The chance of musical growth.

This last Tuesday evening I was fortunate enough to meet up once again with one of my favourite musicians and former teacher, drummer Jeff Hamilton. Jeff sounded on top form as he performed with Osaka born and now New York based Hammond Organist Akiko Tsuruga and LA based Guitarist Graham Dechter. They were performing at a small jazz club in Bern, Switzerland. The whole event was captivating and it did strike me that Jeff really did have a depth of knowledge as a musician that was worthy of his status and what was immediately obvious was Jeff’s clearly identifiably musical contribution that was unmistakably Jeff.

 

On Wednesday morning I was fortunate enough to meet Jeff for breakfast and straight away I naturally assumed the student position, however this time our meeting did not totally involve drums. I was inspired by many aspects of our chat including the moments where Jeff described to me how he first discovered the great pianist (first and foremost) and vocalist Diana Krall at one of Jeff’s musical summer camps in the US. Jeff over the years had been a sort of musical mentor to Diana. He first recommended Diana to a New York based agent who was desperate to find a young female pianist/vocalist for a jazz festival happening in the New York area. It was from here that she found herself in the middle of a bidding war between major labels eventually signing to Tommy Li Puma’s then GRP/Verve label. This association lead to a Grammy award winning album Diana Krall - Live in Paris. Although Tommy Li Puma was always credited with the discovery of Diana Krall it was originally Jeff who mentored Diana and even negotiated payment for all to remove a self promoted album of Diana’s from the shelves of record stores at that time paving the way for Tommy Li Puma’s great find! Amazing to hear how that association progressed… Anyway, stories of this episode were really not what the basis of any sort of substance to this blog. The message that I hope to put across in my writing here was based on Jeff and my own observations of the global art form we call music. 

With Jeff Hamilton - Bern, Switzerland. January 2018.

With Jeff Hamilton - Bern, Switzerland. January 2018.

 

Many years ago of course we referred to a specific art form called jazz as the pop music of the day… Many musicians came to the forefront at this time and they all had there own voice. Sadly today it seems that everything has already been said and at best we can only hope to reproduce something that had been created years ago and we may refer to it as retro or whatever hip label sprung to mind, but two things occur. 1. We love to pigeon hole by means of labels and 2. As stated earlier it appears that everything in music genres has already been said. I referred to jazz music earlier and why? Well of course given that Jeff is indeed a jazz musician and the basis of our conversion was this genre it threw up a couple of things that were abundantly clear in any genre however. 

 

Jeff referred to the characters, the personalities and the close link between these characters and the was the music is related. Jazz is improvised music and so in many ways it is easier to see how these personalities manifest themselves in the music. The Duke Ellington Band was clearly different in style in the big band genre to modern days offerings of orchestras such as the the great Gordon Goodwin’s leading big band of today. As Jeff stated though, a warning of how character is almost lost in the perfection of the musicianship. How true in many of today computer created pop offerings… With Duke Ellington there was a kind of effortless swing and a big fat down beat anchoring proceedings well and truly to the deck as opposed to the surgical precision of that down beat of metronomic quantized quality. 

 

Why? Well, of course the computer generation has something to answer for in this regard. This is not the whole story. Jeff used a phrase that musicians today seem to go at best from “college to limo” and miss out the little bit of guidance that everyone of those greats had benefitted from in the form of a mentor. I am a big believer in the benefits of such a person in my musical life… Jeff indeed did mentor Diana and continues to be a confidant today and what does this do? I believe it enables to a certain extent the confidence of true expression with correct form of relationship.  Many young musicians today will only come into contact with their peers and whilst this is good and natural and an important networking opportunity it does limit the creative output to the extent that everyone has blinkers on to the same old drummers/musicians/bands that their friends enjoy and today these names come up time and time again. Snarky Puppy, VulfPeck, Benny Greb, Steve Jordan, Aaron Spears et al… This is fine but this created the same boring net result on the whole in that everyone has the same influences and end up using the same drums layout, playing the same old grooves and licks and sounding to a smaller and larger degree depending upon the level of effort the same. Look, if Chick Corea were looking to hire someone that sounds like Dave Weckl he would hire Dave Weckl. From College to Limo is all well and good but I am a big believer in learning from those that have seen this before… They can have a pretty good view having been in this business for a little while. Young musicians would definitely benefit from mentors and those people that are absolutely in the thick of the top level of the music business. Expanding horizons and learning from those people that have trodden this path is essential I would say. 

