sound and feeling of his music.

But, what truly cemented by admiration for Motian’s musicianship was his beautifully written song, Byablue, on Keith Jarrett’s album of the same name. Motian plays drums on the album, the last album by Jarrett’s “American Quartet.”

Of the two versions of Byablue on the album, my favorite is the shorter “Alternate Version,” memorable for its focus on Jarrett’s acoustic piano playing.

When I interviewed Paul Motian for Modern Drummer, I was equally curious about his songwriting and drumming. He had a beautiful five-piece black drumset in his apartment. MD used a couple of my photos with Motian’s interview in the April-May 1980 issue. I think the set was Slingerland, with a spare wooden snare drum (snares off) serving as a second mounted tom-tom. Typical of Motian’s sound, his drums had, at best, minimal padding. I remember them as wide open.

What I recall most of the songwriting portion of the interview is that Motian sat at the acoustic piano in his apartment, asked me to turn off my tape recorder, and then played me a sketch of a new song.

Motian finished playing his song and said he intended to bring it to a Jarrett recording session. “Keith will play the shit out of it,” he smiled.

March 25 was Paul Motian’s birthday. Hard to believe he’s been gone 12 years. A great player, I discover new aspects of Motian’s music to love time and again.

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How Does He Do That?

SKF NOTE: I’ve been asked later this morning to take part in my friend Jason Carey‘s mini-documentary. My role is to talk on camera about how this blog, Life Beyond the Cymbals, came about. That is, I’m to talk about how my love of drumming, starting at age six, became a lifelong passion, a subject to study and write about.

Who knows why drumming became a passion? I remember the bug bit me in the drafting room at my grandfather’s Charles R. Fish Nurseries, listening to my Uncle Bob’s record of the Gene Krupa Quartet playing “China Boy.” Krupa’s press rolls were impressive and mysterious.,

The road to Life Beyond the Cymbals began with my search for an answer to the question, “How does he do that?”

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DrummingNewsNetwork Features SKFBlog

SKF NOTE: is an impressive web site where it’s hard to imagine a part of the drum world not covered.

A few months ago, owner, Paul Rogne, and I, had our first phone conversation.

Two weeks ago Mr. Rogne asked if, every Thursday, DNN could feature one of my blog posts. It might be my most recent blog post or it might be a post from the Life Beyond the Cymbals archive.

I happily to say yes to the offer. And I look forward to working with Paul Rogne and

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Close Up on Papa Jo Jones

SKF NOTE: Drum pioneer Jonathan “Papa Jo” Jones playing his signature “Caravan” drum solo in 1978. This video is brand new to me. The web has a few excellent videos of Papa Jo drum solos. This 1957 “Caravan” drum solo is another.

But the 1978 performance with the Mary Lou Williams trio, new me, is maybe new to you too. I love 1978’s close-up camera work on Papa Jo’s hands, sticks, and his signature old drum set.

Making available these notable music videos is one way the internet really shines. Sometimes I wonder how access to these videos would have changed my drums and drumming research and writing earlier in my career.

Maybe not so much. Radio, albums, album liner notes, photos, magazines, books, personal interviews – these are all valuable sources for story writing. Videos do add a visual dimension. We see drummers we’ve only listened to and read about.

Most valuable to my research is the video of the drummer I’ve only heard about; maybe read about briefly, or about whom someone shared with me only a brief anecdote or memory.

Still, I think almost all musician videos made public on the web are a blessing. How good for the 1978 camera crew to have captured Papa Jo for all time, and how good of Pascal Savelon to post it for us to enjoy and study on YouTube.

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Buddy Rich – Always a Lesson Learned

SKF NOTE: Buddy Rich endorsed Ludwig drums, Rogers drums, and several other drum brands. But in my mind it’s hard to separate Buddy Rich from Slingerland drums. On one knowledgeable person said Buddy endorsed Slingerland 1938-1946, switched for a time to endorsing other drums, and then came back to Slingerland 1968-1977.

That makes sense. Those were formative years in my life. For a young drummer, Buddy Rich’s mastery of the instrument was the impossible dream. The gold standard.

Whether I was watching Rich performing on tv, on an album, or in concert, he was always playing a Slingerland drum set that looked exactly like the set in this 1968 drum ad.

During Buddy’s tv appearances he often played loaner drum sets provided by the tv show. How those drum sets sounded was always a toss-up. One time Buddy sat down behind a four-piece Ludwig set that sounded as if a stage hand had just assembled the drums straight from their packing boxes, with no attempt to tension the drum heads for a good sound.

Whenever I heard Buddy playing his own drums they sounded great. The crispest snare in the business with deep, punchy toms and bass drum.

Sometimes I would see on tv Buddy struggling a bit playing on an unresponsive loaner snare. Even so, Buddy always sounded great. There was always a takeaway, a lesson learned, watching Buddy Rich play drums.

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