Bozzio & Wackerman: Dream Drum Duo

Terry Bozzio & Chad Wackerman

Two Zappa Drum Set Vets Team Up For Solo Drumming Tour

When Max Roach recorded “The Drum Also Waltzes,” his 3/4 solo drum-set composition turned a page in the annals of drumming. Not because it was so technically challenging, but more because it established the musical validity of the drum set as something other than a testament to metronomes everywhere. It had theme, structure, improvisation — all critical elements to any jazz composition. And it flowed.

When Terry Bozzio and Chad Wackerman embarked on their 20-city tour, they took the idea of musical drumming to the next level, and then some. Their accomplishments are the stuff of legend, having both shared the coveted Frank Zappa drum chair. DRUM! wanted to find out how two world-class musicians share a stage and interact as a two-drummer rhythm section. It’s a unique scenario, one that’s laid ground for extensive percussive pursuits. It also begat two live CDs and a live video that captured the best of exploring the unknown in what Terry Bozzio describes as “private conversations overheard by an invited audience.”

Bozzio provided the genesis of the project, which Wackerman recalled for DRUM! via e-mail from his home in Australia. “Terry called, saying that he had an idea for playing a 20-city tour in the U.S. with me. His idea was to play in a concert setting in venues that were conducive for people of all ages and in smoke-free environments. Terry came up with the format for the concerts. I would play my drum compositions for 45 minutes on my own, we’d take a short break, Terry would play his 45-minute solo spot, followed by us both playing Frank Zappa’s ‘Black Page Version One’ as a duet. After that, we’d improvise and see what happened.

“It was my idea to record the whole tour so we could have it documented in some way, as I wasn’t sure if this would happen again. The result of the recordings are the Alternative Duets/Private Conversations For An Invited Audience CDs, volumes one and two. The CDs are our favorite duet improvisations from the tour, completely different than our Solos And Duets video.” DW president Don Lombardi initially suggested the video idea, which Musicians Institute helped make a live performance reality.

For Bozzio, the choice of musical partners for this journey was clear. “I try to look for people I can relate to,” he explains. “Chad has been my friend for years, plays DW drums, and we’ve played on the same bill several times. He’s also one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met, very underrated. Chad has ‘big ears,’ and he’s compassionate and sensitive. We basically had the concept of doing our own thing, and we also wanted to do ‘The Black Page’ as a tribute to Zappa. Beyond that, we really had no idea where it was going to go, but we both felt that wherever it went was okay. We’d draw on it, have a loose give and take — it was just magic from day one.”

Both Bozzio and Wackerman had performed at times with other drummers in the past, but not exactly like this. “I’ve played at Percussive Arts Society and Modern Drummer Day jams,” Bozzio says. “Sometimes, depending on the cast of characters, it could be magic.” Bozzio also did a series of clinics with Sonny Emory, with whom he developed a good playing rapport. “We’d play 45 minutes, close our eyes, and look back in awe.”

Wackerman recalls a few of his dual-drumming experiences with similar feeling. “Many years ago I did some clinics for Paiste Cymbals with percussionist Ed Mann, which were really enjoyable. I also played four festival concerts in Europe with a group called the World Drummers Ensemble, which was Senegalese master drummer Doudou Ndiaye Rose, Luis Conte, Bill Bruford, and myself. This was also a really enjoyable experience and I would say that all of us felt honored to play with Doudou Ndiaye Rose.”

Terry Bozzio

Speaking on a video interview at Musicians Institute where Bozzio and Wackerman recorded Solos And Duets, Bozzio described the elements of their project. “What you have are two musicians who have all this technical experience in terms of just how to play the drums, the effects one can get out of the drum set, and on a very high level. Then there’s all the musical experience we have, in terms of Chad and I both being composers, bandleaders, knowing about composition, knowing about orchestration, form, structure, melody. And there’s our experience with jazz, which is this interactive listening and improvisation. It’s almost like, without any preconceived ideas, both of us can just sit down and go anywhere and make music out of it.”

Wackerman added, “The whole improvisational thing really is about listening. If Terry’s taking it somewhere, I need to be sensitive to that. I can go with him, I can leave him alone, I can let him go there, I can play counterpoint. There’s a whole world of possibilities, which is exciting.”

The improvised duet segments of the performances were based on attempts to not recreate the same idea every night. The combination of Bozzio and Wackerman’s giant setups lent themselves to a unique melodic array of possibilities. Besides allowing for the performance of the very complex solo composition, “Harmonic Etude,” Bozzio’s setup created an overall tonal diversity that transformed the notion of a drum set. His concept has evolved over the past 15 years, expanded in particular with the addition of the piccolo toms. They comprise an octave and a third of the white notes of the piano known as the diatonic scale.

“Now within this limited amount of white notes,” Bozzio adds, “there are a certain amount of chord progressions and arpeggios that I can do, so using the limited amount of chords I had available, I made myself what I think is a nice little piece [“Harmonic Etude”]. It’s not about rhythm, it’s not really about melody. It’s about the harmony.”

