“Good music doesn't have an expiration date."
"Blue Skies" - June 5, 2017
Sean Harkness, guitar
Michael O'Brien, upright bass
As I said, singing drummers aren't made every day. That's true. Everyone in my family loves music. And even though my parents didn't really play music and had no formal training, they encouraged my brothers and I to take lessons. But before taking piano lessons in the first grade, I was exposed to music in a way that left an indelible mark on me....the older of my two brothers played his Beatles albums.
Together, my brother and I sang the melodies, but more importantly, the harmonies to all of the songs. At 2-1/2 years old, I was singing harmonies with John and Paul, sometimes George or Ringo. I had a really good ear and could find those pitches with ease. Little did I know, I was getting some of the best musical training of my life.
By the time I was 3-1/2 years old, I knew I wanted to be a musician. Not just any musician. I wanted to be a member of The Beatles. Now, I probably don't have to tell you it didn't work out has I had planned, but I never lost that drive to be a part of something musical. The Beatles remain a huge influence, but other bands and artists have inspired me, too.
I love a "happy accident." In this case, it wasn't so much accident as maternity leave. You see, when I started playing as a kid, I enrolled in the school band program, like many drummers do. My band teacher for the first two years would have been a great musician, who played a horn, however she decided to take two years off to have and raise a child. So a long-term sub named Mike Raskovich was hired. Just my luck, he was a drummer.
Every Wednesday afternoon, I stayed after school and took a lesson with him. No charge. I was lucky to have this opportunity -- my junior high brain recognized that. But it didn't hit me until decades later how much of his personal time he invested in me and what that early, consistent training did to build the foundation for my future.
In my earliest drumming years, when I wasn't listening to the Beatles, I was listening, more or less, to four artists: Billy Cobham, Alphonse Mouzon, Airto, and Buddy Rich. A great contrast to The Beatles, for sure. Whether it was fusion, Latin, or big band I was listening to, it was full of energy and deep in the pocket, I spent a LOT of hours with all of those guys in my ears!
A few years down the road, I was mesmerized by Stewart Copeland's masterful playing with The Police and, to this day, you can still hear how my playing was influenced by him and another of my favorites, Chris Layton, Stevie Ray Vaughan's drummer.
I'm never happier than when I am learning. And the last few years really bear that out.
There was a time in the mid-2000s when I simply wasn't finding enough opportunities to perform...so I decided instead of waiting for an opportunity, I would create an opportunity. I started a band called "Swing and a Miss" which performs songs from the 1910s, 1920s, and 1930s as a 10-piece jazz band.
I learned so much about music -- not just my own instrument, but about all of the instruments -- when I started buying, then cataloging, the music my new band would perform. I learned about orchestration and about trumpet and trombone mutes I'd never heard of. I learned that the low-end was typically covered by string bass or tuba and that the middle voice of the rhythm section was typically covered by tenor banjo. With every new song that arrived, I learned something new.
That could not be more true than with the drum parts.
You see, in the 1910s and 1920s, the typical jazz ride cymbal didn't exist yet. The sheet music for the drums didn't look anything like the music I read in the college jazz bands I performed with. The drum parts looked a lot more like Sousa marches filled with 5-stroke rolls...or they looked so simple with line after line of quarter notes. I came to the realization I was missing something. Something really big.
It's hard to find answers when you're not really sure what the question is, you simply have a feeling in your gut that you have to follow. Even though I wasn't sure what I was looking for, but I thought a part of the answer might be found in old drum methods and books on how to lead dance bands or how to create arrangements for dance bands. I started building my own reference library, essentially.
And I also believed that somebody had the answer to my biggest question: "Who can teach this to me? Who can teach me to authentically perform this music?"
I asked that question of everyone I thought might have an answer: professional musicians, private drum instructors, drum store staff members, professors, retired professors....I asked ANYONE I thought might have the answer.
I had been asking for a year and a half when I performed one of my regular internet searches, this time on the keywords "historical drum method". I was on Amazon that day. And down in the recommendations section, I read this:
People who viewed this also viewed:
Daniel Glass - "The Century Project" - DVD
I didn't know his name, but the content, as described by Amazon, sounded right to my ongoing search for historical drumming information, so I bought it. I remember it was just a few days before Thanksgiving 2014.
One evening, all tucked up in blankets and freshly-popped popcorn, I started watching. And it was great. But then he played. And when he did, I realized:
"THIS IS THE GUY!
This is the guy who can teach me what I want to know!!"
And so it began. Lessons with Daniel, via Skype, began. And questions I had been holding for years had answers. And the answers to my questions like "Why does this music look like a Sousa march?" made perfect sense.
And now we are colleagues, as Daniel and I are working to co-author a book which uniquely tells the story of drummers from all over the world navigating the infancy of a brand new instrument, the drum set, through photographs, newspaper clippings, and more. So do me a favor and check in for updates on a publishing date for "The Postcard Project: A Snapshot of Drumming Life, 1900-1930".
In addition to the book, in March 2017, I launched a series of short videos that help tell the story of those drummers and the equipment they used. Subscribe to my YouTube channel to know when each new video is released.
I would love to get better acquainted with everyone who shares my passion for drumming, especially historical drumming topics, so please find me via Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube or talk with me after one of my clinics. I'd love to hear what makes YOU passionate about our musical heritage, too!
Put simply, singing drummers aren't made every day.
I love making music people love to move to. I'm inspired by artists like The Beatles, The Police and Prince, and hope some of the magic in the hands of some of my favorite drummers--people like Ringo Starr, Stewart Copeland, Chris Layton, Billy Cobham, and Daniel Glass--will rub off on me.
In addition to performing, I spend my time arranging for young percussion ensembles, researching historical drum methods and styles, refurbishing antique instruments, and sharing my insights to the world of percussion through the written word and in clinic settings as a member of the Sabian Education Network and the D'Addario Education Collective.
My drum sets -- vintage and new -- are balanced by a full complement of keyboard percussion and a wild collection of percussion "toys" that bring sparkle to the music I play. And on those drums, I study historical drumming styles with the world-renown drummer, author, educator, and historian Daniel Glass.
I was a kid growing up in Chicago when I learned people sometimes take the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile out for a spin. If you can hook me up, let me know!
You can find my most recent articles here:
"The Sound of Silents: An Interview with William F. Ludwig III - Part 2" -- Issue 3, Vintage
Drums Legendary Sounds magazine
"The Sound of Silents: An Interview with William F. Ludwig III - Part 1" -- Issue 2, Vintage
Drums Legendary Sounds magazine
"Wish Granted: Learn How to Get Grants, a Great Way to Finance Your Dreams" --
Issue 28 (Winter 2017), Tom Tom Magazine
"Backstage with Sheila Earley" -- Issue 25 (Spring 2016), Tom Tom Magazine
"When Counting Time is Critical" -- Issue 24 (Winter 2016), Tom Tom Magazine