SKF NOTE: This interview was done over dinner at a Centre Island, New York restaurant in early 1980s. I have forgotten the restaurant name. Neither do I remember how this interview happened, nor if it was ever published in Modern Drummer. But re-reading it for the first time in 30 years — I am impressed! Keith Copeland and I had a good rapport, asking very good questions and giving very good answers.
We were talking about teaching and drum student aptitude. Keith said, “You can’t teach feeling. You can teach anybody technique. If you don’t have heart it’s going to be very hard for me to teach it to you.”
That’s when I asked my opening question in this exchange.
Scott K Fish: What about that famous story of Papa Jo Jones throwing a cymbal at Charlie Parker because he felt he was playing so bad? Doesn’t that contradict the theory of either you have got it or you don’t?
Keith Copeland: I can’t say what was going through Papa Jo’s mind. But, I think he did that because he recognized some talent in Charlie Parker and, that would scare him enough to really make him get it together.
That’s what happened to me when I was coming up.
The worst, most traumatic experiences I had was when I was trying to play with people I love and revere today. They literally scared me to death to make me practice.
When I was 17 I sat in with a group that pianist Barry Harris was leading at Minton’s Playhouse. It was George Coleman on tenor, Charles McPherson on alto, Peck Morrison on bass, and Barry. Lenny McBrowne was the regular drummer.
I thought I was playing pretty good. But I wasn’t playing any bass drum or bottom. I wasn’t playing four-to-the-bar lightly like Lenny. I was just using my bass drum to drop bombs and answer what my left hand was doing — in the style of Philly Joe Jones with Miles [Davis].
But Barry wanted to hear some bottom! We were playing all the Charlie Parker tunes. When those tunes were recorded, Max Roach was playing some bottom too. When I was playing behind the horn soloists, Barry kept looking at me real strange and I was feeling real bad.
When Barry started soloing he started having a conversation with me about my inadequacies in using my bass drum. He was soloing and talking to me at the same time! I’d never seen anybody do that before.
So, I went home and worked on it. The next time, I had it more together. At least Barry didn’t talk to me during his solo. The way he looked at me and the way he was talking is still alive in my mind.
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