Thursday, 19 May 2016

The Reason for C&C Drums


Choosing new drums can be an exacting experience.  A bit like buying a car.

I had been looking for a new kit for a while and wasn't totally happy with the usual brands.  I grew up in the late 60s & early 70s playing Ludwig and Gretsch.


Over the years I've played Tama, Pearl, Premier and Yamaha with DW and District Drum Company snares thrown in the mix.  I would be remiss in not mentioning my endorser District Drum Company from America, who made me this stunning snare.  I'm just waiting on you building entire kits Tina!


I was very close to ordering a Gretsch USA Custom when I came upon C&C Custom Drums.  

After some investigation, I knew that C&C were for me.  What really sold it, besides their gorgeous drums and craftsmanship, were their videos.  I love the ethos of everything they're about: a small, independent, American company, recreating new shells with modern equipment, but with a vintage approach and style.  Bill Cardwell, the founder, says it best here:



Another great video with more detail on the factory and process here:


C&C Drum Company (fantastic website)


My beautiful new drums.  C&C Player Date.  Seven-ply mahogany shells with full contact bearing edges. A vintage-inspired sound, look and feel with round, dark, warm tones. Specs chosen: walnut stain finish, wood hoops with inlay, beer tap throw-off, vintage fold out spurs, double-ended lugs & butterfly claws:


The guys at the factory in Gladstone, Missouri were great about staying in touch (they even made me an unorthodox 13" snare) and liaised brilliantly with Mark Jeffs from Rusty Drums, the sole dealer for C&C in the UK.  Mark was so easy to work with, I would encourage anyone to look him up for C&C and all things vintage drums. All of them gents you'd like to have a beer with!

I am not obsessive about gear.  I can derive pleasure from making the most budget, dilapidated kit sound good.  But I also love beautiful, artful design -- items that are well made with quality, care and detail by expert craftsmen.

Future classics.
Hear them here:






Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Whiplash: Breakneck Speed Equals Excellence!

Goodness gracious, I really wanted to love this film.  A story about jazz, playing drums and teaching music -- all of my favourite things and everything I do.  Although the trailer was cringeworthy, I had high hopes.  But for me, Whiplash turned out to be more like a made-for-TV-after-school special (with added foul-mouthed absurdities).  I've seen better episodes of Fame.

I understand how fiction operates.  I know this is just a film and meant to be entertainment.  I'm hip to the concept of suspension of disbelief – where a semblance of truth may turn into a fantastic tale; therefore the audience should suspend judgement.

And it would be easy to pick holes in the technical flaws.  I will try to resist this, but suffice it to say, anyone with an ounce of technique will not bleed while playing (certainly not bucket loads that require submersion in ice and copious plasters).  And it is impossible to punch your hand through Mylar.

Writer/director Damien Chazelle recalls his own experiences (fear of his music teacher), and deliberately uses sports and overtraining as a comparison to pursuing musical excellence -- fair enough.  Someone’s truth doesn’t have to be mine.  But the no pain, no gain approach is hackneyed nonsense. So melodrama (and Rocky) here we come!

If Whiplash was made about a trombonist, we'd have the corners of the player’s mouth cracking and bleeding -- having to be constantly defibbed back to life from passing out due respiratory failure and lack of air.

It really wasn't a film about jazz or drumming at all, but rather one of abuse, abuse of power and achieving musical 'greatness' by playing as fast as possible (where speed is paramount and playing drums is viewed as extreme sport) -- whilst becoming not a very nice person in the process. 

Speed is only one aspect of playing, not the aspect. Many may find this type of storytelling exhilarating, much in the same way many find the world’s fastest drumming competitions meaningful. But this is not music making, nor does it have anything to do with the skills required to build a great musician; making it for me, joyless and uninspiring.

Macho buffoonery aside, Neiman better prove Fletcher wrong and become a supersonic drummer rather than a 'pansy ass faggot'. Racist, homophobic and misogynistic language is used to build this musician’s character.

Ultimately, it is a film about the twisted 'bromance' of Neiman and Fletcher.  And one that is po-faced, overblown and full of male bloat: the last scene being cringeiest of all.  Ah yes, the tiresome trope of the student becoming the teacher – but in this case perhaps not the most desirous of goals.  Neiman: I have the upper hand because I'm calling the musical cues.  Fletcher: no I have the upper hand because I'm still conducting you.  I’m on top, no I’m on top!  Get a room.

