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Steve Smith: Tour Diary

I’ve had a fantastic year of music in 2009. Some of the highlights have been: In February I played gigs at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in Londonwith my new “Best Of Both Worlds” band called Vital Legacy, a combination of the band members and music of my groups Vital Information and Jazz Legacy. Vital Legacy will be touring the East Coast of the USA early 2010, check www.vitalinformation.com for details. In April I played a concert at Carnegie Hall in NYC with Zakir Hussain’s Masters Of Percussion featuring Zakir, Giovanni Hidalgo and Vikku Vanyakram. I also had the pleasure of gigging with jazz legends Buddy DeFranco and Benny Golson, George Brook’s Summit, touring the USA with Vital Information and in early August George Brooks (sax), Prasanna (guitar) and I made our 1st recording as the Raga Bop Trio, for release in 2010. I had the privilege to teach at three, weeklong, high-level “drum camps.” During July I taught at Mike Dolbear’s drum camp in London (www.mikedolbear.com), in August I joined Peter Erskine, Dave Weckl, Dafnis Prieto and Tommy Igoe to teach at The Drum Fantasy Camp in Cleveland, OH (www.drumfantastycamp.com), and in September I was the “Armand Zildjian Artist in Residence” at the Berklee College of Music in Boston for a most excellent week of masterclasses and performances with the Berklee Carnatic Percussion Ensemble and the Greg Hopkins Berklee Jazz Orchestra.

In 1977 I started playing Sonor drums while touring with Jean-Luc Ponty and in 2008 Sonor celebarated my 30+ years of endorsing Sonor drums. They released 100, custom designed, Steve Smith 30th Anniversary Kits and booked 50 clinics around the world. When the 30th anniversary tour was offered to Sonor distributors around the world the response from Italy was more than Sonor could schedule into the tour. Rather than only doing a few clinics in Italy during the 2008 tour we planned a year in advance and decided tour Italy in 2009 and do ten clinics throughout the country.

Monday – Thursday, September 20-24, 2009

For the first half of 2009 I’ve been playing and touring so much that it was important for me to slow down and take time off in order to prepare for the Italian clinic tour. My wife Diane and I arranged to take some vacation time after my week at Berklee. We love to spend time at our retreat in Southern Oregon but we didn’t have time to go all the way to Oregon before the Italian tour so we went upstate and stayed for a few days in the Cooperstown, NY area. Diane had spent a lot of time there with her family when she was growing up and I’ve come to enjoy the feeling of the place and love spending time there. While we were there we enjoyed reading, relaxing by lake Otsego and watching the HBO series Rome.

Friday, September 25, 2009

When we returned to our place in Manhattan we heard that L’Image was playing at the Iridium. One of the greatest things about living in NYC is being able to see amazing music any night of the week! L’Image is a group that was formed in the 70s by some of New York’s finest jazz musicians. They have recently gotten back together and are now doing some touring. The line-up is Mike Mainieri, Steve Gadd, Tony Levin, Warren Bernhard and David Spinozza. Needless to say, the music was fabulous, the compositions inspired and the playing grooving and creative. Steve Gadd is one of the greatest drummers that ever lived. He also happens to be a beautiful person and is a pleasure to talk to and spend time with. After a very nice hang with Dr. Gadd and long-time friend Mike Mainieri, I was starting to get very inspired and geared up to get back to the drums again!

Saturday & Sunday, September 26/27, 2009

When I am getting ready to head out on the road I have a ritual of packing two days before I leave. That way I get the worst of packing over with two days before I leave and I can relax with Diane the day before I go. It also helps me remember any last-minute items I may have forgotten. On Saturday I packed up my cymbal bag and included some NEW Zildian proto-types. I have some great “pies” from Zildjian that I’ve been using for the past few years: a “Bill Stewart” 22″ Complex II ride, a pair of 14″ Armand Zildjian Hi Hats, a 18″ Armand thin crash, a 18″ Hybrid crash and an 8″ Hybrid crash. During my week at Berklee, Paul Francis – the master cymbalsmith at Zildjian – was nice enough to lay some new pies on me and I have decided to take them on tour with me. I have a 22″ ride designed with jazz master Kenny Washington and a 20″ ride designed with Jeff Ballard, one of today’s freshest voices in jazz. I look forward to playing these cymbals on the tour of Italy.

I also packed one suitcase with my DW bass drum pedal, some CDs and another suitcase with my clothes, “DW Steve Smith Backstage practice pad,” Shure headset and microphones, and Vic Firth sticks, brushes and Tala Wands.

On Sunday afternoon my good friend John DeChristopher (Zildian’s head of artist relation) and his lovely wife Kelly dropped in for a visit. We all chatted for a while and then John and Kelly had to leave as they were on their way to Keith Carlock’s wedding.

Monday & Tuesday, September 28/29, 2009

On Monday afternoon I flew from JFK (New York) to FRA (Frankfurt) on Lufthansa Airlines. After traveling for many years I have decided to focus on the Star Alliance airlines because the perks are very good. I fly over 100,000 miles a year, so for the last 8 years I’ve been a United 1K flyer. This makes it very easy to check in without waiting in long lines, check in 3 bags with no extra charge and it’s easy to upgrade. I arrive in Frankfurt at 5:30am and then take an 8:45am flight to Milan.
Sergio Fanton from EKO Music Group, the Italian distributor of Sonor drums, picks me up at Linate Airport and we travel to my hotel in Milan. I check in at 11:00am, read for a little while and fall into a deep sleep until about 5:00pm. At 7:00pm Sergio and I go out to dinner with Tony Arco. Tony is an excellent jazz drummer and a Sonor endorser. We find we have a lot in common and much to talk about. Tony studied in Boston with both Gary Chaffee and Alan Dawson, two teachers that I studied with in the early 70s. He also studied with Bob Moses, which I wanted to hear about, and I studied with Freddie Gruber, which Tony wanted to hear about. We talked for hours and I had a very enjoyable 1st night in Italy.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sergio Fanton and I left the hotel at 10:00am for our drive to Caserta, Italy where the clinic tour starts on Thursday. We drove for 8 hours and stopped in Rome to visit Bob Baruffaldi from Battaria magazine. Bob is a long time supporter of mine and I’ve known him for many years. He has translated some of my clinics in Italy and whenever I play in the Rome area he is always there. We hung out at Sonus Factory, the music school in Rome where he teaches.

