Tuesday, September 06, 2011

My Vinnie Year - part 2 - Percussioner magazine interview

Sometimes I think the whole purpose of this blog is just for me to gather all the things I ever did, heard, read, or listened to about the drums a put them in one little basket. One little, ratty basket. Fine. Here's part two of MVY, with Vinnie Colaiuta's other 1987 interview, this time with the short-lived Percussioner magazine:

"I tried to actually sound like Tony Williams when I played certain things; I tried to play like Steve Gadd when I played other things; I tried to sound like David Garibaldi for other things; and I really got into Billy Cobham for other things, to the point where it just melded together and my own style emerged. I knew that I was sounding a lot like other people and I wanted my own identity.

I don't know how it came about because it was so evolutionary but, I knew my style wasn't going to come out by copying somebody else. My brain must have said, 'you're copying this guy. No, go to him. No, don't. Do this, do that', and I came out with myself. When I was playing with Frank, I had to find a way. There, I was presented with something different on the drums that I could not rely on my predecessors to show me how to play. I could draw on their influences to play fusion beats and certain licks but when it came to applying polyrhythms, I had to do it my own way."

"I was in London with Frank and he wanted to play a reggae tune. I heard one thing and I knew the bass drum was on 2 and 4 and I just took it from there and made up my own thing. The beat was kind of a swing, not straight eighths up and down, but subdivided so I had some room to play around and it went over. People liked it. Then, I heard the authentic stuff and mixed that in with it. So I kind of went about it the backwards way. I once heard Steve Gadd play one reggae groove on a Joe Cocker record and I said, 'Yeah, that's it.'

So, a lot of my stuff came from groping and I came up with my own style. But, sometimes I still play stuff that sounds like someone else and I don't cover it up. Like, Gadd played something that I love and it's a great move and I'll play it if I can pull it off, if I am playing the kind of music that warrants it. Since Steve recorded so many things with Tom Scott, it was like he wrote the book on it. At least, I couldn't find a way to play it any better than he played it, so it felt comfortable for me to assimilate his way. I didn't sound exactly like him. It's like one saxophonist playing 'In The Mood' and another saxophonist plays the same melody. It is not going to be exactly the same, but it will be close."

"I wanted to take what I had learned and apply it to other things but I found out soon enough there was no room for it anywhere, unless I did my own thing which I still haven't really done yet. Music is like language - if you don't speak it, it stays up in your head and you just stammer at it."

"You get a sense after playing a while; you just know what works and doesn't work from the experience of doing it over and over on other peoples' records. If you know that what is happening vocally you are not stepping on the singer's toes and you know what is happening is a good feeling in the room, and you go into this guy's date and he says 'no, don't do that. It doesn't work', and you are seriously being given the clamp, then you are talking about limitations.

But, if it's a thing where you are not sure your thing is right and you are groping or if the guy gives you a framework to work in which presents a challenge but part of the contingencies of that challenge is that you can't play quick, for instance, you can't think of that as a limitation. You have to accept the challenge, know what to do with the music and document it the right way forever. That is all that exists when that record is put on the turntable and that five minutes is expiring. So, if the drummer thinks that a qualification is a limitation, he is not ready to document it. But, on the other hand, if he met the challenge, saw no limitations, worked within the idiom and idiomatically created something, he was being creative."

"I get some dates where I have to try to get a certain attitude, a certain style to convey somebody's emotion. Burt Bacharach is real abstract. I found it very vague how he wanted the stuff to groove and how he wanted the drums to be touched. He's a great writer and musician, but there are big people like that. There were a lot of things that were hard with Frank. Some of the things for cutting 'Joe's Garage' were pretty difficult at the time, but I had fun with that stuff. I was pretty at home with it."

"A kid who doesn't have to whack the drums hard and get a feel for drums to me is kind of missing something. He is going to buy a bunch of pads and not even know what it is like to lay into a bass drum."

"It's like piano and synth. I couldn't imagine getting chops on a synthesizer unless you know how to play piano. There is a direct physical link between a human and the drums that, as far as I'm concerned, you just can't get with the machines. And the beauty of it is not hitting it the same volume every time and not in the same spot. It's the little nuances that make the difference. When you hit a pad, it triggers a pick-up that creates voltage. Maybe it does it faster than a drum head vibrates and the electronic drum brain is a great alternative for sounds, but you just can't recreate that physical interaction you get with acoustic drums."

"I don't think the electronic drum brain can translate two small notes played on a drum. It measures it and spits it out exactly, whereas on a drum it was not meant to be exactly the same. The microprocessor turns voltage into sensitivity. Wonderful. But it's not the same as hearing a cymbal encompass your whole body, or hearing a bass drum, or if you stand in front of a giant gong and you feel those waves go through your body. Sure, with electric you can feel the PA speakers through the floor but you don't need that to get it from a gong or drum set. It's just different."

"When you're a drummer you might sit down and play a beat because of the way is physically feels, instead of thinking out every note, and it could be a great groove. You know how you just hit on something without thinking about it. You just don't hit on things from a machine. There is no spontaneity, you just don't start jamming on the pads. But, an advantage of the machine is that it will help you think more about what you are going to play on the drums and you can play stuff that you physically might not attempt. After a while you will know your boundaries. Like, there is no way I am going to play thirty-second notes on the bass drum. Who could do it? And that clean too! You know it's a machine."

"Sound-wise, electronics opened a whole new area. But, it's to the point where it is just blown so far out of proportion. Like, take these remixing guys. Some of them just put the tape on a splicing block. They edit it, feed stuff into it in AMS and sample it and chop it up and remix with weird kinds of delays and all the stuff that they use. Of course, to them they are being artistic. But, it's so blown out that sonically they are doing so much to the sounds of the instruments that it's just not documenting the performance anymore."

"When you are recording you have to perform with the knowledge that it has to sound a certain way. In the old days, when you went into the studio to cut a jazz record or something, you just heard it in your headphones like it was being recorded. When you heard a bunch of echo, you knew you couldn't play certain kinds of licks because it was going to get washed out; when you heard the gated tom-tom, you knew how to approach the record because this guy has the next part; you couldn't get in the guitar player's way. Everybody has their own little building blocks of things that goes together to record. Now, it is different. You have to play ahead of time with how the sound of the drums is going to be affected and they tweak it more to make it. So, the engineer has just as much to do with the final sound as the composer."

"But, what does it have to do with music and pure notes? It really doesn't have anything to do with it. It's at a turning point and I am real interested to see which way it is going to go. If acoustic and electronic will be a successful marriage, or if one is going to tug too much away from the other side."

"All my life I have played my drums, and I have an identity of a good drummer but that's not the same kind of identity as being a good person and what you feel about yourself and how people see you. People who are playing all the time tend to neglect that but drumming is such an important part of my identity that it feeds my other self too. It's like one person feeds the other. If the other self is not happy, the drumming self will be affected. If the drumming self is good, then that makes the other self feel good. I see a lot of hope and promise because there are a lot of ways people can make music. If I can make the changes and adapt those changes to other changes that I am not making and still be in demand as a player because my craft or my art did not become obsolete, then I'll be in good shape."

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