Make a difference: Support jazz online

Support All About Jazz Your friends at All About Jazz are looking for readers to help back our website upgrade project. Of critical importance, this project will result in a vastly improved design across all devices and will make future All About Jazz projects much easier to implement. Click here to learn more about this project including donation rewards.

189

Brian Adler: A World of Percussion

Dave Wayne By

Sign in to view read count
It's like making friends. There are some people you enjoy spending time with, communicating and developing a relationship with. Everyone is unique in that we've had different life experiences that we bring to the table. We're just exploring that in music.
Brian Adler is truly both a drummer and a percussionist—in his world, the drum set coexists peacefully with a dizzying array of ethnic percussion instruments as equal partners in a myriad of musical possibilities. His work with vocalist Sunny Kim in the Prana Trio—which also includes a rotating cast of guest artists such as Frank Carlberg, Stomu Takeshi, Carmen Staaf, and Jeremy Udden—is a case in point. His nimble, sensitive approach to the drum set is matched only by his similarly accomplished work on cajon, tablas, and a host of other ethnic percussion instruments. Never getting lost in his own chops, always totally plugged in to his surroundings in the moment, Adler is the sort of player who always makes the musicians he's playing with sound better. As a composer, he exhibits many of the same characteristics—his writing is consistently intriguing but not overly elaborate. His music is not simple, but there's an economy and a sparseness to it that invites listeners in.

Brian's latest project is something of an anomaly in the jazz world. The Helium Music Project (Circavision Productions, 2011) is an ongoing, download-only compendium of music created with different musicians in different locations all over the globe. So far, just three tracks have been released, with two more to come in October, 2011. As with all of Brian's other projects, the music is soulful, incredibly diverse, and played with passion and virtuosity.

All About Jazz: Tell us how you got interested in music, and how you decided to make it your profession.

Brian Adler: I became interested in music at a young age through kirtans, and began taking drum lessons on an Indian drum called a mridung. As far as making it a profession, I am not sure if I had a moment when I decided; it has always been a big part of my life. And I have a very supportive mother who taught me to reach for the stars. When I was a sophomore in high school, my drum teacher asked me if I wanted to pursue music as a career, and I remember being surprised by the question. I guess I thought it was so obvious that I did.

AAJ: Your early involvement in non-Western music is not a typical pathway to the drum kit—though it provides insight into your uncanny mastery of all sorts of hand percussion. So tell us about kirtans, the mridung, and how you came in contact with them as a youngster?

BA: Kirtans are Indian devotional chants or mantras that are sung in a call-and-response fashion. They can be performed with several chanters or sometimes with several thousands of people chanting, and there is typically one or two drummers, a harmonium player, and a cymbal player accompanying them.

I grew up in and around a meditation retreat center where chants like these were performed regularly. It was not uncommon for the kids there to learn how to play the mridung or one of the other instruments.

The mridung is a hybrid drum, a barrel drum like the mrindangam, or kind of like a tabla-style pakawaj. I studied the mridung from the age of 5, off and on.

AAJ: Did this lead to lessons on other Indian hand drums, such as the tablas?

BA: Yes, later on I picked up the tablas and studied them as well.

AAJ: What, then, led you to the western drum kit?

BA: When I was ten years old, I received a drum set as a gift. One thing led to another.

AAJ: Which Western drummers really inspired you as a beginner?

BA: Besides my teachers who were very influential and inspiring, my first heroes were in the jam band scene: Jon Fishman and Billy Martin, and later I was inspired by jazz drummers such as Jack DeJohnette and Elvin Jones.

AAJ: This is decidedly a non-standard path to jazz drum kit mastery! Besides private lessons, did you also attend an arts-focused high school such as Interlochen? That often has a huge positive impact on one's ability to become a professional musician, and not for the most obvious reasons.

BA: Yeah, I suppose my entry into the music was a bit unusual. I didn't go to an arts high school. I went to public school in a small town just outside of NYC called Hastings-on-Hudson, which in my mind was the perfect place for an aspiring musician to grow up, primarily because it's a rich jazz community. Masters such as John Patitucci, Michael Brecker, Tim Ries, Jay Azzolina, Marc Copland, Harvie S and many others lived in the neighborhood.

After school, I worked at local photocopy store in town where all of these guys would come in regularly. So I was the 16-year-old kid making copies for them, and sometimes an extra for myself. Often, I would strike up conversation and ask where they were playing, with whom, and what they were working on. That's where I got to know who was who in the New York scene. Then I would go home and practice for hours on end, hoping that I would be like them one day. I think it was somewhere in that routine where the whole idea of music as a profession became tangible. I saw these guys working a lot and having families. I thought that if they can do it, I could to do it, and that it actually was possible to make a living playing music or jazz, despite what my guidance counselor at school told me.

They were hugely supportive, interested and possibly even amused that some kid in their town looked up to them so much. One year, I applied to a summer music program at the Berklee College of Music, and the requirements said to send in a demo recording with a jazz group. I was stumped as to who to play with, because my high school jazz ensemble was mediocre, and my friends that played music were not that good. I knew all of these guys from working at the copy store, so I figured it wouldn't hurt to reach out.

Somehow I gathered up the nerve to ask Michael Brecker if he would play on the demo! I sent him a very respectful letter saying that I understood how busy he was, but just wanted to reach out and see if he might have a day off and would want to come to my basement to record two Coltrane songs with me. The request sounds really funny to me in hindsight, but at the time it didn't seem strange. I think it was a day or two later that he called me back and left a message on my answering machine! I wish that I saved it. He was laughing hysterically, and said how cool it was that I asked him to play and how he has never gotten a request like that. He said he would love to do it, but he was leaving for a tour with Herbie Hancock. He said to call him an a few months and that we would set up a time to play together. We saw each other many other times afterward, and the session was close to happening a few times, but unfortunately it never happened.

But I was very fortunate to play with many of the other guys in town, most notably Tim Ries, Jay Azzolina and Erik Lawrence, who lived a few towns up the river. Sometimes we would get together and play standards, or sometimes we'd play through new tunes that they were writing before they brought them to their bands. So I got to work a lot of things out in really good company. Then, on the weekends, I would go into the city and hear them play these pieces with their drummers and have my mind blown.

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Dawn Clement: Here In The Moment Interview Dawn Clement: Here In The Moment
by Paul Rauch
Published: January 23, 2018
Read Hugh Masekela: Strength in Music and Character Interview Hugh Masekela: Strength in Music and Character
by R.J. DeLuke
Published: January 23, 2018
Read Pat Martino: In the Moment Interview Pat Martino: In the Moment
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: January 12, 2018
Read Jessica Lurie: In It For The Long Haul Interview Jessica Lurie: In It For The Long Haul
by Paul Rauch
Published: January 9, 2018
Read Julian Priester: Reflections in Positivity Interview Julian Priester: Reflections in Positivity
by Paul Rauch
Published: December 8, 2017
Read "Fred Anderson: On the Run" Interview Fred Anderson: On the Run
by Lazaro Vega
Published: April 23, 2017
Read "Miles Mosley Gets Down!" Interview Miles Mosley Gets Down!
by Andrea Murgia
Published: June 16, 2017
Read "Remembering Milt Jackson" Interview Remembering Milt Jackson
by Lazaro Vega
Published: March 27, 2017
Read "Mark Guiliana: A Natural Progression of Research" Interview Mark Guiliana: A Natural Progression of Research
by Angelo Leonardi
Published: September 8, 2017
Read "Eric Ineke: Surveying the European Jazz Scene" Interview Eric Ineke: Surveying the European Jazz Scene
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: September 6, 2017