Sergio and I were back on the road at 8:00pm and we finally pulled into Caserta at 10:30pm! Over twelve and a-half hours on the road! We ended up checking into the Hotel. We checked in at 11:00pm and Carlo, from MMI Caserta, took us to a very good local restaurant for some outstanding food.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

I got to sleep late and relax a bit before we left the hotel to set up for the 1st clinic of the tour. We arrived at the Black Cat Club in Caserta (20 Kilometers from Naples) at 4:00pm to get ready for a 9:00pm clinic for Fa Ra Music School. The club seats about 200 and has a stage that is just the right size to fit my kits. I like to have plenty of time to set up so there is a minimum of stress and enough time to take care of details if there are any problems. As it turned out, it was good that we showed up 5 hours before the clinic was supposed to start! We loaded in at 4:30pm. Sergio Fanton from EKO Music, the Italian Sonor distributor, has brought my 30th Anniversary kit (#008) and the Jungle kit in the car we are driving. I’ll be able to use these two kits for most of the tour, which will help the setup time be much shorter for future clinics. I usually need about 2 hours to tune and set up the two kits. I take both heads off the 20″ 30th Anniversary bass drum to position the felt strips exactly where I want them. I put on, and tune, the batter head first and then I put on and tune the front head. With the toms I detune all the heads, top and bottom, and then tune the bottom head first and then the top head. With five toms and two snares, this takes some time. Then I position all the cymbal stands and put on all of my personal Zildjian cymbals. Then I work on the Jungle kit. Again I tune the bass drum first and the toms – low to high – and then snare. I’m using borrowed cymbals for the jungle kit and they sound good. I have a basic “jazz” setup: 14″ Armand Zildjian Hi Hats, and two a 22″ K Complex II and a 20″ K ride.

As I set up my own cymbals on the 30th Anniversary Kit I started playing my new prototype Zildjian ride cymbals and they both sound fantastic! The “Kenny Washington” 22″ cymbal is quite smooth – almost like it has rivets – and has a nice sustain without too much buildup. The “Jeff Ballard” has a lot of give – the stick feels like it sinks into the cymbal – when I play a ride beat, I get a pleasing legato effect. I’m going to enjoy getting to know these cymbals on this tour.

After taking some time to position both kits on the stage for the way I like to have them set for the clinic, it’s time for micing. I have a simple mic setup, a Shure BD mic and three Shure overheads for the “big kit” and one or two overheads and BD mic for the “small” kit. It takes the soundman over and hour to get the mics setup and the cabling in place. As we start the soundcheck there are quite a few problems, including monitors that don’t work correctly and weird noises in the PA. Finally by around 8:00pm we are finished. Of course we were going to go for a little dinner before the clinic but there is no time for that and we send out for pizza, which was very good.

I take some time to warm up on my DW Backstage practice pad and the clinic starts around 9:30pm. Sergio introduces the 30th Anniversary kit and then introduces me. My translator Luciano is a guitar player but he does a very good job. It’s always tough doing clinics with a translator but Luciano takes care of business. I talked for a short time and then played for about 1/2 hour, switching between the two kits, playing some solo pieces with much improvisation. The clinic is well attended and there are many questions in addition into my presentation. The audience was very quick learning some basic konnakol (South Indian vocal percussion) and kept a strong groove when they clapped along to some of the things I played. I found this impressive and not typical of clinic audiences. This area of Italy seems to have a high “rhythmic aptitude”. The clinic finished ‘round midnight and then the signing and pictures start. I finally left the Black Cat after 1:00am and traveled back to the hotel for a quick nights sleep.

I felt as though the information that I presented at the clinic was well accepted. I went over some the fundamentals of my various DVDs. The swing pulse from “History of the U.S. Beat”, some brush technique from “The Art Of Playing With Brushes”, and some Jazz to Rock vocabulary concepts from “Drum Legacy – Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants”. I also talked about and demonstrated some Indian rhythms and played along to a track with konnakol from my Vital Information CD “Vitalization”. My playing felt a little rough at first because it’s been two weeks since I’ve sat behind a kit. This is pretty unusual for me because I love to play and practice. But I’ve been touring so much lately I needed a break. I did workout on my pad for a about a week before the tour but it takes a while to reacquaint myself with the motions needed to play my kits. I clicked some rims and dropped a stick as my body motions rediscovered the space I need to move in order to get around the kit with ease. By the end of the clinic I felt close to having my chops feeling back to normal. My imagination and creativity felt fresh, so all in all, I had a good time and I look forward to the next clinic

Friday, October 2, 2009 Pisa, Italy

Because there is a convention in downtown Pisa all of the hotels are booked. We stayed at a very nice B&B 10 minutes from the center of town. The club where the clinic was held is called Borderline. It’s a dimly lit rock club with a great PA system. The set-up takes much less time than the first clinic because the drums are tuned and Sergio has marked all of the stands. The club is packed for the 9:30pm clinic and my translator Andrea is one of the local pro drummers. In fact, the next night at Borderline is a clinic/performance with Billy Sheehan and Paul Gilbert and Andrea is the drummer for the evening. My playing is up a notch from the night before. My chops are coming back and my ideas and execution are starting to flow more. After I demonstrated some medium tempo brush ideas someone asked me to play the slowest tempo on the Art Of Playing With Brushes. In the DVD itself the slowest tempo we demonstrate is 60BPM but in the Play-Along CD that comes with the package we have a tune at 40BPM – this is very SLOW! So I played along to that track and counted along so they could hear how I was feeling the pulse at that tempo. Then someone asked if I could play the track again, this time with sticks! Okay, one more time…with sticks! Of course the next thing I played was brushes at 320BPM for some balance. Every clinic is different and enjoyable in different ways and those questions were unique and interesting for me and I hope for the audience too.

After the clinic Andrea and I hung out for a short time in Pisa and it was a wild scene. There were hundreds of people in the streets and the place was alive with energy. After a glass of outstanding local red wine I returned to the hotel and tried to get to sleep by 1:30am because we are leaving at 9:00am the next morning.

