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Pat Petrillo: Performance, Education, and Groovalution

Ben Scholz By

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If you don’t play with conviction, you’re not doing the song or the songwriter justice.
—Pat Petrillo
Recognized as one of the first instructional video producers, drummer Pat Petrillo set a standard for educational media with his landmark 1987 recording Snare Drum Rudiments. Since then he has developed a remarkable career as a performer and educator. Pat and I sat down at the APAP convention in New York City to discuss his history, influences, and upcoming performances.

All About Jazz: So, Snare Drum Rudiments...

Pat Petrillo: Woah, that was a lifetime ago.

AAJ: One of the first drum videos.

PP: It was one of the first instructional videos ever. I had just graduated from Morehead State University, and decided to move back to New Jersey to study at Drummers' Collective. After a year or so, I started teaching at the school as well as I working for DCI. I was in The Bridgemen and had performed a few snare drum solos with them. Rob Wallis asked me, "You know your rudiments, right?" and I said, "yeah, I know rudiments." Then he asked me if I would be interested in making a video. That was 1987. A lot of people learned their rudiments from that video. One of the best-selling Warner Brothers' instructional videos, ever.

AAJ: I always admired your precision, especially the way you incorporated the rudiments in your drum set playing. Kind of in a deliberate way. What inspired you to make a video that focuses on such a fundamental concept?

PP: In terms of what to do with the rudiments? That subject could probably spawn an entire conversation of its own. I started playing drums when I was 4 or 5. At first, I started by playing along to Beatles' records. Always drum set and not from a rudimental standpoint, from a groove standpoint. Later, I discovered James Brown, Stevie Wonder, and so on.

At age 12 and 13, I became involved in local drum corps. That's when I began learning the rudiments. While I may have incorporated aspects of drum corps into my playing, I never made a conscious decision to say "ok now I'm going to apply the rudiments to the drum set." It sort of accompanied my groove playing. My vocabulary got better. I began listening to drummers like Steve Gadd, after getting into Ringo, John Starks, and Clyde Stubblefield. Steve Gadd was my biggest influence. Gadd opened me up to a whole new thing after I heard him apply that rudimental sticking to his playing. I said, "I hear what that is, now I have the facility to do it." It wasn't a conscious thing, like "now I'm going to apply my paradiddle beat," I don't really think you should do that.

AAJ: Don't force it, just make it happen.

PP: Yeah. You work on the diddles, work on the drags, all that stuff to help your facilities. If you want to add them in musically, you can. I'm not a lit guy who says "ok now I'm gonna do a double paradiddle, or this beat using this rudiment." That seems a little bit forced.

AAJ: You have an extensive catalog of instructional media. What types of teaching are you doing right now?

PP: My main site is Drumstudiolive.com. I had been teaching at Drummers' Collective and said to myself, "well I'm teaching these people here and that's great, but I'm still confined by four walls." When people left the school, they still wanted to study with me. I made a conscious effort to leave teaching in a real school setting like the Collective, and branch out on my own. I decided to do Drum Studio Live in order to get my ideas out to more people.

You know, Snare Drum Rudiments was a long time ago. 1987. There are lots of new people out there now and I knew I was always going to play and teach. So, Snare Drum Rudiments was the first step. Later on, I did a DVD and a book called "Hands, Grooves and Fills," on Hudson Music. That one did very well, and it still sells today. I have another product called, Learn to Read Rhythms Better. It's an instructional DVD that teaches people how to read rhythms—from whole notes straight through to syncopation, triplets, dotted rhythms, everything up to odd time signatures. It's a 2-DVD set with PDF print-outs. All the exercises are formatted video clips and you can watch them over and over again. The videos have arrows that follow the rhythms and you can hear the beat on the snare drum. Each video was recorded at two different tempos. After you finish these, you can move on to the next exercises. Essentially, they're play along reading lessons.

AAJ: And this model has been successful?

PP: VERY successful. The book was released by Alfred, and you can get it on Amazon. If you don't know how to read rhythmic figures, this book will teach you. Guaranteed.

AAJ: I'll bet Ed Soph (University of North Texas jazz professor) would like to check that out.

PP: Well, Ed can already read his tail off (laughs). I never could read when I was a kid. I always played by ear, I played along to records. I put the records on, played the music, and learned the lyrics. Even when I got in drumcorps, I still couldn't read. They never taught us the way they do these days—writing everything out. It was all rote memorization. Like the old times, back in the 1800s. They would transfer the information from one drummer to the next. That's how they learned.

They would teach you (drums a beat on the table), ok—go! And then you'd imitate. And that's how you learned, by putting patterns together. I couldn't read, even when I got to college. I could read 8ths, quarters and some sixteenths. I don't know how I got into college. I guess I got into Morehead because I could play. My teacher was Frank Otis. He said to me, "We don't expect you to know everything when you come in. We'll teach you how to read."

