SKF NOTE: When playing copy songs in bands, I was never big on note-for-note copying of the original drummer’s parts. Sometimes I duplicated drum parts, but most often I captured the flavor of original drum parts while creating my own drum parts. Lacking technique sometimes prompted my decision to do my own thing. Mostly I had no interest in spending time learning to copy drummers on records. Chances are the original drummers came up with their own drum parts — why shouldn’t I do the same?
YouTube is thick with videos of Karaoke drummers playing along note-for-note — including breaks and solos — with some famous record, i.e. Philly Joe Jones’s Billy Boy. I suppose there is some merit as a learning tool in dissecting and memorizing well-known drum parts. But that’s like learning the alphabet, then to spell, then to write, and spending most of your time retyping and reciting famous books: “Hey, look here. I wrote Catcher in the Rye.”
Actually, no. J.D. Salinger wrote Catcher in the Rye. You just memorized and retyped Salinger’s bestseller.
The principal in learning to copy famous drum parts and solos is the same. You didn’t create For Big Sid or Toad. You just memorized drum solos created by Max Roach and Ginger Baker.
As I said, dissecting master drummers has merit. It’s the same for writers studying the works of great writers. Of lumberjacks studying the work of master woodcutters. The principle applies to any profession.
At some point, however, drummers need to find our own voices. That’s hard.
There is a YouTube video of a drummer telling his interviewer about playing one night at The Five Spot when Tony Williams was in the audience. (I’ve forgotten the drummer’s name, but I’ll find it and add it to this post when I do.)
The drummer said during a break he was talking with some people, being somewhat apologetic about his drumming concept — which was still a work in progress. Tony Williams was in that group. He told the drummer – paraphrasing – not to be apologetic, but to consider instead that no one else had yet approached the drums the way he — the Five Spot drummer — was approaching the instrument.
I love that. Is there any doubt Tony Williams was simply passing along a consideration he had about his own way of drumming?