Saturday, October 3, 2009 Reggio Emelia, Italy

After the best breakfast that I’ve had in a long time we get on the road for our three-hour drive to Reggio Emelia. We checked into the nearby hotel at noon and went directly to load-in and set-up in the very beautiful Teatro Piccolo Orologio for a 3:30pm clinic. The theater is contemporary, clean and has “stadium” seating so everyone can clearly see the stage. There was plenty of room to set up both kits with enough space in-between the kits so I can address the audience without standing behind a drumset. After setting up we went outside for some sandwiches and espresso to prepare for the clinic. We were surrounded by dozens of men spending the afternoon play cards and they were taking their games quite seriously.
During the clinic I brought my snare drum out between the kits for a brush demonstration and I got some questions about the Hi Hat. They wanted me to show them some Papa Jo Jones “fanning” and Buddy Rich “over and under” moves. My translator Julio, a teacher from Modern Music Institute of Modena, was a student of mine from the 2006 Marktoberdorf, Germany drum camp. He was well acquainted with my concepts and was also very good a konnakol. This was helpful when getting the audience to join in with some basic 3, 4 and 5 phrasings like ta_ki_ta (3), ta_ka_di_mi (4), and ta_ka ta_ki_ta (5). During the clinic we had had questions ranging from double bass drum ostinatos to jazz phrasing with brushes and sticks.

The clinic was a co-operative effort prepared by three organizations: Four Sticks Drum Shop and the Modern Music Institute of Reggio Emelia and the Modern Music Institute of Modena. The house was close to a sell-out and after the clinic I signed official “diplomas” for everyone that attended!

Because we started so early in day the clinic ended at 6:00pm and we were able to go out for a relaxed dinner. A small party from MMI and Four Sticks went to da Marco Pizzeria Ristorante for some of the most marvelous seafood that I have had in a long time. Lorenzo and Ilaria from Four Sticks were gracious hosts for the dinner. Lele Veronesi, from the Buona Domernica TV, and Ricky Turco from MMI (Ricky has also made the official Italian translations of John Riley’s book on The Art Of Bop Drumming and the famous “Chapin Book”), had some amusing stories, as did guitarist Luca Morelli who entertained us with his stories and magic tricks! I finally got to bed at a reasonable hour because we are going to leave tomorrow at 9:00am for a two-hour drive to the airport and then a flight to the island of Sardinia for the next clinic.

Sunday, October 4, 2009 Cagliari, Italy
We left the hotel at 9:00am and drove to the Brescia airport for the flight to Cagliari, Sardinia. It was a smooth trip and we arrived at 3:00pm for a 6:00pm clinic!

We checked into the hotel and made our way to the Viale Monastir, which is a nice small theater. I had to set up and tune a different kit, Anniversary kit #010. Each kit that I’ve played on the tour sounded excellent and #010 happens to be one of the best sounding kits of the tour. There was no Jungle kit for this clinic so I did the entire performance on one kit. To break things up I did do one segment on the snare drum with brushes, which is always a little risky. My translator for the evening, Paulo, was a local teacher and did a very good job of keeping the audience informed about my ideas and explanations. They wanted to know about details of Moeller technique and some ride cymbal playing concepts, which I gladly elaborated on.

There is a prominent jazz festival every year on the island of Sardina so the drummers have a high jazz awareness. I’ve played the festival twice with Steps Ahead, once in 1999 and again in 2004. The feeling of the island is very unique, it’s warm and arid, not the humid kind of feel of a Caribbean island. Of course we went out to eat after for some local seafood, which proved to be wonderful. Our host, Fabio from the Traffico Ritmico drumshop, took care of us in a first class manor. At dinner I heard some very funny stories of some of his past clinics and backline experiences. Fabio also introduced me to a local dark liquor called Mirto which was a nice way to end the dinner.

Monday, October 5, 2009 Verona, Italy

After a short sleep we left the hotel at 6:30am for our flight to Verona, Italy – the setting of the famous Shakespeare play Romeo and Juliet. Sergio and I arrived in Verona at 10:00am and luckily I was able to check into the hotel. I fell asleep until about 3:30pm. After two espressos I was ready for the 5:30pm hotel departure and the 6:00pm setup and soundcheck.

Since I was back to playing kit #008, it was all tuned and ready to go. Stone, the engineer from club Jameika, did an outstanding job, and the club had a good, natural sound. Jameika has a relaxed atmosphere and a Caribbean feel, which added to the good vibe of the clinic. I had met my translator, Ricky Turco, from MMI (Modern Music Institute – a chain of music schools in Italy), two days before in Reggio Emelia. Ricky is very fluent in English and he has a deep understanding of drumset playing so the translating was smooth and effortless. My chops and ideas felt in top shape so I stretched out and played for about 40 minutes at the beginning of the clinic, moving between the 30th anniversary kit and the Jungle kit.

The audience was eager for drumming info and kept up with my explanations of basic Indian phrasings of groups of 3’s and 5’s. I constructed a four bar phrase based on an 8 beat root phrase of 3+5. I expanded it to four bars by deconstructing and reconstructing the phrase so it ended up being: 3+5, 3+3+3, 5+5+5. The audience clapped along and seemed to pick up on this idea easily. I had questions ranging from bebop cymbal time to Hi Hat solo moves.

After the clinic I had a good hang with MMI president Alex Stornello, a guitarist that has organized a chain of over 20 music schools throughout Italy. I played him some of my new recording The Raga Bop Trio, that features guitarist Prasanna and saxophonist George Brooks. Alex’s reaction was, “finally, something very new and unique.” The sound of the group is quite original — a trio with no bass. The way that Prasanna plays the guitar is without equal. Prasanna is from Chennai, India and has studied the Carnatic approach to playing a stringed instrument, plus he is an excellent jazz and rock player who has attended the Berklee College of Music. We look forward to releasing the album next year and then doing some touring around the globe.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009 Verona, Italy

I just found out the clinic that was scheduled for today in Padova, Italy has been canceled due to a problem with the venue. That leaves today free for some sightseeing around Verona. I’m disappointed that I won’t be doing a clinic for the MMI students in Padova. On the other hand, I can use the down time and relax today and tomorrow. I have already scheduled a day off for tomorrow. I can only do so many clinics in a row before I need a day off to get refreshed. Verona is a beautiful city and is perfect to hang out in the city center.

