Marquee of The Lighthouse, Hermosa Beach, California — June 1979 — photo by Mark Weber
The Elite Syncopations Jazz Radio Show
w/ guest MATT WILSON – March 6, 2014 – Jazz @ Noon every Thursday (starts at 12:07 after the satellite news) Host MARK WEBER – KUNM Albuquerque, USA – 89.9 FM (Mountain Standard Time) also streaming on the web > KUNM.orgUNM.org – Current time zone offset: UTC*/GMT -6 hours (*Coordinated Universal Time)/Greenwich Mean Time)
JAZZ DRUMS: RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
I don’t believe any of us think jazz drumming is easy. But there is one misconception about drums that was dropped on us when we were in music appreciation class back in grade school, and that is that drumming was the first musical expression. You know, cave men banging on rocks and pounding their chests. I always remember what the cellist Fred Katz told me (he taught college-level anthropology) that even the idea of counting 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, is of such extreme sophistication that sequential patterns of rhythm is staggering in its implications, it had to be much later down the line in musical terrain.
Flutes were probably the first. (You sometimes see that plucked bows were first, as hunters lay in wait, they plucked — this is doubtful simply because bows & arrows arrive in the human story around 30,000 years ago and certainly music existed previous to that.) Consequently, the jazz trap set is only a hundred years old, maybe 120 tops, it’s origins in Vaudeville. And yet there are times that I think that we should give the cave man more credit
I think drummers have more fun than anybody. Today on the Thursday jazz show we’ll have in-studio guest Matt Wilson who is in town to play at the Outpost Performance Space this night with his Quartet: Kirk Knuffke, cornet; Chris Lightcap, bass; Jeff Lederer, tenor saxophone & clarinet.
Matt Wilson is one of those drummers that builds up such a rich swirling vortex of sound that there isn’t a band alive that couldn’t sound better with him on the tubs —
judicious accommodating manner —
drums like summer rain
making and breaking Time itself —
underlying ultimate pulse . . . .
I asked Bobby Bradford what the role of drums has been in small ensembles since Max Roach. He responded:
“The fire under the kettle from simmer to boil. My best to Mr Wilson.”
I asked the drummer Cal Haines what’s the first thing that comes to mind when he thinks of Max:
“His solos were melodic and he played patterns over the bar lines. His right hand time on the cymbal was loose and poppin’ at the same time.”
I asked bassist Mark Dresser to tell us a little something about Matt Wilson:
“Matt Wilson is an extraordinary musician! He is one of the most musical drummers alive. He hears the whole band and has a big picture about shaping the music. With Matt it’s not about the drums per se, it’s about lifting the music, making the choices that empower those around him. He’s remarkably selfless in that way. At the same time his gifts of communication of being able to project what Ed Thigpen, called “the Feel good” in not only in everything he plays but also with his public. He’s both artist and entertainer. There is an authentic spiritual core to his being that flows through everything he touches.”
Burt Korall wrote two essential books about jazz drummers: Here’s what he was saying about Dave Tough that is also relevant to Matt Wilson:
“Tough combines exterior time and the inner pulse in a meaningful way. Exterior time is firm, somewhat automatic, straightforward, and obvious. What comes from inside is more subtle. Interior time depends on instinct and ability, particularly the capacity to adjust to the difference among players, while creatively blending and controlling them. A drummer’s positive inner time impulses make possible performances that are flexible, human, and communicative.”
Bow down to her on Sunday,
Salute her when her birthday comes.
Bow down to her on Sunday,
Salute her when her birthday comes.
For Halloween give her a trumpet,
And for Christmas, buy her a drum.
