Sunday, June 12, 2011

Peter Hum interviews me.

Hey all,
Here's a quick interview I did with Peter Hum of the Ottawa Citizen regarding swing and younger players. I hope you dig it......

1) Drummer-wise, what are some of the big milestones in terms of the development of swinging?

I guess one of the main developments in swinging would be the transition drummers made from keeping time with drums (people like Baby Dodds) to using the cymbals more to keep time (Papa Jo Jones, Kenny Clarke). I think it's very important to check out the earlier pre-bebop style of playing, both in terms of listening and attempting to play that way. It's very challenging and some older players never made the transition to a more cymbal-based feel.

2) Surely drummers such as Elvin Jones, Tony Williams and Jack DeJohnette must have been pushed ride-cymbal playing forward in the 1960s and after.

Yes, I would mention Tony, Elvin, and Jack. I think what's happened since are minor movements forward but many great players.

3) From the mid-1980s on, how influential has Jeff “Tain” Watts been?

I think Jeff Watts has been very influential, but a lot of people don't focus on his great feel. For me, everything I've heard him play has swung hard, from Wynton's first album to now.

4) What do you think of the influence of other musical genres on swinging?

There are many contemporary influences, such as Drum n' Bass.

Regardless, if young players learn and respect the music with good taste and judgment they can add in any contemporary influence and it will sound great. A good example of a young player who has come up through the gospel thing and plays great is Larnell Lewis. He can do all the crazy stuff you want but also plays great grooves.

5) How would you describe the relationship that your students at University of Guelph and Mohawk College have with swinging? How does it compare with the take that you had with swinging when you were younger, the take that you have with it now?

As far as the students go, some of them have dedicated themselves to the swing feel and some haven't. Development of the swing beat takes a lot of effort and listening. The thing is that to play swing, you have to figure out how to play that ride cymbal in a way that's meaningful for you. You also have to love playing that rhythm. You have to be happy to play that rhythm on the cymbal alone, and have everyone that hears it (including the person playing it) believe in it as a world unto itself. I hear a lot of great players including some students, some of my contemporaries, as well as internationally renowned players, that don't convince me with their ride cymbal and in my opinion, don't swing.

6) Is Dwayne Burno right to say that the majority of today's young jazz musicians can barely swing?

I'm not sure about the majority of players. I certainly hear some young players that make me feel good when they play. On the other hand, it does feel like some of the aspects of some of the current jazz coming out of younger musicians (odd time signatures galore, mainly straight 8th grooves etc.) sometimes occur so much because maybe they can't make 4/4 swing work for them. As I said before, it takes a long time to be able to play it convincingly.

7) Here's something that Jeff Ballard, during a masterclass last year, told a group of students:

You guys have lost the opportunity to play with the guys who have invented this stuff. So if you're playing with us, we're an echo away, a generation after, you know? What's going to happen to swing, in a way? Seeing it being played by Art Blakey, seeing it played by Ed Blackwell, seeing Ray Brown play, seeing Max Roach play... We've had that, and not on YouTube. Being at the gig, playing with Stan Getz, playing with Ray Charles, playing with Dizzy Gillespie, playing with Lou Donaldson, playing with Buddy Montgomery, Wes Montgomery's brother. That's changed. These guys have gone.

To answer Jeff Ballard's question, what's going to happen to swing?

I think there will always be people swinging, even if there's not a huge amount of them. One of the coolest and great things about swing (especially from the drummer's perspective) is that it supports so many different ways of playing it. From Elvin's triplets to Billy Higgins "almost straight, but not quite" to Kenny Clarke's very clipped rhythm. I think players that are dedicated to swing will keep developing it.

8) Among drummers that are roughly our age or younger than us, who do like when it comes to swinging, and why? To throw a few names out for your consideration, what can you say about: Bill Stewart? Brian Blade? Jeff Ballard? Eric Harland? Antonio Sanchez? Ari Hoenig? Chris Dave? Who am I missing?

There are a lot of great players currently. I love Bill Stewart's assimilation of older players yet he's managed to create a very distinctive style and feel, especially with some of the "almost straight" feel I was mentioning earlier.

Brian Blade's also another great example. When I first heard him live some years back one of the things that occurred to me was that no matter how abstract or traditional someone played, they love to have him in their band. Basically because EVERYTHING he plays feels so great. This is something that Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan figured out as well as all the jazz players.

Antonio Sanchez is also I great example of a player that to me has researched jazz and swing playing very extensively. I've heard him play in reasonably traditional acoustic settings where, if you didn't know all the other things he's able to do, you'd think he was strictly into bebop, because he pllays the style so completely.

One current player I really love is Ferenc Nemeth, best known for his work with Lionel Loueke. Strangely enough, I haven't heard him play swing yet. He's such a great groovy player I would be very shocked if I didn't really dig it.

Interestingly enough, I also heard some great swing playing from some players that aren't associated with it. On CBC's "Tonic" last night I heard some GREAT guitar trio playing, although I didn't have a clue who it was. Turns out I was listening to Lenny Breau being accompanied by Rick Danko and Levon Helm (best known for their work with the band). Beautiful. Amazing feel. I would confess that moved me way more than a lot of musicians that the students are taking about or are in the Jazz magazines these days.

I was also thinking I'd love to hear Questlove play swing. I bet the feel would be dynamite because he (like Levon) has great respect for all the music he plays and isn't afraid to play simply.

Okay, there you have. I also recently came across this video of Mike Downes, Bernie Senensky, and myself backing up Charles McPherson in Toronto. Hopefully it swings!

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