Take Five With E.J. Strickland

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Meet E.J. Strickland: E.J.StricklandDrummer E.J. Strickland is currently a member of the long-lived quartet of Ravi Coltrane (along with pianist Luis Perdomo and bassist Drew Gress), and his brother Marcus Strickland's celebrated electric/acoustic quartets and trio.

E.J. also leads his own bands, The E.J. Strickland Quintet and The E.J. Strickland Project. His playing has been described as emitting "fields of cumulative energy, clouds of feather-touch and heavy-handed syncopations, latent with power like an oncoming storm" (Thomas Conrad, Downbeat Magazine).

Amongst his discography of over 25 album titles with various recording artists, his long-anticipated debut album In This Day (Strick Muzik) will soon be released in 2009.



Teachers and/or influences?

Teachers: Joe Chambers, Michael Carvin, Carl Allen, Ralph Peterson, Lewis Nash, and Jimmy Cobb.

Influences: Elvin Jones, Philly Joe Jones, Roy Haynes, Tony Williams, Jeff "Tain" Watts, Brian Blade, and many, many others.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when... I saw my father play the drums at a neighborhood cookout. I was amazed at all of the different sounds and colors you can get from a drum set and cymbals. When I needed an elective subject to study in middle school, I chose music. At 12, I decided I wanted to do it for the rest of my life. It was too fun.

Your sound and approach to music: I do my best to let the music I'm hearing back from the other musicians I'm playing with carry me and my ideas.

I've made up my mind: 90% of this music is listening. The music tells us what to do, whether it be volume, texture, dynamics, intensity, attitude, etc. As far as composing is concerned, I let the universe inspire me: poetry; rhythmic, melodic and harmonic ideas; my life; the people in my life; and more.

Your teaching approach: My philosophy when teaching students is not to tell them exactly what to play, but to help them be resourceful in gathering inspiration for their own concept. I always ask them what they would like to learn, and I do my best to guide them with tools: exercises, practicing habits, etc. Other things I try to convey are ways to internalize music, rather than analyze music while they're playing.

Your dream band:

My dream band would consist of individuals who've all played with each other for some time, and who have E.S.P. with one another. No artists in particular, because I believe this can be achieved with any group of individuals who've played with each other for some time. But, the trick is finding a group who'll achieve this over a very short period of time. The Listeners (possible band name).

Road story: Your best or worst experience: This experience is humorous, unusual, and worst all at the same time: I was in Europe with Ravi, on a train. Two members of the quintet went to have lunch in the diner car, while the rest slept, read, or listened to music. Hours later, the three of us who stayed woke up to customs officers in our face asking us about the other two musicians, confiscating our passports, and interrogating us thoroughly!! It turned out that the other two were in another country, because the train cars had separated at one of the stops. And, their passports were with us! When we finally reunited, it was hilarious, but during... :-(

Favorite venue:

I love you all! Please continue to provide artists with a place to develop and share our craft. But if I had to pick one, overall: The Jazz Standard [New York City]—nice balance of good acoustics, excellent food, friendly staff, and beautiful atmosphere—not to mention great audiences.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why? The John Coltrane Quartet, Live at The Half Note. In addition to this being my favorite group and playing all of my favorite tunes from the group, this recording was made at the very highest plateau they've ever reached as a group. This kind of answers the earlier question about my "dream band."

The first Jazz album I bought was: John Coltrane, Live at Birdland.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically? My ears; my support; understanding; and dedication to my fellow band mates—and, yes, I do mean musically—I'm very proud of that.

Did you know...

...that I started on the trombone because I didn't have enough natural ability on the drums. I only started playing the drums six months later because I begged my band teacher and told him I work very hard and study with my father.

CDs you are listening to now:

  1. Jack DeJohnette, The DeJohnette Complex (Milestones Records);
  2. Various Artists, Rhythms of Life (Songs of Wisdom)—Akan Music from Ghana, West Africa—unknown to me;
  3. Cachete Maldanado, Cachete Maldanado Y Los Majaderos (SMG);
  4. Jean Baylor, Testimony: My Life Story (Be A Light);
  5. Cesario Evora, Miss Perfumado (Lusafrica)

Desert Island picks:

  1. John Coltrane, Live at the Half Note (Impulse!);
  2. Wynton Kelly, Kelly at Midnite (Vee Jay Recordings);
  3. Common, Like Water for Chocolate (MCA/Universal Records);
  4. Stevie Wonder, Talking Book (Motown);
  5. Meshell Ndegeocello, Bitter (Warner Brothers).

How would you describe the state of jazz today? Jazz is very alive and creative today. Yet, we are out of touch with the general public. Fault belongs to both the audience and the musicians, but mostly to the music business as a whole. If jazz had the same backing that record execs give to more popular music, we'd be much better off. But, we as musicians also have a responsibility to get back in touch with the people, "by any means necessary."

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing? I think exposing the youth to this music early on is the key. But, not just exposing them to some lame jazz. Exposing them to the very best we have to offer, whether it be early jazz, or present jazz. I also think that it's important for us not to turn off listeners by snobbishly putting their music down, and insulting other genres of music, as if we're superior. 'Cause, let's face it, when it comes down to it, there's good and bad in all music...ours too.

What is in the near future? May 19, 2009 is the release date for my debut album, In This Day on Strick Muzik. In addition to many other guests, it features my core quintet—Jaleel Shaw: alto sax; Marcus Strickland: tenor and soprano saxophones; Luis Perdomo: piano and Hans Glawsichnig: bass. Further ahead, in the summer, my brother Marcus Strickland will release his sixth album as a leader Idiosyncracies, also on Strick Muzik.

By Day:

Practice, compose, listen to music.

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a: I really can't see myself doing anything else...I really believe that this is my calling.

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