— Bob Dylan
Original 6th Ward Dirty Dozen Brass Band —- New Orleans —- July 4, 1982 —- photo by Mark Weber
Papa Jo Jones being chauffeured by Billy Higgins at Watts Towers Day of the Drum — September 23, 1984 —- Papa Jo has an honorary plaque in his lap that was presented to him — photo by Mark Weber
Max Roach at Howard Rumsey’s club Concerts By The Sea, Redondo Beach, California — January 8, 1977 — photo by Mark Weber — that’s Billy Harper standing behind Max as a member of Max’s quintet (Reggie Workman, Sulaiman Hakim, Cecil Bridgewater) (Max playing a set of Hollywood Drums)
In between takes at the Billie Harris Quintet recording sessions — April 29, 1980 — Horace Tapscott and Everett Brown Jr switch places — HT on drumset —– United-Western Studios, Hollywood, California — photo by Mark Weber
Check out Donald Bailey’s trap set —- Lighthouse Cafe, Hermosa Beach, California — December 3, 1981 — with the Joe Albany Quartet: Leroy Vinnegar, bass; Jimmy Knepper, trombone —-photo by Mark Weber
Philly Joe and Billy Higgins — July 15, 1984 —- Watts Towers Jazz Festival, Los Angeles — photo by Mark Weber
Max Roach nominated Connie Crothers for a MacArthur Genius Award and I’d nominate her, too (Max was a 1988 Fellow, and I gather only Fellows can nominate).
Here’s what she said when I asked to comment on Max’s drum style and approach to drums:
“Max created every note deeply. You can hear this. No matter what the context–fast, multi-level, loud, soft, any sound quality or any instrument in the set–every note is deep within the instrument. He played each note with tremendous heart.
He didn’t feel that the drums must be playing continuously. He could create solos that had what we call rests which were absolutely riveting in their intensity (these moments are NOT rests, nor are they spaces or silences–we simply don’t have a word for them).
People described his playing as melodic. Max objected to this description, for a reason. He profoundly identified with percussion. He did not feel that the essence of percussion is to create melodically. Possibly this could be because we associate melodic playing with pitches. His own conception of creating music he described as the creation of “organized sound.” It was “sound” rather than “melody” to him.
Max was a master of counterpoint. He understood the drum kit as being intrinsically contrapuntal and loved this. He talked quite a bit about four-limb playing and the independence of the limbs and of the lines they create, all the time, in time playing as well as solos.
Max loved the quarter note. Once, at a gig with his quartet, I heard him play time behind the soloists as four-limb quarter notes all night long! (He played that with me once, at our rehearsal for our duo recording. Amazing.) True four-limb unisons.
Max conceptually identified with pulsation, rather than traditional concepts of meter. (He said the very same thing to me as Lennie did, in the exact same words: “It’s a steady one.”) Given that, he was the innovator of odd meter time signatures. They swung so hard because the underlying feel is “steady one.”
One of Max’s missions in life was to bring the drums out of the back of the band and into the music in a genuine interchange with the other instruments. When he arrived at his first recording session, the drums were placed far back into the corner, with blankets all over them. He objected and kept objecting to this kind of treatment from then on. People used to feel that audiences couldn’t handle more than four bars at a time of a drum solo. Max broke through that completely, performing solo drum concerts, not with extended percussion instruments, but with just the kit. The audiences at these concerts were enthralled throughout the concert. He founded a percussion band–M’Boom–which was a collective, the point being that percussion instruments could be the entire band. Audiences loved it.
Max did not accept the confines of a “style.” From being professionally on top during the 1940s, he did not hang on to that “style” of performance (I don’t think he used the word), but began evolving early in his performing life and continued to evolve all through his life. He was one of the first free improvisers (an example is the duet he did with Charles Mingus, “Percussion Discussion”), and he became one of the greatest free improvisers of all time, although not sufficiently heralded in this capacity. He accepted no limits to his musical imagination.”
Kenny Davern & Han Bennink —- backstage at Outpost Performance Space, Albuquerque — October 25, 2004 — photo by Mark Weber —– Kenny was asked to join the Instant Composer’s Pool and did indeed perform with them in Albuquerque the following year when they came back
Matt Wilson —- Outpost Performance Space, Albuquerque —- March 29, 2o12 —- photo by Mark Weber
Trio M @ Outpost Performance Space —- March 29, 2o12 — Myra Melford, piano; Mark Dresser, bass; Matt Wilson, drumset —– photo by Mark Weber
Now he’s really cookin ! —- master jazz drummer Cal Haines on his auxiliary drumkit — Santa Fe, June 10, 2012 —- photo by Mark Weber
Mark Weber and his briefcase at KUNM —– December 29, 2010 —- photo by Nick Lyons