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Dan Monaghan: The Man Behind The Swing

Victor L. Schermer By

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AAJ: He's been given credit for the use of the ride cymbal to maintain the beat.

DM: I think there's controversy about who used it first, whether it was Jo Jones, Kenny Clarke, Max Roach or maybe someone else who was the first to use the ride cymbal as the primary time-keeping device. But I will say that Jo Jones was one of the grand masters of the instrument. He was so swingin'!

AAJ: The drummer Shadow Wilson comes to my mind in connection with your own style. Is there any connection there?

DM: I'm very flattered you would say that. I wouldn't claim him as a major influence. I do remember checking him out when I was in college and just marveling at his sense of time, his left hand comping, the sound he would get from the snare drum, and the way he would punctuate phrases. It was perfect, and effortless too, especially his work with Thelonious Monk in Europe.

AAJ: Monk's syncopation was uniquely held away from the downbeat in a way that has been called "angular" or "perpendicular" to the beat. How did his drummers deal with that unique rhythm?

DM; Generally, Monk's drummers gave him a lot of space to do his thing. Monk's playing itself had a lot of space, which made his rhythmic placement that much more effective. So the drummers would leave a lot of room for him and not try to cram too much in. They would keep the time and provide a canvas onto which Monk could put his stuff. Monk had his own unique voice and was not apologetic about it. He once said, "Those notes are correct because I played them."

AAJ: Among the great drummers, you can't not talk about Elvin Jones.

DM: Of course Elvin had a profound impact on me and just about everyone else. I marvel at the vast range of his playing. One of my favorite records is Tommy Flanagan Overseas (Prestige, 1957) on which Elvin plays brushes on the entire record. He's one of my favorite brush players. Of course I love him with Coltrane. During his time with Coltrane, he also did records with Wayne Shorter where Elvin plays entirely differently during the same period in his career. He played so many different ways and was always swingin' no matter what. Anytime, I hear Elvin, I'm awestruck.

AAJ: What always impresses me about Elvin's playing is its musicality. He's not just knockin' off rhythms, but almost seems to be talking and singing through the drums, conveying a message.

DM: He's got incredible independence and layer upon layer of ideas going on, and you're right: the end result is beautiful music.

Day to Day Work as a Drummer

AAJ: Let's talk about your routine on gigs. Do you have a regular drum set that you take with you?

DM: I have a couple of drum sets that I usually use, but I might adjust it for a particular group. If I'm playing with a large ensemble, I might bring a bigger bass drum. Of course, some places have their own on site drum sets that I use.

AAJ: Do you favor any particular brand of cymbals or drums?

DM: I use Agop Istanbul cymbals. I've been an endorser for them for many years. I play mostly Gretsch drums, although I have an old set of Rogers drums that I like to bring out once in a while.

AAJ: For many gigs, the musicians have little or no rehearsal time. They just do a sound check, the leader calls out the tunes, and they start playing. What goes through your mind at that point?

DM: I don't have a formulaic answer to that question; it depends on the situation. Of course, I'll think of the melody. But I'll just try to stay open to whatever the moment is going to bring. I try to be as supportive as I can to the music that's happening around me. I embrace what the others are playing and try to match my playing to whatever is going on around me.

AAJ: Would you say that you're listening more than thinking?

DM: Definitely.

AAJ: I was struck by a YouTube with you and Larry McKenna in Chester Springs, PA where you guys play a swinging rendition of "Will You Still Be Mine?" We all know that Larry is a master, one of a kind. What do you do to enhance his playing?

DM: There's not much anyone can do to enhance Larry's playing! He speaks so well for himself! I just want to be swingin' and complement his phrases in any way I can. If I can catch his quotes and have a little interactive moment, that's great. I just want to give him the best backing I can, and I'm sure anyone who plays with him is going to say the same thing.

AAJ: Larry comes from a background with the Woody Herman band. Do you relate to that style?

DM: No. I really just try to play in my own way. I don't try to categorize Larry's style. He just plays unquestionably beautiful music. So if I'm working with him, I just want to be swingin,' supportive, and not interfere with his brilliance.

AAJ: A propos of maintaining the swing, do you use a particular part of the drum set to maintain the pulse?

DM: If I'm playing with sticks, I focus my energy on the ride cymbal and use it to state the pulse, keep the time. I'll add the high hat on the two and four. I'll use the bass drum and the snare drum to interact with the soloist and punctuate the phrases.


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