Walking around the Verona city center is a feast for the eyes. The buildings are well preserved but are clearly from centuries past. I visited the home of Juliet Capuleti, of Romeo and Juliet fame. There were lots of tourists taking photos and writing love notes, tacking them to the walls of the entrance.

Sergio and I stopped into fnac, an Italian chain of music stores. They had a very good CD selection and I bought a variety of music for our drives. I picked up the new Barbara Streisand album that is produced by Diana Krall, the new Porcupine Tree album, Prince’s greatest hits, the first Rage Against the Machine album and Six Pieces of Silver, a Horace Silver album with Louis Hayes that I’ve been looking for over the past two years. After walking around the streets for an hour we made our way to the famous Verona Arena. It’s a Roman arena built just over 2,000 years ago and is still used on a regular basis for everything from opera to rock shows. In the last two weeks Italian rock singer Ligabue just played 10 sold out concerts with a 70 piece orchestra. My long-time friend Corrado Rusticci, a fantastic guitarist and producer, is currently producing Ligabue’s new album. We returned to the hotel for some down time before dinner with Ricky Turco from MMI.

Ricky took us to le Cantine de l’Arena, an upscale restaurant and jazz club. We ate outside, just opposite the entrance to the Verona Arena. We all enjoyed a good meal and conversation with Lelio Tagliaferro, who joined us for dinner. Now 84 years old, Lelio Tagliaferr has been booking the Verona Jazz Festival for many years and had stories dating back to tracking down the son of Nick LaRocca, from the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (the group credited with recording the first jazz album in 1917), re-organizing the Stan Kenton band (assisted by San Francisco trombonist Dave Eshelman), to hearing about concerts with Miles Davis with young Tony Williams on drums. After dinner we went downstairs into the jazz club to hear the brilliant Italian trumpet player Flavio Boltro and his quartet. The music was open, moody and played with subtly, nuance and a wide range of dynamics. Giovanni Mazzarino was outstanding on piano, bassist Marco Micheli laid down solid bass lines and much of the color and impressionistic feel of the music came from drummer Francesco Sotgiu. After the concert we strolled around the area and spent time examining the massive Castelvecchio, a castle build in the 1300s.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009 Verona, Italy

A much needed day off. I spent some of the day working on administrative work for my upcoming tours. One task is organizing the set-list for the upcoming gigs with Vital Information in Poland. The guys in the band need to prepare for the shows and giving them a set-list a week ahead of time helps them get ready for a creative and relaxed concert.
My tour manager, Sergio Fanton, and I met up with Alex Stornello, president of MMI, and went for a long lunch at a stellar Italian restaurant. We discussed the details of music education in Italy and many other subjects about the music business. In the evening I stayed in and continued with touring arrangements for my Vital Legacy gigs next February and March and worked on a promo video for the Raga Bop Trio album that will be released in 2010.

Thursday, October 8, 2009 Jesolo Lido, Italy

Sergio and I drove for about two hours and arrived in the beautiful, seaside resort town of Jesolo Lido at 1:00pm. The town is close to Venice, on the Adriatic Sea, and the feeling is tropical and inviting. This is the kind of town I would enjoy spending a week relaxing, enjoying the beach and the mild weather. We met our host for the day, Moreno Marchesin, at a restaurant so we could have a tranquil lunch before the work started. Moreno had already planned the menu and it was a delightful selection of local seafood. The food was fresh prepared with much care and expertise, which made for a culinary highpoint of the tour. After lunch we checked into the Hotel Croce di Malta, a four star hotel right on the beach, but unfortunately I only had an hour there before we left for the soundcheck at the Teatro Vivaldi. The setup went very smoothly and I spent about 45 minute playing to warm up since I just had two days off. I’ve been working on some new double bass pedal ideas, which I practice in my hotel room without pedals. I’ve been practicing like this for many years because it’s simply not possible for me to always practice on a drumset. I use my DW Backstage pad in the hotel room, and play the imaginary pedals with my feet, flat on the floor. I’ve found this to be helpful in working out new ideas. When I sit behind the kit I have some fresh vocabulary to play. The translator for the clinic was Georgio Zanear, who had spent time in Los Angeles studying with Freddie Gruber. Both he and members of the audience wanted to hear some details about my lessons with Freddie. I got into some of the important ideas that I learned from Fred and his observations about the natural principles that are the foundation of good technique. For example, the cause and effect of relaxing your hand and dropping the stick (not slamming it down) and then getting out of the way and allowing the stick to rebound off the drum or cymbal, just like you do when you dribble a basketball. In order for this to work you need to find the proper balance point to hold the stick, and a relaxed fulcrum that is firm enough to hold on to the stick but flexible enough to let it rebound by itself. As a result of this approach you can get a very good tone from the instrument and you will not hurt yourself. The clinic went about 3 hours and after some signing and photos I returned to the hotel after midnight. I had to get to sleep right away as I was leaving at 5:00am the next morning to catch a flight to Germany.

Friday, October 9, 2009 Bühl, Germany

After leaving the hotel at 5:00am we arrived at the Venice, Marco Polo airport at 6:00am and I got checked in and made my 7:10 flight to Frankfurt, Germany with no problem. Sergio stayed in Italy and I traveled to Germany alone and was met at the Frankfurt airport by Rudi Metzler, the owner of Rockshop, one of the top music stores and backline companies in Germany. Rudi was helping out Sonor and looking after me for my short stay in Germany. We sped down the Autobahn in his new Audi and I checked into my hotel in Karlsruhe by 11:00am and went directly to bed for a few hours rest. At 3:15pm Rudi and I left Karlsruhe for the drive to Bühl, near the border of France. On the way to the venue we talked about music and Rudi is very dedicated music fan with a massive CD and record collection. He’s also seen just about every major player since 1969 when he saw the Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation in London, which made a big impression on him. Of course I have been a fan of Aynsley’s for many years as I saw him play every night for a three-month period in early 1978 when I was touring with Ronnie Montrose. We were on a tour with Van Halen, as the opening act on their first tour, followed by Ronnie Montrose with me on drums, and then Journey would close the show on their first ever headline tour. (There is a video of the Ronnie Montrose group playing “Town Without Pity” on YouTube HERE. You can see me at 23 years old playing my first Sonor kit with a bright orange finish and two 24″ bass drums.) The three bands were playing theaters with an average of 2,000 seats and all three groups had a great time hanging out together. I related to and enjoyed Aynsley’s playing because he’s a jazz based rock drummer with good chops and a flamboyant style. It was later in 1978 that I took Aynsely’s place and became a member of Journey. As Rudi and I flew down the Autobahn we talked about music and before we knew it we arrive in Bühl.

