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Justin Faulkner: Serving the Music

Paul Naser By

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"I was listening to Romeo and Juliet by Prokofiev today, and oddly enough I played the piece, maybe 7 or 8 times because I was in the youth orchestra when I was in High school. It was called the Philadelphia youth orchestra, again, that was definitely valuable to my playing simply because of the classical aspect of it and it required me learning melodies. My conductor would make us sing the melody to whatever song: 'What's the melody at bar 53?' You had to know it or else he screamed at you. Listening to that piece of music made me realize that, at times I look at music the wrong way. I'm looking at it thinking, this is what a good song is. Well....who am I to say a song's good or not? Yeah, some experiences and listening to records, all of that is great. If I don't like it I don't like it; that doesn't mean the person next to me doesn't find joy when they listen to it.

"The intro, which is the first track on the CD, is by the London symphony orchestra, and it's incredible. I was driving today and it came on and it completely just blew me away. I stopped. I pulled over for a second. I was like whoa, hold on. This is different. I'm not used to hearing this, and I'm not used to feeling that way. I don't know what it was but music can just take you out of your element and put you in a place that feels so good because you're not dealing with everyday problems. Branford said something to me, he said 'you know, man, our job is to give people a vacation from issues. They come to the concert, they're not here to think about 'oh well, ugh, my car is getting repo'd next week.' That's not what the concert is for. The people are here to enjoy themselves.' Entertainment and the fact that I'm able to do that by cooperating with the guys on stage and all of us having one goal, to create great music... it's amazing. It's absolutely amazing.

This love of music extends to his practicing, as well. I asked Faulkner what he has been working on lately. "Right now I'm working on getting better (laughs). I mean specifically, I'm actually doing a lot of endurance training on the drums. There's an old DCI exercise where you do a double stroke roll for about 30 to 60 seconds, and it's kind of painful because you're doing it at.... you can do it at any tempo, the faster the better. I'm doing it at about 100 bpm, which is not that fast, and I'm trying to slowly build my way up. Then I'm working out of this book called developing dexterity, and it's basically like quarter notes, and eighth notes and sixteenth notes. It's simple exercises: right, left, right, left, right, left. The problem is when I start playing it at half note equals 100 BPM, well then it gets interesting because it's ridiculously fast, and if you aren't ready yet you're hands will get tight on you and then the next thing you know, it's all over. Then for the rest of the day it's like, ok, I'm not gonna practice anymore."

"Then I'm working on sight reading all the time. Sight reading is vital for me; being able to look at a sheet of music and just go through it and be musical while I'm playing it. That's one of the goals for me. Playing a snare drum etude—it's easy if you're just play it from a rudimentary aspect, but for you to play it with expression and to pay attention to the dynamic markings and the accents and the this and the that, that takes time and it takes practice. Really Focusing on that is important for me right now. " "I'm practicing a lot of marimba, I'm playing the Bach cello suite. I'm still working on the first one because it's not easy for me. It's fun though, it's really a lot of fun. Scales, just to get my hands working on the instrument, and arpeggios and stroke control: making sure that each one of my strokes is even with both hands; making sure my left isn't weaker than my right; my right isn't weaker than my left and making sure that I can control each stroke rather than allowing the stick to fly wherever."

"I heard stories about Tony Williams sitting in front of the TV and just doing little tasks around the house, but he's sitting there hitting the ride cymbal, trying to almost be one with the cymbal. He was trying to know the cymbal inside and out, know the composition of the cymbal, to know what areas are best to play in and have a clear articulation whenever you hit the cymbal so your ride cymbal pattern can be felt and heard. I'm really trying to sit down and get my ride cymbal pattern together, because it's not good. I'm just trying to make sure that it's clear so whenever I'm playing with a bassist they don't have to ask me to feather the bass drum a little bit harder because the ride cymbal is lacking. Just making sure that that's the driving force behind the group, because that's the group. Especially in jazz that's where it's coming from. The ride cymbal is where it's at. So really trying to improve that is my main goal at this point, and I mean, it's going to take years. It's going to take the rest of my life to get it to where I really want it to be. Even then, you listen to a record with Elvin Jones and you think 'yeah, ok. Back to the drawing board' And it's great! It allows me to actually have something to look forward to, rather than...if we could all conquer the instrument in a day, what fun is that? You know? I wouldn't have it any other way."

Being only 23 with his entire career ahead of him, we have a lot to look forward to from Justin Faulkner. I asked him what was up next for him. Is he still leading his own group? "Yes, at this point my group just kind of changes due to availability of people. Also due to the frequency, well, infrequency, of gigs, simply because I'm out with Branford a lot. There are a lot of great things on the horizon. I'm playing with Branford; doing some things with Jacky Terrason; at the moment I don't have any Kurt Rosenwinkel dates in the books; I'm doing some things with local artists in Philadelphia which is great. I don't really get a chance to play home that often, so when I do I get to work with some really great people."

"I'm actually in the process of creating some drum videos, some solo videos and just recording the songs that I like. Writing? definitely. I'm in the process of really learning to write great songs, like learning form great song writers, especially a lot of folk writers. I really love James Taylor, I really love Carole King. I really love... there's a lot... love CSNY. I LOVE them, that's one of my favorite groups. I still get goose bumps when I listen to "Central Park West" and it's really simple. Just being able to write some music that actually has substance is what I'm working towards. In the near future, if I think the songs are good enough, I'll definitely attempt to play some of them with my band, and then other people's bands if I'm asked. But you know, I'm just really trying to improve along with playing as much music as I can."

Photo Credit: Anthony Dean, Sr.

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