While Bozzio’s innovative piece was composed specifically for the drum set, Wackerman’s two selections were originally from works performed by his self-named band, The Chad Wackerman Group. “When I was preparing for the drum shows,” Wackerman says, “I wasn’t trying to look at other drummers’ solo compositions. I looked at my own compositions that I play with my group first, and realized that with a bit of work I could play my band composition ‘All Sevens,’ by playing the bass-line ostinato with the kick and mega cup chime and playing the written melody on the toms with the left hand. I also did an extended version of ‘Bash,’ which was recorded on The View CD.

“My compositions are based on very identifiable themes with varying form structures. All the compositions also have improvised sections to them, sometimes over ostinatos, while some solo sections are played over the form of the tune. I think a good place to start is not with drum solos, but with interesting compositions. Learn about melody and harmony, form, theme and variations, motifs, orchestration, counterpoint.”

One aspect of these two drummers learning to work together concerned the tuning of their drums. “My current setup has seven toms,” Wackerman says. “I’d never really paid that much attention to the fundamental pitch of each toms, relating to true pitch notes, which are found on the piano. To prepare some of my pieces for the tour, I did pick notes that were very close to where I tended to tune the toms to anyway, then I altered a couple of tom notes so I could get some octaves, and ninth intervals — the notes that I needed to play the melody of the band tune ‘All Sevens.’

“Before the tour I spent a couple of days at Terry’s house and realized that I was about a half-step lower with a lot of the tom tuning. At first I thought this should work out great, that between us we’d have chromatic interplay between us relating to melody. After a couple of gigs I then tried tuning the toms a half-step up and found it worked much better being closer to the same tonality as Terry. It just seemed to enhance things when we played together, it sounded to me like we were in the same harmonic modes. Of course there are no real rules to this and the possibilities are endless.”

One of the ultimate acid tests for two drummers to be able to work together is seen and heard on the video, where “The Black Page” is played as a duet with the sheet music rolling under the screen — sort of a precursor to DVD benefits. This piece was Bozzio’s stamp into the percussion world hall of fame, arguably one of the most challenging drum-set compositions ever written. While Bozzio and Wackerman both acknowledge that Zappa went on to write even more difficult pieces, “The Black Page” set the standard by which the next dimension of drum set development would forever be measured.

So what did it feel and sound like to play the piece with a fellow Zappa alumnus? For Bozzio, “It was just like one guy. [Chad] is so close to me on a soul level, no words need to be said. I’m grateful to have people like that on the planet.”

In the Solos And Duets video, Bozzio provides some history on the groundbreaking solo drum set composition. “‘The Black Page’ is a fantastic piece. Zappa walked into a rehearsal one day and said, ‘What do you think of this, Bozzio?’ and handed me this piece of music, which, well ... it is The Black Page. It’s so full of notes, that the page appears black. This is where the name came from. We were doing an orchestra gig at Royce Hall, we had 40 or so of the best percussionists and instrumentalists in this town that had been very famous in doing session work and also with the symphony, and he [Zappa] noticed during coffee breaks and stuff that they lived in mortal terror of something called ‘the black page.’ This would be a situation where they would get called for some innocuous little jingle at 7:00 o’clock on a Monday morning, and come in and be faced with a page so full of notes that it appeared black, hence the name. Zappa decided to write his own version of it, and I was his guinea pig.

“I fooled around with it for a couple of weeks, just about 20 minutes a day before rehearsal, and in a couple of weeks I had it mastered and I could play it for him. So he took the music back and wrote the rest of the melody and harmony, and soon after that we began playing it with the band.”

Chad Wackerman

For Wackerman, preparation for playing this legendary piece together with its first performer occurred during his tenure with Zappa. “We played ‘The Black Page Version Two’ on every tour I did with Frank. We did it in reggae, ska, new age, and rock feels. We didn’t play Version One live, which is the drum-solo version that Terry made famous. I did a recording of Version One at Frank Zappa’s studio years ago which is probably somewhere in the Zappa tape vault.

“I definitely had to practice to work it up again. I also made a couple of sticking changes and got lots of insight from Terry on phrasing some of the melody figures. The first time we tried to play ‘The Black Page’ together was at sound check in Texas. It wasn’t bad, but we definitely got the piece locked in after a few gigs. It got to the point where it didn’t feel difficult anymore, and when it feels comfortable is when it really makes musical sense.

“But to me, the most fun [of this project] was playing duet improvisations. Every night we started with a blank canvas and saw what kind of music we could make out of thin air. To improvise musically you have to have something to say, and I found it really easy to create with Terry. Thank goodness we recorded most of the improvs, because listening back to the stuff we were both pleasantly surprised to hear just how connected things became musically. Sometimes one of us would start a phrase while the other would finish it and you can clearly hear melody, harmony, rhythm, counterpoint, unison, tension and release, theme and variations, all the classic elements of composition and form were spontaneously used, and it was completely different every night.”

But there’s another level Bozzio would like to take this exploration to, one that holds great promise for furthering the drum-set evolution and acceptance into the musical fold. “I feel there is a snobbery in classical music. The drum set is considered an illegitimate instrument, something [people choose] when not playing a ‘real’ instrument. Where we have the failure is at the university level. There are only two or three schools where drum set is a major, and the real problem is that the drum set is a modern instrument not approached in a classical way. All the musical compositional techniques, types of music should be taken to the drum set.”