The event I was playing at was “Bühl Grooved” which is part of a music festival. It was not a clinic event but three drummers performing solo. The two other drummers were Daniel Schild and Ralf Gustke. Daniel was a student at the 2004 Marktobedorf Drum Camp and I taught at the camp that year. It was good to see that he has been doing very well in his professional career and he sounded excellent playing both solo and playing to some tracks. Daniel’s groove is funky and his chops are refined. I also knew Ralf from the Marktoberdorf camp, as he was a teacher there. Ralf is one of Germany’s top pros and his performance demonstrated why; his time, feel and creativity are world class.

As a break from doing clinics, it was very enjoyable for me to play a one-hour concert. The drums that I played are one of my two personal 30th Anniversary kits. I keep one kit in NYC and one at the Sonor factory in Germany. The Sonor Artist Relation man, Thomas Barth had send my kit to Bühl, complete with my “European” set of Zildjian cymbals. It was comfortable to play the setup, as it was already in-tune and ready to go. The concert hall was at capacity with over 300 enthusiastic music fans in attendance. I played some solo pieces, which included some pieces for drums and konnakol, and I played to some tracks. I have some Vital Information tracks mixed without drums and I also have been having fun playing over James Brown’s “The Funky Drummer.” Ralf, Daniel and I hung out after the gig and talked about many subjects including the Marktoberdorf drum camp, Indian rhythms and odd-times.

Saturday, October 10, 2009 Travel day: Germany to Italy

Rudi and I left the hotel at noon and had a short lunch before we got on the Autobahn for the trip to the Frankfurt. We listened to The Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation album from 1970 called “To Mum, from Aynsley and the Boys.” We were grooving on Aynsley’s deep shuffle groove when we were stopped in a major traffic jam and sat on the road for about an hour without moving. It was getting dangerously close to me missing my flight to Italy when the traffic started to move again. I did make to the airport in time, checked in and made the flight to Milan, Linate. I met my tour manager Sergio Fanton, from Sonor Italy, at the airport and we boarded the flight to the city of Palermo on the Italian island of Sicily. We checked into the hotel at 11:00pm and found a local restaurant open, and enjoyed some fresh, local seafood.

Sunday, October 11, 2009 Palermo, Italy

Ignazio and Enza DiFresco are the owners of the Academy of Modern Music, the sponsors of the Palermo clinic. They own four music schools around the island of Sicily and are doing a lot to promote music education in that area. Sergio and I met Ignazio and Enza in the hotel lobby in the early afternoon to travel to a local club for the 5:00pm clinic. Ignazio and Enza drove us across town to the location of the club where the clinic was to be held. When we arrived, the club was locked up and there were two very nasty looking guard dogs patrolling the fenced-in parking lot. We sensibly decided to get some lunch and wait for the club owner to arrive. A couple of miles away at a busy seaside restaurant area we had a quick but satisfying lunch. There we were serenaded by a local accordion player and while enjoying the view of the harbor.

When we arrived back at the club it was open and the dogs were in their pens, so it was safe to go in. The club was a disco, so we had some PA issues to overcome before we were setup and ready to start the clinic. The drums for the clinic were the same 30th Anniversary kit #10 that I had used in Sardinia. After a few minor tweeks they were in perfect tune and ready to go.

Because the audience was primarily made up of student’s from the music school, they were an attentive and eager audience. For this one clinic Sergio did the translation. I was able to develop quite a few subjects including ideas on musical drumming. Some of my points were: create rhythmic and melodic motifs, or themes, and develop them with improvisation. Leave space in your playing and repeat your ideas so people will recognize the motifs. Use a wide range of dynamics and play in 8, 16 bar phrases. Use touch to draw a good tone from the instrument and be aware of the balance between the limbs: your inner dynamics. Use different “tools of the trade” for varying colors and textures: mallets, sticks, brushes, Tala Wands, your hands and possibly your voice. I’ve been adding konnakol to my playing, the artform of Indian vocal percussion.

After the clinic Sergio, Ignazio, Enza and I went to a restaurant by the sea and had an amazing seafood dinner before returning to the hotel.

Monday, October 12, 2009 Milan, Italy

I overslept and missed the 6:45am lobby call for our trip to the airport. Sergio called me at 7:00am and it took me about 15 minutes to pack up and get into the waiting car. We were dealing with heavy Monday morning traffic in Palermo and we weren’t sure if we were going to make the flight but it all worked out and arrived at the airport just in time. After a 1.5hour flight we arrived back in Milan at 11:00am and picked up Sergio’s car at the airport, which had in it my kit #8, the drumset I have been using for most of the Italian clinic tour. We drove straight to the venue for a 3:00pm clinic. This clinic was at the Accademia Del Suono (Sound Academy) in Milan. The school is very new, well appointed and quite beautiful. The owner of the school, Timur Semprini, is a soundmixer and he did an excellent job mixing the masterclass. Timur is also very dedicated to education and is soon adding classical music to the curriculum of Sound Academy.

This was a masterclass with a small group of serious students and we gathered in an intimate room in the school. I needed monitors and a PA system for my tracks and voice, but we didn’t need to mic the drums as they sounded very good in the acoustics of the room. They audience was very high-level and learned the Indian rhythms that I demonstrated very quickly, which was quite impressive. Because the drum teachers at the school are familiar with my DVDs they prompted me to get into details about the “History of the U.S. Beat” and subjects from “Drum Legacy.” Eugenio Mori did a very good job of translating and I answered questions about practicing, brushes, and developing repertoire. I explained that many times when I practice I work on specific songs that I am playing. That way if I have a tune that I’m having trouble with a certain section, or if I have some ideas for fills or grooves and I’m not ready to play the ideas on the gig, I take the time to work them out in my practice. That way my practice is very productive and I have a goal of performance that I work towards. This helps me build a vocabulary of ideas and phrases. I also spend time learning specific beats from artists such as Aretha Franklin (with Bernard Purdie) or Led Zeppelin or beats from The Meters or James Brown. That way I’m building a repertoire that I can draw upon when I need to come up with some fresh drum parts.

