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American Drummers Achievement Award: Honoring Steve Gadd

John Kelman By

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Steve Gadd
American Drummers Achivement Awards: Honoring Steve Gadd
Hudson Music
2004

One would be hard-pressed to find a drummer who has been as widely-recorded and as widely-varied, style-wise, as Steve Gadd. Sure, there are drummers out there who are as readily recognizable - in jazz Elvin Jones, Art Blakey, Tony Williams and Max Roach, to name four, come to mind - but one would be challenged to identify many drummers who have created instantly recognizable patterns that have so deeply permeated the pop consciousness. Who can forget the military march-with-swing drum work to Paul Simon's hit, "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover"? Mention the name Steve Gadd to any drummer behind a kit and that's likely what they're going to play. And that's only one of many immediately distinguishable, almost culturally iconic inventions that Gadd has created in a career that spans over forty years and has seen him play with artists as diverse as Chick Corea, Eric Clapton, James Taylor and Van McCoy.

After honouring Louis Bellson, Max Roach, Elvin Jones and Roy Haynes at the first American Drummers Achievement Awards in '98, for the '03 edition the organization chose to honour only one drummer, Steve Gadd; fortunately Paul Siegel and Rob Wallis of Hudson Music were there to document the event which, while fashioned in style after an awards ceremony, also features some incredible musical tributes to Gadd with a band that includes bassist Jimmy Johnson, keyboardist Larry Goldings, saxophonist Tom Scott, guitarist Michael Landau and, splitting the drum duties, Vinnie Colaiuta and Rick Marotta. The result is a 2-DVD set that not only features some interesting personal perspectives on the life and playing of Steve Gadd, but also some fine musical performances, culminating with Gadd taking the drum chair himself to back up James Taylor and perform one of his own Gadd Gang tunes.

The documentary portion on the first disc begins with family members of the Zildjan family, inarguably the most significant manufacturers of cymbals in modern times, paying tribute to company founder Armand Zildjan. Combining loving speeches with a caring video tribute, one only begins to realize just how important Zildjan and the company he built has been to the development of so many of the drummers we appreciate today.

But the real meat of the disk is the tribute to Gadd. With a two-part documentary that traces his earliest beginnings in Rochester, New York, where teachers were already realizing that here was a player that would truly grow into an artist of significance, through his years in the army band to his early days as a session player in New York, Gadd's total commitment to his instrument is made crystal clear. Collaborators, educators and friends including bassist Anthony Jackson, John Beck, Chick Corea and others bring testimony to Gadd's pure devotion to the kit. In fact, one of the more interesting comments made is how Gadd is so absolutely in love with his instrument, as opposed to so many others who often seem to wish they played another even as they excel at their own.

But as meaningful as the spoken word tributes are, the most significant moments are when the band pays tribute to some of Gadd's more well-known works, in particular their rendition of Chick Corea's "Nite Sprite" from The Leprechaun , which finds Vinnie Colaiuta paying homage while, at the same time, showing that the best drummers honour by demonstrating how they have been inspired by the source rather than by simply imitating.

But the best of the ceremony, hosted by Bill Cosby, is saved for last. Gadd gets behind the kit to back James Taylor on "October Road," and to perform one of his own soul-drenched instrumentals, "Things Ain't What They Used to Be," and what becomes clear is that while Marotta and Colaiuta are both fine drummers, there is only one Steve Gadd. Powerful and inventive, always conscious of groove while defining new ways to combine the breadth of styles he has played over the years into something distinctly him , Gadd manages to show why he has emerged as such a significant player, one who is first call for so many artists from so many styles of music.

Bonus features on Disc Two include some great live footage of Gadd over the years, with the Army band, Stuff, Mike Manieri and more, as well as the full Steve Gadd documentary produced for the awards ceremony and interviews with artists including Eric Clapton, Will Lee, Chick Corea, Vinnie Colaiuta, Rick Marotta, Phil Ramone, Tom Scott and Russ Titelman. All in all over six hours of educational and, most importantly, entertaining footage that pays tribute to a drummer who will ultimately be remembered in the same breath as Elvin Jones, Tony Williams and Roy Haynes. American Drummers Achievement Awards: Honoring Steve Gadd manages to be one awards ceremony that doesn't bloat with its own self importance or lose momentum. Well-paced, with just the right combination of interviews, testimonials and live performances, this is a set that can be watched over and over again.

DVD Featuring Steve Gadd (drums), Rick Marotta (drums), Vinnie Colaiuta (drums), Michael Landau (guitar), Tom Scott (saxophones), Larry Goldings (keyboards), Jimmy Johnson (bass), Will Lee (vocals), James Taylor (acoustic guitar, vocals), and others.


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