The Stuff We Really Need

J

jay norem

Guest
You see all the time here where people are saying that they need a new this or that, or a bigger kit or a another couple of cymbals or whatever, and that, of course, is cool. But I think that sometimes we forget what it is we really need to do this drumming thing.
So I'll tell you a story.
There's a jazz drummer in Atlanta. He's a good friend of mine and a great, great jazz drummer. He's not at all versatile; he only plays jazz, that's all he's ever done. Now this guy has an old Yamaha Hip-Gig kit, he got it when those first came out. It's way old and way used. It's seen better days for sure.
A couple of years ago I was putting on a weekly jazz show at a club here. It was a rock club but I got them to give me Wednesday nights to do jazz, so I got Bernard's band. They were straight-up hard-bop and it was a great show, excellent band, big stage, cool lights, good sound system, the works.
Now Bernard worked a day job as a dry-wall installer on construction sites. He was very coy about his age but I'd put him in his sixties. He grabbed work wherever he could find it, but it wasn't very much. The truth is the guy didn't have much money. And his kit was pretty ragged. I noticed one night that he'd had to duct-tape one of his cymbal stands to keep it together, so the next week I gave him one of my old cymbal stands. He was a little embarassed but he needed it, and he accepted it with much dignity.
It broke my heart to see how few people I could get into those shows, but every Wednesday he played his heart out. He plays a lot like Elvin Jones, lots of fire and all that old-school technique that swings like a demon. A couple of times he had to pawn his drums just to get a little dough, so I brought mine for him to play. It was a real treat to get to hear a master jazz drummer play my kit. Every Wednesday night I'd go up to side of the stage just to watch him play, to try to learn from watching him.
Then the club manager told me that they were going to sell the place so that was the end of that. Bernard kept putting up dry-wall, he lost his band and took what few gigs he could get, always playing on that crappy old ramshackle kit of his.
But the sound he got out of those drums! Magnificent! Those little old drums sounded majestic under his hands. His old brown cymbals sounded brilliant. He knew how to bring the sound out.
The happy ending to this story is that he got a call from someone he knew in New York, and he's moving up there this month to take over the drum chair in a band that plays all over Manhattan and the boroughs. I'm looking forward to visiting him up there.
The thing is, he made great music with a kit that most of us would be loath to play. The damn thing was close to falling apart, but he made it happen. Something, perhaps, for us all to think about when we start getting too obsessed about loads of shiny new gear.
 

Steamer

Platinum Member
Excellent way of putting things in perspective Jay and wish your friend all the best in his commitment to keeping the music alive with whatever it takes to play in doing so.
 

sticksnstonesrus

Silver Member
The spectrum is tres' grand. So many people (drummers). Makes me feel small and insignificant to think about how many of us, on the road or not, just trying to keep it real in whatever venue we can get in. Literally scraping for gig sometimes...I spent years hocking a little here and there..."bubble gum" fixes were sometimes the only thing you had left. Nowadays, I'm a little better off and like being able to at least afford what amenities I want. Even still, trying to keep up with the dream...a different struggle altogether.

Your story...is inspiring.
 

aydee

Platinum Member
great story, jay. Pretty much par for the course for the average working jazzer. A blind sax player friend of mine had his tenor stolen after a gig. Talk of robbing the blind. He couldn't afford a new one either.happy ending here was that all his admirers pooled in to get him a new one.
 
In defense of those of us keeping the music shops in business selling stuff along with all the small club heroes with what audience they do have ...

I'm not a drummer by profession. I make very good wages as the manager of an IT department in a large company. I see my role as being not that of musician but instead on the other side - that of patron.

I know I buy more things than I need. But it makes me feel good because I know the money I'm taking from big business via my wages is then going to support something I see as noble and worthwhile - musicians and shop owners who really are good.

In these tough economic times - those of us with good jobs should not be spending ourselves into debt. However, just as bad, is to stop spending altogether. If I go for the simple things in life my favorite drum shop and favorite drum instructor will lose that small portion of the revenue stream they get from me.

