Stanton Moore: Living Outside the Box

Renato Wardle By

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We [Galactic] feel like we've tried our best to digest the whole vintage approach to groove music.
These days, it seems as if everyone is obsessed with the phrase, "thinking outside the box. Aside from being the most over-used phrase in marketing, it also happens to be the most misused phrase. Typically, it is applied to the antithesis of the idea, like a fastfood chain. When in comes to music, in these days of prefab-prepackaged-made-to-order American-Idol music (i.e. as "inside the box as possible), things are more homogenized than ever.

Coming from New Orleans, with an openness to all forms of music, drummer Stanton Moore represents the epitome of "thinking outside the box. His gigs alone testify to his versatility: the funk institution Galactic, the musically unclassifieable Garage a Trois, his own highly experimental projects, B3 genius Robert Walter's Congress, with funk legends The Clinton Administration, and with the intense metal band Corrosion Of Conformity. Clearly, Stanton Moore not only thinks outside the box, he lives there.

New Orleans has an uparalleled lineage of drummers, dating back to the 19th century. From the African rhythms played in Congo Square to the syncopated beats of Second-Line, New Orleans has been infused in rhythm from the beginning. In the 1920s, Warren "Baby Dodds layed the foundation for jazz drumming in King Oliver's historic band with Louis Armstrong. Earl Palmer helped to define the role of the rock drummer in the 1950s with Fats Domino and Little Richard. Ed Blackwell moved jazz forward into the realm of free jazz, playing with icon Ornette Coleman. Idris Muhammad infused the soul jazz movement of the 1960s with a funky Second-Line inspired beat. James Black showed that virtuosity could be as readily applied to funk as it could to jazz. Zigaboo Modeliste and the Meters set the standard for funk music, and Johnny Vidacovich has been an institution on New Orleans since the 1970s, playing his slinky beats in every type of situation. Like his predecessors, Stanton Moore's playing is steeped in the history of the Crescent City. With a penchant for funk, jazz, rock, and everything in between, Stanton Moore shows what "thinking outside the box is really about.

All About Jazz: Let's start from the beginning.

Stanton Moore: Sure. Well, my mom started bringing me to Mardi Gras parades when I was eight months old. So I started kinda noticing the drums coming down the street and getting really excited about that right around probably three or four years old. And I started hittin' on all the tupperware in the house around five or six. I started askin' for a drum but my parents let me take piano lessons around third grade. And I kept askin' for a drum, playin' in school band in fifth grade. And they were like, "Well, if you still wanna do it in sixth grade, we'll let you do it. So, I still did and they were like, "If you still want a drum set by seventh grade we'll get you a drum set. So they did and then the deal was I was supposed to keep up with the piano lessons, but I didn't quite keep up with them as much as I should've. But I still play and I still have the piano they bought me when I was a kid. I have it at my house now, a little Baldwin upright.

So, yeah, my dad was just a dash board drummer, always hittin' on stuff. He was always encouraging me to hit on stuff. So I was kind of just startin' to get into it that way and then not really getting too serious until I went to Brother Martin High School because I heard that they had a really good drum instructor who is Marty Hurley. He taught me all the rudimental stuff and I started gettin' into jazz and funk and sought out Johnny Vidacovich and Russell Batiste, as teachers, senior year of high school. And I started tryin' to loosen up from that whole rudimental thing. You know, keeping all that control but also learning how to loosen up and develop my touch and tone on the drums. So then I started touring, you know. I started playing with bands when I was like thirteen or something like that, at my house, having people come over and learning songs and stuff. and then I started playing gigs around sixteen. And then I just started playing with everybody I could. All through college, I played with jazz bands and kinda like punk funky things and heavy bands, and all that kind of stuff.

AAJ: At what point in time did you realize, "I am gonna do this as a career, and how did your parents react to that?

SM: I think I was probably pretty young. I think I was like, I don't know, right when I first started playin' drums, I was an alter boy and once or twice a month I'd have to wake up really early and go serve 6:30 Mass. So it was like, "Whatever I do in life, I'm not gonna wake up early. So I was like, "Well, what about like bein' a professional musician you don't really have to wake up early, so let me do that. (laughter). Before that, I wanted to be an aeronautical engineer 'cause my grandfather was really into airplanes, you know. He built model airplanes, and he was a mechanic.

AAJ: Who were the first drummers that influenced you?

