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Dan Monaghan: The Man Behind The Swing

Victor L. Schermer By

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AAJ: Do you use the bass drum at all?

DM: I do what's called "feathering" the bass drum, which is to play quarter notes very softly so that they are felt and not heard. Every time the bassist plays a note, I play the bass drum, but I want it to be under the volume of the bassist so it sort of adds an inaudible "thump" to the ensemble. If you can actually hear it, then it's too loud, and it's awful. Occasionally, though, I'll use the bass drum more firmly in response to something in the tune.

AAJ: For time-keeping, does the bassist follow you, or do you follow the bassist?

DM: I don't think of it quite like that. The bassist and I both play time, and we just work together toward the same common goal. But if I decide to interact more in conversation with the soloist, then I'll let the bassist keep time in quarter notes. And vice-versa. So there's always somebody minding the store, as it were.

AAJ: Do you use polyrhythms in your playing?

DM: It depends on your definition of that term. Can you be more specific?

AAJ: For me, polyrhythms are when you superimpose one rhythm or tempo upon another. My earliest fascination with polyrhythms goes back to the Dave Brubeck Quartet in the 1950s, when Joe Morello would be playing two or more different rhythms, tempos, and/or time signatures simultaneously. Today, I dig how Adam Cruz does something quite similar in his own way.

DM: I do that. For me, it all depends on the context. If the soloist starts playing his own rhythmic pattern and the band is still keeping time, I might play a complementary rhythm to what the soloist is doing while continuing keeping time with the ride cymbal and the high hat. I might sometimes play multiple rhythms to be the liason between the soloist and the rest of the rhythm section, straddling both sides of the fence. But for me, it all depends on the moment and whether the situation calls for it. I see myself as supporting the group, so I'll only use polyrhythms under certain circumstances.

Beyond the Drums

AAJ: Drummers are of course skilled at rhythmic possibilities, but I was told by a very reliable source, a fellow musician of yours, that you also have a really good ear for melody and harmony, which isn't true of all drummers. I understand that you teach music theory, which drummers don't ordinarily do.

DM: I've been teaching in the theory department at Temple for many years now. I was fortunate to study with great theory teachers like Dr. Michael Galloway at Mansfield University, as well as Ben Schachter, Greg Kettinger, and Mike Frank at Temple. All are great musicians and educators, and all were encouraging and supportive. I'm trying to pay that forward.

AAJ: Do you ever compose?

DM: I've written a couple of things. I do more arranging than composing. For example, I did some of the arranging for The New Gypsies recording I recently made with vibraphonist Tony Miceli. We took the music of Django Reinhardt and others who came out of the gypsy culture and arranged it for a modern jazz group.

Spirituality, Advice to Young Musicians, Upcoming Projects

AAJ: I'm really struck by your frequent emphasis on serving the other musicians rather than coming from your own ego needs. Selflessness is a part of our spiritual nature. Since there are many connections between jazz, meditation, and spirituality, I often ask musicians about their own spiritual ideas and practice. How does that all add up for you?

DM: I meditate on occasion, and I read the Tao Te Ching here and there, usually when I'm on the subway. I try to remember that I don't know everybody's back story, and their travels in life may be way more painful than mine, so even if there's a conflict or a hassle I try to be understanding and compassionate. I am grateful that the field of music is infinite, so I'm never at a loss for productive use of my time and energy. I'm never bored. I always try to stay positive and engaged with the world.

AAJ: It sounds like you've learned a lot from Buddhism. But I don't have the impression that you have a formal set of beliefs and practices.

DM: You're right. I don't have a specific practice or adhere to a particular religious orientation.

AAJ: You've logged many hours in your career, and are very accomplished and happy in your work. What advice might you give to a young musician just out of school who is embarking upon a career in jazz?

DM: One thing I definitely suggest that they're not doing enough these days is to go out and hear live music. While there are great records to draw from, I get a lot more out of hearing the music live. And you can see and hear the way the musicians communicate on stage, so you can learn things you can't get from a recording. I also recommend talking with the great players. Like when I first got to Philadelphia, I talked with drummerByron Landham a lot, and my mind was blown by our conversations. I did the same with Mickey Roker. So, just stick around and hang and go out and be in the middle of the scene that you want to be in the middle of.


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