Therein lies the other half.
 

oops

Silver Member
Seems like his point was (if I may attempt to sum it up):

It's not about the equipment, it's about the drummer.

Also: Be happy with what you've got.

Also: Work on your touch and feel around the kit, so any old kit will sound good with you playing it.

Inspiring.
 

PQleyR

Platinum Member
Heh, to turn this on its...side...for a moment, this is why I much prefer buying used gear no-one else wants...not that it's no good, far from it, but then it's special because it's mine and no-one else has it. Also, it's got a story all of its own...who knows who played it before I did?
 

Jeff Almeyda

Senior Consultant
Another point that can be derived from this post is that those of us who are fortunate to have nice gear should truly appreciate how lucky we are.

I have many less experienced drummers telling me about how new gear (esp Axis pedals) and/or "new" techniques (heel-toe, open-close) will get them past a particular sticking point in their playing. Without fail, they have shoddy technique.

Never look outside of yourself for the cause. To do so abdicates responsibilty and, eventually, control.

I'm glad this guy got a good gig, btw. He earned it.
 

diosdude

Silver Member
Great story, makes me warm and fuzzy on the inside, but hey, don't forget all of those awesome drummers here on the forum who have awesome gear, booyah!!!! All you guys rock!!! I guess cool cats who can play rule, no matter what they're playing on, whether it be a Sonor SQ2 in Carnegie Hall or a couple empty 5 gallon plastic paint buckets in Grand Central station.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
That's the best thing I read here. Thanks Jay, you really are appreciated here. I like how you cut through the facade and get to the heart of things. Thanks for the great reminder.
 

skeets101

Junior Member
I've been reading on these forums for quite a bit and thought i'd make my first post. This story is very heart warming and also displays the idea that someone can do what they really love because it's how they actually feel and not how there kit makes them feel. In my 36 years i've probably played the drums a grand total of about 10 hours but always felt I had some kind of natural ability. I sold some stuff recently and bought my very first new drum kit. I love it, it's mine, I worked hard for it and i'm keeping it. I hope one day to pass the kit on to my Daughter or Son so that the kit becomes more than just a bunch of skins and chrome. Maybe one day they'll learn to play the drums, and play them well, but even if they're not that good at least they'll be playing on their Dads old kit.....beautiful. Thanks for a spiritually uplifting story, I'm glad to be human (with a drum kit!!!).
 

tezzerii

Member
I loved that story. And I've been playing the same kit now for 30 odd years, and it still looks good and sounds good - I couldn't sell it, we've been thru too much together !! I hate playing other kits, cos I'm so used to mine; it fits like a glove - behind my own kit I'm home.
Having said that, I looked at a nice new 1-up 2-down kit in a shop the other day, and thought wow, I'd love to buy it. But no way. So I rearranged my kit, and it looks fab, even better. I can afford new heads every few years, I've never had to pawn the kit, so altho I can't really afford a new one, after reading that, I guess I'm very lucky.
 

eddiehimself

Platinum Member
In my 36 years i've probably played the drums a grand total of about 10 hours but always felt I had some kind of natural ability.
I think we all feel that about drumming first off. You go through phases where you just seem to get worse and worse on the drums. That's just because you get better at picking up on mistakes. Then you get better again through practice.

This really is funny because you hear all those silly kids who are just like "my instrument is holding me back" which is clearly not true because loads of greats managed to play on what might be considered today to be "crap" instruments.
 

canada_rokzz

Senior Member
Great story, makes me warm and fuzzy on the inside, but hey, don't forget all of those awesome drummers here on the forum who have awesome gear, booyah!!!! All you guys rock!!! I guess cool cats who can play rule, no matter what they're playing on, whether it be a Sonor SQ2 in Carnegie Hall or a couple empty 5 gallon plastic paint buckets in Grand Central station.
I was in Nashville a few years ago, and watched a street performer playing 3 5 gallon buckets and a big pot lid for a cymbal. Across the street was a guy playing an old dented steel dobro with a small battery powered amp. Even playing across Broadway from eachother, they were jammin together. I gave em both 10 bux cause it was the best show I had seen that whole night! That guy with the buckets rocked!
 
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