Grady Tate: I Listened to Sound

1979_md_cover_grady_tateSKF NOTE: Revisiting a 1979 interview with drummer extraordinaire Grady Tate this morning. At first I am surprised to read Grady is not the product of a “formal” drum education. And as I read, I’m remembering my introduction to Grady Tate on Stan Getz‘s classic Sweet Rain album.

At one point, interviewer Cheech Iero, who was Modern Drummer‘s Associate Editor at thie time, asks Grady who he listened to in his formative years. Grady says he listened to music on the radio and didn’t know which drummers he was listening to. Radio announcers, Mr. Tate tells Cheech Iero, “didn’t say the drummer was Buddy Rich or Shadow Wilson. I listened to sound for the …first 15, 16, 17 years of my life.”

Grady Tate listened to sound! He learned to read by asking other muscians how certain notated phrases sound. Of course! Enjoy this interview excerpt.

Cheech Iero: In your early days in North Carolina did you study drums with a private teacher?

Grady Tate: No. I just picked it up. I’ve been playing drums since about age five.

CI: What about reading? Did you just pick that up also?

GT: My first contact with reading was in high school. That was in the high school band. There wasn’t anyone to teach percussion because there were no black percussionists in the area. And the black drummers who were there had the same fate I faced. They didn’t know what they were doing.

When I got to high school, fortunately, I had a knack for playing from hand-to-hand. If I wanted to do something it was easier for me to play it with alternate sticking than to punctuate with one hand and play the balance of the figure with the other. So I just naturally played almost correctly.

In high school, I ran into a reading problem and asked a trumpet player, “How does this figure go? What does this sound like?” Once they hummed it to me I’d remember it. From then on, each time I saw it I’d know what it sounded like. That’s the way I learned to read. If I saw a figure and didn’t know what it was, I’d ask another musician. Each time they hummed it to me I’d catalog it. I read by remembering everything that I see.

I’ve never been involved in the 1 E AN DA’s, 2 E AN Da’s and what have you. I’ve never had to concentrate on reading while playing. I know what it sounds like before getting there. I don’t have to read it as such. I see it and play it.

That style has been it for me, because the reading doesn’t interfere with my playing.

CI: Do you feel you’ve missed something by not having that rudimental background?

GT: Of course. If I ever thought of becoming one of the world’s greatest drummers I realize that my lack of a rudimental background would be a drawback. But, I’ve never really been concerned about playing that much. I’m not a soloist. I would be very happy to never solo in my life.

When I play solos, I’m slightly inhibited. I realize just what it is that I can’t do. I’m basically a time player. I play time, colors, and play with my environment. I play whatever is called for at the time, as authentically as possible.

end

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