“In one van,” says Barbara Borden. “All of us and all our stuff.” “All of us” means the jazz quintet Alive!. Ms. Borden is the group’s drumset player.
“You came out from the West Coast in a van?” I double-check.
“That’s right,” says Ms. Borden. To which Alive! percussionist Carolyn Brandy adds, “And we’re going back in a van!“
I remember liking Alive!‘s 1981 album, Call It Jazz, but as of this writing, I do not recall the specifics of how I came to interview Alive!‘s drummers for a Modern Drummer feature. No matter. I enjoyed meeting both women, and I’m very glad to see both are still playing individually and with Alive!.
One thing I remember vividly. I approached this as an interview with two drummers. Not two female drummers. After all, I never approached interviews with, say, Neil Peart and Frankie Dunlop, as interviews with male drummers. In the ebb and flow of all my interviews, if the conversation turned to matters specific to men or women — so be it. Other than that, I focused on the music and the musicians.
Here is an excerpt from the Alive! interview.
Scott K Fish: Did you ever have friends that you played in bands with when you were growing up that quit playing music when you kept on?
Barbara Borden: Mm hm.
SKF: What was the difference between you?
BB: Well, a lot of times people get into trappings. For example, they may have a family. A lot of people go out and find out what it really takes to be a musician and don’t want to deal with it.
Playing on the stage is about five percent of it. The other is hauling instruments, practicing, dealing with business, dealing with your own emotional self, and the other band members. There’s so much involved. It’s a constant challenge.
Then, your creativity is out there. You’re always open for a lot of criticism. Some people find that very difficult and want to find a very quiet nook and hang out. When your kids are in school and you have that quiet nook. The school provides that very reassuring type of situation. But when you get out in the big world, there’s a lot to contend with.
The other part is — and I think this is true for all of us in the band — at some point we drifted away from things for a while and felt that we had to do other things.
Our singer was an actress for many years. Then she got back to singing and that’s what she wants to do now. Sometimes people want to be creative people and might do a few different happenings like that: Be a musician for a while, then do drama for a while. I know a lot of drummers who are very good singers. From the back of the band to the front of the band. I think it’s a matter of following your heart. Our piano player is writing a song about how sometimes you wonder if you should have taken the other way.
SKF: Do you ever think about that?
BB: There are moments when it gets real difficult and I say, “Oh, boy!” But then I think, “What would I really want to be doing?” I know I’m on the right track still. I think one knows when you’re on the right track. You have this constant energy to do this; putting yourself out there and doing whatever it is. That you’re not bored. That you’e always having met the challenge.
I think that’s a very exciting way to live your life.
SKF: Why do you think you continue, Carolyn?
Carolyn Brandy:I don’t know. It’s fate, isn’t it? I was married for seven years and at that time pitty-pattied around the house and my drums.
SKF: Was your husband a musician?
CB: He played guitar.
We got into a discussion about what makes somebody really succeed and become a great improvisor. What is it? Is it hard work? Is it struggle? Sometimes it boils down to: it’s a gift. Is it ninety-nine percent hard work and one-percent inspiration? Surely it is a lot of hard work. I believe in that ten-percent genius, ninety-percent hard work [adage]. But, like Betty Carter said, you’re not the one to tell yourself that you’re a genius. The people tell you if you’re a genius.
But I don’t know why some people stay in the music business and some fall along the way. If you asked them I don’t think the people would say that they fell along the wayside. They would say, “I chose to do this because….”
Is it the financial situation of being a musician? Because the financial rewards are not guaranteed. That’s for sure.
— end —