There is nothing as amazing as an amazing drummer. Sometimes when I watch them I think I can do that, it’s just sticks and skins. But that’s like thinking I can land an airplane because it’s just wearing a uniform and a headset. Drummers are shamans.
Freddy Waits was the first drummer that cracked open my sky. A large jazz touring ensemble, Percy Heath’s Jazz Orchestra, came to Winnipeg in the mid 70s. They also featured the greatest pianist I ever breathed the same air as Stanley Cowell who fortunately told all of us teenagers who signed up for the piano workshop, to get an independent left hand. “That’s what we are all trying to do these days in New York”. That was the best advice of my life.
At the concert Freddie Waits destroyed everyone. Like the bible story when Samson’s hair has grown back enough and everybody is partying and they don’t realize Samson has his strength again and he shakes the pillars and they all die because that one man is that powerful. (Maybe I don’t win any medals for bible class but I have total recall about how Freddie Waits killed a couple hundred people that afternoon using only paradiddles).
Music school was amazing. All of us studying music, wow. But later fellow students became competition driven fools needing to prove whether or not they could hear the difference between Myxolydian and Dorian or identify meters of 11 from meters of 7. Endless brainy musician tests. Nothing wrong about that but York became less and less fun. More pleasure was coming from discovering the kinds of musicians who performed or hung out at Grossman’s Tavern down the street from my rental on Major street. They were all about whether or not one could play in the here and now. If they were boring the audience didn’t applaud or talked loudly or heckled. It was a whole other course in studying music.
I discovered Ben Cleveland or Ben Cleveland-Hayes as he was known then. He was a magical drummer. Probably if you held a mirror up to him there would be no reflection. The expressions on his face might incline one to think he was being theatrical for it’s own sake, he would squint tightly until his eyelids seemed closed and one arm would hover over the toms searching for a Ouiji board message. He was in fact internalizing the music and playing his own inner roulette wheel for when/ how the fills would materialize. I loved watching and listening to Ben and I felt like I was a member the same tribe. Finally I got up the nerve to sit in at the jam session when he was playing and he liked my musicianship and insisted I return. Felt like I got an “A”.
Some drummers make muscular angst expressions accompanying complex fast fills. The mind-blowing thing about Great Bob Scott, he can do anything others do except he only seems to need his pinky to do it and at the same time he’ll probably be singing 100 bottles of beer on the wall. He is a walking talking collection of the hallucinatory, something that needs to be experienced to be understood. His work is staggering, mouth dropping virtuosity.
Then there is my fave, Mark Hundevad and I know a great secret about him – he’s a whacked out intense pianist. The secret part is I don’t think anyone knows he plays piano. He studied Cecil Taylor (they are also friends) and studying Cecil is about as simple as deciding to study the flight pattern of one particular bumble bee for seven months.
And there is another secret which is his main instrument is vibes which is kinda crazy because so is his drumming (as in crazy amazing). The way he listens, processes and responds is part of why I started this thread suggesting drummers are shamen.
Before I moved to 11 Soho across the back lane by the former Bamboo club in the 80s, I used to visit because it was where Wayne Cass lived. We could jam or just gab about everything, we were close then and Wayne had such a beautiful connection to the guitar but wasn’t accepted yet by the more established circles. Mark Hundevad also lived there and he built an impressive rehearsal space in the basement. Wayne introduced us. Mark’s drums and vibes were crammed between makeshift walls of thrown out mattresses for soundproofing. Young musicians with shit jobs feel rich if they can get a place where they can practice loudly. It was a luxury thing for Wayne and Mark and Ken Myhr to live and use that space. I couldn’t wait for someone to leave so I could move in.
Anytime I dropped in on Wayne, Mark was practicing in the basement. He had a fantastic relationship to drums. Sometimes we would just listen to him travel to all those amazing places via drums or vibes as it bled through the walls and floors. He would go to New York a lot to hang with Cecil which was too surreal for me and Wayne to imagine. That’s like being pals with Cleopatra. I suppose a shaman could time travel too.