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Rick Drumm: Seizing the Day

Ian Patterson By

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It's good to have dreams, but it's even better to follow them, to see them take shape before your eyes and to live them. Rick Drumm has lived more than one dream. Three years as drummer with NORAD, the North American Air Defense Band, was followed by two years drumming in the famous Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. After over 1000 performances later, there was hardly a corner of the United States that Drumm hadn't visited. However, Drumm's talents were not confined to making music, and over the next quarter of a century, starting as a sales rep and working his way up to senior managerial positions, he significantly improved the fortunes of several major music-industry companies. This success led to his recruitment as President of D'Addario, one of the largest manufacturers and distributors of musical strings and accessories in the world.

Life, it seems, couldn't have been better. Then one day, in 2009, Drumm's world shifted on its axis when he was diagnosed as having non- Hodgkin's lymphoma. The sharp focus that this life-threatening cancer induced in Drumm made him realize that he still had an important dream to live out. That dream was to record a CD with his favorite musicians and closest friends. Six of his friends flew in from all corners of the world to play a gig with Drumm to raise his spirits, and the momentum carried over to produce Return from the Unknown (Rick Drumm LLC, 2012), a wonderfully vibrant, heartfelt recording of jazz fusion/jazz rock.

Drumm underwent six bouts of chemotherapy prior to the recording, though his playing, and that of his band, is energized. In a poetic turning of the tables, the musicians fed off the cancer, and their indomitable spirit shined through. Return from the Unknown is a personal triumph for Drumm and a highly satisfying musical offering. It's also an inspiring story whose moral is perhaps best summed up in the oft-quoted phrase from a poem by Horace: "Seize the day..."

All About Jazz Rick, you sound in rude health on Return from the Unknown. How are you doing health-wise these days?

Rick Drumm I'm doing fine right now, but it's one of those things that you have to watch. You have to watch it for five years or so before they say you're good to go. So far, so good; I'm just coming to the end of my third year, and I feel good. I'm able to travel; I'm able to play when I can, and that's great.

AAJ: That's great news, and we're all very pleased to hear that. The band's name, Fatty Necroses, suggests you have a developed sense of humor, but the CD name, Return from the Unknown, reflects a more sobering reality. Could you talk about the inspiration for the two names?

RD: Sure. The band's name evolved from the fact that I still have what is known as a fatty necrosis in my body. Fatty necrosis is a fatty dead tissue, and in my case it's a tumor that died from the chemotherapy. It's a small one, but it's located in a spot that the surgeons felt insecure about getting to. It's in a very tricky spot, but they claimed it would not hurt me and that I could do myself more damage with the surgery, and they asked me if I really wanted to do it. I said I was on board with that then. I found the name fatty necrosis somewhat humorous because to me it sounds like the name of an old blues singer.

AAJ: Or Huggy Bear's pal.

RD: Yeah [laughs]. So fatty necrosis is fatty dead tissue, and it's also descriptive of some of the guys in the band [laughs].

AAJ: The CD title suggests a fairly scary reality, no?

Rick Drumm and the Fatty Necroses: Return from the UnknownRD: Yeah. Any serious illness focuses you; it certainly focused me. I didn't know, and of course nobody knows what the future is going to hold, and in that sense it's unknown. But in this case, that future could be somewhat dark. I used to refer to it as the "great unknown," but when I received word that the chemo was successful, I had returned to my current state, so to speak.

That's the reason behind the title; it had personal meaning to me. [Guitarists] Fred Hamilton and Corey Christiansen wrote all the music, and I named the first tune "Fatty Necrosis Sings the Blues" because that tumor died. Corey wrote "Return," and that tune, which is the last cut on the album, has the theme repeat itself six times. Corey wanted me to represent musically essentially what was going on in my head each time I was talking to the doctors. They're giving you all this information, and you're trying to process it all.

Each time I went for the chemotherapy—which was six times, thus the six cycles of the tune—the playing, or at least my playing, becomes more chaotic because that was what was going on in my head, building up to those chemo sessions. Then things decrease a little as thing start to return to normal. The tune starts off with a happy little theme and then gets into a more melancholy theme that repeats six times. At the end of the tune, we're back to the happy motif, and life is okay again.

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