Mike Dillon: Rhythm Method

Mike Chamberlain By

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But gentler advice was forthcoming as well.

Dillon recalls the first time that he played in a trio with New Orleans drummer Johnny Vidacovich, and bassist James Singleton. Dillon was not sure what he was going to do with the extra musical space. "It's all about the rhythm," Vidacovich counseled Dillon. "So I just concentrated on the rhythm, got out of my head."

Dillon talks about getting Led Zeppelin IV (Atlantic, 1971) when he was ten years old, and practically wearing the vinyl out.

"We have more access to information than ever, and I don't know if that's a bad thing or a good thing, because a kid would get one record and really get into it. Now, we can find all the live performances by any band you want on YouTube. But that kid would really get into the record, and maybe that's something that's been lost."

The oral tradition of the musician may be threatened by the easy access to information we now enjoy, but Dillon clearly feels his responsibility to help educate younger musicians. In Meyers, McDevitt, Gertner and Durkin he has found four who are hungry to learn, to get out on the road to play their own music, driving back and forth across America.

This summer, they've been on the west coast, and recently played at the Telluride Jazz Celebration. August will be a full month of gigs for the band, with dates including Chicago, Ferndale, Pittsburgh and Brooklyn, ending up in Raleigh, NC at the end of the month.

Meyers is the visual focus of the show. She dresses colorfully, typically in shorts and knee socks, jumps, hops, and dances around, all while playing a pretty mean trombone. Dillon's lyrics are socially aware; his between-song rap includes a rant about white male privilege, the U.S. Constitution and a recommendation to read Howard Zinn. It's fun and it's sweaty, and it's pushing a bunch of different musics down Funky Road.

"Carly has got a lot of heart," Dillon says of Meyers.

"I watch her getting better and better every night. Her energy is crazy. When she's not soloing, she's dancing, hyping the crowd up, grabbing the percussionist. She's out of her mind. Yet she sits around and studies and practices whenever she gets a minute. Whatever that thing is in musicians that makes you have to practice and get better, she's got all the elements, and I'm really excited to see what she ends up doing."

"She just turned 22 on the 29th of June. When I was 22, I was working in a chicken restaurant and going to college," he laughs.

"All kinds of musicians see her and go, "Wow, where'd you find her? You'd better watch out, someone's going to steal her from you!'"

Both John Zorn and Ken Vandermark, like Dillon, are playing music and leading projects that deal with jazz through a sensibility forged in large part by rock, but both Zorn and Vandermark are more self-consciously intellectual than Dillon, who has taken a more down- and-dirty approach to making music.

So, punk jazz?

"It seems like a lot of the guys in the clubs back in the old days, maybe it wasn't so much about danger, but there was a certain shamanistic nature to their playing, and they were sweaty, and they working hard, while Zorn and Vandermark are heavy intellectuals. I appreciate that. That's what I appreciate about Charles Mingus and [{Thelonious Monk}}. We know that Monk was a heavy intellectual. Mingus too. But Mingus had that other side too. We've all heard stories. Those guys were the original punk rockers, as far as I'm concerned. Punk rock is not trying to copy something, it's being unique and unique in saying it in your own voice, and that's what I've always tried to go for. "

"That's why I like putting my vibraphone through a 4-12 amp, and I'm like, alright, I see possibilities with my instrument that haven't been done yet—and just putting the action and enthusiasm into the playing and not being so intellectual, being sweaty and playing and coming from the shamanistic side. You need to feel the communion between the audience and the band, and it's sweaty and it's hot and it's disgusting. The last time we played in New York, the air conditioner was broke, there were 50 or 60 people down there in a space for 20; it was just close. But to me that was so beautiful, because we were all sweating and we were playing and the music went somewhere, and we came away from it cleansed and happy."

"Just the ritual of music is important to me, and that's why I do it. We're in a period of three months straight on the road—and the music gets better every night. You're touring, you're driving around, you're avoiding semis. I mean, there's a lot of danger in music," he laughs, "the act of playing it nightly."

"We really have it good, that we can go around and play, no matter level you're at, whether you're struggling to get 50 or a 100 people to your gig, the bottom line is we love music, and we get to play it."


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