 

What makes Jeff, Jeff? It is the war stories, the meeting of these old pros over the years… The learning from these musicians. I had a few mentors in early years and that experience in learning supersedes genre and holds true in all music played at a high level in my opinion. Granted that some people are not serious about being great musicians and their motivation maybe from some where else. Remember if you want to be rich and famous or rich and infamous, rob a bank but never let the pursuit of these two be at the expense of musical development if you are serious.

 

Jeff tells the story of one famous drummer many years ago rolling around outside Ronnie Scott’s in Frith Street fighting with a customer who took offence at this particular drummer hitting on his girlfriend in an interval who happened to be a member of the waiting staff at the venue. I am not saying this is a good thing personally and but I am identifying a definite change in personality between the nearly sterile computer musicians of today and the characters of many years ago that shaped music. It was these edgy characters, the Jaco’s Pastorius’ the Buddy Rich’s, the Elvin Jones’ that defined certain styles. These were the rebels who created total paradigm shifts in music. Not the sterile recreation of that note for note perfection that seems to very much the ultimate aim in many ways today. I think we both identified a fearlessness that went with some of the fore fathers as opposed to the corporate perfect fear based psychology of today.

 

If you are serious, track down those people who have done this before. It is very hard to copy the results but take a good look at methods and you may just find that musical success is a by product of this. I personally felt once again spiritually grounded from a musical point of view by talking and spending time with a former teacher like Jeff. I will certainly over the course of 2018 be looking out for many more great musicians who have gone before to get inspired by, not in the pursuit of musical perfection but in the spirit of musical growth. 

 

I hope this relays some of the thought provoking ideas that I gleaned through my time talking with Jeff at breakfast on Wednesday. Learn what your musical compass leads you to. Expand you musical knowledge outside of your own comfort zone. Be original and inspire others in the path of musical growth and excellence.

Why do I do this?

When I consider my career to date, it certainly throws up many questions. I’m a very deep thinker. I realised this years ago! I endlessly kick ideas around, and I can of course be impulsive. I really do tend to ponder too much. This can be frustrating for those around me I am sure.


How much of the way we go about finding work, and the way our career has progressed to date is down to luck? How much is down to karma, the wind, events, whatever…  and how much was truly down to planning? What truly makes me happy? These are very big questions. These are life questions… We come into this world without an owners manual, but it is incumbent on us to get it right - right now and right on each occasion.

Right?

Wrong - dead wrong! Life isn’t like that, life wasn’t meant to be like that. We have pressure to do the right thing - abide by the laws of the land, pay the bills, look after family, socialise with friends etc… But, we have total latitude to learn from our mistakes, and so with this in mind, I go from Dr Wayne Dyer’s line, “I have no desire to be better than my fellow man. I only have a desire for me to be better than I was yesterday”. For me, it this simple…

Is it possible to grow 1% per day in an area of your life? ‘If’ it were, is it possible to keep that going for around 3 months and say 10 days? What percentage improvement in that area do you believe you may find? Take a guess…  


I have always wondered about what it means to truly ‘follow my heart as a musician’. Is following my heart, chasing the money, or is it actually following your true aspirations as an artist? Being a ‘Professional Musician’ by definition means that you have to create an income. This for most musicians is a total and utter stress… It has been, and is at times stressful for me too. I did at one stage get much into the scarcity mentality model massively “I have to do whatever it takes to make a buck”. There are lots of fantastic, and I mean genuine people out there, and as friends they will naturally be keen to offer support. But remember, this is offered from ‘their’ frame of reference and not yours. They have your best interests at heart and there may be a tie in where they are rewarded too, but forget them as far as your life plan goes. What do you want? How is your life designed? Many of us have been there in scarcity corner, and there is so much bravado surrounding this, no one truly knows where any one stands regarding security. I have been shocked on many occasions. But, do you know what? It doesn’t matter. Right now you matter. Your lives, your aspirations. This is the stuff that matters.

Think for a second, dream about what you in life would like? What is your vocation? What is right for you?

Would you like to take on the role of peripatetic teacher in a secondary school? - I did this briefly for a couple of months having left school. How about the thought of helping kids bash out chart hits on the drums and a few rudiments? Or, even bringing the wonderment of music delights to a group of disabled children. I know both of my drumming Uncles have experience in these areas. Secondary school teaching of an instrument was fun. I can honestly say that it was rewarding, spiritually, emotionally, intellectually and… yes a little financially too. Not my long term goal personally, but I’m glad I gleaned that experience. It enriched me life and gave me understanding in areas that are really important to me today, particularly with reference to dealing with young people.

