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Steven Kroon: Looking Beyond

By Published: August 26, 2008
AAJ: I've heard that 1977 album Hotmosphere (Pablo), that's an incredible album.

SK: It's a killin' album, man. That 's where I got to meet Ron Carter. Mauricio Smith was on it; Mauricio was an incredible flautist, man. I just had a very good time with Dom.

I also had another person who helped me a lot, playing congas too—Jose Hernandez. He was a real good friend of my brother's. After I started studying with Tommy, he started studying with Tommy too, but he was very advanced. He added a lot to my repertoire, and he cleaned up a couple of things for me too. I've always got to mention him, because he helped me immensely.

AAJ: And then in 1981, you started with Luther Vandross.

SK: A percussionist by the name of Crusher Bennett did the record with Luther—he was on that Never Too Much (Epic, 1981) record. He doesn't like to travel, he likes to just stay in town and do all the records. So when it came time to travel, they offered him the gig, but he didn't want to go. He was good friends with me and he said, "Hey Steve, you play great, I'll look out for you." He would send me; he would recommend me, first call. So he recommended me—I went and auditioned, and I got the gig. Then I turned around and it was twenty years later.

And the same thing happened with Ron Carter. Around 1985, while I was still playing with Luther, he [Crusher Bennett] started recording with Ron. The same thing came up with the traveling, and he said, "Hey man, this guy's going to Japan and Brazil, and places like that," and I said "What?!? Yes!" So he turned me on to that. What was good about it was I worked with Ron all those twenty years too. So whenever I wasn't working with Luther, I'd be working with Ron.

AAJ: You must have been pretty busy.

SK: I was having a ball! What was so unique about the situation was that it was two completely different types of music—two different sounds, two different heads. That was what was so refreshing about it.

AAJ: One of the things that I've really noticed about your work is that you really jump between different musical worlds a lot. Do you ever find your heads spinning between different musical approaches or different ideas?

SK: No—it's like you have a real great wardrobe, you know what I mean? When you're going to Black Tie Affair, you got the right tux. When you're going to the place that's casual, you got the great suit and jacket pants. All you do is, whenever you go into that type of mindset, you go dressed for it. And everything just kind of falls into place if you just think about it in a certain way. That's how I think about it.

Another thing too in playing percussion—I always think about what I do as being a chef. In music, you've got the melody, you've got the harmony, all that is there. What I'm supposed to do is enhance it. So in doing that, I've got to know flavors. So if I hear something that has more of a Brazilian sound, I use those kinds of spices. If I hear something that's more R&B, it's a different instrument that you're going to hear—a tambourine. Everything goes with the colors that it goes—it's like codes. If you figure those kinds of things out, it's better for you. It makes it simpler, and it makes it more sensible to you. Cause you don't want to go in and change somebody's groove. You want to go in and make it groove, you know what I mean?

AAJ: I think back to hearing you perform with Ron Carter—one very vivid memory that I have is hearing you play "Samba de Orfeu"—it's just you and Ron. There's this telepathic communication between the two of you that I guess comes from years of playing together.

Steve Kroon / Freddy ColeSK: Well, when you play with someone for a prolonged time, you get to know them, but one of the most important things is learning to trust the person, and the person learning to trust you. You know what the person likes; you know how to get underneath. When you see them go to a certain place, you know what you can feed them, so that they can go there. You don't trip them; you try to something to take it to the next level. Enhancing all that stuff just comes from playing for a long time and listening.

I've played with a lot of different drummers—that's interesting too. You play differently with different drummers, like Lewis Nash, Harvey Mason, Bernard Purdie, Portinho...everyone's got their own kind of power, their own kind of groove, and you've got to kind of figure that out. They're going to make you play different. The most important thing is finding your space—you don't want to fight the person. You can hear some guys play together and it sounds like a boxing match—everyone's swinging, but ain't nobody hitting nothing.

AAJ: You've got this magical way of choosing from all these different colors. I remember seeing your set-up—you had just like tons of percussion at your will to play there on stage, and it wasn't like you were playing all of them all the time.

SK: No, no—the important thing—I don't get paid per instrument, so I don't have to play all of it. And if I don't its O.K., I can play it tomorrow, you know what I mean? One thing that I learned from Dom—he told me, "You've got to figure out the proper sound with the proper things. Certain things ask for wood sounds and wind sounds, or darker colors, mysterious stuff. Certain things ask for triangles and light stuff, bells and all, because of the light sound. Certain things ask more for shakers, move movement. Back to the cooking thing—if I'm going to make a Gumbo, I'm not going to over spice it; I'm going to make it so it tastes like a Gumbo. So, these things kind of work for me.

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