In April 2014, when the time was right for me to start writing again about drummers and drumming, I expected to find changed, but vibrant, freelance writing opportunities.
To be clear: when I stopped looking for those writing opportunities years ago, I wasn’t walking away from my passion for music in general and drumming in particular. To the contrary, I devoted those years to study in two areas.
First, I re-learned how to use my hands. I was holding drumsticks, and using my hands, in ways making it impossible to execute rhythms and melodies I was hearing. I wanted to break my lifelong bad habit, replacing it with good hand technique I had learned while interviewing Freddie Gruber.
Along with Freddie, my inspirations were Big Sid Catlett and Arthur Rubinstein. Big Sid said, “I can swing seventeen men with one wire brush and a phone book.” And I know he could. So I set up in my home office a snare drum. That’s it. No hi-hat. No cymbals. No bass drum. No toms. And I kept a pair of sticks and brushes nearby.
“In 1934, [Arthur Rubinstein], who stated he neglected his technique in his early years, relying instead on natural talent, withdrew from concert life for several months of intensive study and practice.”
I’m not putting myself in the same league as Catlett and Rubinstein. They were simply inspiring.
In brief, I spent years relearning drum rudiments and how to use my hands correctly using sticks and brushes.
I also spent my years away from freelance writing in study. For example, I had a good working knowledge of Tony Williams and Elvin Jones. But now I dug deep. I listened to Tony with Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Eric Dolphy, Herbie Hancock, VSOP, Ray Manzarek, Andrew Hill, Jackie McLean, and on Tony’s albums as a leader. The same with Elvin. If I was studying a drummer, I would listen to everything of theirs I could find.
Also, I was studying other musicians of many genres who I hadn’t had time to dig deep into, or I never knew about them. Segovia, Bobby Hutcherson, Joe Henderson, Kenny Dorham, Yo Yo Ma, Bill Laswell, among many others.
The freelance music writing opportunities I knew are gone. The days of earning a few hundred bucks from a magazine for a feature drummer interview disappeared. The internet and blogs changed all that.
Last year I had a great time playing drums in public for the first time in 30 years. Me and my snare drum, a pair of sticks and brushes, among a dozen or more Celtic musicians: violinists, guitarists, cellists, mandolin players, and a bodhran player.
My blog, Life Beyond the Cymbals, is my first writing step through the new open door, eyes and ears wide open for new opportunities.
One door closes, another opens.
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