I've always had this thing for reading. As my reading got better, I always thought to myself "there are a lot of great reading books: Syncopation, The New Breed, but there isn't a single book that puts everything together. There isn't one book that teaches you systematically how to go from one thing to the next. That's why I started writing my own curriculum while I was at Drummers' Collective. All in all, the whole project took about five years to complete. I've always been more of a visual learner. "Show me what it is, what's it look like, what it sounds like, play it for me." I don't necessarily need to know the math of the music.

Currently, my teaching focuses on my media; Snare Drum Rudiments, Hands, Grooves and Fills, Learn To Read Rhythms, Drumstudiolive.com, as well as clinics for Ludwig, Zildjian, Evans, and Promark. I just did a clinic at the Pasic show two years ago, and clinics in the UK and Europe. Europe has a lot of great pop oriented

AAJ: Like Musicians' Institute?

PP: Exactly. I'm also doing more broadcasts. I'm going to be doing a live lesson for Drumeo (Drum Education Online) before I go to NAMM. Each week I'll do a lesson from my home studio. I'll be combining my drum set knowledge with things I've learned from other people. I always give credit where credit is due. If I show a lick or something that I've learned from Steve Gadd, or Peter Erskine or Ricky Lawson, or any of the guys that I ever studied with, I'll say, "Hey, this is a concept that I learned from so and so, and now here's a variation."

A lot of guys today just blast out licks and say "hey man, dig me." I want to tell them, "well somebody did that about five years ago when you were about 12..." They don't dig deep down into the origins of where their ideas come from. When I was younger, I always sought out the roots of these ideas. Really tried to learn the foundation, not just the physicality.

AAJ: Well that's how it should be done, shouldn't it?

PP: Should be. Learning the music's history. That's where I'm at.

AAJ: Earlier this week, I was researching you in order to put this together. I had known you've done theater work right here in the city, on Broadway. However, I didn't know HOW much you had done. I'm doing a little bit of the same work in Chicago, a little bit, all non-equity. Did you begin with non-equity shows?

PP: No. I was fortunate. Remember, I was a student at Drummers' Collective right out of college. When I got out of college, one of my teachers was Hank Jaramillo. Hank was a great Broadway drummer as well as a session drummer. In one lesson, he had me work on a piece from A Chorus Line. He was one of the sub drummers for A Chorus Line, and said "would you like to sub?" That was a crossroads moment for me.

I had done some theater work in college, and I could read by that time (laughs). It was one of those moments where if you say "yes," you know you'll have to work your tail off and learn the book. If you say no, chances are word will get around, and they'll say "he's not interested" or "he doesn't want to put the work into this." Knowing that, I said "yeah, man, I'll do it." I was honored that he asked me. I was right out of college and playing A Chorus Line two nights a week. That was my first show I ever did after I came back to New York. It was pretty huge. Other than college plays, I had never done non-equity tours. However, I believe that non-equity is a good way to get into the scene. You can do what they call "bus and truck" tours—non equity stuff. Off Broadway, you know? I haven't had my own show yet. That's the elusive golden ticket. Everyone wants their own show. Some people come in, sub one show and, boom! They've got their own gig. I done Grease, I've done Footloose, I did a national tour of Dreamgirls. Recently I did Newsies, as a sub for my buddy Paul Davis, one of my former students. It was an honor for him to ask me to play that show. He did a great job. Whatever comes up, comes up, in terms of the Broadway thing. That's a networking thing.

AAJ: What types of challenges do you face when you're subbing in these shows?

PP: Personalities.

AAJ: In the pit?

PP: Yeah, it's not even the music. It's a political thing. Interacting with the other musicians, as well as the networking vibe. Depending on the book, the process can be very musically challenging. And preparation: you have to put in a lot of hours to learn the show. You go in, you watch the conductor, then go home and practice. Listen to the CD, read the rehearsal notes etc. You put in hours and hours of work on a show to learn the music. I don't feel comfortable until I've played a show at least four or five times. Time is money and during this time I'm thinking to myself "hopefully this guy's going to call me back and ask me to sub again" so that I know I've made the effort worthwhile

AAJ: Not just one show.

PP: You've got to be ready to do it. Meeting the people, doing what the regular drummer does, nothing else. You are not bringing your personality to the show. You need to be right on the baton, be right with the conductor, be ready to interact with the bassist. It's always a tap dance when you meet a musician for the first time. You need to show respect towards the people who are already there. You are in their house, so you need to do what you're supposed to do musically and not try to snake someone's gig.