After the clinic I went to another great dinner with Sergio and two Italian Sonor endorsers, Lele Boria and Tony Arco. I had met Tony my first night in Italy and knew he had studied in the USA. We had a great time talking about the philosophies of Freddie Gruber, Efrain Toro, Gary Chaffee and other individuals we admire and look to for inspiration and information.Friday, October 2, 2009 Pisa, Italy

We left the hotel in Caserta at 9:45am and drove for six hours for the clinic in Pisa. Sergio and I stopped at an Autogrill along the way for a pannini and espresso and I picked up Toto’s Greatest Hits so we could have some music to listen to on the drive. I love listening to Jeff Porcaro’s drumming and the tracks he plays on the Toto album are all stellar. The grooves are smooth, funky and his drum-parts imaginative.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009 Biella, Italy

During our early afternoon drive from Milan to Biella, Sergio and I saw some spectacular scenery. The town of Biella is located at the base of the Italian Alps and the view of the mountains was magnificent. The town has a lot of modern touches with many new buildings plus we saw a number of outlet malls on either side of the Autostrade as we approached downtown. To me, the downtown has a feeling of a Swiss town; it’s quite upscale and in pristine condition. After checking-in to the hotel we proceeded to the Koko Club, a very nice room with a superb sound system and excellent soundman. The drums sounded tremendous in the room, and the monitors were just right, which I found very inspiring. It was easy to relax and let my creativity flow and expand more than usual on my solo pieces. The clinic was sponsored Fonderia Musicale, which is owned by Eddie Romano, who was a very congenial host. Fonderia Musicale is a combination of a music school, rehearsal studios and recording studio.

I met with my translator Andrea Biccaro before the clinic and he told me that he has been working on konnakol and Indian rhythms. We worked on some Indian rhythms in the dressing room, along with two other drummers, Tony Arco and Carlo Bernadinello. Carlo works with Mike Mainieri from time to time and I did a clinic for him two years ago inside of a beautiful winery!
When I was demonstrating Indian rhythms I had Andrea play the Jungle kit while I played the 30th Anniversary kit. I think it helped the audience to see some other interpretations of the rhythms. That is one of the main points that I talk about when demonstrating the Indian rhythms. You can take the rhythms and use them on the drumset in your own unique way. The idea of playing Indian rhythms on the drumset is a fairly new idea and I feel there is a lot of potential for creating new and interesting vocabulary with this new – for Western drummers – rhythmic information. I then had Andrea play the 30th Anniversary kit while we jammed with me on konnakol and him holding down a solid groove.

Toward the end of the three-hour clinic I was talking about soloing using thematic material and I was going to demonstrate using the classic Max Roach solos “For Big Sid” and “Drums Unlimited.” On the spur of the moment I surprised Tony Arco by inviting him onstage to play the pieces with me as a drumset duet. Since Tony is a fantastic jazz drummer and a true student of the drumset I knew that he would have these pieces in his repertoire. Before we played I had the audience sing the melody to “Big Sid” using vocal drum sounds. Of course it’s important to be able to sing the melodies and rhythms that you are playing, it clarifies what you are about to play. Also, for the people that hadn’t heard Big Sid they were prepared for what they were going to hear. Tony and I played the head to Big Sid in unison, then traded 8’s for a few choruses, went to 4’s, 2’s, and finally 1’s! Then we played the head on last time. Next I explained the form to “Drums Unlimited,” which is as follows: An 8 bar A section followed by an 8 bar B section, then back to A. After that we each soloed and then played the B section in unison, then on to more soloing and again the B section. It’s a very simple but effective form for a drum solo. When you bring in the B section every so often it gives the listeners a point of thematic recognition and then they are prepared for your next soloing statements. Finally after one last B we played the A section which effectively concludes the piece. Tony got a strong response from the crowd. His is playing is swinging, and his chops are very strong: both his hands and feet! I found his ideas interesting; they are based on the jazz tradition and he’s accomplished what all good musicians want to do, created his own vocabulary out of the raw materials that have been passed down through the generations. This was the last clinic of the tour and I was enjoying playing in the club and the audience was warm and responsive. Basically, I was having such a good time with this final clinic of the tour that I had a hard time stopping. After just over three hours I finally concluded with Mr. Hi Hat, which is always a nice way to end a clinic.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009 Travel Day — Italy to Poland

Sergio and I left the hotel at 8:00am to drive to the Trieste airport, which took about 90 minutes. After and easy check-in on Star Alliance partner Air Dolomiti, I said farewell to Sergio. We had a great tour of Italy and had a lot of laughs together. We have talked about some future tours and look forward to working together again at some point. Sergio Fanton is a very organized pro and he made the entire trip run smoothly and without any major problems.

I boarded the flight and flew to Frankfurt, Germany where I waited four hours to catch my 4:30pm flight to Katowice, Poland. Close to one year ago my agent Janet Williamson was contacted by the organizers of the XVIII International Percussion Festival of Poland, they wanted to book my group Vital Information to play two concerts at the festival. We booked the dates and October 14 was a travel day for myself and the other band members: Tom Coster (keyboards), Baron Browne (bass), and Vinny Valentino (guitar). Because I’m traveling from Europe I arrived the same day. When you travel to Europe from the USA, you always arrive in Europe the day after you leave. Tom flew from San Francisco, Baron from Boston and Vinny from New York and they arrived in Poland on Thursday afternoon.

The promoters for the Vital Information concerts had sent me an email on Tuesday letting me know that the weather in Poland was close to freezing and to dress warm. That was good info for Vinny, Baron and Tom, who were leaving from the USA and could pack some warm clothes, but it was too late for me. The weather in Italy has been warm and mild for most of the tour so I didn’t bring much in the way of warm clothes. I bought a pair of gloves in the Frankfurt airport. The gloves, along with a scarf that I did bring with me, was the best I could do on short notice.

