Accomplished Drummers Make Bad Records?

KlarkKent

Senior Member
For a fun debate: Why do you think certain highly accomplished drummers make near "unlistenable" albums?

For example, Chad Wackerman, Dave Weckl, Manu Katche, Stewart Copeland, and Billy Cobham have all recorded various solo albums, and yet I frequently have educated non-drumming friends complain about how awful they are. I hear comments like Manu's work (Neighborhood or Playground) is "muzak-ish" or Wackerman (e.g., Forty Reasons) is flat out "boring," etc. I have even had many complain about some of Tony Williams's Emergency stuff as getting the "F" grade for being boringly technical.

These remarks remind me of an interview with The Cure's old drummer, Boris Williams, back in Modern Drummer from around 1988 or 1989. Williams was an accomplished drummer and loved stuff like Weather Report, but after playing with The Cure for a couple of years, he said that he felt like the greater challenge was the ability to write a really good pop song versus playing technical, more complex music (I'm paraphrasing his comments from memory) which may not appeal to a mass audience.

Jojo Mayer even commented on this phenomenon recently (in an interview in Modern Drummer, I think, from a couple months ago). He was having dinner with friends at his house and someone asked him to put on some of his music. He said he suddenly realized that he didn't create any kind of music that would be suitable or listenable for social or relaxed situations; he didn't really create, I suppose, a kind of music to be enjoyed by a wider, non-technical audience.

With so much training and talent, one would think that these kinds of highly proficient drummers (Katche, Mayer, Weckl, etc.) could create a thoroughly enjoyable form of music--meaning something that could be enjoyed by a larger audience than just those of us jazz nerds, drum nerds, or music specialists.

What do you all think? Is this "phenomenon" bollocks? Or do you think there is some truth to it?
 

Bo Eder

Platinum Member
I believe there's some truth here. As I've seen here there is a split between people who are "musos" (the musician types, for lack of a better term), and regular people.

Jojo Mayer probably is part of the former. In fact, I have his Prohibitive Beats CD and nobody I know likes it. His jazz album is a little on the edgy side as well and not really meant to be background music for a dinner party.

But it's a fine line between making an album for the pop crowd versus the muso crowd. I think you must just pick one side and go for it, because you can't release a schizophrenic album - then people will hate it and tell others to hate it, which is worse than people buying it and not talking about it....

When I look back at a band like the Yellowjackets, it's unfathomable how they did it. Freewheeling improvisation and great tunes that you can whistle....and musicians love them, and so do their wives/girlfriends! How'd they pull that off?
 

Retrovertigo

Senior Member
i think it's very true. i call it "players music" and i just cant enjoy it at all. i know im the minority when it comes to this stuff. i just cant stand when the song writing takes a back seat to the playing. and i feel like the guys who are expected to dazzle us with technical prowess put out lame music trying to fulfill that niche. my list of the offenders is total heresy around these parts so i'll refrain but it's the usual guys for sure.
 

Bo Eder

Platinum Member
i think it's very true. i call it "players music" and i just cant enjoy it at all. i know im the minority when it comes to this stuff. i just cant stand when the song writing takes a back seat to the playing. and i feel like the guys who are expected to dazzle us with technical prowess put out lame music trying to fulfill that niche. my list of the offenders is total heresy around these parts so i'll refrain but it's the usual guys for sure.
The list would be long and distinguished!
 

Pollyanna

Platinum Member
Good thread idea, Klark. I used to be obsessed with muso music, pretty weird for a girl haha. I probably smoked too much pot and got so far up my drummer's arse that all I could see was the music's intestines (and we know what they are full of). I had dozens of uber-technical fusion and prog albums with all the character, personality and charm of a soggy dishcloth.

In hindsight I can think of a few that have stood the test of time, that offered something more than just technical excellence - Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, Frank Zappa, King Crimson, Steely Dan, Michal Urbaniak etc.

The bands were generally cool but the solo records ... pet projects of guys who spent years developing their craft and never got a chance to use half those things in the sessions they played ... it seems they just needed to get that stuff out of their systems and much of it has the quality of the "recycled food" that we can't digest and need to expel from our bodies on a daily basis :)
 

Steamer

Platinum Member
For a fun debate: Why do you think certain highly accomplished drummers make near "unlistenable" albums?

