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Steve Gadd: Consummate Drummer

Steve Gadd: Consummate Drummer
R.J. DeLuke By

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I loved jazz, but I loved good grooves and a simpler approach. I think that's really valid.
It might be easier to list who drummer Steve Gadd hasn't played with since he got a pair of drum sticks at the age of three at his home near Rochester, NY, right up to the age of 70, where this year his tour of duty includes Eric Clapton, James Taylor and his own band. Gadd is one of the great maintainers of the groove and one who can also play his ass off with jazz musicians like Chick Corea, Michel Petrucciani or Art Farmer.

"I love the groove," he says. "I think it's natural that I enjoy listening to music and get inspired by the groove. I think that's what's natural: whatever you hear that makes you feel good. If you continue to play you continue to develop that."

The master drummer continues to do just that. He's provided grooves for Paul Simon, Carly Simon, James Taylor, Paul McCartney, Steely Dan, The Manhattan Transfer, Al Di Meola, Chuck Mangione, Hubert Laws, Joe Farrell, George Benson the Brecker Brothers, Frank Sinatra, Dave Grusin, Michael McDonald and so many more. As a child he appeared on the 1950s hit children's show "The Mickey Mouse Club." He's had his own Gadd Gang and the Gaddabouts. Now he has a group of friends surrounding him he simply calls the Steve Gadd Band, which has produced two sweet CDs, the latest being this year's 70 Strong (BFM Jazz).

He's won awards and has influenced scores of other drummers with his prodigious technique and his mastery of all kinds of styles and grooves. Yet he remains humble, still curious to learn, still basking in the satisfaction of making other people's music come to life.

"I love music, all kinds of music. Growing up I was fortunate to have my parents and uncle and grandparents take me to hear a lot of different types of music. I was lucky in that way," says Gadd. And as he started his tour with Clapton earlier this year, he noted how good it was to be hooking back up with a musician he's worked with since the 1990s. "It's good to get worn down, you know what I mean?"

Gadd admits he wasn't one who knew right away that he would become a professional musician. "I just loved the drums. I was encouraged to do that. I was encouraged to do other things, but as time went on I could see where that was a natural place for me to go. It came easier than academics," he notes. "The more you get into it, the more things that you hear that try and make you figure out what the time signature is or what the groove is. That happens as you get more into it."

Getting into it for Gadd involved paying attention to drummers like Gene Krupa—who he got to meet in the 1950s—Louie Bellson, Buddy Rich, Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Jack DeJohnette, Philly Joe Jones and Art Blakey. "Whenever I listened to any music I would zero in on what the drummer was doing and try to copy it. Pretty much anyone I listened to growing up was someone I tried to emulate. That's how I learn. It wasn't like I wanted to copy everyone word for word. But everybody had something I loved and I would try to learn how to do it."

He didn't do a bad job of learning.

His two albums with the current band [Gadditude came out in 2013 on BFM Jazz] aren't "look what I can do" albums for the drummer. He plays what he needs to make the right musical statement. The result is a collection of tight tunes that allow soloists to stretch and add thoughtful statements atop the grooves.

The band Gadd leads consist of the mates he plays with when on tour with James Taylor. "So we've played a lot together over the years," Gadd says. "It was actually my wife and the trumpet player's wife [Walt Fowler] who had the idea to try and put a band together and do something. Because we played so much together and we enjoyed each other's company, it makes sense. It's about playing good music with guys you like to play with. It doesn't have any kind of plan before that. People play songs they like that other people have played and they bring in original things. I pick what I like to play."

"I like it. The more we play, the more the band evolves. When we play with James we know what the job is and it's to support James. [The Gadd Band] gives everybody more freedom. So it's an enjoyable situation."

The CD exhibits a comfort among the musicians. Segments of the music, like "The Long Way Home," "Oh Yeah" and "Freedom Jazz Dance" are reminiscent of 1970s Miles Davis, especially how Fowler's trumpet slithers in and out of the grooves. Guitarist Michael Landau's airy guitar dancing with the keyboard work of Larry Goldings also carries that feeling.

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