When we started out as musicians we all had dreams. For some it was to play music in the latest ‘pop’ group in a stadium/arena. Maybe as drummers we saw ourselves as the next Ringo Starr or Neil Peart? Or perhaps dream’t of a career in recording studios carving out a niche as the next Steve Gadd or Vinnie Colaiuta? I know my first thoughts of being a professional musician came from seeing a video of my Uncle Carl playing a drum solo in a big stadium in Montreal, Canada with Emerson, Lake and Palmer. I remember saying to my Father, “Dad, this is what I want to do” I was very, very fortunate on many levels to have had Parents that a) Understood musicians and b) Had the patience to transport me to the many rehearsals with bands and orchestras that I was fortunate enough to gain valuable experience performing with. I am very lucky, I am blessed totally within this regard. Some may say that having a famous drumming Uncle opened many doors for me? Well, it is a name that a lot of drummers will relate too, but it ultimately it comes down to your ability to cut it once the opportunity arises.

One of my Father’s favourite phrases was “luck is being prepared when the opportunity arises”.

What am I trying to say in the above?

I am trying to get across the point that many ‘music people’ see the ‘music business’ as just a pure business and somewhere along the line they forgot the real reason they got involved with music in the first place. Be true to yourself to me, really means having that balance in finding what artistically is fulfilling and what also enables me to sustain lifestyle. I love teaching and coaching people in the art of drums, from that various categories years ago, to my private practice today. As I alluded earlier, I find this tremendously rewarding. I do however have one big eye on the ball regarding the whole reason I got into drumming in the first place.

It wasn’t all about playing a drum solos in front of thousands of people, but rather more about ‘the music and the artform’. I love the creative outlet that music provides. I love the fact that I create music collectively. This for me is being true to myself. I love creativity, not so much to leave ‘my mark’ but to collectively create and add to the sum of the parts of the music. I was working on the second album a while back with the British band The Ghosts, and I really relished the totally creative space at Eve Studios in Manchester, England. The studio was a veritable Aladdin’s Cave of the most wonderful old synths, valve amps, microphones and the most mysterious, and beautiful niff naff and trivia. A creative person’s dream. I have turned down less working drummer opportunities and in fact the process forfeited income because because the artistic side wasn’t really working for me. I have a parallel career as an airline pilot for UK long haul airline Virgin Atlantic in order for me to survive financially and keep true to myself artistically at some points. That really does mean that I can accept the left field jazz gig if it so appeals. I have noticed that there are those who get too focussed on the financial side and seem to be very unhappy people. Those who get too obsessed in the fame department to me seem equally unhappy. As my late friend Jon Brookes (drummer with the Charlatans)once said to me “If you want to be famous, rob a bank!”. How perceptive those words are.

To sum up. I have found the happiest and most fulfilled musicians are those who are still in touch with their personaI reasons for starting out on this bumpy road as a musician. Those that seem ‘the most’ unhappy are those that get caught up in the classic red herrings, chasing the fame and fortune. All along you can in fact micro manage. Make the right decision each time through thought, direction and conviction. Be the humble guy, but be in touch with your dreams and make the decisions congruent with end in mind. Have Faith! Have faith that if you are good enough in all areas musically, personally, socially and spiritually, that rest will follow. It only ever can…

Focus on the music. Think music always... After all, this is the reason you are one if the chosen ones who can actually call themselves a musician.

An artist.

Go on and do great things. Never die with the music still left in your heart and above all else.

Have fun!

Ian

 

 

The Maturity Continuum

OK, the year is 1976, but in fact we could pick any date around the mid 70’s and early 80’s. 1976 will do though as not only was it one the hottest summers on British record, it was also the year in which I was born. Yes, I was born around the time that the session musician “designer label” came into being. By session designer label I mean those musicians that played on your album and immediately made you, “the artist”, cool. In fact the whole darn idea of being a session musician became cool. I recall a drummer from London who has recently enjoyed a mighty rise to fame, particularly in the States with his “prog” band continually raving about Ben Sidran’s ‘The Cat in the Hat’. Others had guitarist Lee Ritenour’s ‘Feel the night’ under their arm, and who could not mention Chick Corea’s masterpiece ‘The Leprechaun’. Of course I hope drummers did enjoy the vocals of Ben Sidran, the guitar virtuosity of Lee Ritenour and piano compositional genius of Chick Corea but something more was beginning to happen and always tends to happened when idolization takes effect. Drummers globally became Steve Gadd. They saw themselves as cool because “they” could play the funky little lick from such and such an album. In fact they played this funky little “50 ways to leave your lover” lick whether they were playing Glenn Miller’s In The Mood with a Big Band or Eddie Floyds’ Knock on Wood with a pub soul band. 

