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On Drumming and Boxing

By Published: September 1, 2006
Another aspect of the boxer's style is "inside" and "outside" fighting. The inside fighter prefers being close to his opponent working the body and seeking out uppercuts. I find this much like Tony Williams style; playing on top of the beat, always pushing the music with unexpected flurries and tempo changes. The outside fighter boxes more behind the beat; using his reach, pacing himself and seeking the right punch at the right time, as would a groove master like Bernard Purdie. Two great fighters with these respective styles are Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali. Seek out any of their three fights together and watch these rivals push each other to their maximum abilities.

Boxing is one of the few sports that is played one on one. The boxer must be determined, focused and in top condition. In the fight game a boxers determination and guts are regarded as "heart". It is essential for a sport hinged on the individual. In music, the gig similarly revolves around the drummer. No matter who is the leader on a date the man behind the drums ultimately leads the band. He determines the tempo, feel and direction of the music. If the drummer isn't focused it can lead to a lackluster performance. If he's at the top of his game it can lead to moments of greatness. Check out Billy Higgins on any of his later recordings. Though gravely ill, he still played with the perpetual bounce and inventiveness that defined Smilin' Billy. In the boxing world an aging Alexis Arguello twice fought Aaron Pryor in his prime. Though losing both fights, Arguello showed great heart and in defeat I see still him as the winner. In short, when making the gig show up with heart.

Training in boxing requires not only sparring but also many solitary hours running and working the bags. Any accomplished drummer knows the value of solitary practice but it's also important to spar! Get out to jam sessions; going toe to toe with other musicians is not only inspirational but also essential. It can also be an eye opener sending you back to the woodshed. The boxer's woodshed (the gym) is in itself a world of rhythm. The sounds of a boxing club in full swing are intoxicating. The heavy bag's bass sound and rat-a-tat snare of the speed bag heard together create a meditative polyrhythm. Sonny Liston new well the rhythms of the gym and used to skip rope to a recording of James Brown's "Night Train". In the hands of an experienced puncher the speed bag plays a stream of up-tempo triplets, the perfect workout for any drummer!

So next time you swing the band think of Sugar Ray Robinson. As you drop a bomb remember Joe Louis. When you play a flurry around the toms visualize Joe Frazier. Think of Ali as you lock into a deep pocket. Try to catch a current fight on HBO or Classic Boxing on ESPN. Vintage fight films are shown weekly and you can see the masters at work. Better yet get some hands on experience at the gym or for a small investment set one up at home. You'll notice a change in your reflexes, focus and concepts on drumming.

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