I left hugely disappointed and didn't feel entertained at all by these wholly unlikeable characters (even Malcolm Tucker, whose language is atrocious, retains some shred of likability), and so did many of my non-drummer, non-music-teacher friends, who disliked it even more than me.  Most of all the film irks because it perpetuates the fallacy that speed alone equates to eminence in playing the drums.

Fletcher's 'good job' monologue rang most true (not the incorrect version of the Jo Jones/Bird story he tells), but that commending students with high praise when they've only been adequate is detrimental. However, jazz is not dying because of undeserved congratulations; it is simply no longer the popular music of the day.

And while Teller is a decent actor with a compelling face, he actually only does a 'good job' of mimicking a drummer.  His technique was appalling, he had awkward hands (that traditional grip in the left hand was a stinker), making this a Starbucks film for the Starbucks masses.  Drink up.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Favourite Drumming Scenes in Film

Welcome to my favourite drumming scenes in film.  This list is inspired by some of my other shorter blog posts and most recently by the new film Whiplash, which doesn't make my list only because I haven't seen it yet.

[I have now seen Whiplash since writing this. And although the entire film was ostensibly about playing drums, there wasn't a single scene I'd include in my list.  See review blog here and amendment below in comments].  

My list focuses on kit playing rather than marching band films like Drumline and is restricted to human players only (so no Animal from the Muppet films, no rabbit from Hop), and no documentaries or films that contain concert footage. Many of my choices feature tap dancing. A good deal of the old jazz drummers were also hoofers!

Without further ado:

The Man with the Golden Arm (1955).  If I had to pick a favourite, this would be it, having the most pathos.  Frank Sinatra plays Frankie Machine (what a name!), a heroin addict, reluctant card dealer, and wanna be big band drummer.  The theme music is perfectly scored by Elmer Bernstein and a soundtrack worthy of any collection. There's a lovely clip of Frankie practising in an apartment.  But I'm choosing the audition scene.  Shelly Manne is the drummer, not only on the soundtrack, but in this clip as well (one of my favourite scenes in all of celluloid history).  Poor Frankie is strung out, can't concentrate, and loses all control of the hi hat.  The scene begins at 1:38, but I recommend the whole clip for exposition:


Ship Ahoy (1942).  Buddy Rich and Eleanor Powell provide pure unadulterated joy:



Easter Parade (1948).  Fred Astaire sings, dances, and drums to "Drum Crazy".  Not traditional playing as he's standing up, but you cannot deny Astaire's percussive abilities when combined with dance. His body is a drum kit:


Damsel In Distress (1937).  Astaire's second appearance. And again, although he plays standing up, it is with great and joyous aplomb:


Small Town Girl (1953).  Ann Miller's opening lyric 'I like the sound of a tom tom' from the tune "I Gotta Hear that Beat" merely scratches the surface of what we're about to see here. If you've never seen this production number, you're in for a real treat.  It's percussion heavy, complete with Miller's incredibly fast taps, and includes a bizarre array of disembodied musicians -- a kind of headless orchestra. The giant silhouetted kit player is the cherry on top:


The Gene Krupa Story (1959).  Although Krupa does the actual playing on the soundtrack and during Sal Mineo's performances on screen, Mineo worked hard learning the drums for the film and mimicking Krupa's playing mannerisms.  Four years on from The Man with the Golden Arm, Shelly Manne makes another appearance, this time playing Tommy Dorsey's drummer Dave Tough.  The entire film is chock full of drums and fantastic scenes:





All Night Long (1962).  A loose adaptation of Shakespeare's Othello set in London's 1960s jazz scene.  A great tension weighs on Patrick McGoohan's face (indeed his whole body) as he plays with a perplexity of expression.  Using a drum solo to move the plot forward is a delightful device.  I understand McGoohan learned to play the drums for the part, but I'm still trying to find out whether he actually played on screen / for the soundtrack. Allan Ganley perhaps?  In any case, here's a corker:



Harlem-Mania (1929).  A Vitaphone short rather than feature length film, this was 1929, and I've still never seen anything quite like Freddie Crump's outstanding, idiosyncratic performance. Accompanied by a satisfying soft shoe, Crump's playing is as precise as it is unorthodox. He comes to view at 2:13.  Remain with the clip after the spirited piano solo for more of Crump's entertaining and percussive gymnastics!