This to many a musician in the band became a situation that at best could be described as ‘excruciating, painful and wholly inappropriate!’. Many jokes have circulated about the lead singer, sometimes the guitarist, rarely the keyboard player but increasingly the drummer jokes were borne of the frustration from the masses of those grateful musicians who intent on doing their best, faithfully reproduce the music that their beer swigging groupies wanted to enjoy.

“How many drummers does it take to change a light bulb? The answer? 50! One to change the light bulb and 49 to discuss how Steve Gadd would have done it! Told before? Sure… But none so relevant as to highlight the point as now.

I am a great fan of a multi million selling book written by another of my non-drumming heroes the late Stephen R Covey named The Seven Habits of Highly of Effective People. This book has become one of the definitive self-help texts to which I highly invite you to investigate if in fact you haven’t already. In this book, we learn of something called the maturity continuum. I came to realise that this is something that is very relevant to musicians. For me it translates roughly to something like this:

1.    We get inspired to ‘pick up sticks’ by watching something that triggers something we relate to whether visually, audibly or via influence.

2.    We learn to hold the drumsticks, we learn to play a rhythm and we learn to play a fill. In other words, we learn to bash! But we know it feels good, to us at least!

3.    We learn a concept called “time”. To execute this smoothly and accurately we begin to realise that we have something valuable that will enable us to perform with other musicians. We even realise that we may be able to earn “a little money” from performing with this relative basic skill. Following “time” we learn that the placement of our beats enhances the music or equally destroys the music! This we come to know as “feel”, or to put the two together “time feel”. A part of the Holy Grail.

Now, for many of us, this is as far as our drumming musical desires/interests progress. Some of us continue on this maturity continuum however.

4.    We (a little like babies!) begin to mimic the sounds and styles of drummers that we now begin to enjoy. This is fine and an important part of the “musicians” maturity continuum. We take this to varying lengths. Sometimes we merely steal a groove or a fill. I do this now both consciously and sub-consciously I feel. I do this in and and out of the micro second of a performance as my performance draws memories and ideas of drumming heroes and conveys sound, textural ideas drawn from this. I do however say this with the proviso and that is that I call this an influence rather than a steal as I will always try an make it my own by inputting "my" very own take on it – you begin to enjoy the process of taking someone’s idea, kicking it around, making it into different shapes, turning it on it’s head and making it your own. Some drummers steal to the extreme with no modification however. Buddy Rich had one jazz drumming idoliser who he constantly used to berate for copying his style. I hasten to add that it wasn’t my Uncle Carl however. Carl did take something Buddy, something jazz, kicked it around ‘a little’ and made it rock, or in his terms made it his own. In the early 1980’s everyone wanted to be Dave Weckl. His drum layout with the 8” and 10” rack toms must have been the most common of all setups around this time. Musically great for Chick Corea’s Elektric Band. A musical disaster for almost any other commercial musical style! There were elements of mimicking that got a little dark too. I have known drummers copy rhythms, fills, set ups etc and all fine in the learning process, however I have seen drummer then mimic the hairstyle, the dress sense, the accent, the alcoholic tipple of choice and even the Class A drug addiction. Yes, I have seen all of this. Maybe you have too… It is in one word “disturbing!” to see. Extreme yes, but it does happen.

5.    We develop things along the maturity continuum and come to this stage; the stage where a beautiful realisation starts to occur and one discovers ones “own” voice on the instrument. This doesn’t “just” happen on the whole without the ground work. I say “on the whole” as there have been notable exceptions, or geniuses who’s first names Buddy and Tony may ring a bell? Even in these cases however, the perfect storm of artistic collision has to happen. I am now along the ‘maturity continuum’ that I call it as musician to a point where I am beginning to find my self as an artist on the drums. Why do I use such a pretentious term as artist? Well, I can honestly say that this does not come from the standpoint of ego. Ian an artist? What are you talking about! I say this as I see my work as that of an artist because my aim is to create emotion, colour and add in any way I can as a human being. My name is not Pro Tools/logic pro/sequencer/Roland or whatever and my business is not ones and zeroes, I don’t play the same on every gig and I don’t get packed away into a flight case at the end of the gig not able to share a conversation about music and in fact a range of subjects. I don’t appear on record behind the next trendy pop wannabe or even on stage and, and, and you probably get my point by now! I played in the band The Ghosts at one point  and used a vast array sequenced paraphernalia I hope to a pleasurable degree, but as I heard Vinnie Colaiuta once say, “I’m not about one and zeroes”. I was advertently paid the highest compliment I have ever received when I played raw desk mixes from a recording session that I had just taken part in with legendary LA Producer Larry Klein and Guitarist Dean Parks for Norwegian artist Thomas Dybdahl. With a proud smile and I am happy to say no sense of sarcasm, he said “I can always sense when its you playing buddy”. If he was a drummer I would have been less moved but the fact is he is a talented pianist made that comment particularly special. It’s taken me more or less 30 years to get to this point where I truly know my playing. What he was saying was that he sensed me, my feeling in the music, my vibe. I connected with him and not by a fill or groove that he had heard me play before. So, as an artist, that is what I hope to achieve.

