Jon Fishman: Jazz Was This Monster Around the Corner

Scott K Fish

Silver Member
Little Drummer Boy: Local Hero Jon Fishman Reconnects with His Syracuse Drum Teacher
by Jess Novak on August 22, 2015

Jess Novak: You took lessons from [Syracuse, NY drummer] Dave (Hanlon) when you were 13. Why drums?

Jon Fishman: My mom took me to see Buddy Rich when I was 10. I was all [into] Buddy Rich at that time, but then Dave had a picture of Louis Bellson on the wall, so I checked him out and was introduced to this whole world of big-band drumming. Then Sonny Payne. I discovered all that through Dave.

JN: What about rock drummers?

JF: I heard “When the Levee Breaks” (Led Zeppelin) on the radio when I was a kid. Something about it—the articulation of that beat and how it goes with the song. There are a lot of Zeppelin songs where the drums go along so well with the melody. I was learning Zeppelin from the time I was eight to 13. Zeppelin, Hendrix, The Who. I was a closet guitar player, too. Zappa—all his drummers are their own category.

JN: What changed after you took lessons with Dave?

JF: When I was 13, jazz was this monster around the corner. It was an entirely different level of coordination. You know, “Jazz is the teacher, funk is the preacher and one without the other, you have nothing but the blues.” I think that’s true. For drummers, or any instrument, it seems like with jazz and classical, or Afro-Cuban music—you stretch your limits. You get independence and coordination you won’t from just rock drumming. I wanted to learn how to play a swing ride and the other figures you play on a snare and hi-hat. I went to Dave for that.

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Video of Jon Fishman's drum teacher, Dave Hanlon

Scott K Fish Blog: Life Beyond the Cymbals


Junior Member
Great read! (and I just watched the Hanlon solo twice in a row!) Fishman is an insanely creative drummer. But if drummers are any kind of microcosm of the rest of the world, then most likely many are missing out on what he has to offer due simply to not being able to get over their prejudice against Phish. Oh well.


Junior Member
Tell me about it. Every time I try to start a Fishman thread around here, I get nothing.

fwiw, you're not totally alone here.

I don't really feel like hunting for too many links, partially because I think I'd mull too much over which versions of each song to choose. It's more time and effort than I want to exert, knowing that I'd be exerting it mainly because some people will take less than five seconds to go "pssshh" and write it off just because of Trey and Mike's flubs (and, in some cases, even some people who take a more openminded approach to listening to them just plain don't like the extended "noodly" jams-- on some occasions I don't like them myself). From a drummer's perspective, I'll have an easier time explaining it in words and let anyone who might be interested investigate on their own terms--in that case, I would tell anyone to just be advised that there gazillions of live Phish recordings out there, and some versions of each song are better than others. Some people might even want to just stick to checking out the studio versions of songs at first (though, keep in mind that some of their songs don't have studio versions).
But anyway, to cut to the chase, here are some songs with beats that drummers unfamiliar with Phish should check out JUST AS DRUMMERS, even if they have utterly made their minds up that they are going to continue hating Phish as a band:
Stash the bass/hi-hat polyrhythm is great for any drummer to practice for limb independence, and he slides in and out of it to execute fills and flourishes that provide perfect accents for the music
It's Ice It's like a funk beat that has been given the MC Escher treatment, and of course the composed middle passage is always fun, and culminates in all four band members pulling off a 4-part polyrhythmic sequence, during which Fishman incredibly maintains a straight 4/4
Taste how does he make such a tricky, schizophrenic beat sound so natural and straightforward? Then after the last chorus, that epic fill sets the entire tone for the improv and its ultimate climax and ending
The Wedge when you pound out a beat this cool and islandy, I guess you can place the snare hit wherever you want
Limb by Limb a 4/4 beat for a rock song that has a simple overall feel to it, but the unconventionally structured beat he plays here really shows the degree to which Phish owes their unique sound to him
All Things Reconsidered an obscure little tune they have all but shelved at this point, but great for practicing... that bubuBABAbubuBABAbubuBABA bass/snare part with the D-D-DD-D-D-DD-D- cowbell/ride cymbal part on top of it... easy, right? NOPE.
Rift though the way he plays it live has mellowed in recent years, his 90s performances of this song are what I call "Tasmanian Devil Fishman" (may be dating myself with that cartoon reference)
The Lizards Latin-inspired light touch beat with busy but pockety side-stick work, punctuated by fun, quirky fills, then the latin beat remains but goes full rock in the blistering, dance-inducing chorus (and if you like what you hear in this one, you should also check out "Esther," "Mango Song," and "Runaway Jim")
Ghost, The Moma Dance the two quintessential songs of Phish's "funk" era in the late 90s. Both are actually very straightforward beats, yet perfectly drive the funk grooves for the band as a whole. If you're digging it, check out the more frenetic but equally funky "Tube" as well.
Split Open and Melt intricately structured jazz rock, but really the reason to check this one out is to find a really good live version of the song and listen to the improv portion. The band improvises in an odd time structure, but most of the time Fishman slides in and out of it so deftly that it feels like 4/4.
Heavy Things, First Tube just for proof that yes, Fishman can maintain a pocket.
Foam the song I posted the youtube of above. A neoclassical art rock song beefed up into a crushing rager by a drummer who can handle both the intensity and the nuance with equal facility? Yes, please. (on the studio album ["Junta"], it is less intense and more laid back, but still an incredible drum song)

for those with the time and inclination to delve further:
Reba, You Enjoy Myself, Divided Sky, Run Like an Antelope, David Bowie, Harry Hood classic epic Phish. The band at their best and most loved by fans. All lengthy songs that contain improv. All complex songs (except maybe Antelope). The cream of vintage Phish-- thus, all essential Fishman listening. As far as more recent material goes, I would also add "Fuego."
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