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Mike Reed: The Drum Thing

By Published: May 4, 2010
An old football coach of mine said the best leaders are people who get other people to lead. And I think that's very true...So playing-wise, I want to do my part for the greater piece of the team. I think that might come across with some of the choices I make, playing with others...There's the traditional drum, but some of my favorite drummers use it more expressively. So they can still, if the music is abstract, or very quiet—they can still participate and serve the music without doing things that traditionally the drums are set up to do. Whether that's getting sounds that you're not supposed to get out of the drums, or by using different types of sticks, or being able to vibrate the drum, I like that ability. Especially with free playing.

It's one of the markers that I see with people who are either just starting to get involved, or just have no idea what they're doing. They can't take it to an extended technique level of sound. It's like can you be percussive, or is that the only thing you can do...Can you evoke sound from your instrument? Can you get your drums to actually—I don't mean figuratively to play melodies, I mean literally change the tone of a drum on a single drum. Can you play the pitch that the bass clarinet is playing...There's a lot of stuff you can do there. You can use shish kebab skewers and get very high tones out of your cymbals.

AAJ: What I also like about your playing is that you really swing hard, that hard, post-bop swing. Drummers like Kenny Wollesen

and Bobby Previte
Bobby Previte
Bobby Previte
—in a way they're doing things similar to what you are, using the drum as another instrument instead of just a timekeeper, but they don't swing the way you do.

MR: I kind of notice that, musically in general about things that are going on, right now, I think there's a lot of people asking musically for things that are not swinging...I was on a panel last summer for jazz composers to submit new work and so you'd sit there and listen to some of the music samples, and out of 180 submissions, maybe ten actually had some type of swing beat to them. And the rest of it was all very hybrid rhythmic concepts.

So I don't think people can't do it, I think that they're just not doing it, or doing that much of it...Both of those drummers are quite capable, maybe the context was just not asking them to do it. On the other hand, people like Gerald Cleaver

, Nasheet Waits
Nasheet Waits
Nasheet Waits
, even when they're playing those musical ideas that are very popular, you can feel that pulsing swing underneath them, I think all the time. In fact, I'd really like to sit down with those two guys and find out how they make it happen.

AAJ: Your People, Places & Things project: like a lot of Chicago musicians you go into the past and the future simultaneously. My theory of your going back to the '50s has to do with going back to the watershed years of the civil rights movement. But what motivates you to explore this area?

MR: I think on a certain level there's some at least conceived gap between straight ahead and avant-garde jazz. I'm saying that's not true...All of that period is so absent from what people associate with Chicago, and so important to the formation of the AACM music...The straight ahead and the free periods are not that far away from each other.

I still want to play like Philly Joe Jones

Philly Joe Jones
Philly Joe Jones
1923 - 1985
, and I don't. And I feel that if I can go back and find out what that process was, that arrives at why I'm around today, people like myself, I get an image of who and what we are. It's a matter of putting together a better family tree.

AAJ: Coltrane wanted to play like Ben Webster.

MR: He's the one I emulate when I practice. Not when on stage or recording, but when I'm actually in the practice room.

AAJ: Maybe it comes through not so much in your individual playing, but in your band concept. It swings hard and has a percussive quality....Some of your titles—"Change," "Negotiations"—make me think of politics—Obama, even.

MR: I'm not very political...Stories and Negotiations (482 Music, 2010) is directed at the process of dealing with the bands. I have this record in this project with these older musicians, and a big part of the rehearsals was these stories they were telling us.

AAJ: How about negotiations?

MR: Well they were coming in thinking I'm a kid (because I am a kid) and asking, "What is he thinking? Why is he asking me to do this?" If you talk about music a little too much, with certain people, you can get really different answers. You can sit there and play with them, but if you talk too much it can be a little tricky...So there is a little negotiation going on to convey about how it's all going to proceed. When the guys came in there were a lot of things that we chose, based on ideas that they brought in, things that didn't work so well, things that needed to work better. So there's always a negotiation of some sort.

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