6.    Ok, so we are progressing nicely along this road of musical discovery. We are getting hired for professional gigs, we may now be part of a band that is receiving adulation and critical acclaim. Oh my goodness we may even be recognised in public! I am sure you can guess my thoughts on that red herring? Work through attraction and not promotion is the best way! Attraction to your artistic statement and integrity. You are merely the vehicle my friend, the music is the aim. 

We still desire to take things to the next level though – because we are human and we need to grow. I mentioned that stage four for me was discovering our voice and we start to sound a little unique in a good way but to our dismay we may not be truly comfortable. The next stage in the musical continuum comes when we find that we are now not only able express ourselves musically. But, we now begin to truly serve the music… I now try with as much gratitude, humility and humbleness to be a loyal servant of the music and this enables me to sit back and consider what is being asked of me musically. Asked of me Ian, with my tools and techniques that I dream and hope a master craftsman has to offer. This comes down to is taste and talent now. However much of either I have is debatable but not too debatable, as really it doesn’t matter. What matters is that I continue to grow as human being and fulfil any potential that my own personal concept of a higher power has blessed me with. If you truly come from a place of serving the music and helping create something where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts and by the parts I mean, the other musicians, you will find that the other musicians will grow and who knows what is possible? The possibilities are limitless, musical, tasteful and beautiful. The highest compliment is when someone hears your playing realises the taste and appropriateness, the desire to serve the music and then comes to you and says “Ian, I heard such and such you played on, it just moved me emotionally. It was a statement!” That’s what it is all about for me. That’s my dream… That’s what I strive for…

There are beacons who before us set our beautiful artform in differing directions to bring us to the point where we are today, and what a great place our artform has arrived at. Some drummers are pushing the boundaries. The majority are using identical one rack tom, big crash cymbal, big bass drum set ups which is not meant as a criticism in anyway, but my only concern is that once upon a time everyone tried to be Steve Gadd then everyone tried to be Dave Weckl now most are attempting to be Bonzo or Ringo! I was rehearsing in the summer at John Henry’s Rehearsal Complex in London, England and I got chatting to a drummer whose name I forget who performs with a well-known female pop singer. I just recalled him being slightly off hand in his attitude because he was using the the current fashion Ringo set up and I had selected more of what he described as a Gadd set up. He said “Gadd set up? Man I was doing that years ago! Got to be one rack tom now man”. I was using my Yamaha 9000 Recording Custom drumset that day, because most importantly they worked for the music, and they are also a little like an old pair of trainers. I certainly took no offence and smiled when the said drummer pointed this strange point out. I said something along the lines of “Oh, thanks for letting me know!”. I wasn’t unduly worried though as he probably got packed into a flight case along with the rest of his Fab Four drums at the end of the gig too!

Believe me drumming wasn’t invented by Chad Smith,  Tre Cool or Ronnie Vanucci Jr great as these guys are… To develop your drumming voice, with integrity, ask yourself. Am I familiar with this brief list of drumming royalty in chronological order from history?

Baby Dodds, Big Sid Catlett, Gene Krupa, Papa Jo Jones, Philly Joe Jones, Buddy Rich, Louie Bellson, Joe Morello, Max Roach, Art Blakey, Mel Lewis, Sonny Payne, Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, Jack de Johnette, Earl Palmer, Bernard Purdie, Clyde Stubblefield, Hal Blaine, Ginger Baker, John Bonham, Ian Paice, David Garibaldi, Billy Cobham, Sly Dunbar, Lenny White, Steve Gadd, Jeff Porcaro, Neil Peart, John “JR” Robinson, Dave Weckl, Vinnie Colaiuta, Keith Carlock.

Yes, I am sure I have missed a few but if you are serious about out art take time to listen to these drummers and you’ll begin to see how so many influenced each other and little by little the art of drumming evolved. Be a great detective and really get involved in your art. I have had 30 years of music and everyday I feel truly blessed. I am continually learning new ways to serve the music and hopefully connect with those who are happy to listen to the music I create. I am blessed to have such an un wavering interest in music and hope to fulfil any potential that I have been blessed with in order to bring a little positivity to our world.

Have fun,

Ian