SM: You know, really early in I started gettin' into classic rock stuff like Mitch Mitchell, John Bonham, and Keith Moon. Also, I was startin' to get into the punk stuff and the heavy stuff like Black Sabbath. Then I started to get into, you know, right around the senior year in highschool was when I started to really start to try and absorb Zigaboo, and Elvin Jones, and Philly Joe Jones, and Max Roach. And then once I got into college I started to get into Idris Muhammad, and you know he was really, to me, the first cat who really kinda started effectively blending jazz and funk and improvising over funk grooves. Of course right around the senior year of high school I got into the James Brown drummers and all this kind of stuff. And those guys are still a huge influence on me. And through time I just keep adding to all those influences and try to learn a little bit of something from everybody that I hear. But I mean I could go on and on and on.

You know sometime around when I first started going to college I started hearing about James Black. I started trying to learn a lot about his stuff. He was, you know, considered one of the most talented drummers who is also an amazing composer whose songs are still very challenging and still ahead of their time really. I mean as melodic as they are for as much as they have going on in them, you know, odd phrases and meter changes and stuff. He was doing that in 1963 when I think they recorded those tunes for the first time. He's got this batch of tunes. "Whistle Stop, "Dee Wee' uh "Magnolia Triangle, and I mean it's pretty amazing what he was doing back then, dude. I mean even considering that he was doing it back then, it's still amazing today and you can listen to it a million times, and you're like "What the hell is he doing? It's crazy.

So as far as the influences, you know, I mean of course Johnny Vidacovich is a giant influence. And you know I've tried to learn as much as I could from everybody that I've encountered that I've really dug and just kinda blended it all into my own take on all that stuff, you know. I mean there's some obvious things that I've gotten from Johnny and some obvious things that I've gotten from Zigaboo, and Idris Muhammad, you know, and all these guys. Herlin Riley too, you know. I definitely borrowed a lot of stuff from him. But you check all that stuff out and then you try and blend it all in a way that is your own take on it, you know. That's what I've tried to do in my development.

AAJ: Let's talk about the New Orleans Klezmer Allstars. That was your first big gig right?

SM: That was the first band I started touring around with really. We kinda toured around a little bit like goin' to Florida and stuff with this other little band I was playing with. But yeah, it was kind of the first band I played San Francisco with and the first band....I think it was the first band I played New York with. Yeah, it was. So yeah, it was the first band I really started tourin' around the country with, and I started touring with them in '94 when I was still in college. I would take off for a week or two at a time when I was still in class and still in college. So I then graduated and I was doing the Klezmer band and Galactic.

AAJ: How did Galactic come about? Did Galactic come out of the Klezmer band?

SM: No, no, I met Galactic before the Klezmer thing. I was doing Galactic, I mean it was Galactic Prophylactic. I started playing with Robert [Mercurio], the bassist and Jeff [Raines], the guitarist, in late '92. Our first gig was in '93, and we kind of dropped the "Prophylactic part of the name and then started playin' as Galactic and recorded our first record in '95. We started hittin' the road in '96. So we just played our tenth jazz fest in a row, so this year we're gonna celebrate our ten year anniversary as a band because we recorded the first record in '95 and toured in '96. It was our tenth jazzfest so we figured it was a good time.

So September ninth and tenth, we're doin' a 2-night-stand at Tip's [Tipitina's, legendary New Orleans club] with a lot of special guests. We're gonna try and make that a big fun event, you know, have a lot of people we've played with over the years, a lot of influences and also contemporaries, you know. So guys like the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Cyril Neville. I think we're gonna ask Art Neville. Some of the those guys who are kinda' like our influences and some of our contemporaries you know, like...I don't know if Skerik is gonna be able to make it, but you know him and some of the MC's we have had over the years. So all those different people that we've worked with, toured with, had open for us, or opened for them, you know, affected our music in one way or another. So that should be cool.

AAJ: When Galactic started, was the focus more funk oriented, or was it more jazz related?

SM: Oh, it was definitely, you know, more of a funk thing. And we started to get, before we did our second record, we started to learn about the whole Blue Note soul-jazz groove-jazz kind of stuff. So we then started to kind of check out that kind of stuff and sort of incorporate that a little bit into what we were doin.' When we first started out, you know the only thing that we wanted to draw from was the Meters and James Brown, and do some kind of hybrid in between there. And then we started incorporating some of the Grant Green and Lonnie Smith and Jimmy Smith and Lou Donaldson stuff, you know.
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