Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Once Upon a Time Signature (A Parable)

Shelly Manne, Stan Kenton's (and many others')
 great drummer.
Once upon a time-signature, there was a young, wide-eyed kid who wanted to become a drummer. His parents, ever the encouraging and musical types, bought him a drum set that they probably couldn't afford. It was a hazy silver/grey color and it was one of the most beautiful things the boy had ever seen.

By the standards of a professional drummer, it wasn't the highest quality drum set, but the boy cherished it and polished it and he learned how to play by taking a few precious lessons and by playing along with records in his junk-crowded bedroom for hours on end. (His parents were also very, very patient.)

For all of his high school years, he would practice for hours each day. Guided by his father, an arranger and composer, he listened to recordings by all of the greats from the old days and he found the modern greats on his own. He was one of the few kids (if not the only one) in his high school who could tell you who Gene Krupa, Louis Bellson and Shelley Manne were, though he did listen carefully to Bill Bruford, Phil Collins, Chester Thompson, Vinnie Colaiuta and Neil Peart -- but mostly to Neil Peart.

Chester Thompson, middle, with my favorite
Genesis lineup.
Because of his misunderstanding of Neil Peart, the boy tried to play fast and he played too many notes in every song. He joined bands, and he learned to play "in the pocket," after a while.

During this time, he must have hit his original bass drum pedal thousands -- millions? -- of times. For years, he played on the same bass drum pedal.

What he didn't know, having had no comparison and having never been a "tech" kind of guy, was that his bass drum pedal was one of the worst ever made. In fact, it might have been put together wrong, because it had very little spring to it and it made him work five-times harder than he really had to in order to get a good sound out of the kick drum.

After many years of playing this sub-standard piece of equipment, the pedal broke, irreparably. He scrounged together a few hundred dollars and got a new one... was like being transformed from the tortoise into the hare. The boy, now a young man, found himself amazed by what he could do on the bass drum -- how fast he could play; how solid his sound was.

To this day, the only consistent compliment the boy (now a man) gets from other drummers (who are, shall
Louis Bellson, my fave jazz drummer.
we say, "sparing" with their compliments and liberal with their criticism and their own self-images) is that he has "a great foot." Some are surprised when they find out that he is not playing on a "double bass drum pedal," with two, independent beaters, playable with two feet.

The sage asks: how many other small, good things; how many other great, all-important things come from having not?

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