Who doesn’t like being complimented for their drumming? You don’t have to be an egotist to admit it feels good when someone gives you props – but in reality, there are compliments and then there are compliments.
There’s the tipsy stranger you inevitably run into on your way to the dressing room who clearly can’t think of anything more substantive to say besides, “You guys rock!” That’s fine, and I always reciprocate with the most heartfelt thanks I can muster. And then there’s that guy at my gig last Saturday who literally pogo-ed and hollered each time I played a drum solo. I thought he would bust a gut. God love ’im.
But there’s another type of compliment that leaves a lasting impression, gives you goose bumps, and can even inspire you to write an editorial. I had just such an experience a couple of weeks ago when a friend of mine dropped by a gig I did in San Francisco. He’s a local drummer who has played with many high-profile rock and jazz artists from the Bay Area.
We were standing outside the club between sets, jawboning about drums, when suddenly, during a lapse in the conversation, he turned to me and said, “I really like the choices you make.”
Wow. Plenty of people have told me that they like my drumming, but no one had ever said they liked my choices. He was talking about the creative choices every drummer makes onstage or in the studio: Stuff like where to play a fill, how to orchestrate a groove, when to use dynamics to lift an arrangement – the possibilities are endless.
Days after the show, I was still thinking about choices drummers make on and off the bandstand. Some drummers choose to play rock or jazz or Latin while others tackle them all. Some choose to practice every day; others wait until they’re onstage to hoist a pair of sticks. Some struggle to be professional full-timers; others play for fun. These and innumerable other choices define each of us as individuals in a big wide world of drumming.
This is all well and good. But we too often forget it’s possible to make different choices. It’s easy to fall into ruts – perhaps they’ve served us well, but they are ruts nonetheless. Regular readers know that over the past couple of years I’ve written about ways in which I’ve changed habits I formed long ago by loosening my stick grip, learning to groove intensely while playing quietly, and bouncing my bass drum beater off the batter head rather than burying it.
In these cases, I chose to refocus my choices, and it made me a more seasoned drummer. Better still, every time this old dog learns a new trick it reinvigorates my passion for drumming. That’s always a beautiful thing.