The other point of contention can be rejection. I've auditioned for stuff that I didn't get. At some level, it's not even about the drumming. It's more about the interplay. The dynamic between musicians. Do you know this person, and who do they hang out with? Not just in Broadway stuff, but in general, the scene. It's huge.

AAJ: For sure. How has your drumline experience influenced your drum set playing?

PP: Wow. People have asked me that question before. I think it has to do with timing. You're in an ensemble, and then you've got a marching rhythm section. The group I was in was called The Bridgemen. Back in the 1980's, we were into groove oriented stuff, as well as latin music (Nanigo 6/8 grooves) and swing. Dennis DeLucia was one of our writers. His stuff was very open, very loose, and had a big fat sound. However, the ensemble material was what really helped me develop my drumline chops. Not only did I learn how to listen to the guy next to me and blend, but I learned how to listen to the whole thing. Bass drums over here, tenors over there, everything needs to blend. The whole timing, listening, and coordination combination is essential. At that point, you're expected to have the rudiments down cold.

I'm not a big "rudimental drum set guy." It's never really affected my drum set playing that much. From a technical point, from a musical standpoint, the timing and the groove have been much more important to me.

AAJ: So what kind of advice would you give to drumline drummers who are trying to develop their drum set chops, and vice versa?

PP: Well that's a sticky subject for me. Drumline today is not the way it was when I was growing up. There are so many great musicians doing incredible rudimental things on the solo marching snare. People like Ralph Nader and Jeff Queen really inspire me.

But, when you do the marching thing, when you take that uniform off, I feel that on some level you need to take that technique off and hang it up as well. Get on a drum set and just PLAY! In my opinion, they're two very different things. I'm not saying that rudimental guys are bad drum set players. I'm saying that the in terms of stick heights and technique, the approach isn't really applicable. It might help you develop control, but you shouldn't try translate that specific style to your drum set playing. If you're a drumline drummer and you want to get better at drum set then you need to get some CDs and listen to Earth, Wind & Fire, The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Al Jarreau, Chick Corea, Weather Report, Jeff Beck, all those people. Check out the newer stuff as well, but remember that the newer stuff is just older stuff regurgitated.

Listen to pop music! I know, people are gonna say, "He just said listen to pop music!," and write me off. I've played with Gloria Gaynor, Patti Labelle, Debbie Gibson, Constantine Maroulis, C and C Music factory, and Martha Wash. I like groove music. You can't play with these people and not know how to play a groove. For comparison, if your jazz is not happening, you're not just going to walk in and bluff your way through a gig with McCoy Tyner. You can't just say to yourself, "oh this is easy, this is 2/4." If you don't play with conviction, you're not doing the song or the songwriter justice. How many bad disco drummers have you seen at weddings?

AAJ: Oh yeah, plenty.

PP: Plenty that are way too fast, plenty that are out of time. The problem is that some people just really don't care about pop music. I tell people in my clinics "you can't come in with a condescending attitude towards any specific genre of music. "I'm a jazz musician, so I can't play pop." Well in this market place, you've got to play everything. Ask Dennis Chambers if he can play everything. Ask Steve Smith if he can play everything, ask Keith Carlock if he can play everything. You can't see yourself as existing above a given musical genre. Unfortunately, I've seen a lot of people take this attitude. They say, "I'm gonna play jazz," or "I'm gonna play fusion." It's really called "work" for a reason. It's not necessarily about art. The job is called "playing a gig." It's no time for you to be painting a Picasso on a wedding cake. Do what you're supposed to do.

I have two pop-oriented bands that I'm working with right now. Groove Allegiance recorded a CD that'll be out this year, and consists of Gary Grainger on bass, Chieli Minucci on guitar, and my buddy Chris Fisher on keyboards. More or less a funk, fusion groove group. Very cool stuff. I also have an R&B big band called The New York Big Rhythm Band. Currently, I'm rehearsing this band here in New York and we're going to start playing this year around town. Great arrangements of some classic Earth Wind and Fire music that've never been published before. I have a great arranger who did arrangements of Jupiter, Magic Mind and all this great classic Earth Wind and Fire stuff. We're also doing some Gordon Goodwin charts as well.

So, to answer your question. I'm playing, doing the live lesson thing, and writing. Here at APAP, I'm playing with Al Chez, the great trumpet player from the Letterman band. We're doing this showcase thing here and we're doing another gig tomorrow.

So, we're playing and teaching and hopefully inspiring. I'm always learning as well. I see great musicians out there and I try to learn from them. I'm not too old of a dog to learn a new trick, but I am getting up there. Over the past 10-15 years, I feel that the internet has really blossomed into the place for video lesson resources. So—Drumstudiolive.com. Check it out!

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