The flight to Katowice was delayed on account of snow in Poland. When we finally took off the flight took about two hours. Due to the heavy snow in Katowice the pilot said we may have to be diverted to Krakow – bummer. Eventually Katowice cleared us for landing. We flew for over 20 minutes with zero visibility and some turbulence. Suddenly we saw the runway and we landed about 15 seconds after we got below the clouds. It was a blizzard. The unexpected snowstorm had caught the area off guard. The streets were not plowed so the 2 and 1/2 hour drive to Opole was full of hazards and quite scary. After checking into the hotel I had dinner with the promoter, Wojtek Lasek, and we went of the schedule for the next few days.

Thursday, October 15, 2009 Opole, Poland

I woke up to an overcast sky and lots of rain. It remained overcast and rainy for our entire stay in Poland. At least it had stopped snowing!

I went to lunch at 1:00pm and Thomas Lang met me in the restaurant. Thomas has been working at this Festival also, both as a clinician and performing in a band with Polish jazz/fusion musicians. As it turns out Terry Bozzio had just played some solo concerts at the festival and Virgil Donati had played there with Planet X.

Thomas and I caught up as the last time we saw each other was at the Modern Drummer Festival 2006 when we interviewed each other for the bonus footage in the Hudson Music DVD. We also started trading licks, playing double bass licks on the floor and have a very good time. We taught together at the drum camp in Marktoberdorf a few years ago and he showed me some of his practice techniques to develop double pedal virtuosity. I have been working on some of those ideas along with some others that I have developed. Two hours later I attended Thomas’ afternoon clinic. I got there before it started and he invited me to sit down and play his quite large, double bass drum, Sonor kit. I showed him what I was working on, and had a ball playing on the massive kit. His clinic was detailed and informative, and covered much of the material from his Hudson DVDs regarding independence exercises and poly-metric playing ideas.

When I got back to the hotel I met my band in the lobby. Tom Coster, Vinny Valentino and Baron Browne had just arrived from the. Their trip was fairly smooth except Tom’s luggage didn’t make it. He carries a rack for his keyboards and it arrived on the next flight and made it to the hotel later that night. After dinner with the band Vinny and I went to see Thomas Lang play his concert. The players in the band were very good jazz/fusion musicians – guitar, bass and keyboards — and the music was interesting and grooving. Thomas had learned their music and played the fusion style with a rock solid pocket and a wide range of dynamics. The concert was packed and we all enjoyed the music. I went to bed early and was looking forward to playing the Vital Information music and having a good time hitting with Vinny, Baron and Tom.

Friday, October 16, 2009 – workshop and concert in Katowice, Poland

We left the hotel at 11:00am for our drive to the Katowice Academy of Music. Julia drove the van on this 90 minute trip. Julia is from Ragtime, the production company that has organized the XVIII International Percussion Festival of Poland, She has also worked on the preproduction and is quite organized and a very dedicated worker. I took my usual two hours to set up and tune a fresh, out of the box, 30th Anniversary Kit #80, that the Polish Sonor distributor had bought for my gig. (The kit is now for sale!)

For the setup Olek Lasek, a young drummer, son of our promoter Wojtek, and another impressive worker on the Ragtime staff, ably assisted me. Tom Coster also takes close to two hours to set up his Korg keyboards because they are brand new and out of the box. He puts his own personal sounds into the instruments. The BX3 keyboard is amazing and sounds like a Hammond B3. Tom then adjusts the stands and monitor system — getting it all just right takes a lot of work. It generally take Baron Browne and Vinny Valention a short time to get their rented amps up and running. But at this particular gig Vinny had some problems with one of the rented and amps and his guitar needed a new battery. The setup ran late because the PA company couldn’t get into the hall early enough to get their equipment set up. The band was ready to go but we waited until the PA and monitors were in place and did a short soundcheck.

We were scheduled to have an afternoon masterclass with the students from the Academy of Music where we were performing. The students came into the concert hall and watched us soundcheck. As soon as we had finished the monitor and house check I started the masterclass. Vinny had to sit it out as he was waiting on a battery. The first idea that I talked to the students about is that the primary way that the members of a group connect is through rhythm — we all need to agree on the fundamental pulse. And because the music of Vital Information is a very natural expression the collective musical experiences of all four members, we connect first through the swing pulse. All of the musicians in the group have a jazz foundation plus we also have lots of experience with rock, funk and world music. We blend these influences quite naturally into our writing and playing. We kicked the music off with a bluesy, down home, swinging shuffle called “Jimmy Jive” that we recorded on our last album, Vitalization. After we played Jimmy Jive as a trio, Vinny had his sound happening. The next tune we played was an example of an intricately composed funk/jazz piece with the drums, bass and keyboard parts all interlaced with a guitar melody over that foundation. The tune we played was the title track from Come On In, our album before Vitalization. We answered some questions as a group with all of the Vital Info band members contributing their musical ideas and perspectives to the questions and comments. To end we played “Cat and Mouse” from Show ‘Em Where You Live, a tune that is set up for a lot of freedom and improvisation and is based on some New Orleans rhythms.

We took a break to get ready for out 7:00pm concert. I had worked out the set a week earlier and sent it to the band members so they could go over the tunes and be ready to play. We don’t rehearse when we get together for gigs. We’ve played the music a lot over the years, but it’s important for everyone to do their homework before coming on tour. They thoroughly go over the tunes on their own so they are ready to hit when we get onstage. We talked over some arrangement changes in the dressing room. Vinny and I practiced the konnakol for the two tunes that we do that incorporate the South Indian vocal percussion artform of konnakol. Vinny has learned the konnakol syllables and rhythms for these two tunes so we can perform them in unison, which creates a very nice effect for “Interwoven Rhythms – Synchronous” and ” Interwoven Rhythms – Dialogue,” both from the album Vitalization.
The set started about 7:15pm. The concert hall sounded fantastic and responded well to our extreme range of dynamics. The audience showed us a high level of appreciation, clapping for a very long time after each tune.