As we jump from golden eras of the 1920s, 30s, 40s, 50s & 60s, we now find ourselves in more modern times.  Step Brothers (2008).  Because we all fear Will Ferrell's gentlemen parts sullying our instrument.  Warning: very colourful language here:


Wayne's World (1992).  A sweet Garth (Dana Carvey) has a wonderful fantasy:



Mentions go out to Some Kind of Wonderful (1987) and That Thing You Do (1996).  

And a very large and curious mention goes to the soundtrack of Birdman (2014). I don't believe there has ever been a soundtrack using improvised drum solos to score a film.  Jazz drummer Antonio Sanchez provides the playing which represents the psychosis of the main character.  The drums are used to destabilising effect, at times simultaneously cacophonous, jazzy and grooving.  The main character walks past the drummer we're hearing in one scene outside, which could have been plausible as he appears to be a busker.  But the second time this happens, the drummer is in a tightly closed interior shot.  We hear what the character hears (we were hearing it all along, anyway) and the play (or film), becomes an unsettling play of a play. At times using two, three and four kit overdubs (rarely done), the drums were the character's unravelling mind.

Here is some fascinating information on the making of the Birdman soundtrack.

Signing off with a sweet little clip from the television series Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000):





Thursday, 9 February 2012

Father Daughter Drumming Interview

Tony and Kasey Peters

 
My dad is a jazz drummer and I learned to play by watching him.  He gigged in jazz trios at dinner clubs in Los Angeles and took me to see Buddy Rich and Louie Bellson when I was a little girl.  We would watch drummers together on laserdiscs and any time there was music playing he'd turn up the volume when there was a drum solo.  Today, I run a drum teaching studio in the UK.  My dad's 82 and still has a bash on the drums every morning.  He says he's finally happy with his left hand.  I hope I'll be the same at his age!

Kasey: How did you come to play the drums?
Tony: I always loved music and wanted to be a musician so I chose the drums thinking they'd be the easiest to learn (we laugh heartily).  I was 18 when I started lessons with George Jenkins, who was sometimes called  'King of the Drums' having been married to Dinah Washington, who was known as 'Queen of the Blues'.  He had mostly been affiliated with Lionel Hampton in the 1940s but also had stints with Louis Armstrong's All Stars and Erroll Garner.

Kasey: Were you happy that I was the one who took up drums and not your son? 
Tony: I just remember you getting it you know.  You were the one who picked it up and that was okay by me.  I don't remember ever actually showing you how to do anything.  It was like you were growing up in a bilingual household surrounded by a second language.

Kasey: There are a few drummers in our family besides us.  Do you think it's in our Italian genes?
Tony: I don't know about that.  Maybe it's just coincidence.  Do you ever wonder if you'd be a drummer today if you'd grown up in a family without drummers?  Nature, nurture; tomato, tomahto!


Tony: I don't read drum music.  How did you learn to?
Kasey: Those piano lessons paid off!  And rhythm is rhythm.  There are fewer notes to memorise on the stave, but coordinating four limbs more than makes up for that.  Plus I wanted to teach and have as many resources as possible.  Reading is great for referencing, recall and understanding.  Also in the UK, we have drum exams to assess playing where you have to read and play along to notated pieces.  I help students pass their graded exams.

Tony: What can you remember about playing at a young age?
Kasey: I was seven when you and mom divorced but I was happy that you left one half of your double 1960s Ludwig kit behind (I so wish you still had that kit!).  But I no longer had you there to watch.  Piano lessons when I was a little older helped with music theory, but as far as the drums go, I suppose I taught myself by watching you. 

