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 must beat my drum now for a mature audience. The indigenous peoples were horrified at how the White Man talked about and treated the environment. We are bearing dangerous fruit now for having ignored their warnings. Indigenous peoples saw the Long Road Ahead: We are a part of nature, we are of nature, we sprouted from nature even if it was guided by the hand of God. Those who choose to forget this interconnectedness with nature get eliminated by nature. Nature and physics will always win. No one in their right mind would defecate in their drinking water but we do similar things to our environment all the time: look at oil and its by-products, the thousands of liquid chemical toxins and plastics in our water supply and the world’s oceans. I’m tired of not saying anything about this. Here I am writing about something that greatly concerns me. Click Here to read on…
A radical paradigm shift happened to me after I learned about confirmation bias. Basically, much research has shown we are favorably biased towards information we already believe and that we have prejudice against information we don’t already believe. It’s a form of preaching to the choir, to coin a phrase, and that’s a dangerous practice. Do yourself, this country and the world a favor and read up on it. Confirmation bias is a trick we play on ourselves. Once we understand the concept and the fact it is so invisible to us, hopefully we will form opinions more cautiously. Why this undeniable concept is not taught in schools is a mystery to me, because it’s a revolution. The only explanation I can think of as to why this concept is not known to the general public and not taught in our educational system is that if we knew about confirmation bias, we would be not so susceptible to propaganda and crazy ideas.
Love for learning, also called curiosity, makes all education open-ended, acknowledging the subtlety and vastness of the universe. We don’t know everything. With curiosity one can supersede one’s own education far beyond when school “finished”. Our educational systems from the bottom up need to address this fundamental lack of curiosity in formal training. Without curiosity in the faculty, curriculum and the student body, we have stupid democracies and stupid people. I’ve also noticed that the Fearful have the least curiosity. Fear and lack of curiosity seem to go together. The smartest people have the widest sense of curiosity. Curiosity is the greatest tool to education and our world. Let curiosity ring like a cymbal!
What am I thinking about this new year? For one thing, having gratitude as a way of life rather than doing it occasionally when I need it. I always need it. So why not put that into a daily practice, a meditation? Why not practice it like I do my drums and piano or yoga? I am grateful for many things, one I will mention. I am grateful to Music. I am very grateful to Music for helping me develop an attention span that is strong, a gift which brings me a lot of joy. I am grateful for musicians. I have been rediscovering master musician, organist, writer, pianist, trumpeter, jazz historian and all around brilliant light Joey DeFrancesco. This guy has a sense of melody that surpasses his monster technique. His technique becomes transparent because his sense of melody is the point. He gets it. Technique should not overshadow musicality. The seduction of technique can distract away from the goal: making music. Joey can do both in graceful balance. He is a world treasure, his joy is unstoppable. His drummer Byron Landham swings with exquisite touch and taste. This is one particular album I have been listening to and hearing the joy emanate like squeezed citrus:
I had this large blog entry here for about a week, things about music, modern culture and changes that were disturbing to me. Writing got a lot off my chest. I kept seeing parts I wrote that I disagreed with or where I saw holes. I am not a trained philosopher, merely a lover of wisdom. I found that parts of this long entry were not me. I couldn’t hold myself to everything I said I believed. It’s hard to write with clarity, without contradictions. So I will quote something that deeply touched me, from ancient wisdom:
The barn has burned down.
Now, I can see the moon.