Saturday, January 22, 2011

Joey Baron master class, part 2: Nothing But Complete Feedback And Noise

Part 2 of the 1994 Joey Baron New School master class, via

The challenges for working with a guy like Zorn- it depends. He's got so many different kinds of music- [he] writes pieces that if you heard it, you'd probably think, "Jesus Christ, it's like nothing but complete feedback and noise"- and it is! But that's what he heard and that's what he worked on. Sometimes I find myself extremely physically challenged. I'm a little guy, I don't lift sides of buildings for fun or anything like that, so I'm not like exactly a power-oriented type of player. But for some of his music, I had to train a little bit to have the stamina just to keep up with the volume. Because when you're working as a drummer, you're working with people who put their stuff through an amp; if they want to get loud, they can just go like that [twirls knob] or get closer into the mic, and as that gets louder, as a drummer, I wanna accompany that, I don't want to get buried by it, totally. So, that was the first one big challenge, the physical challenge. And when somebody looks at you and tells you, "blow as hard and as fast and as long as you can right now, and don't stop until I cut you off", that's hard! That's really hard! You can tell when you start giving up, and when that happens you look and you see a glare. That's challenging, to give a composer what he wants or she wants.

So, the other thing that's challenging is, John's music is not about development. He's not as concerned with development of ideas as he is with presenting them. His main focus as a musician is presentation, you know presenting a concept, presenting an idea, but for me, my whole thing has been spending years and years learning how to develop, take one little phrase and dig deep and go into it and approach it from a very deep place. It's very hard to come away from that and just play something and then move on to another thought, like for three seconds. He might say, play some just really funky groove, and then the next thing is pick up the brushes and make scratchy sounds real fast, and you gotta watch- think about that, it's really challenging. It's another way to think, because [in jazz] at a certain point, it's very easy because, there's so much homework to do just to be able to play the music, to be able to play a standard tune, make the chord changes, play within them, and do all the "right" things. It's very easy once you have all those skills to kinda stop listening, to close your eyes and just play without really being aware of what's happening on the stage. The thing about Zorn is, if you close your eyes, you're dead! You're really dead! You've gotta keep aware every second. And I like that, it was really different, because I found myself a lot of times playing in situations [where] I'd get the feeling that people weren't- soloists or whatever- they weren't really listening; they were just doing a function. And that's what attracted me to play a little more adventurous type of music, and to bring what I know about straight-ahead things... I was interested in being involved with these people that were like "bam-bam-bam-bam", because it does something to the listener as well. I don't know, I think to me the age of people getting up and just exhibiting how great they can play, I'm not really interested in that. It's a whole era of that that we've gone through, and I think it's great, and I think people that can do it, that's a major accomplishment. But I think there are other things around to do with that, like once you get that skill, what are you going to do with it?

There's so much going on on the bandstand in [Naked City]- I'm really the conductor of the band. Let's say a song lasts about a minute, right? Within a minute I've got like up to maybe ten different stylistic changes to make, and I- there- some of 'em involve, as well as stylistic changes, time signatures that don't relate easily. I'm- there's so much going on there I can't really pay attention [to the audience]- I can't even look out in the audience, it's my job to make sure that everybody else in the band knows where I'm at, because that's- a lot of the songs are nothing but noise, like the keyboard player just has his hand down until he hears me do a certain sound. If I don't do that sound at the right time, the whole music will fall apart, and that's happened and everybody knows it. And so afterwards, a lot of people come up and say, yeah, [...] I'm really knocked out, or whatever, or I hated it, I just think it's awful. And I know, I am aware to a slight degree, the heavy impact- and again that's what John's focus [...] goes back to. I think he's interested in presentation more than exhibiting the depth of getting into soloing over a song.

The basic thing I loved, when I was a kid- I didn't come from a musical family at all, my parents were very poor and I would get a stack of records, old scratched-up records from backyard sales or something, and I'd just stack em up and put em on and beat on pillows, play along with them. One record was- I don't know where I got a Mongo Santamaria record, another record was a Wes Montgomery record, and I didn't know who these people were. Another record was a Buddy Rich big band record, and then the Beatles, Santana. At that time, Jimi Hendrix, Santana, the Beatles, James Brown, Ray Charles, all this stuff, you could turn on one radio station and hear one minute you hear Jimmy Smith playing the organ, the next minute you'd hear Miles Davis, and the next minute you'd hear the Beatles, the next minute Booker T and the MG's- it was not such a specialized thing, at least where I grew up, and the climate of, the social scene. I would put these records on, and I loved the music! I didn't care about if this is jazz, or this or that, when I first started, and that basis has helped me to this day. If somebody wants to do something and they might say hey, could give me an Eddie Arnold country/western kind of groove on this, I know exactly what they're talking about and it's fun! You know cuz when you do it you know that stuff can swing as well as anything else. It's just there's been a lot of bad country music, just like there's been a lot of bad jazz music.

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