Techniques of live performance


For many years now, tremendous musicians, including drummers, have been coming from Great Britain. For instance, that Ted Heath Band was a real good band. I remember, when I was with Tommy Dorsey at the Statler Hotel in the 'fifties, that whole band came in and they listened to Tommy's band-I think Ronnie Verrall was on drums with Ted's band at that time.

It was such a kick to see those guys, because that band was something else.

Then the first time I came over here I heard Jack Parnell's band, and he had Phil Seamen playing drums with him-and he was a terrific player. Boy, he could really swing, and do all the things that he had to do. There was an example of a guy that took care of business in a big band-unfortunately, he didn't make too many records. That was really a thrill, to watch and hear Phil play.

Kenny Clare was another great guy-what a sensitive player he was! And another excellent player I used to hear was Ronnie Stephenson; I understand he's in Germany now. When I first came over, I got to know Eric Delaney very well-I think he's doing something theatrically now-he's always been a fine drummer.

In 1970 I made the album "Louie In London" with an all-British band, and it was one time down-they rehearsed it once, and the next time it was a take. Tremendous players. And in more recent years I know that guys like Bobby Shew, Bill Watrous and Shorty Rogers have been over by themselves to work with some British musicians and do things in the schools, and they've always spoken in glowing terms about what they found here.

As you know, I've been doing clinics myself for a long time. For a while, it was almost a chore to do them, because you knew that almost the same questions were coming at you every time-but now, the youngsters have a new, varied amount of questions to ask you, and it makes it more interesting. Plus the fact that, in the case of the drum set, years ago there was just one performer doing the clinic, whereas now I do seminars in which I have the use of three or four other players. And in some cases I've got my big band there-which really makes a difference. Now all the things that you've been discussing, that hap pen when you play in a big band, you can demonstrate and show them, not only rhythmically but musically. I can deal with the drum as related to the rhythm section, and to the rest of the band. So they're coming to hear not only a seminar but a con cert; it rounds it out, and makes it much more musical.

Of course, they always ask about my using the two bass drums. And my first answer is: the secret is when not to use that left bass drum. It's like a guy in my band that can play high notes: if I had him playing a double high C on every tune, after the sixth tune the audience would say: "Well, we know he can do it-but it's getting boring now." I may play three tunes where I don't even use that left bass drum; but all of a sudden here comes a tune where it's really needed, and it creates the excitement. There it is-it's put in the proper perspective, you know. The idea of the two bass drums is to use them musically, where they belong. A good example of a player who knows how to do this is Eddie Shaughnessy. Sam Woodyard. who followed me on Duke's band, was a great example of a guy that really played the two bass drums-a good swing player.

I tell the youngsters: don't use 'em unless you feel like you want to, and you have a place for them. But I agree with what Buddy Rich once said, that any good drummer needs only a bass drum, a large tom-tom, a small tom-tom, a snare drum, a hi-hat and a couple of cymbals; with a pair of brushes and a pair of sticks, you should be able to do the lot right there. Basically, that's all you need. Of course, if you join a group like Chick Corea's, where maybe he wants a certain sound with con cert tom-toms and maybe a bell-tree or a triangle, then you have to add those little colours. And if you're interested in the two bass drum idea, you've got some tremendous technique with your feet, or you know how to utilise them playing with a band, that's fine. Great-do it.

I can't believe some of the equipment young drummers have. If I see someone who uses it all, in a musical way, that's okay; but I can't see a youngster having all this equipment when all he does is play on one or two of the things, while the rest of it is just for show-that is not right. What also puzzles me is that some of the players will have so many drums that they're hidden-you can't see them. As a result, you lose some of the validity. One of the magic things about the playing of a great artist, like Dizzy or Oscar, is first being able to hear them, but also being able to see them. You must be able to see and hear what they're doing. I guess you have to learn that one from experience.

There's one thing that has really knocked me out. I'm al ways changing ... you don't want to make the same drum solo all the time, because it's so important to have creativity, improvisation ... lately, in my solos, there's been a point where I come down and do these little Jo Jones thing with the brushes.

And, you know, all the kids of thirteen or so-they don't say: "That tremendous thing you did with the sticks at the climax ..."; they say: "I like what you did with the brushes." Now, that knocks me out.

You would think maybe that would hit the older people more, but the little ones are liking it because it's something they've never seen or heard before. There again, it's that dynamic level-you've come down, and the audience is keen on listening to what you're doing.