For example, Chad Wackerman, Dave Weckl, Manu Katche, Stewart Copeland, and Billy Cobham have all recorded various solo albums, and yet I frequently have educated non-drumming friends complain about how awful they are. I hear comments like Manu's work (Neighborhood or Playground) is "muzak-ish" or Wackerman (e.g., Forty Reasons) is flat out "boring," etc. I have even had many complain about some of Tony Williams's Emergency stuff as getting the "F" grade for being boringly technical.

These remarks remind me of an interview with The Cure's old drummer, Boris Williams, back in Modern Drummer from around 1988 or 1989. Williams was an accomplished drummer and loved stuff like Weather Report, but after playing with The Cure for a couple of years, he said that he felt like the greater challenge was the ability to write a really good pop song versus playing technical, more complex music (I'm paraphrasing his comments from memory) which may not appeal to a mass audience.

Jojo Mayer even commented on this phenomenon recently (in an interview in Modern Drummer, I think, from a couple months ago). He was having dinner with friends at his house and someone asked him to put on some of his music. He said he suddenly realized that he didn't create any kind of music that would be suitable or listenable for social or relaxed situations; he didn't really create, I suppose, a kind of music to be enjoyed by a wider, non-technical audience.

With so much training and talent, one would think that these kinds of highly proficient drummers (Katche, Mayer, Weckl, etc.) could create a thoroughly enjoyable form of music--meaning something that could be enjoyed by a larger audience than just those of us jazz nerds, drum nerds, or music specialists.

What do you all think? Is this "phenomenon" bollocks? Or do you think there is some truth to it?
What do I think? For the record I find nothing "boring" or boring from a detached technical viewpoint about anything on Tony Williams for solo album Emergency. Just some amazing ensemble music played with great feel, intent and conviction from all 3 musicians involved at the time. Is it challenging and demanding on the listener in several aspects {not just focusing on the drumming as a seperate voice}?...yes. Does it take me to another listening/learning plateaux even after all these years since it was recorded?... oh yes!

My {musician ears} subjective as always in these discussion 2 cents on that one point of reference in the post.....
 

brady

Platinum Member
All of Ringo's solo records are great... :)

Charlie Watts has some fine jazz recordings out there too. I have to say I didn't like the project with Jim Keltner too much though. That was so not what I expected.
 

KlarkKent

Senior Member
Good feedback!

Stan: Bo and Polly hit it on the head. I agree with you about the Tony Emergency recordings--it is indeed music made with great feel and intent, but at the same time it is, for lack of a better phrase, "PhD music" for the more sophisticated listener.

I just marvel at the fact that very few super-educated musicians/drummers seem capable of making music on, say, a Peter Gabriel kind of level, meaning something that can be inspired and played with feel and skill but also reach an incredibly wide audience. Why didn't Tony and McLaughlin make a pop-inspired album, given the heyday of The Beatles, Crimson, Hendrix, Cream, etc.?? Perhaps because if they did, they'd be crucified by the intelligentsia of the jazz world? Or, do such musicians consider the Beatlesque pop song an inferior musical art form?

I think the closest example I can think of at the moment of someone who fills this void is Stanton Moore: he has got chops and drum street creds, yet his work with Galactic and his various solo projects can crossover into "jam band" territory and entertain a very wide audience.

If you try playing Mahavishnu Orchestra or Williams Emergency or Weckl, etc. to the same audience, it will most likely fall utterly flat (and I have seen this happen countless times when I have attempted to switch from, say, Gabriel/Cream/Hendrix/The Police to Emergency or Weather Report or Return to Forever--people look at me with that "what-the-hell-did-you-just-put-on" kind of look). Does that say something about the lack of education and musical education of mass culture? Sure does! But it also says something about more sophisticated music having its limitations.

For example, in the fallout of 9/11, many artists have created works commenting on the very problematic nature of U.S. politics, profiling, strife in the Middle East, you name it. Jazz phenom Vijay Iyer worked with Mike Ladd (I believe that's his name) and produced an album called In What Language?, which is a brilliant jazz/funk/spoken-word kind of hybrid project that critiques the politics of problems within globalization and matters of race and identity. Bruce Springsteen does this too with The Rising, and so does Living Colour with Collideoscope. The Iyer/Ladd album is almost unplayable for my friends or acquaintances who are not really into music or the arts heavily; conversely, Springsteen and, to a lesser degree, Living Colour can make their message appeals perhaps more easily because they play a kind of music more palatable to the "mass" ear.

