Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Vinnie Colaiuta interview - Percussive Notes, 1995

Vinnie with friend, c. 1982.
From Vinnie Colaiuta's web site, an interview from 1995 issue of Percussive Notes, by Rick Mattingly.

My other big Vinnie thing on the blog is my  Packard Goose transcription, which is a pretty insane piece of drumming. And if Drum! magazine doesn't print my epic transcription of the guitar solo from Keep It Greasey soon, I'll be posting that, as well- maybe when I do my first fund-raising drive...

As with all of the interviews I post/link to, I've pulled out the things that are most significant to me; definitely go read the whole thing.

...regardless of how many pulses a bar happens to contain, you're going to play it with the same consideration of feel that you would if you were playing 4/4, meaning that you're going to make it feel good no matter what it is. A bar of seven or eleven is not going to feel like four, but it may have subdivisions that give you the feeling of a backbeat for enough of a moment to get that same kind of feeling. By the same token, you can take 4/4 and stretch it like a Gumby.

Some people write in odd times just to be experimental and they actually want it to have a jerky feel. But odd times can inherently be that way unless you approach them from a different angle, not necessarily defining the downbeats in every bar. It becomes a question of, do you want to make the audience a part of this or do you want to lose them? How much of it has to be an intellectual exercise all the time? We played some odd times on the Sting record [Ten Summoner's Tales] but I don't think Sting intended for people to sit there and count the stuff out. He wanted to make it as musical as possible.

It's strange because you hear something driving and feeling good, so you transcribe it and see that there aren't a lot of notes on the page. Sometimes you are surprised by that because it sounded like a lot more than it was, but that's because you can't transcribe drive and attitude.

The other thing is that no two drummers play 4/4 exactly the same way, you know? That's a mystery in itself to me - how you can identify someone through something so simple. It's way beyond how many ticks per beat and all that garbage.

Much more after the break...


I was a jazz snob for a while. When you're first learning you go through all that stuff. I used to get myself in trouble when I was playing casuals because I would get bored so I would start throwing in all this stuff. But I was young and restless and didn't have the maturity to deal with that kind of thing.

Eventually you wise up, or else you're totally blind and you think all these other people don't know what they're talking about. You start thinking, 'Hey, I'm BAD and they just don't know it.' That's some funny shit when you see guys who think their stuff is the only thing, and they're real quick to put everything down when they haven't even investigated everything that's out there. You've really got to question the validity of that.

At the same time, if you have gone through the whole gamut and can honestly say, 'Yes, I can play a backbeat and appreciate the value of simplicity, but I'm really onto something new here and nobody understands it,' you just have to realize that maybe you've developed different tastes than everybody else. You hear things differently, and you can't expect the whole world to hear as you do. If you've run through the gamut, then your thing can be totally valid, as opposed to some guy who learns to do something fairly complex and then thinks he's got an edge on things and everything else sucks.

Tony Williams represented so many things to me. Rebelliousness. A complete iconoclast. I thought it was absolutely brilliant the way he would choose to describe musical events on the drumset as a result of improvisational dialogue between himself and another player. That really had a big impact on me.

With Billy Cobham, aside from the sheer physicality and powerhouseness of it, it was hearing him avoiding downbeats and doing things that were funky and syncopated but really clean and slick. He would use hand techniques between the hi-hat and snare drum that sounded like they incorporated rudimental training, and he would make that stuff sound funky on a drumset while he was playing grooves. And then the speed he had and the single-strokes around the tom-toms, and his approach to odd times, which was really funky. I was listening to how he constructed his solos. Even if he was trading back and forth-bebop guys would be trading fours but these guys were trading God-knows-what, elevens or something-I'd listen to the statements he would make and think about why he put this note here or that note there.

The biggest thing that got me about Elvin was his time feel. He definitely latched on to some circularity that nobody else had. It wasn't just that it was a triplet thing, but his whole time feel was so unbelievably hip and very deceiving and full. Some of the things he did were like sheets of sound that didn't belong to individual notes anymore; it sort of transcended that kind of thing.

Roy Haynes had a whole different kind of sound too. He danced on the drums, you know what I mean? I tried to assimilate that from his ride cymbal thing, which had a whole different kind of effect on me.

Vinnie suddenly stops speaking. After a long pause he says:

This is kind of opening up a Pandora's box, because I could get a lot deeper than that. I mean, I can't possibly encapsulate what I got from all those guys in this amount of time. That took place over years and years of my development, so it's really hard for me to sum it up into a few things.

His reluctance to reduce the drummers he admires to a couple of signature characteristics speaks volumes about who Colaiuta is. Perhaps the reason his own playing has such depth is because in terms of the drummers who influenced him, he didn't just rip-off a few licks from each one. He absorbed their entire approaches to drumming and applied their attitudes and concepts.

...I don't know if I've lived enough of a life to even begin to get every thing that a Roy Haynes alone has to offer to a drummer, let alone Elvin or Jack [DeJohnette]. You can only look at them and go 'WOW' and try to groove on the totality of what they are. You can't just reduce them to a couple of characteristics. Sure, the might have signature licks, but do you think that's all they can play? They are not limited by any sense of the imagination.

People who think they can reduce these guys to a few licks are almost piteously funny to me; they are so completely missing the boat. Everybody has licks, whether they realize it or not, but it goes along with an overall style. The great drummers are still responding to what is going on around them.

If you're not satisfied with your playing, it's good to drive yourself. But do you really have something inside that's itching to get out that you can't say? If that's the case, concentrate on what that is. Technically, you've got to get your muscle memory together because the body learns slower than the mind.

I see nothing wrong with people who want to play as much as possible because they have a lot of stuff coming out. They get on a roll and it goes on for hours. Great, man! That's the pure beauty of it. You get into that space and you love it, and there ain't nothing wrong with that.

I'm not going to say that you don't need to practice. No way. But sometimes people start thinking, 'Oh man, I HAVE to practice all the time.' If you lose your attention span after a couple of hours and want to take a break, take a break. If you suddenly want to go play again, go back and play. You have to figure out your own objectives. If you want to do a certain thing, that's the answer right there. But how much do you want to play?

Some people bitch because certain things aren't happening, but they are just sitting there making the same mistakes over and over again. Or they think somebody is going to wave a magic wand over their head. How bad do you want it? If you want it, you'll get it.

But what do you really want? Do you just want to be like someone else because you think this, that and the other thing about that person? Or do you want it because you love the music and want to express yourself through rhythm?

I used to go to bed every night with headphones on listening to stuff like Miles Davis's Nefertiti album, with Tony Williams on drums.

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