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Anton Fig: Behind the Band Stand, Part 1

Ben Scholz By

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AAJ: Who's subbing for you?

AF: Shawn Pelton.

AAJ: Cool

AF: So I'll get out on the road and play with those guys.

AAJ: Does Shawn bring his own kit in here?

AF: No, he plays on mine. Then it takes me like weeks to reset it. You know how you like it to be perfect, but I mean, he's got to be comfortable and set it like he likes it, and it's fine but it takes me weeks to get it back. He plays on a 3 piece kit for the Saturday Night Live Band.

AAJ: You're gonna take the Black Beauty you used today for the show, I presume. You're not going to let Shawn play on that?

AF: (laughs) I may not. You know that Yamaha drum, that's the only other drum I really use. My signature drum is really a great drum, I've used it on the show for a long, long time. I managed to get ahold of this drum (an all-original 1928 Ludwig Black Beauty snare drum), and I don't want it to sit in a glass case. I want to play the thing. It was made about a hundred years ago.

AAJ: Made in my home town.

AF: Chicago?

AAJ: Chicago, yes. So, Miles was on this show and you got to work with him. To wrap this up, give me a Miles Davis story.

AF: Well when I got there—this was at NBC—Paul says to us "we're going to play with Miles tomorrow night. We don't know what's going to happen." So I get there, and there's this big drum machine, I don't know which brand it was. It was this big drum machine on a pedestal with a velvet cloth. I thought, "oh that's it, I'm not going to be playing." The band tried to play with the drum machine, then they took the drum machine away. I guess it wasn't working out. Someone suggested that I play, and use brushes. So I thought, "oh well, I hope this works because if the brushes don't work out, then I'm out of luck." The line up was the Letterman band, (the four of us), Marcus Miller on bass, David Sanborn on sax and Miles. Anyway, that seemed to work. There was a song in the movie "Scrooge." Miles, David, and Marcus played street musicians in the movie. We played the song, "We Three Kings," and it was in ¾. Then, in the middle of the song, Miles goes like this (chops down hand) and we go into a funk, solo-y thing, and he goes like this again (chops down hand) and we're back into the 3/4. (laughs). If ever there was a time to be nervous, this would have been it. I said to myself, "I worked so hard, this is not the time to be nervous." I felt really calm, like right in the middle of a hurricane. In the center of a storm. It was a very controlled kind of a song, really nice.

Before we began, I had asked Miles "what should I play"? He came up to me and said (Anton demonstrates) "vrmm, vrmm, vrmm" and I knew just what he meant. Afterwards I said to Marcus, "I didn't really meet Miles, and I'd like to meet him." So I waited to meet him in his dressing room and he asked me where I was from. When I told him, he said "it's a good thing you got out of South Africa." This was all pre Mandela, it was really bad then. It's a different country now. Then he said to me, "you've got a good feel for them drums." Then I said "ok—good bye!" I mean, I didn't want to hear a "but" or "except" (laughs). I didn't want to hear any more to that sentence. So now whenever I'm having problems I think to myself, "well if Miles said the feel was good then it's fine." I can rest easy with that. It was great, because I was such a huge Miles fan, as we all are. I had listened to all the great drummers he used and it was wonderful to get that affirmation.

Introduction by Virginia Rowland.

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