John Von Ohlen – Your Day of Liberation

John Von Ohlen

SKF NOTE: When I finished putting together John Von Ohlen’s Modern Drummer interview, before it was published, I sent him a copy to review. That was my standard practice. Drummers responded, usually, by signing off on the interview as written. Sometimes they clarified what they said during the interview, and sometimes they added to what they said.

This morning, I came across page 28 of Von Ohlen’s interview. His edits and added comments, written in thick pencil, are really good advice for drummers. The meat of John’s comments stray from the question I asked him, but I’m glad he wrote it that way. I have added a copy of interview page 28 to this post.


Scott K Fish: For the person who wants to listen to some good big band records — what would you suggest?

John Von Ohlen: Well, anything by Thad Jones and Mel Lewis is fun and the best. Not only is Mel Lewis a master drummer, but he’s right in there, all the time, pitching for good music. And fighting for it, if need be.

Count Basie and Duke Ellington really set the roots for our way of playing big band jazz and the way we play figures. Basie’s band is awful good at that. Listen to whatever tantalizes you; whatever your ears go to. That means it’s right for you.

The next thing will present itself in time. Learning all this stuff is a slow process. Take plenty of time in your development. My pace is very, very slow. But I think it’s stronger than having it all thrown at you in a book learning way. Just let it come to you in the natural unfoldment [sic] of your playing. It’s a lot slower, but they say that sometimes the longer it takes, the better the fruition when it does come. Like diamonds. A diamond is the most perfect jewel, and it’s the jewel that takes the longest to make.

Don’t be afraid to take the slow way. Two steps forward and one [step] back.

At first you usually emulate the master drummers. They are usually older, but not always. You copy them. You imitate them because you haven’t found your own way yet.

Then one day you hear, for the first time, your own natural style. Everyone has a different face that they didn’t consciously create. It was given to them at birth. Consequently, every drummer has a different style that he or she couldn’t even begin to conjure up. It was just there naturally. Always had been. But now you are just beginning to be aware of it for the first time. That day is your day of liberation.

From then on, instead of focusing your energies on trying to sound like Steve Gadd, Buddy Rich, Mel Lewis, or Elvin Jones, you begin the real work of mastering your own style, your own way.

It’s a lifelong study and I love it.

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