I've also been doing a thing with two sticks in each hand-this is something I did about thirty years ago. Having played the mallet instruments, I know about using what they call the Musser grip, and the standard grip. What I do is: I put one stick under the four fingers and I lock one in between the thumb and the first finger-it's almost like chopsticks, where one is stationary and the other one is moveable. And, of course, that knocks everybody out, because it's another tonality, it looks good and it sounds good. When Buddy saw me do that in Bos ton one time, he said: "You're getting fancy in your old age!" Yes, it is a parallel thing to two-mallet technique on the vibes. I can actually spread the sticks in either hand, and play one tom-tom with one stick and the snare drum with the other; or two different cymbals. And there you've got a spectrum going-you can do all kinds of things that way, you know. It's really an interesting sound.

I'm told that Steve Gadd does a thing with two sticks. But what he does is: he's taped one pair of sticks together, and he plays them that way with another pair of sticks; so he gets a real thick sound by doing that. But mine is different, where I can utilise them separately, and then get a spread going, see-where you're using a different technique altogether. Both can be very valid, and where he's utilised his, it has worked.

Something Buddy and I always talked about, with regard to recording techniques, was the fact that some young groups spend from two to four months to make an album. I feel that some of those groups can do it in one day, but I guess they make so much money that they have the privilege of taking that long. The contrast is that we make a big band album in five-and-a-half hours. And no overdubbing-what you hear is what we played.

When you heard Tatum, he may have sounded like ten piano players, but it was only one-he didn't overdub. You're hearing an artist. When Buddy would record a drum solo, he certainly wasn't going to lay down another track over that-he didn't need to. So there's room for discussion on things like that. For guys that overdub, sure, it becomes a nice product at the end, and you say: "There it is, all nice and pretty." But in the final analysis, you have to say: "Did you do that?" "Well, I did this part, and I re-dubbed that." So, in all honesty, you didn't.

If you make a record, those people that buy it want to hear that same sound when you perform live. That's why a lot of singers are in trouble, when they can't produce that same thing.

If a singer has a hit record and he's got ten drums recorded, but he doesn't bring those ten drummers on the date with him, the people are going to feel that there's something missing.

Whereas your great artists record, and when you go see them-that's the sound. All that overdubbing and everything has paid off record-wise, maybe, for certain artists, but in performance where is it? It seems they now have a machine there again, Steve Gadd's name comes up-it's him on record, and you can make him do anything you want with this. You can make him play a bossa nova, a rumba beat, a rock beat, a reggae, or a straight-ahead swing thing. But I'm sure that even Steve would have to admit it's only a mechanical Steve Gadd. It isn't like having Steve there in person. Or having Jo Jones or Mel Lewis there in person-or Danny Seraphim, Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, who ever. When you hear the live performer-that's where it counts.

The human element-there's nothing like it. Like when a big band is playing, in the excitement of a shout chorus the tempo may move up a little bit. But there's nothing wrong with that. If you play like a metronome, it's going to be so mechani cal that you lose the feel. With a live feel, the audience almost goes with you; if it goes up or down a notch, it doesn't make any difference.

On the 1983 Pablo album, "The London Gig", we re corded an arrangement and composition by Bob Florence, called "Drum Squad". Now Bob used to be one of my piano players, and right now he has a big swing band in LA. When he was telling me about this chart, he said: "This is you playing along with the band melodically, Lou. At no time at the beginning do you play anything that has any semblance of time. I mean, you're playing the figures in time, but you're phrasing with the band. Then there's a point where you are going to play your solo-you can make it long or short, play melodically or rhythmically, as you wish. And when the band comes in again, that tempo should be much faster than it was in the beginning-because by that time you've built excitement. If the tempo is too slow, you lose the effect, because the band figures are way up there". Without that excitement of an increased tempo, in addition to losing musical validity we'd lose our audience too.

See, we're very aware of the fact that we're playing for an audience. If the player says: "Oh, forget the audience"-you can't do that. They're out there, and if you can develop that charisma, not only within your band but with the audience, and take them on the excursion with you, then you've fulfilled what you're there for. You're there playing a concert.

The kind of thing Bob Florence was talking about-it works. I know it can sound a little odd to a young performer who hasn't experienced it yet. It's great when you can relate to them and tell them these little things, as I do during my seminars. Not only do I go play with the band-I discuss with them all the factors of a successful live performance. Like, one of the marvellous things I learned about while working with Benny Goodman: when he rehearsed those five saxophone players, he said: "Rhythm section, take it easy. You've got an hour off-let me work with these guys over here". And he'd have those five saxophone players playing like one-and in tempo. Too often, when you go listen to a college band in the States, and the saxophones want to play something, the director will have the rhythm play along with them. They should be able to do it on their own, because if they can't play tempo they can have the best rhythm section in the world and it's not going to help them.

Benny did the same thing with the trumpets and trombones; then he put the brass and the reeds together, and boy! they were swinging. So by the time you added the rhythmic section-it was all there.

Copyright © 1967 Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved.