Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Nothing to do with drumming?

Dave Elitch (L) with Rational Funk's Dave King
There was a fascinating exchange on Instagram, starting with the drummer Dave Elitch (formerly of the band Mars Volta, done a bunch of big gigs), who gave a rather provocative reaction to a quote from Stanley Spector— which we talked about here before, you can read here. 

Elitch comments on it: 

I had a student send me some quotes by Stanley Spector who was a drum teacher that’d I’d previously never heard of before. He sounded like an interesting character and I still can’t decide if he was nuts or not because it’s hard to find a lot of information about him other than secondhand blurbs here and there.

I did however, come across this quote circa 1980 from him in regard to his opinion about rudiments and I couldn’t agree more.

I’ve always thought that there has been far too much emphasis on rudiments as a topic of study and how they are fundamentally out dated and largely irrelevant in regards to playing the drum set in a contemporary music setting in the 20th, let alone 21st century. You want to play drum corps or pipe band? Go for it, just don’t fool yourself into thinking it has anything to do with playing the drums. It doesn’t.

It’s imperative that we make smart choices when it comes to what we choose to practice. So many times when I’m working with someone, they are working on things simply because they can’t do them and that’s not a good enough reason in my book.

Emphasis is mine all the way here. The drummer Dan Weiss, who is a hot item in New York, comments: 

Love you and I think what you say has some value. But I also think that the rudimental vernacular is one of the defining elements of drummers such as Cozy Cole, Max Roach, Philly Joe Jones , Elvin Jones, Frankie Dunlop, Alan Dawson Tony Williams, etc. If I am teaching someone how to swing and play in this style I most certainly teach rudiments ( see my new course :) because it is part of the language. If I teach someone who is interested in something else I might not teach rudiments at all. Context is everything. There’s no one way, there’s no right way.

(I don't agree with him that rudiments are strictly for learning a vernacular style, though they are necessary for understanding those players.)  

Elitch then responds: 

This is more geared towards someone who wants to play contemporary drum set and contemporary music. If we’re talking about jazz and a certain approach to jazz that harkens back to when military drumming was a direct influence on it as an art form, then sure, absolutely. I’m just saying that someone thinking (or being taught to) play a triple ratamcue as if that will help them or have any relation to feel/pocket/time - that’s where it all falls apart for me

Digesting all of that, I have a number of comments. 

Looking at the key portion again:

 [Rudiments are] out dated and largely irrelevant in regards to playing the drum set in a contemporary music setting in the 20th, let alone 21st century. You want to play drum corps or pipe band? Go for it, just don’t fool yourself into thinking it has anything to do with playing the drums. It doesn’t.

I don't know what they have to do with if not playing the drums. I play them on a drum. And obviously the idea that rudiments were irrelevant to contemporary music of even the 20th century is ridiculous. As is the idea that 21st century drumming is some revolutionary new animal totally unconnected from what was done in the past. It is not. 

About the rudiments themselves, their packaging is old fashioned, but there aren't many of them you can just throw away, and still be a competent drummer. A lot of them are simply articulations, or ways of making a long tone, or they're standard short rolls, or forms of paradiddles— all of which are heavily exploited on the drum set, in this century even, even by unprecedentedly modern players like Dave Elitch. Some of them, if they are of no other use to someone, are good for conditioning the hands for playing layered rhythms. 

About his response to Weiss's list of players as harkening to military drummers, I have to wonder has he ever heard a Tony Williams record? I'm not sure he has. How deep into Elvin Jones can someone be to say that? We assume that everybody has studied everybody, but show me you actually know something about them, to be making a comment like that. [Since writing this I've learned he knows them very well, it's still a strange comment.] 

Some of the other comments there are fascinating. I wish there were more constructive conversation involving Mr. Elitch. Mainly there are a lot of people thanking him for freeing them from having to learn to play some elementary stuff on a snare drum. A few people helpfully point out that pursuing the rudiments in a monomaniacally monofocused way that no one actually advocates doing, will not make you groove. True that! 

It's weird to me. It's a strange form of communication that I'm not used to, from people involved in teaching. Ultimately, great teachers— e.g. Ed Soph, Ralph Humphrey, John Beck, John Riley, Peter Erskine— want to make people understand. They work hard to communicate openly. They write a lot and give everything up. They generally don't denigrate entire, widely used, bodies of drumming literature.

Oh, and I'm totally with him on the ratamacues, screw those things.

[h/t to Thomas at DW for sharing the quote]


Craig Williams said...

Dave Elitch bothers me. If you like cringing at grotesque displays of arrogance, listen to him ruthlessly disparage Jim Chapin and Joe Morello on the Drummer's Resource podcast.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree. Besides his ignorance and disrespect for foundational figures in drumming , REGARDLESS OF STYLE, he creates a false equivalency between rudiments (which, at the very least, develop one's hands and sound) and groove, as if one can't practice both. Screw ratamacues? SCREW HIM!

Thanks for bringing this up and Happy new Year,
Ted Warren

Anonymous said...

I’ve been curious about Dave Elitch’s thing for a while now, but can’t come close justifying the $500 price of admission to his instructional videos without ‘knowing’ that the information would be transformational. That’s a LOT to pay for some drum videos.

I get the impression that he strives to create an ‘air of mystique’ — or more cynically, generate insecurity — but, it does seem like he has the respect of many professionals (like Dave King). It’s a weird thing.

Todd Bishop said...

Right, he did a master class in Portland a few days ago, with a $200 cover. I don't think I'm the target audience for that. If I wanted to get into body movement I would just be getting some pilates classes or tai chi or something. I get suspicious when I sense things getting too mercantile.

But I understand what he does is based on the Alexander technique-- which I know nothing about.