Three Top L.A. Percussionists Talk Shop

Munyungo Jackson

Munyungo Jackson’s Setup

Drums: LP
1. 14” Timbale
2. 15” Timbale
3. 11 3/4” x 30” Conga
4. 11” x 30” Conga
5. 12 1/2” x 30” Conga

Percussion: LP
6. Songo Cowbell
7. Tri Bell
8. Downtown Timbale Cowbell
9. Bongo Bell
10. Cyclops Mounted Tambourine
11. Shekere
12. Bar Chimes
13. Percussion Table
14. Granite Blocks

Cymbals: Paiste
A. 14” Signature Thin Crash
B. 12” Rude Splash
C. 15” 2002 Ride
D. 12” Signature Splash
E. 10” Signature Splash (Top)/12” 2002 Power Splash (Bottom)
F. Accent Cymbals
G. 10” 3000 Bell
H. 21” Gong (Hanging under table)

Munyungo Jackson also uses Remo heads and shakers.

DRUM!: Munyungo, I have to ask you what it was like to get the call from a legend like Miles Davis?
Jackson: I was with Joe Zawinul the year before I was turned on to the Miles gig. I didn’t ever think I would be playing with Miles; it was a surprise to me. The month rehearsal was a real lesson. Miles would walk around the rehearsal studio playing his horn. He’d come back to the band and say if you don’t hear me playing then we’re not playing together. If you’re not listening to everybody then how can you be playing together? If we’re having a discussion and everybody’s saying something and you’re not paying attention to this person but paying attention to that person, then you’re not playing together as a band. That was ear training for me. The thing about playing with Miles, you don’t play hard, you don’t play loud, but you play intense, and listening to every instrument, to everybody in the band. There was so much to learn with him.
DRUM!: On the other side of the musical spectrum, Richie, what was it like playing with pop icon Phil Collins?
Garcia: That was so fantastic. Having followed his career, then all of a sudden I’m playing with him. The first time I played with Phil, Luis [Conte] was also playing. So there were drums and two percussionists. It was a learning experience because I had to do everything Luis wasn’t [doing]. I didn’t even know what to bring. They said bring your gear, so I brought congas and timbales. Then they said, see everything Luis has, we want you to play everything different from him. It was the Tarzan tour so I brought big surdos, djembes to compliment, like overdubbing his parts. You know how when you overdub a bunch of stuff, but when you play live you can’t play them because there’s only one guy?
Ricard: Unless you’re Richie Garcia and you play 12 things with two hands and two feet!
Garcia: A great thing about Phil is that he’s a drummer. He really appreciated what the percussionist did because he understood what the percussionists were doing. I got to do it again but without Luis. By doing it myself I got a chance to play how I play, which Phil loved my independence stuff. That was a rewarding feeling.

DRUM!: What advice would you give up-and-coming percussion players in Los Angeles? Any steps they should take to find themselves and to work?
Ricard: You have to be nice to people, not fake. People appreciate that you are a good person and that you treat them with respect and expect that in return. That goes a long way in this town because people don’t want to deal with attitudes. Be as versatile as you can and meet as many people as you can. I think that’s one of the main things about getting the call. Everybody’s got ability, but it’s got to be that something extra. If you love what you’re doing, you’re going to be happy. That comes out in your playing; it’s genuine, it’s not a fake thing. You want all that when you’re trying to make your way in this business.
Jackson: Feel good about what you’re doing and learn. As long as you’re alive on this planet, every day is a new learning situation. The other thing is the business. Learn the business, understand the business, and understand a lot of different rhythms from a lot of different places. Good to know what you know, but as a percussionist, the reason why these guys [Ricard and Garcia] are working is because they know a lot of different cultures. They know a lot of things from a lot of different places. Have patience. Love what you’re doing, play your butt off, don’t get frustrated and things will start to come to you.

DRUM!: Any final comments?
Ricard: For me, bass, drums and percussion are the foundation on which everything is built. We’ve all been blessed to play with some of the world’s greatest drummers. When you play with a drummer who knows how to drive the bus it’s the best feeling. You don’t have to worry. You can breathe, relax, find your space.
Jackson: If a regular drummer plays with two feet and two hands, the percussionist would be as if the drummer grew two more arms. Or in Richie’s case, the drummer would grow two more arms and two more feet.
Ricard: And if he could use his head, he probably would!
Jackson: Three things in your life complete a circle: one, take care of yourself. I’ve seen a lot of great musicians who didn’t last long because of drinking, smoking, whatever. It’s their business, but number one is yourself. With health you bring the second, which are your abilities. What you do, your music. You learn the music, you study and put a lot into that. If it’s fun to do, you’re always going to be doing it. You’re going to play music and develop your skills. Third is financial. Look at your financial thing — it’s not about being rich, but to have this whole circle work together.
Garcia: I remember when I was young, it was fun, you know? If we were in Las Vegas or whatever, a casino, let’s go here, let’s go there, blowing money all over the place. If you’re making good money right now, then save. Prepare for the future. A lot of musicians unfortunately don’t have that part of their life together. Everything has become, shall we say, just drums, drums, drums, and the rest of their life, they haven’t given it the attention they should. All of us will become old and what we do now is either going to make our lives later easier or more difficult. I’m saying this for the younger guys. Think about that and your life later on will be much easier.
Jackson: When I get older, I do not want to worry about my phone ringing. I don’t want to worry about finances. I think at an early age, yeah, do right with your money, save your money, don’t just spend it, don’t just “this and that.”
Ricard: One of the main reasons that people call you back for work is because you’re responsible. Being responsible means showing up on time.
Garcia: Well, I guess I’m out!
Ricard: Richie blew that a long time ago! If you get called for a session, or an audition at 2:00, don’t show up at 2:00. Show up at 12:30 or 1:00, so you can see what’s going on, make sure your stuff is set up. When you’re on tour, the only thing you have to do is be on time. And the same thing applies here in town. Make sure you have everything you need. Being time conscious, which is something a lot of people have a problem with, is really important. And people respect that.
Garcia: First impressions are very important. The fact that you showed up on time, your gear looks great, you’re a nice person and all that … so you don’t get that gig. This is Hollywood. Producers and all that stuff, they only think about what it’s going to look like, what they want, or the star may just not like what this person looks like. That happens. That’s just reality.

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