Max Roach and Steve Gadd Onstage? Sorry I Missed It

SKF NOTE: A member posted an SOS regarding Max Roach. Paraphrasing, the member asked, “What’s the big deal about Max Roach? I know he’s famous. But from what I’ve seen and heard of his drumming on YouTube, I don’t understand why he’s famous. What’s so special about his drumming? So far, I’m unimpressed.”

Thinking back to the first time I heard Max — it was the self-titled Clifford Brown/Max Roach album on the Emarcy label — I was transformed. Max’s style was compositional, musical. What sounded, at first listen, simple, was not simple at all. It was the style of a drummer with a firm grasp of all aspects of music: rhythm, melody, harmony, and where they applied, song lyrics.

What’s more, Max understood and respected the history of drummers. He knew what the better known drum pioneers — like Papa Jo Jones and Big Sid Catlett — contributed to how the drumset is played. He also knew and respected drummer pioneers who were not so much in the limelight. Drummers like O’Neil Spencer.

I’ve listened to many Max Roach recordings. I’ve seen Max perform twice. Once with his quartet and once with his percussion ensemble, M’Boom. And I was blessed to have interviewed both Max and M’Boom for Modern Drummer cover stories.

If my experience with Max was based solely, or mostly, on his YouTube fare? I would be missing out on the Max Roach musical experience. Fortunately, Max’s digital recordings are plentiful; a must for any serious drummer.

Now, I have to admit there was a moment when I thought about Max similar to the member. I’m embarrassed remembering it — but it’s true, and at least I learned a good lesson from that incident.

I was having a phone conversation with Max during what was, to the best of my recollection, very preliminary plans for the first Modern Drummer Drum Festival. This was probably in 1983 when I was still on staff at MD. The phone conversation took place in my MD office.

I remember giving Max a general idea of the festival — to which he was receptive. But when I told him we were thinking of having Max and Art Blakey together, I could see Max wincing. Promoters always want to pair Max and Art or Max and other drummers of that era. The idea was old hat.

Why not, said Max, have he and Steve Gadd together onstage?

True confessions, drum colleagues. My heart sank when Max said that. I thought, “Steve Gadd will carve up Max. He doesn’t stand a chance.”

That was when Steve Gadd’s career and popularity were on the steep ascend. He was the new kid in town.

Max told me how interesting it could be to take two such different players, put them together, and see what they could create.

At that moment all I could see was Max Roach, my drum hero, getting demolished onstage, in public. I wanted to avoid that, but I had no idea how to share my thoughts with Max.

Sometime after my phone conversation with Max I left MD, went to work for the Gretsch Musical Instrument, Co., and had no part in planning MD’s drum festivals. Who knows how that festival — which ultimately featured Steve Gadd, Vinnie Colaiuta, Dave Weckl, and the Buddy Rich Big Band — might have turned out if I’d stuck around.

Today, I recognize how shortsighted I was and how wrong I was about Max. Leaving Max Roach and Steve Gadd to their own creative devices in producing an onstage event would have been a gas. I’m sorry I missed it.

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Les DeMerle – It’s Not the Notes, It’s the Rests

SKF NOTE: More words of wisdom from drummer/bandleader Les DeMerle. The back story to our interview is here.

Scott K Fish: Is it possible for a drummer to become so technically exact and proficient that the naturalness of his playing suffers?

Les DeMerle: If the music is super, super technical — then that might apply. But if you learn to master the music and relax with it, then there’s no reason why it shouldn’t swing.

For years, Harry James used to tell me that it’s not the notes, it’s the rests that count.

In order for a band to really get a lilt and a groove everybody has to contribute just a little bit, and be aware of what notes the other guys are on. That’s what makes it really happen.

You could have a phenomenal drummer, but if there’s a busy piano player and guitar player the band’s going to feel like a sinking ship. It’s going to feel like lead.

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Newly Released Monk Quartet Concert Album Coming

SKF NOTE: Drummer Ben Riley is in excellent form on this never before released Thelonious Monk concert, Palo Alto, slated for release in July 2020. From the reviews I’m reading, and based on this advance release of Epistrophy from the album, the entire Monk Quartet is in great form.

From Jazzwise get the backstory to this date. And it’s a great story:

In the autumn of 1968, a sixteen-year-old boy named Danny Scher had a dream. He wanted to bring Thelonious Monk and his quartet to play a benefit concert at his high school in Palo Alto, California, in order to raise funds for his school and to help bring about racial unity in his community.

Armed with little more than a telephone, a persuasive pitch, an impressive knowledge of jazz and an iron-willed determination, Scher made the concert happen on Sunday, 27 October 1968. The concert was also recorded and lay, forgotten, in the vaults – until now.

Just when you think an artist’s or a group’s well has run dry — presto! — new music appears.

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Johnny Vidacovich LP – Like a Scent of Magnolia Blossoms

SKF NOTE: Last week I bought and listened to Johnny Vidacovich‘s ‘Bout Time album. What a joy, a treat.

Vidacovich is another drummer I’ve known about for 40 years or so, but outside of the occasional song video, or article reference — “One of the top New Orleans jazz drummers.” “Brian Blade’s drum teacher.” — I haven’t really listened much to Johnny Vidacovich.

I bought this album on instinct, uploaded it to my trusty old MP3 player, and listened while driving around last weekend on errands.

Like the best New Orleans jazz, ‘Bout Time swings start to finish. All of the band members are new to me. Michael Pellera (keyboards), Tony Dagradi (sax), Ed Wise (bass). They are all excellent players in both ensemble and solo roles throughout this album.

As for Mr. Vidacovich? Listening to him was like enjoying the scent of magnolia blossoms. A drummer who plays the drums. Many times I wondered if his set-up included cymbals. Of course, it did, and Vidacovich uses them very well. It seemed to me I was hearing an original. Yes, I know he’s well-schooled in drum traditions. That’s as it should be with all serious drummers.

But knowing what drummers who came before you were about doesn’t mean copying their styles. It means absorbing their styles, understanding their perspective, and then using your own percussive voice on the drumset. That’s what I hear from Vidacovich on ‘Bout Time.

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In Absentia – Happy Fathers Day Chet Fish, Jr

SKF NOTE: Happy Fathers Day to my dad, Chet Fish, Jr. Dad was a magazine and book editor. Among his five children I’m the only one who followed somewhat his career path.

Last year my dad died. My brothers and sisters asked me to give the eulogy at dad’s funeral Mass. A tough assignment I wasn’t convinced I could handle, but I did. Here’s what I said:


Chet Fish Eulogy
by Scott K Fish
April 2, 2019

I am Scott Fish, Chet’s second son. My mom and dad have four other children: Craig, Maribeth, Andrea, and Brian.

Those of you who read dad’s obituary know my parents also considered Marco Toninelli a son, and Mary Stouffer a daughter.

Marco lived one year in NY with Claire and Chet as an AFS student. He arrived unable to speak English. No one in our family spoke Italian.

In the end, Marco was fluent in English, and my parents were fluent in Italian.

Maribeth has the eternal gratitude and love of her brothers and sisters as primary caregiver for both our parents.

Mary Stouffer earns the “You Got a Friend in Me” award for having Maribeth’s back during those care giving years.

Thank you, Mary and Marco.

Chet’s family — his children and his grandchildren — Tess, Katie, and Patrick — are his greatest legacy.

My brothers and sisters and I each have unique Chet stories, and Chet stories we share in common. As Craig said recently, Chet was almost 94 years old.

That’s a lot of stories.

The times I heard Chet speak in public, he began by starting out promising his audience to abide by the Three B’s of public speaking: Be Brief, Be Brilliant, Be Gone.

I will do the same.

If Chet had a parenting philosophy — I think he did — it was this: to raise us kids to be self sufficient.

More than once, Chet told me he raised us to leave home, self-sufficient, at age 18. We were always welcome in his home, he said, but he hoped, after age 18 we wouldn’t be living there.

In junior high school, if memory serves, dad decreed the school night hours from 7:00 to 9:00 as “homework time.” No tv. We were to be in our rooms doing homework. If we weren’t doing homework, we at least needed to be quiet.

I thought homework time was cruel and unusual punishment. Kids on the school bus the next day were talking about 77 Sunset Strip, Hawaii Five-0 — all the cool shows I missed.

But as an adult, I believe homework time was one of dad’s best decisions. Truth be told, I rarely used the time to do homework. But, I did use the time to read books, to learn to write, to do research, and to study. And, with my radio playing very, very softly, I also began learning about popular music.

These are the skills I used — and still use — in my professional life.

Chet taught us survival skills: how to build a campfire — even with flint and steel; how to tie rope knots, how to police a campsite; how to catch a fish and prepare it for eating, how to cook over a campfire; how to shoot a rifle, gun safety; how to use axes, knives, hatchets; how to plant and care for trees and plants. How to train dogs.

My sister Andrea reminded me of our religious upbringing — a tremendous foundation of schooling and church participation, of spiritual curiosity that has remained — and grown — with all Chet’s children.

And sister Maribeth pointed out Dad’s devout Catholicism which grew from his adult conversion. What started out as Dad’s studying Roman Catholicism to poke holes in his wife’s faith, became Dad’s conversion, which meant a great deal to him.

Andrea said of Chet, “When I think of the arc of his life I see him as an example of faith and constancy. Greatest generation and all that…enlisting in the US Navy right out of high school, married to his high school sweetheart for his whole life, ambitious but not materialistic, scrupulously honest, highly sensitive BS meter, not outwardly sentimental but easily brought near tears by sentimental moments. He had his eye on the “God” ball pretty much all the time and lived his life accordingly.”

That, too, is self-sufficiency. For this world — and the next.

I wish my dad had more interest, especially in the latter part of his life, to initiate communications with his adult kids living out-of-state.

Especially when he and mom stopped traveling and became homebodies.

Chet was not “a phone person,” and never warmed to computers or internet technology.

He acted as if he was afraid if he pushed a wrong button the family computer would self-destruct in a shower of sparks and smoke.

It wasn’t that Chet couldn’t use modern communications tools.

For example, Maribeth bought dad an iPhone. One day, out of the blue, I received a self-initiated FaceTime call from dad. He also Face-Timed Craig at a restaurant, and his son-in-law, Buzz Hofmann, out on the golf course.

That surprised the heck out of us all.

One of my last calls to dad was perhaps our best phone conversation. Nearing the call’s end, dad said, “Well, Scott. This has been a good phone call. But we probably shouldn’t count on doing this on a regular basis.”

My brother, Brian, wrote yesterday of Chet’s death, “I have come to understand the word ‘departed” more. As my friends and folks pass on, I do feel they have left for a different place. It is not a sad feeling entirely, but one of “See you again” and mystery.

I feel the same.

Thank you, dad. Well done.

We’ll catch up some other time.

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