Bozzio elaborated on this point at the end of Solos and Duets. “The drum set is a very young instrument. It’s only been around 100 years, formalized in the ’20s and ’30s, and for the most part in popular music, forced into a rhythmic accompaniment role. And nowadays, we’re branching it out to the point where it’s going to be a legitimate instrument that will be taught on a university level where theory, harmony, and melody orchestration will be applied to the modern trap drum set, because it’s evolved to the point where we can do those things. I see no difference between an organist who plays lines with his feet and four different voices with his two hands and the contrapuntal possibilities that are extant on the modern drum set.”

As complex and in-depth the analysis of two master drummers sharing a stage could be, Bozzio summed it up like this. “Imagine two friends who know each other, and who have a common vocabulary. They argue, they may agree on things, but it’s a give and take conversational aspect among friends. Now take away the English language and replace it with a drum set.”

Bozzio’s Big Kit

Drums: Drum Workshop in Tamo Ash with Black Fade
1. 22" x 14" Bass Drum with Woofers
2. 12" x 5 1/2" Craviotto Snare
3. 20" x 8" Remote Bass Drum
4. 8" x 2" Piccolo Tom
5. 8" x 5" Tom
6. 8" x 6" Tom
7. 8" x 7" Tom
8. 10" x 8" Tom
9. 12" x 9" Tom
10. 14" x 11" Tom
11. 16" x 13" Tom
12. 18" x 14" Tom
13. 28" x 8" Remote Bass Drum
14. 8" x 1" Piccolo Tom/Snare activated by pedal

Cymbals: Sabian
A. 13" Radia Bell Disc
B. 8 1/2" Radia Cup Chime
C. 8" Radia Cup Chime
D. 12 1/2" Radia Bell Disc
E. 8" Hand Hammered Splash (top)/8" Radia Chinese (bottom)
F. 12" Radia Splash (top)/14" Radia Chinese (bottom)
G. 15" Radia Chinese (top)/18" Radia Chinese (bottom)
H. 8" Radia Splash
I. 16" Radia Light Crash
J. 10" Radia Splash
K. 18" Radia Crash
L. 8" Hand Hammered Leopard Splash (top)/10" Radia Chinese (bottom)
M. 16" Radia Heavy Crash (top)/18" Radia Chinese (bottom)
N. 13" Hand Hammered Bright Hats
O. 7" Radia Cup Chime
P. 11" Radia Bell Disc
Q. 7 1/2" Radia Cup Chime
R. 12" Radia Bell Disc
S. 8" Hand Hammered Leopard Splash (top)/20" Radia Chinese (bottom)
T. 18" Radia Crash (top)/20" Radia Large Bell Chinese (bottom)
U. 12" Radia Splash
V. 20" Radia Crash
W. 14" Hand Hammered Leopard Hi-Hat Top (top)/14" Radia Flat Bell Disc (bottom)
X. 20" Radia Flat Ride (top)/20" Radia Small Bell Chinese (bottom)
Y. 16" Radia Chinese (top)/20" Radia Small Bell Chinese (bottom)
Z. 14" Radia Crash
a. 22" Radia Crash
b. 9" Radia Cup Chime
c. 14" Radia Bell Disc
d. 14" Radia Crash (top)/16" Radia Chinese (bottom)
e. 20" Radia Crash (top)/20" Radia Chinese (bottom)
f. 28" Radia Gong
g. 8" Hand Hammered Leopard Splash (top)/8" Radia Bell Disc (bottom)
h. 7" Radia Small Bell Cup Chime

Terry Bozzio also uses Drum Workshop hardware and pedals, Vic Firth Terry Bozzio Signature Series sticks, and Attack Terry Bozzio Signature Series heads.

Chad’s Rad Kit

Drums: Drum Workshop in Jewel Green Stain
1. 22" x 18" Bass Drums
2. 13" x 5" Snare
3. 8" x 7" Tom
4. 8" x 8" Tom
5. 10" x 8" Tom
6. 12" x 9" Tom
7. 13" x 10" Tom
8. 14" x 11" Tom
9. 16" x 13" Tom

Cymbals: Paiste
A. 8" 2002 Bell
B. 12" Flanger Bell
C. 16" Thin China (top)/18" Medium Dimension Ride (bottom)
D. 14" Signature Medium Hats
E. 14" Signature China
F. 16" Fast Crash
G. #6 Cup Chime
H. #5 Cup Chime
I. #3 Cup Chime
J. #2 Cup Chime
K. Prototype 20" Medium Ride
L. 12" Signature Medium Hats
M. 18" Signature Thin China (top)/20" Signature Crash/Ride (bottom)
N. 16" Signature Thin China
O. 18" Prototype Crash
P. 13" Mega Cup Chime

Chad Wackerman also uses Drum Workshop hardware and pedals, Vic Firth sticks, Evans heads, AKG mikes, and Protector XL cases.

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