I have friends who work in academia/literature field, and they see the same problem happening there. James Joyce's Ulysses or T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land" or Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow are accessible and "life-changing" in such an incredibly small way when compared to something like Orwell's 1984 or Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. It sort of exposes the problem of high art: extreme talent requiring super extreme education in order to be understood. Can that art truly be effective, then, if it only reaches a small sophisticated ear or remains trapped in museums or jazz at The Lincoln Center, or the like "upper-class" venues?

I look for the day that young players take jazz back to the streets, and out of the snobby jazz clubs of D.C., Chicago, and NYC. I long to see jazz jams in the streets, on college campus quads, etc. I would like to see a reintegration of the sophisticated music into the popular sphere, but I have a hard time seeing how it might happen or be successful.
 
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KlarkKent

Senior Member
All of Ringo's solo records are great... :)

Charlie Watts has some fine jazz recordings out there too. I have to say I didn't like the project with Jim Keltner too much though. That was so not what I expected.
Good point, Brady. This kind of reverses the debate: popular players or styles injected into jazz or fusion settings. Branford Marsalis was attacked by critics for playing with Sting back in the 1980s, and jazz guitarist Anthony Wilson's most recent album, which has jazzer Jeff Hamilton and groover Keltner on it, falls quite flat, mainly because, to my ears, Keltner's playing sounds awful in the jazz setting.
 

Pollyanna

Platinum Member
Why didn't Tony and McLaughlin make a pop-inspired album, given the heyday of The Beatles, Crimson, Hendrix, Cream, etc.?? Perhaps because if they did, they'd be crucified by the intelligentsia of the jazz world? Or, do such musicians consider the Beatlesque pop song an inferior musical art form?
Klark, I don't think it's either. The reason Tony & John play the music they do is they prefer less literal expression to what appeals to mainstream listeners - more complex, subtle and nuanced. The emotions expressed in rock and pop are far more explicit than in art music. So the way Rage Against the Machine in Killing in the Name expresses intensity of emotion is quite different to how Mahavishnu O did it in Birds of Fire, but in some ways the intent is similar - the fires that burn in the human spirit.

We all feel most comfortable expressing ourselves in certain ways. Meg too :)
 

Bo Eder

Platinum Member
Meg who?

Anyway, I find it interesting when an artist like Eddie Van Halen says "I don't want to do a solo project, what I do is a solo project". The guys in Rush have said the same thing. Even the guys in Led Zeppelin to an extent. I guess if you can find the right vehicle for yourself, then you don't have to go looking outside for something you think you've lost!

Robert Fripp said about his friend, Brian Eno, that when Eno was in Roxy Music, prior to his departure from the band he was told "It's time for a solo career". What this really meant was that he was about to get fired from the band!
 
C

Crazy8s

Guest
I look for the day that young players take jazz back to the streets, and out of the snobby jazz clubs of D.C., Chicago, and NYC. I long to see jazz jams in the streets, on college campus quads, etc. I would like to see a reintegration of the sophisticated music into the popular sphere, but I have a hard time seeing how it might happen or be successful.
Jazz is dead man. Sorry. Nights spent chillin to real jazz with a scotch in one hand and a cigar in the other are no longer...unless you are at home. Why? Because you can't smoke in clubs! It may be silly to think that banning smoking in clubs also meant banning music in clubs, but that is what it means. Add to this the stigma/taboo of drug use, and you sink even more nails in the coffin of adventuresome music.

The powers that be have insisted on a certain 'sterility' in our culture, and since so many bought the lie, sterility is what we get. Welcome to the New World Order. Sterility in all forms of art is what is to be expected....

There is hope, however. Individually, we can demand more, and we can relearn to enjoy our differences instead of purging out those who aren't donning white wool. Collectively, we can reach out to our neighbors and see them as friends instead of the enemies this NWO wants us to believe they are.