Tony: What are some of your philosophies about playing?
Kasey: There's often talk amongst drummers about hitting hard (and playing fast) as if that's inherently good.  For me, there's a fine line between making music and making noise.  I don't mind the odd sforzando, but not strictly as a manner of playing.  If you're into drumming as sport, try playing fast and quietly, that's much more challenging.  I favour a melodic and harmonic approach with an array of dynamics.  I'm into groove, time-feel, pocket and playing for the song.  Just because something is loud and fast doesn't necessarily mean it's good.  Be tasteful, strive for quality of tone, expression, listen to the whole picture, and don't over season: you can have too much salt in a stew!  Also, try not to get obsessed with gear.  I teach at lots of different schools and some of the best sounding kits are the old battered ones from budget ranges.

This interview appeared in Tom Tom Magazine / February 2012

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Getting the Rhythm Right


Jenny Jones

I can completely understand if a woman wants to identify as a ‘female drummer’ but I have to admit to being in two minds about this.  For myself as a drummer and drum kit teacher, I’ve spent the better part of my career trying not to call attention to the fact that I’m female.  But since being involved with Tom Tom Magazine, both as a reader and contributor, I’ve altered my thinking a bit. 

I would venture to say that most of us simply want to be known as drummers.  But this is not always straightforward.  

On her Facebook site, Kim Thompson identifies herself as ‘Kim Thompson [Female drummer],’ using hard brackets and a capital F for what I imagine to be strong emphasis.  This accentuation is audacious and deliberately focuses attention to her gender. [Note: the punctuation has changed since the publication of this article].

In addition to celebrating and representing female drummers, the ethos behind Tom Tom Magazine is to tip the balance so that being a drummer who happens to be female will no longer be an anomaly.  Yet even if we did live on planet equality, I believe Tom Tom Magazine would be missed because it speaks to female drummers in a way that mainstream drumming magazines simply do not. 

The majority of the covers of the ‘big’ drum magazines are of guys in ultra masculine pose.  Inside these magazines you can be guaranteed to see at least one drummer (usually a pro) flipping the middle finger.  What does this say, ‘I’m a drummer so f-you?’  Is that supposed to be cool?  I find it tiresome and uninspired.  One does get the overwhelming impression that these magazines are geared to fellas between the ages of 13 and twenty something.

I’ll never forget a certain issue that put me off buying a particular magazine ever again.  The featured article was about ‘wild drummers’ and their off stage antics.  It was crude and loutish and had nothing to do with music or drumming.  It only served to encourage the myth of rock star prowess.  The interviewee made some horrendous comments about even sleeping with ugly women because they may have had a certain physical proclivity.  Boorish twaddle.

I wrote to the editor of the magazine and received no reply.  I haven’t bought it in two years.

At least 50% of my students are female.  How can I suggest they buy one of these magazines with that kind of content?  How does that encourage their participation in music and drumming?  These magazines barely represent female drummers.  You might see a woman on the cover every several years.  More often than not these magazines do not speak to women and in the case of this particular issue it also denigrated them.  It promoted age old stereotypes for both men and women.

It is true that the big magazines are having more female contributors and features about female players -- there is a shift in the tide.  But it continues to be a predominately male sphere.

Even if the gender balance is tipped I would still like Tom Tom Magazine to exist.  It presents women with esteem and respect and through our own eyes.  And I think it might be a while before we see that kind of celebrated representation in the big rags.
 Honey Lantree of The Honeycombs

This was a featured article in Tom Tom Magazine / November 2011

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Drumming The Weight Off

It seems you can’t take an exercise class these days without your sticks.  From core strengthening while playing single strokes, to drumming on an exercise ball doing aerobics, the trend in fitness appears to be through drumming.  Workouts like these are on YouTube under names like Pound, Drum Fit and Cardio Drumming.

But those of us who play already know the decent workout drumming provides (though I find that's mostly from loading in and loading out).  Blondie’s drummer Clem Burke recently received a doctorate for his pioneering studies comparing the similarities of drumming to an elite athlete.  Sure, even my high school let you take marching band instead of P.E. 

Still, it’s great to see folks incorporate drumming into their lives.  Understandably, the drumming is fairly rudimentary to appeal to those with little rhythmic ability or experience.  It would be great though to see a niche class geared to actual drummers.  Imagine practising your paradiddle-diddles whilst working on those abs! 
 

 Clem Burke and Athletic Drumming

This article appeared in Tom Tom Magazine / August 2011