The last gig I had that required me to be behind a kit was in October last year, for YST's Performers(') Present Symposium. I had 2 gigs - the first one was playing in a big band style with the Boston Brass + YST brass faculty + YST brass students. The next one (just 2 days later) was with my musical brothers, Lorong Boys, for our jam-packed-no-space-to-sit-down-gotta-stand concert! It was a great experience working with so many different people and just plainly, a lot of fun! So when I got an email from Mr. Brett Stemple - Head of Brass in YST, for yet another opportunity, I knew I couldn't turn it down!
Now, because I don't frequently get to sit down and use all my limbs simultaneously, I knew I had to put in the extra effort into practicing to make my limbs obey my mind.. at the very least. This concert was going to feature guest artist Adam Rapa, and he is a full-on jazz trumpeter and screamer! This guy could hit notes so high and with so much volume and power it can shatter glass and break ear drums. It's amazing how he's not deaf yet. But what I thought was even more amazing, was the fact that he could do it as and when he wanted, and made it look so effortless!
It reminded me of a time when I was talking to Garret Arney (arx duo) about marimba playing. We talked about Three Moves by Paul Lansky and how difficult it is to play it. I can't remember if it was him or if he got this story from someone else, but basically, the player played a movement for an audition (I believe) and when he was done, the professor said "Man, that was hard!" and rightfully so! And it got the player thinking - why was that hard to play? How do I make it look easy? And since then, it got me thinking too: no matter how hard the music is, it is important to make it look easy - and Adam Rapa totally had it!
I won't lie: it was stressful right from the start. As I said, I don't play drumset often, and the last time I worked extensively on it was during my army days in SAF Bands, where I refined technical and tempo flaws through the help of colleagues and friends there. If it was straight-ahead jazz, I would have been all right, but things don't always go the way you want them to - there were many tempo + meter changes as well as odd-meters in the music, including a drum solo section but in 9!
For me, the rehearsals were the best part of this whole journey and project, which I'll get to it in a while. There's high levels of stress but I learnt a great deal through the week, not only about the music, but about myself - how I play certain passages and/or phrases, how a jazz trumpeter talks about groove and having an amazing sense of pulse and rhythm, how to link this all back to percussion and to my playing, and ultimately, how a drummer fits into the band. I've always said that the music comes first, and I guess as a drummer (or maybe just me when I'm behind the drums), we (naturally) tend to want to play "more", or just to showcase what we can do - flashy licks and technical displays. Remember that solo in 9 I talked about? Every recording I listened to did not have that solo section, and there wasn't much of a rhythm section in the videos too. So not only did Adam want the solo in 9, I had no idea how the entire passage sounded like. And man... that first time was a total train wreck (yes, pun intended because it was a piece about the Orient Express lol)!
Of course, it was back to the drawing board after that and I could only use the (extremely) late nights to get some practicing in. Yes, you can count 9 in a number of ways, but this was grouped 3+2+2+2 and doing solos in 9 wasn't a thing for me until then. But it didn't take long for me to figure out that I can combine a double paradiddle with 3 paradiddles to form 9 in the same grouping, and use that to solo! All I needed to do was to get it orchestrated and my solo will be good to go! After all, it's just going to be 4 measures long...
Literally, the next rehearsal, Adam extended it to 8 measures, included another repeat of 4 measures as well as 3 measures leading to his solo run for that section. If your math was right, you would had 19 measures in total! If your math was wrong, don't worry about it.. unless you actually do math for a living. AND, he also did not want a groove-based solo, so my double-paradiddle-plus-3-paraddidles stint went out the window in an instant. By now, my stress knob had already sky-rocketed. Adam also had clear rhythmic ideas he wanted in the drums - distinctive beats and patterns, certain types of grooves and rhythms he wanted to happen on the hihats, and lots of cymbal sounds - A LOT!
But even though everything did not seem to be going well, that whole journey and process was extremely beneficial to me! Being in a rehearsal space with a jazz musician was completely different from my natural/used-to habitat in an orchestra. By responding to his needs, I learnt a great deal about his musical needs and ideas, as well as the roles each player has in the larger ensemble. I said earlier that drummers love to be flashy and are basically show-offs behind the kit and will tend to overplay - and that was exactly what I was doing with my solo! I wasn't treating it as a time frame to develop a musical idea - I was treating it as a restricted and confined space to just use drumming vocabulary verbatim, without any thought into the "why". Needless to say, it was back to practicing and finding different ideas to build up the solo. Eventually, I came up with something way simpler, not only for the counting but the playing as well, and I can only hope that the audience enjoyed it during its execution in the concert. As the saying goes, "Simpler is better", and while I thought I understood it, I definitely I have a better grasp of it now.
I know it's been a bit of a long post, but I feel this also ties in with one of my earlier entries on wanting to be more versatile. Like I said, I don't do many gigs behind the kit, but every time I do, I try my best to meet the needs and demands of the band leader, and my takeaway from the Adam Rapa project is to be more of a team player, especially when my role is to lay down a solid groove than to show off how many double/triple/single-paradiddles I can do.
If you ever had an experience where you learnt a lot from rehearsals, I'd like to hear your story so do drop a comment below! Meanwhile, stay safe and be well! Thanks for reading!