....but aside from all of that, 'musician's music' is intended for musicians to enjoy and understand. Not as much the layperson, though certainly some of those folks can get into it too. Adventuresome music hasn't really gone anywhere. It's more that the torch has been passed and the generation that holds it is firmly planted into this electronic conflagration known as the internet.

The internet has a million times more music than any soul can absorb in a lifetime, but for the most part it is totally detached as there is relatively little 'life' in a recording as compared to a live performance. Perhaps someday we will be able to use the internet in a manner that hosts true live collective/group performance that can be channeled into our homes where we can indulge in whatever vice fits us or no vice at all. I don't encourage anyone to take up any 'vices', but we can't forget how many of the artists who have been listed in this thread already certainly have brought those vices into their musicality....

Getting into rambling mode...sorry... I'm outty.

Peace,
 

KlarkKent

Senior Member
Klark, I don't think it's either. The reason Tony & John play the music they do is they prefer less literal expression to what appeals to mainstream listeners - more complex, subtle and nuanced. The emotions expressed in rock and pop are far more explicit than in art music. So the way Rage Against the Machine in Killing in the Name expresses intensity of emotion is quite different to how Mahavishnu O did it in Birds of Fire, but in some ways the intent is similar - the fires that burn in the human spirit.

We all feel most comfortable expressing ourselves in certain ways. Meg too :)
I agree, but this still does not address the larger perhaps philosophical problem of how to break sophisticated or nuanced art into a wider sphere. The Modernists tried to do it in the early twentieth century and failed, to a degree; high jazz or free jazz tried to find a more complex, challenging expression than modal jazz of the Fifties, and, to a large degree, failed to connect with society.

At the end of the day, art like music and literature are about communication--they are not meant to exist in a vacuum. Without public exposure and interaction, one could argue that art is useless (see Alfonso Cuaron's treatment of art in the film Children of Men).

I'd rather have Mahavishnu or Emergency or Weather Report set up camp in a public park, play, and introduce/talk about each song than find them relegated to venues that only the wealthy or well educated (or both) have access to. Kind of like what one of my jazz guitarist friends once said, "Wynton Marsalis has done more to make jazz a museum piece for the rich than to popularize and bring jazz to all."
 

KlarkKent

Senior Member
Meg who?

Anyway, I find it interesting when an artist like Eddie Van Halen says "I don't want to do a solo project, what I do is a solo project". The guys in Rush have said the same thing. Even the guys in Led Zeppelin to an extent. I guess if you can find the right vehicle for yourself, then you don't have to go looking outside for something you think you've lost!

Robert Fripp said about his friend, Brian Eno, that when Eno was in Roxy Music, prior to his departure from the band he was told "It's time for a solo career". What this really meant was that he was about to get fired from the band!
And look what's happened to Eno: brilliant man, brilliant music, but who ever hears of it?? Unless he's programming or writing for someone like U2.
 

KlarkKent

Senior Member
The powers that be have insisted on a certain 'sterility' in our culture, and since so many bought the lie, sterility is what we get. Welcome to the New World Order. Sterility in all forms of art is what is to be expected....
Hmmmmmm....Interesting point. Critics of the post-WWII era would totally agree (Adorno and the Frankfurt School), and the revamped conservatism of the 1980s (Thatcher and Reagan) did a lot to damage the arts.

Good point.
 

Kevin Jorrey

Junior Member
There is a very nice, laid back, and chill jazz bar here in Toledo, Ohio called Murphy's. No one judges you. You just go there and can drink beer,wine, whiskey, or whatever tickles your fancy.

I do agree though that the smoking ban in most states(Ohio included) has done harm to music.

Everyone who is a smoker, or even to some extent a drinker, knows how good a smoke feels while relaxing with a beer or some wine.

I've noticed many people have to leave and go outside to smoke. They miss a good amount of music and sometimes key parts that could have made them life-long fans.
 

Bo Eder

Platinum Member
Hmmmmmm....Interesting point. Critics of the post-WWII era would totally agree (Adorno and the Frankfurt School), and the revamped conservatism of the 1980s (Thatcher and Reagan) did a lot to damage the arts.

