The Drummers and the Beat
AAJ: The whole idea of arrhythmia and your heart not beating in a certain rhythm, it's interesting to me because I tend to gravitate towards music that is not in a steady rhythm, more 'free time' music.
AAJ: I don't know, that's a very good question and I've often wondered about it. There's something about straight 4/4 time, that I often have trouble getting into it.
DR: This is a problem that I'm glad you mention, because it brings us to the psychology of resistance to the music too. There is that One, you're looking for a beat, and when the music doesn't have a beatjazz has a beat, a One that everybody relates to. It's called God but in the music it's called the beat. Everybody relates to that one, if you can't tap your beat... it's the rhythm you have, and that's your beat. Once you can't relate to that one, well that's why they tell people to practice with a metronome. I don't need it, but it's good to know about it. When you go to the doctor, you have to tap out that beat and relate it to that One. In every creation you have that One. It's the heartbeat, a universal micro-macro beat. The universe is a heartbeat; the solar system is a heartbeat; you have a heartbeat and a synchronicity that goes on in your body and all around you. If it doesn't synchronize, you're out of kilt and you're sick. You start with your body; you hear a sound and you've got to listen to yourself, your heartbeat, and that's the thing about that One. 1-2-3-4 time, that's the creative, and everything is related to it. If you don't have that One, the orchestra falls apart, and a lot of people go into freedom because they don't relate to the One. It's a psychological thing, but once you find that One within yourself, you start to regulate your life and you start to open up. You start to get happier and more comfortable, because every time you listen to music, that's what you look forwhere's the beat, where's the One? That's your relationship as a listener.
AAJ: I like to listen to drummers like Sunny Murray because, you know, you can feel a beat without it being so implicit. That's what I was getting at.
DR: Good, right, but the beat is always there.
AAJ: I almost think of it more as a wave.
DR: Sure, we get into that, it gets so subtle that you don't have to hear the 'boom-boom' pounding.
AAJ: I don't like things to be so obvious.
DR: You're like me, I'm sure, because my playingI hate the obvious, but the One is there. You understand that you have to recognize it and you feel comfortable with the music. I know Sunny, I remember him and all the free drummers and Sunny is fantastic but for him to relate that to a band, he's got to have that beat. He's got it there, he can play and that's another thing, that a lot of drummers stop playing the bass drum. The bass drum is the beat, the boom-boom, and it can be subtle, you understand? When Max Roach is playing, you almost never hear the bass drum, but it's there!
I play drums, and believe you me, if you don't play the bass drum, it's not gone. You can play hip and all that, and it's differentyou must play it, and you hear it in your foot. It's got to synchronize to the bass and not obtrude, but you can hear it, it's there. If you don't beat your foot on the bass drum, it's not swingin'. You understand? It goes through life; it goes through everythingyou have to have your own beat. A lot of drummers nowadays have stopped playing the bass drum, and that takes the guts out of it. That's the beat of the marching band and you hear it all over the city; you hear the 'boom,' and that's the beat. It brings the people and that's why it has the bass drum. The church, they have the bass drum, and the sound of the warriors when they go to war is the bass drum. I've got one right here, the mamba drum, the beat right there in the middle of the bullets and they're playing the drum, are you kidding? It's heavy! Each side, each company is listening for the beat. It sounds free-form going on, but it's organized, you know. The warriors, they have it for organization, and the music is organizedit has a beat. The group that loses, the side that is victorious one is the one that has the beat going. It's the same in life and the same in the music; you've got to have that beat, and that One. If you don't have a beat, you don't have anything.
AAJ: I can tap my foot to a pulse, not da-da-da, but it's moving when I listen to about anything.
DR: I have a thing where you give everybody a drumstick and have them beat rhythm, because a lot of societies are uptight rhythmically. A lot of people can't get their coordination, but if they practice drumming da-da da-da, hand to hand, they develop a drumming. That's a normal person I'm talking about; you give them a drumstick for therapy and you'd be surprised. Psychologically it loosens them up, too, and they find themselves with a beat'I can do this, I've got coordination and synchronization, and you know, I've got the whole thing.' That's why you have friction and why everybody is running from that One, that four on the cymbal, it's so subtle. They took a million years to play that straight four, that's what makes it modern. Fast or slow, you control the time and that's what it's all about. The rhythm, that's what drummers dothey control time.
AAJ: It's funny too, because I played cello in an improvising context, and one of the bands I was in some years ago, whenever we would lock into a more rhythmic element and play something a bit less free-form, what I would do on the cello, instead of doing something rhythmically I would play a drone underneath it, maybe singing along wordlessly as well. It would add an underpinning to the music, but I would never want to play actually 'in' that time. I would want to play it in an expanded way.
