A lesson from a master: Steve Gadd

Boomka

Platinum Member
I joined a large audience in Northampton, UK for a show called The World's Greatest Drummer on Tuesday evening. It featured host Ian Palmer and guests Pete Cater, Steve White and the inimitable Dr. Steve Gadd playing with Pete Cater's big band. By-in-large, Pete's book consists of Buddy Rich charts so much of the evening was the various drummers playing classic Buddy sides with the band. The guys took brave runs at Time Check, Norwegian Wood, Basically Blues, Love For Sale, etc.

Everyone - band included - acquitted themselves well but Steve Gadd put on a masterful performance. His contribution wasn't a blaze of chops (though there was a bit of that) or some new and fascinating rhythmic or metric concept. To be honest, having seen him live many times since my first time in the 1980s his chops aren't at the same level as they were when he was younger. But, what hasn't changed is his approach.

The thing that struck me most deeply about his performance was his simple confidence to surrender to playing the exceedingly obvious with purpose and grace. When you hear Steve do interviews, he always mentions "letting the music dictate what (he's) going to play." I bet if you transcribed everything he played that night there'd be nothing that might stand out to you as "out" or highly innovative. Rather, everything he played fit into the music like it had always just been there. If a brass line needed a set-up, the set-up was clear, concise and lead logically into the line itself. At no point did he try to jam a few extra notes or a lick-du-jour into the spaces between the horn lines. Didn't he know this was a drum nerd thing?

He put his ego on the back burner and played things that connected the sections of the music together seamlessly and in a way that both the audience and the band could easily follow and understand. There was nothing jarring from a rhythmic standpoint and most of what he played he played with simple stickings. When he came to the famous break in the shout chorus in Love For Sale he didn't pull out something from the vast playbook of Gaddisms that we've all copied and pasted into our own playing. Nope, he laid down a snare drum roll that finished with a klak! BOOM! rimshot and BD that was an echo of the one Buddy played on the original album version on Big Swing Face. I actually laughed and cheered out loud. Why would you play anything else? How could you play anything else, even if you're Dr. Steve F*ing Gadd?

And somehow, in all this simplicity, space and obviousness, his performance stood out against the others, despite them all being top notch. He shaped the music with dynamics, both responding and dictating to the band. He played the time with authority but never autocratically. He relied on simple quarter notes on the ride to propel the swing tunes forward. He moved and bent with the band putting his notes where they rhythmically followed from those they played before rather than playing like a jumped-up metronome and pounding his personal conception of the time home like a slave driver. His solos and breaks were inventive, using as many spaces as notes to draw us in and surprise us. There were no long, drawn out flurries of notes or complex syncopations to trick and lead the ear astray from the pulse and shape of the music. It all just made sense, and it would have made sense even to a less drumistically educated ear.

Most of all, he wasn't afraid to just play what was right there in front of him. In front of all of us, really.
 
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Juniper

Gold Member
Gutted I couldnt make this event, was worth it just to see S.White and P.Cater but to see Gadd also in the flesh? Wow, a real treat.

Glad you enjoyed it and thanks for the insight into the evening.
 

Magenta

Platinum Member
What a concise yet comprehensive account of what must have been a wonderful evening. I wish I'd been able to go, as my FB has been full of how great it was, but nobody has actually said what was so good about it and until I read this, I presumed it was the usual sort of wow-inducing stuff. Evidently, it was seriously wow-inducing, but not so much in the usual sort of way.

Even more jealous now. Thanks!
 

Boomka

Platinum Member
What a concise yet comprehensive account of what must have been a wonderful evening. I wish I'd been able to go, as my FB has been full of how great it was, but nobody has actually said what was so good about it and until I read this, I presumed it was the usual sort of wow-inducing stuff. Evidently, it was seriously wow-inducing, but not so much in the usual sort of way.

Even more jealous now. Thanks!
Well, what wowed other folks may have been something entirely different.
 

dmacc

Platinum Member
I'm not surprised in the least and would be completely shocked to hear of anything otherwise.

Gadd is the Master of all things groove and playing for the music.

His playing at such a master level that his playing is often referred to as simplistic but in reality it s anything but. He's the master at space and knowing when/how to use it. He is the master of making anyone and everyone playing sound better.

His pocket puts everyone at ease so each person can focus on playing versus fighting.

I've heard some younger people today talk about him in past tense and how out of date/boring his style is. Perhaps someday they may grow up musically and understand. I've even heard adults mention his style in a ho-hum sort of way.

Those that don't see it or understand it - will never know.

He's playing at his hometown school in 4 weeks for his 70th birthday celebration. My ticket is down front.
 
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