Good point.
I don't know about the arts being 'damaged'. Sometimes I think it wouldn't be 'art' (or 'jazz') if it made money right off the bat. Tony Williams said the same thing about jazz. If it made alot of money it wouldn't be jazz anymore. Art as an institution always seems to thrive better when it's moving against whatever the popular culture is, and historically it might have always been this way, yes?
 

Deltadrummer

Platinum Member
Good feedback!

Stan: Bo and Polly hit it on the head. I agree with you about the Tony Emergency recordings--it is indeed music made with great feel and intent, but at the same time it is, for lack of a better phrase, "PhD music" for the more sophisticated listener.

I just marvel at the fact that very few super-educated musicians/drummers seem capable of making music on, say, a Peter Gabriel kind of level, meaning something that can be inspired and played with feel and skill but also reach an incredibly wide audience. Why didn't Tony and McLaughlin make a pop-inspired album, given the heyday of The Beatles, Crimson, Hendrix, Cream, etc.?? Perhaps because if they did, they'd be crucified by the intelligentsia of the jazz world? Or, do such musicians consider the Beatlesque pop song an inferior musical art form?

I think the closest example I can think of at the moment of someone who fills this void is Stanton Moore: he has got chops and drum street creds, yet his work with Galactic and his various solo projects can crossover into "jam band" territory and entertain a very wide audience.

If you try playing Mahavishnu Orchestra or Williams Emergency or Weckl, etc. to the same audience, it will most likely fall utterly flat (and I have seen this happen countless times when I have attempted to switch from, say, Gabriel/Cream/Hendrix/The Police to Emergency or Weather Report or Return to Forever--people look at me with that "what-the-hell-did-you-just-put-on" kind of look). Does that say something about the lack of education and musical education of mass culture? Sure does! But it also says something about more sophisticated music having its limitations.

For example, in the fallout of 9/11, many artists have created works commenting on the very problematic nature of U.S. politics, profiling, strife in the Middle East, you name it. Jazz phenom Vijay Iyer worked with Mike Ladd (I believe that's his name) and produced an album called In What Language?, which is a brilliant jazz/funk/spoken-word kind of hybrid project that critiques the politics of problems within globalization and matters of race and identity. Bruce Springsteen does this too with The Rising, and so does Living Colour with Collideoscope. The Iyer/Ladd album is almost unplayable for my friends or acquaintances who are not really into music or the arts heavily; conversely, Springsteen and, to a lesser degree, Living Colour can make their message appeals perhaps more easily because they play a kind of music more palatable to the "mass" ear.

I have friends who work in academia/literature field, and they see the same problem happening there. James Joyce's Ulysses or T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land" or Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow are accessible and "life-changing" in such an incredibly small way when compared to something like Orwell's 1984 or Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. It sort of exposes the problem of high art: extreme talent requiring super extreme education in order to be understood. Can that art truly be effective, then, if it only reaches a small sophisticated ear or remains trapped in museums or jazz at The Lincoln Center, or the like "upper-class" venues?

I look for the day that young players take jazz back to the streets, and out of the snobby jazz clubs of D.C., Chicago, and NYC. I long to see jazz jams in the streets, on college campus quads, etc. I would like to see a reintegration of the sophisticated music into the popular sphere, but I have a hard time seeing how it might happen or be successful.
Since you brought up academics . . I still don't read Pynchon. I handed in a 198 page paper to one of my profs for a PHD course in literature and he said to me "the only part I liked was the part about Gram Parsons." My references to Orwell and God forbid Ludlum were really looked down on. I told this to my bud who's also a PHD in Literature and I said "this is so indicative of the nonsense that you get in academia. If he had handed in a music paper to me and made references to Gram Parsons and Willie Nelson, I could most easily say, reference some Bartok, huh." It's okay for him as a literature scholar to see Parsons as a great musician, but I could not reference Ludlum as having written any thing worthy of copy. There are just as many people who think Joyce is a charlatan. Maybe art is all charlatanism

I think Lifetime is a good example because it creates the backdrop for Mahavishnu Orchestra, which was tremendously popular in its day, breaking the top 20. If you listen to Deep Purple of the period, you will hear that Ritchie Blackmore is influenced by Mclaughlin and vice versa. So the music is not happening in a vacuum and people are hearing it in some palettable form.. Remember Tony wanted Miles to tour with The Beatles.

