Can we just take a moment to appreciate those rare and beautiful instances where a drummer (a drummer!) has taken the reins and fronted a band of his very own? When the chronic sideman and butt of most musical jokes (next to banjoists and bass players) has the talent, sonic chops and yes, even the bravery to step out of the often diminuated backbeat and pick up the metaphorical compositional baton? Yes, let’s.
Though there is generally little need for a drummer to delve into such note-specific concerns as harmony and melody there is similarly little excuse for him (or her*) to ignore them. Harmony and melody are, after all, rather important parts of music (though not vital, as rhythm is**) and just as it would be perilous for a harmonic/melodic instrumentalist such as a guitarist (or bass player, or piano player, etcetera***) to ignore rhythm, so should a rythmatist pay attention to the secondary qualities of organized sound****. But somehow, few do, and for that matter there are a heck of a lot of guitarists out there who would like the world to believe a lie that they themselves believe: that it’s the drummer who is responsible for the group’s timing.
The truth is that all musicians are responsible for their own timing. I mean, c’mon! That said, the job of setting the initial tempo of a song often goes to the drummer, hence the confusion. But I digress. A lot.
But of course all of this is digression from the fact that I was ecstatic to attend a performance by the Brian Blade Fellowship at the Ottawa Jazz Festival on July 5th, 2009. Aside from being one of my all-time favourite percussive backers (who I’ve seen play behind countless musicians including Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, and Joni Mitchell) Mr. Blade also put out a heck of a debut album under his own name that was produced by the great Daniel Lanois, and here was that very same band playing under a canopy of stars at my hometown jazzfest.
And of course it was a great concert.
I’m not sure that I’ve seen the Fellowship since this show, nor have I purchased any of Brian Blade’s subsequent albums (of which google tells me there are six) but whatever; he’s just a drummer*******.
*Please, please, please…if I ever forget to include the other gender***** I implore you to make it implied. As I would always tell my students on Day One: I use the term “guys” to refer to “all people regardless of gender, race, or even species”. In that case, I would encourage people to hear the word as “guise”, as in “under the guise of being separated from half of the planet.” I wasn’t a very good teacher, but I got lots of comments.
**Of the three elements that make up music, only rhythm is absolutely necessary. Melody without rhythm makes no sense. For example, without the proper rhythm the melody to Joy to the World is just a major scale played backwards. Without rhythm a chord can only be played once; play it again and you’ve added rhythm. But there are countless examples of rhythm being musical in absence of harmony or melody. For example, the main riff of Wipe Out by The Safaris.
***Please, please, please…if I ever forget to include the other instrumentalists I implore you to make them implied. As I would always tell my students on Day One: I use the term “guitarist” to refer to “all musicians regardless of group, timbre, or even species.”
****When I was studying at university a professor began a class one time by asking us to define “music”, which was quite tricky (and no, the answer is not “things that sound good******”). At the end of the session we collectively agreed that music could be defined as “organized sound”. Several years later one of my classmates opened up a record store in Ottawa and called it exactly that: Organized Sound, which I thought was pretty cool.
*****As if there are just two genders nowadays. Think of all the parenthetical pronouns one needs now to be truly inoffensive!
*******I kid! I kid!