SKF NOTE: Sometimes it’s disappointing when an interviewer misses an apparent opportunity to get a more in-depth answer. No doubt Art Blakey had one of the world’s great press rolls. Anytime a musician has a trademark style it’s always nice to have an opportunity to read or hear the musician talk about it.
Art Taylor is a fine drummer. I’m glad his book of short interviews, Notes and Tones, was published. But sometimes I wish he was better able to keep the musicians he was interviewing on topic. That can be tricky. Sometimes when a musician starts veering away from an answer it’s best for the interviewer to not interrupt, but to revisit the question when the musican finishes veering away and stops talking.
It would be interesting to know if Blakey struggled in developing his press roll or if it came easy. If he struggled, does he remember an “Ah Ha!” moment when his struggling ended and he could play his signature press roll at will? If so, can he tells us what changed, what made the difference? Stick weight? Changing the way he holds the sticks?
That said, Notes and Tones is well worth owning because it is full of gems of wisdom from great musicians. Here is one example:
Art Taylor: How did you develop your press roll?
Art Blakey: I didn’t think it was developed yet. Teachers say that the way I do it is technically wrong, but it’s the way I feel. That’s the reason I stopped playing piano. Whatever you do, nobody ought to tell you how to do it, because you have physical handicaps you know about that nobody else knows about.
Nobody teaches you how to eat. You know how to eat when you come here. So if you’re going to play the drums, nobody should teach you how because you know your own physical aptitudes, what you can do and how to do it your way.
If we get into something and it’s time to roll, I pick up the sticks, and if they’re backward, I just roll with it.
They say don’t do it that way because it’s timpani style. What style? Cats in Africa ust pick the sticks up and they’ve got it. We have a technical advantage over here where we hold the stick between the thumb and the index finger of the left hand, which is good for what we’re doing. But you don’t have to play with a certain end of the stick. If you grab it you can just do whatever happens!
Source: “Art Blakey,” Notes and Tones: Musician to Musician Interviews, by Arthur Taylor, Coward, McCann & Geoghegan 1977