Vijay Iyer or Brad Meldhau are another issue. They are writing some great and provocative music. And it makes me sad people aren't exposed to it. I think music, as has been said so many times, is that of access. The lack of access to good music has gone on too long. There has also been so much written about the dumbing down of culture; but I think that is the result. Kurt Weill said this and I think it is true. The artist must cultivate his audience. If you don't cultivate an audience over time, you do lose something.

We've created a culture of mindless consumers who haven't been challenged to really listen to music. It sounds cliche; but it is so true and you hear it not just in rock, but in jazz and in musical theater. The Golden Age of musical theater 1920-1960, the Golden age of jazz 1920-1970. The classic age of rock, 1965-1985. Even the tradition of the great composers is often viewed as dead.

Jazz at Lincoln Center does provide a vehicle for access. It becomes then so cliche to criticize it as a museum. I totally get that the most radical thing in a world of staunch revolution is conservativism. Vijay was there this week and I wanted to go but had to teach. So JALC is working.
 

KlarkKent

Senior Member
I think Lifetime is a good example because it creates the backdrop for Mahavishnu Orchestra, which was tremendously popular in its day, breaking the top 20. If you listen to Deep Purple of the period, you will hear that Ritchie Blackmore is influenced by Mclaughlin and vice versa. So the music is not happening in a vacuum and people are hearing it in some palettable form.. Remember Tony wanted Miles to tour with The Beatles.
Good points. The interaction between "high-art" music (Mahavishnu, Return to Forever, etc.) and rock and prog rock was a lot more present, perhaps, than now.

The artist must cultivate his audience. If you don't cultivate an audience over time, you do lose something.
That's exactly my point--how can art, especially more sophisticated art, reach a wider audience? Cultivating an audience involves questions of education, accessibility, the influence of the market, etc. It also requires the artist to think carefully about that connection...but it also begs perhaps the more important issue: the public's responsibility to pay attention to art. That responsibility has been damaged heavily by consumerism; for music, most notably by crap like American Idol.

We've created a culture of mindless consumers who haven't been challenged to really listen to music. It sounds cliche; but it is so true and you hear it not just in rock, but in jazz and in musical theater.
Yes! I agree!

Jazz at Lincoln Center does provide a vehicle for access. It becomes then so cliche to criticize it as a museum. I totally get that the most radical thing in a world of staunch revolution is conservativism. Vijay was there this week and I wanted to go but had to teach. So JALC is working.
I still disagree about the JALC example, to a degree. It is a vehicle for access, but a very narrow (perhaps elitist) one. Provide funding for musicians like Iyer, Marsalis, Redman, etc., to play average parks and festivals--to get out more and almost force an interaction with a general public, not just an appreciative public. Then we'll have more a vehicle to combat what you rightly call a "culture of mindless consumers."
 

aydee

Platinum Member
...

Steely Dan actually went about dealing with this phenom in a very thought-out kind of way. They actively tried to reconfigure jazz and R &B into pop for it to be palatable to a much larger audience then they would have otherwise had.
As Fagen said in an interview; " the jazz is hidden underneath our songs".

I tend to agree that musicians hear differently so we really aren't the best people to gauge what might be incredible listening pleasure, say to a chartered accountant.
However there are enough examples like Steely Dan in many genres, music that has something to say, is meaningful, with a high level of musicianship that is loved by a larger audience.

Still, its never going to equal a Brittany Spears or a Lady Gaga though, because the pop frontiers are by definition the lowest common denominators, and its pointless to compare it to music designed to appeal to everybody.
Like a Mao jacket. In China.

The original question I thought was if drummers can write great tunes?

Are they pre-engineered to write music in the same way as a pianist or a guitarist might be? I have thought of that and I do think there is somewhat of a preconceived prejudice that exists. Like, here's something cooked by the waiter, try it !"

Not true entirely though.. Tony Williams, Billy Cobham, Jack DeJohnette, all have written music that has endured over time. It is meaningless to compare that with the popularity of pop, because the motivation of creating pop music is very different. Billy's Red Baron and Stratus are still covered by bands all over the world. That means a lot, if you compare like to like.

Having said this, does the title of this thread suddenly bring to mind a slew of clunkers made by drummers? Unfortunately, that a yes.
 
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