Dennis Chambers, one of the world’s greatest drummers, is a genius. He not only plays great and as close to perfect as I’ve ever heard, but he has innovated an approach to the drum kit that is an evolution from what Steve Gadd was doing. Many drummers are great, but few innovate and reinvent the instrument. Dennis plays pure music on the drums, very melodic, not brash drumistic athleticism like a lot of good drummers. He’s got that too, but his playing seems to always have Bach or a kind of melody, like Max Roach, that makes good compositional sense. I was blessed to meet Dennis serendipitously at a bar in Columbus Ohio. Here’s what I asked him:
Dennis, that funk stuff you’ve got going on with the weaving snare ghost notes, plus the snare accents, plus the kick drum plus the ride cymbal woven with the occasional non-patterned bell of the ride, did you develop that before or after George Clinton and P-funk?
“I had that stuff down BEFORE P-funk!”
That’s an amazing answer because it means he had developed his breathtaking coordination when very young. It’s difficult to hear that intricate coordination he does on P-funk records because it’s pure simple disco funk beats, more or less, with very little fills. So it makes sense he developed that amazing style of playing before P-funk. I will speculate here and say I’m not sure he could’ve developed such magical coordination playing in P-funk: the band was huge and in huge bands drummers must play more simple so everything can be heard. Simple helps the groove but rarely develops extreme coordination. The recordings change drastically when you check out Dennis with John Scofield, ah, now his playing opens up and one can hear all the subtleties of his playing. This was the band that introduced Dennis to the jazz and fusion world, with the album Blue Matter. When I heard that I thought the sky had fallen, heaven had come down from above. The drums would never be the same again. My practicing changed drastically after I heard Dennis!
“Are you ambidextrous?”, I asked Dennis. “Yes.”
The grand gem of the discussion I had with Dennis blew my mind. It would be wrong of me not to share what he said. Here is a gift for the world and for all artists to consider:
“My mom told me that of all the great qualities a person could have, the greatest quality is to be honest with yourself.”
Thank you Dennis for sharing that incredible wisdom from your mother to me.
I am so excited. I am going to see a legend in drumming tonight, Eric Gravatt, play with McCoy Tyner at the Regattabar in Cambridge MA. In the 1970’s he became one of the greatest drummers in demand for jazz music, playing with Freddie Hubbard, Weather Report, McCoy Tyner and many others. He had such a groove, beautiful swing, gut-feeling polyrhythmic fills and incredible swooping dynamics.
After having such success being one of the greatest drummers in the world, Gravatt dropped out of the scene to support his family and gain financial stability. What a dad! He became a nightshift prison guard in Missouri for almost twenty years.
He had a serious effect on drummers Terry Bozzio, Vinnie Colaiuta, Tony Williams, Jack DeJohnette and countless others. Joe Zawinul once said in an interview that of all the great drummers he had played with, Eric Gravatt was the best, the most profound. That says a heck of a lot about a person, because Zawinul has played with the best of the best.
I never thought I’d get a chance to see Gravatt live in concert. What an opportunity! I know that having expectations is not wise but I cannot help myself. I believe Gravatt is going to turn my head around and inspire me in new ways. I hope so.