Sunday, April 24, 2011

1978 Modern Drummer interview: Tony Williams

From the Modern Drummer digital archive, here are some excerpts from a 1978 interview with Tony Williams. I've edited out the large hunks of it where they discuss single-headed toms, the merits of fiberglass drums, the new electronics the kids are using, and CS Black Dots vs. calf heads, keeping just the essence of what I thought was interesting. The subject headings are also mine.


FIRST SET OF DRUMS: An old Radio King set. It consisted of a very large bass drum, 28 or 30 inches, and a 16" tom that was mounted on the bass. It was a very old type of set, probably made in the early forties. There was also a snare and a hihat. The hi-hat cymbals were almost all bell. The bell used up more space than the flat section. They were only about 12 or 13 inches, with this huge bell - about nine inches. I got rid of those pretty quickly.

FORMAL STUDY: After about four or five years on my own, I took lessons with Alan Dawson. Private lessons. I never did play in school because there were no musical facilities in my high school.

PRACTICING: When I was practicing every day, I was doing nothing else but that. I'd get up in the morning and not even bother getting dressed. I'd just move to the drums in my pajamas. I would be playing on the pad while I watched TV, and I'd go over another drummer's house and play with him. All drumming - all day. I practiced on the pad to develop my hands. I started reading when I began studying with Alan. I feel that my hands are the most important thing. But I also liked to practice for at least an hour on the drums. No routines, no books.

GRIP, TECHNIQUE: It depends on the situation. I don't think the matched grip is something you can base a whole technique on. You have to work on technique. You have to work on holding the sticks. That's the biggest problem for a drummer. That's what he has to do most - hold the sticks. For a trumpet player, it's his embouchure. That's where it all begins. With drums, it's how you pick up the sticks. That's what you have to do best. Those are your chops. It begins where your hand raises up, comes down and makes a distinctive sound, and you work on it until it becomes right. I still work on it. I'm very conscious of my technique.

THE DRUMMER'S ROLE: In any group, a drummer's first responsibility is time. Another is to act as a bridge between the other instruments, the bass and piano, the piano and horns, the bass and horns. He should also help them to feel comfortable. When you've got those three things covered, then you can go on to other things.

INFLUENTIAL DRUMMERS: I think Max was the most dynamic of his time, the state of the art at that moment. He was the forefront of that type of drumming, more so than say, Buddy. Jo Jones has been a big influence on drummers. I got a lot from everybody. Philly Jo, who played differently from Max, and Art Blakey who played differently from everybody. Philly Jo was influenced more by Sid Catlett than Max. The independence of hands and feet, that all came from Catlett and Kenny Clarke. They were the founders of what we all do today. Guys like Davey Tough were doing it way back.

HEY, DRUMMERS: Basically, you've really got to love the instrument, and love playing no matter what music it is.

1 comment:

Gergo said...

i learned a ton just by reading this interview. thanks for sharing man!