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Take Five With Mike Norris

Michael Norris By

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Meet Mike Norris:

From Jersey City, NJ. Mike Norris has played drums all across the country for show bands, jazz bands, headliners, music directors, and conductors for many shows and venues. Norris is living now in the sunshine state and plays with some of the best jazz musicians—what could be better than that?

Instrument(s):

Drums for performance, and many other instruments for writing and enjoyment.

Teachers and/or influences?

Bob White was my first teacher in January, 1960. I've learned something from every drummer I've seen. I studied with a long list of luminaries and have had the privilege to learn something every day. I studied music privately with Jesse Stone, who showed me how to play out of the box.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...

I heard Joe Morello in 1959.

Your sound and approach to music:

I'm a fan of jazz. I prefer big band for the ability to whisper subtle nuances and crank raw power in the same tune. Small group playing gives me more opportunity for delicacy but is limited when it comes to kicking it. I'm a good listener and try to support the soloist by complementing their phrasing and intensity.

Your teaching approach:

I support a constant reversion to the fundamentals. Effectively, the fundamentals are advanced. A command of technical ability will allow the musician to play what they are thinking and execute their ideas at will.

Your dream band:

I have it now, you can come see us live anytime.

Road story: Your best or worst experience:

We were snowed-in when we were in Youngstown, OH by a blizzard for two weeks. The hotel was practically empty and a few staff members were with us. By the time were able to exit the building, the staff and us became the best of friends. But I never did perform at Cherry's!

Favorite venue:

Sahara Hotel at Las Vegas. I got to conduct the Jack Eglash Orchestra.

The first Jazz album I bought was:

Easy Livin' by Chico Hamilton, with Eric Dolphy.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?

I try to keep the big band format alive to the public eye. The opportunities from the school system are limiting and I enjoy playing with pros as well as up and comers. As long as I'm around, I'll have a big band.

CDs you are listening to now:

Drive-By Truckers, Last Flight Out Big Band, and Buddy Rich reissues.

Desert Island picks:

All of Leonard Bernstein, Buddy Rich, Count Basie, Chopin, and Schubert.

How would you describe the state of jazz today?

Incredibly gifted musicians facing the same limiting factors we have all faced at one time or another. Music will drain your life for years and redeem itself in one fleeting moment. Those who have experienced it know what I mean. I think they will agree that the sacrifices are worth it. There is nothing more gratifying than playing down a chart and everyone is on.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?

Exposing the music to a younger and thirstier audience in unlikely venues, which gets the music attention and hopefully spurns an interest. I try to bring the Mike Norris Big Band to the most unlikely places for this reason.

What is in the near future?

Luckily, we are able to play out every week.

What's your greatest fear when you perform?

Forgetting my stick bag.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

"Ave Maria."

What is your favorite song to whistle or sing in the shower?

Johnny Carson theme from The Tonight Show.

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:

Drummer.

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