DR: I know what you meanI know the cello is good for improvising. Have you heard Oscar Pettiford play it? If I may say so, you have a rhythmic blockage, and once you get over it and you get comfortable with that One, you can control a lot of stuff. A lot of people, they go against the One. It's easy to play bossa or whatever, and that's why we have so many players that play Latin, but that four-four is civilization right there. To play four-four, even in classical music they play cut time, one-two one-two, not one-two-three-four. That's where jazz is; once you say one-two-three-four [in classical music], you'd have chaos. With a big symphony orchestra, if you write it out in four-four time, you have chaos. That's why everything in Vaudeville and Broadway is in cut time, and that's where the old music changed, the drummers and the control of universal rhythm is straight four. The old political systems changed right there, and most people can't get comfortable with straight four. They go back to the da-da-da and all this retread, even the great early musicians from New Orleans came from Vaudevilleeven Louis Armstrong. Roy Eldridge and Dizzy Gillespie started to get into four, Charlie Parker, but all those other guys were in half time.
AAJ: I bought this record of Baby Dodds playing solo [Talking and Drum Solos, Folkways, 1959], and it's amazing to me because it's cut time and it does stick out like a sore thumb, but the things he was able to do with that time are unreal.
DR: Well, that's the era, the era of cut time, and the thinking was tight. But he's a master; he used to play in Congress Square and he started to play those big [ride] cymbals, and those cymbals mean so much. And then drumming went to Big Sid Catlett, and as a matter of fact Baby Dodds is a Capricorn, like Catlett. Kenny Clarke, I played a lot with himhe's a master of modern drumming, and he's a Capricorn. Max, who took it from Kenny Clarke, he's a Capricorn. It's that temperament, and that's how that book [Black Reeds, Black Brass] is laid out.
AAJ: It speaks well of Capricorns.
DR: That's one aspect of it; there are different signs of course and everybody has a different rhythm, swinging in a different way or same swing and having a different temperament. The Pisces, they swingall that is laid out, it's in the signs, and when you put everything together you can see what it is about. That's my lifeline.
Sure, Baby Dodds started it, and you've got to listen to Max from Baby Dodds, and Max plays so fast it's like another civilization from Baby Dodds. Those things with Clifford Brown and Max, so fastit's the modern thing, the race car driving. Everything changes; the people who couldn't keep up with that, some went to free-form because they couldn't keep up with that One. It's easier to play free-form, but...
AAJ: But then you get somebody like Art Taylor, who can play both.
DR: Oh, Art, Art, you heard him on those records of mine. Nobody ever really heard Art play, because that was a sublimation of his drumming, and that's why it's called From In to Out. Art is one of the swingingestArt swings his ass off, and half of my records are with him. I don't think many people heard that record of Art's.
AAJ: And he's on some records with Frank Wright too [Uhuru Na Umoja, America-Universal, 1969 and Space Dimension, America, 1969] that are wonderful, and he really plays free on those.
DR: Art took an interest [in freedom]; and I bring it out in drummers, that's why he played my music. He really played the shit out of [free], but he had that swing to it, a swing through the whole thing.
AAJ: As someone who is interviewing musicians, Art is a great influence because of his Notes and Tones book [Da Capo, 1977/1993]. That's like a blueprint.
DR: I told him to write that bookI gave him the inspiration. We hung out in Paris and that's how we made that record, and that's when he started interviewing musicians and ended up with a book and so forth. I used to have drama classes and we'd do plays, and I'd have him reciting. When he came back to the States, he had a few book tours and gave some lectures, and said "Dizzy, I'm grateful for all that you did for me in Paris," all those readings and things, he was very grateful. It came in handy, because he had to give speeches about the drums and so it's all in the mix. It's funny you mention Art because man, [Futura are] getting that back out on CD. He played his ass off and he swings all the time. He's one of the swingingest drummers in jazz.
AAJ: He's a very liberated drummer, too.
DR: At the end of From In to Out, he took the tempo fasthe took that shit and played so fast, and that's what the title was about. I had all that written out for big band orchestra.
AAJ: It's very dense music.
DR: It's written for an orchestra, swinging like that with a band and dance, and that's the big band shit that I'd planned to record. I've got all that stuff. All these guys trying to write swing and classics, but it never makes it, or very few, but I've got the stuff, the full aspect of New York and the physical aspect, the skyscrapers, this all goes into it. Then they bring it up-to-date and tighten it upthat's what should be in the Lincoln Center [laughs]. So you know, that was my idea, and touring with Dizzy Gillespie's band was the next thing I did after that. Of course, Gillespie is the epitome of modern jazz, his big band, you've got to go back through that and listen to all the Dizzy Gillespie band, all those charts and you can hear the new sound, it's alive and it's all written in there. class="f-right s-img"> Return to Index...