The set we played was as follows:

Saturday, October 17, 2009 – drum clinic and concert in Opole, Poland

Our promoter, Wojtek Lasek, met us at the hotel at 12noon for the 5 minute drive to the beautiful Opole Philharmonic Hall. Our setup goes very quickly now that we’ve used the instruments and they are adjusted to our liking. After a short soundcheck Tom, Baron and Vinny are off for the rest of the day until the 7:00pm show.

We go across the street to an excellent French crepe shop and have lunch. I return to the Philharmonic Hall for a 3:00pm drum masterclass for about 75 students. My message is focused on a few subjects. One subject was finding a balance between performance, study and practice as a mean of developing your musicianship. With performance we get immediate feedback from the other musicians and through recording your performances and discussions with the band members, you can get a perspective on your musicianship and what you may need to work on in order to improve. Then we can chose a course of study, maybe a private instructor, particular DVDs or masterclasses and then develop the new ideas through practice. It’s important to find a balance between these three essentials that is right for you. Too much performance without study and practice can lead to only playing what is comfortable and known and you can find yourself in a rut, repeating yourself with the same ideas night after night. Too much study and practice and not enough performance and you may develop your drumming ability but not your musicianship, which is the main point of playing the drums – becoming a good musician and interacting with other good musicians. Finding the balance between these three elements is personal and will be different for each of us. I have found this formula very productive and keeps me developing as an evolving musician.

Other subjects that I touched upon were the #1 job of being a drummer: being an accompanist. Plus I answered many questions about such subjects as developing a swing pulse to the details of stick technique.

We all returned to the concert hall at 6:30pm to find a full camera and sound crew in the backstage. The concert was filmed for the Ragtime archives with no plans of releasing the concert commercially. (I look forward to seeing the results of this filming and depending on how it looks and sounds it’s possible I may put some of the footage online for the Vital Info fans.)
Knowing that we were being filmed made everyone in the group a little jittery. The night before we played with a lot of freedom, but sometimes when you know the cameras are filming it can be intimidating. We played the same set as in Katowice because it felt like a good order to present the music. We stumbled here and there but generally we had a very intense show and hit some peaks that we didn’t reach the night before. The audience response was even more passionate in Opole! Again we played two encores and the entire crowd was on its feet for the last two tunes. The audiences in Poland are some of most expressive and appreciative that we’re ever played for. We found Ragtime to be a first rate and well organized company that took care of every detail of the trip in a first class manor. We do look forward to working with Ragtime and playing in Poland again at some point in the future.
After the performance we greeted our fans and signed some autographs and then Wojtek took us out to dinner with one of the sponsors of the festival, Peter Grudniak from HMI insurance. We went to an underground restaurant that looked like we were descending into a New York subway. The décor was all about Manhattan, NY and the music was provided by a talented duo of guitar and tenor. Peter was a great host and we all enjoyed good meal and indulged in some high-end Polish vodka and had a festive and fun last night in Opole, Poland.

Sunday, October 18, 2009 Travel day – Poland to the USA

We met Wojtek in the hotel lobby at 9:30am for our two-hour trip to the Katowice airport. We like to leave plenty of time on a travel day so we are not stressing about missing a flight. This turned out to be a good as idea as our young driver got lost on the way to the airport but we arrived at 11:30am, two hours before our 1:30pm Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt. We all traveled together to Frankfurt and from there Tom caught his flight to San Francisco, Baron flew to Boston and Vinny and I boarded the same flight to JFK, New York. We arrived in NYC at 8:00pm with our drivers waiting outside for the trip home, me to the Upper West Side of Manhattan and Vinny to New Jersey, not far from the George Washington Bridge. Vinny and I made plans to meet on Tuesday night at Guantanamera, a Cuban restaurant at 939 8th Ave (between 55th and 56th) that features Pedro Martinez, one of the most gifted Cuban musicians in the world. Pedro sings, plays conga and timbales and he surrounds himself with other amazing players. The music is always smokin’ and lately it’s becoming a serious hang. For instance, when I’ve gone there I’ve hung with folks like Paul Siegel (from Hudson Music), Robbie Gonzales, Steve Jordan, Zigaboo, Clyde and Jabbo and Sean Pelton. Since I’ve been out of town Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood and producer Russ Titelman have all been in attendance checking out Pedro. Check it out!

Monday, October 19, 2009 New York City

It feels great to be back in NYC after my three-week trip around Europe. The weather is fairly mild and not too cold with some warm sunshine in the afternoon. I’ll be here for a week and want to make the most of it. I plan on going to the Village Vanguard tonight to see John Riley with the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. On Tuesday I’ll be heading to Guantanamera to hear some Cuban music. I’ll be checking on the clubs to see who is playing in town that I’ll want to hear this week. I’m schedule to practice each day at The Drummers Collective because my apartment is much too small to have drums. I have a good view of Broadway and enjoy the Upper West Side, it’s a great neighborhood and from here it’s easy to get around the rest of Manhattan on the subways.

I will be relaxing at bit this week and getting ready the Montreal Drum Fest with takes place next weekend: October 24 and 25. I’ll be traveling to Montreal on the 23rd to be ready for my duo performance with Pete Lockett on the 24th. Pete and I will be performing and demonstrating Indian Rhythms for Western Drummers. We’ll also be joined by Scott Atkins for one piece. Scott works for Coast Music, the Canadian distributor of Sonor drums. As I’ve discovered on my clinic tours of Canada, Scott is a world class drum corps snare drummer and has learned many Indian rhythms and applied them to drum corps. As a part of our Montreal program Pete and I will demonstrate, with Scott, how Indian rhythms can be used in drum corps!

As you may imagine, I need a little down time after all of this activity and I’ll be getting some rest soon enough. After the dates in Montreal I have only two more obligations for this year, a gig with George Brooks Summit in Doha, Qatar on November 12 (Check out Summit on this video on YouTube) and then I’ll spend two days in the studio in San Francisco to mix the Raga Bop Trio album for release in 2010.

I’ve enjoyed keeping track of daily events of life on the road and hope you’ve enjoyed reading and keeping up with my travels. Check out my 2010 dates on my Website. I’ll be touring with a new group that is the “best of both worlds” Vital Legacy, a combination of the players – and the music – of Vital Information and Jazz Legacy.

I hope to see you at a concert sometime in the future.

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