Ever the emphatic artist, drummer Dave King is most famous as a founding member of the contemporary trio “The Bad Plus”. Rooted in jazz, The Bad Plus has taken creative music to a new abstract height, examining reinterpretations of works by artists as diverse as Stravinsky, Nirvana and Tears for Fears. However, his re-definition of a performing musician’s role has not been limited to TB+, his personal side projects, or even the drumset. In this article, we’ll explore Dave’s love of comedy, visual art, and the creative process behind his music.
Ben Scholz - The first time I saw you perform with The Bad Plus was at The Old Town School of Folk Music and I remember coming away from that performance thinking “Wow, these guys must have rehearsed these songs a thousand times before they performed them live.” Can you give me a window into your preparation process when it comes to learning new material?
Dave King - Sure, one thing that’s interesting is the fact that we don’t rehearse very much. A lot of people talk about how the music sounds like something that we’ve run many times, and that’s really not true. Everyone in the group learns music really quickly, and we have a long history of playing together as a band. When you have a working band, these are some of the “fruits” of sticking together. You can develop a process that not only moves quickly but also benefits from the fact that we understand each other. There’s no second guessing what the motive is.
Typically, everyone writes separately. So, everyone in the band is a composer and when we have new music we rehearse it at sound check. I might sit at the piano with Ethan, sometimes there are charts, sometimes not. My music typically doesn’t have charts because Ethan and I tend to learn by rote memory. One of the benefits to learning things by rote is that it really helps us memorize and develop skills. I will typically sit at the piano and play my music for them. Reid typically brings out charts for his music and Ethan sometimes has charts for his music. I’ve used charts a few times, but only when I’ve had something that people really need to look at.
Basically, we bring new music in and shed it at sound check. If everyone’s feeling ok the day we learn it, we’ll try it that night. That’s sort of the trial by fire that we’re into. Typically when we play live shows we do play new, unrecorded music in order to keep things fresh. Because we tour so much, and don’t want to be one of those bands that plays the same music every night, we write a different set every show. Now that we have so many records and have been around for so long, its really fun to think about stuff we haven’t played in a while. Sometimes we’ll get requests for things and we’ll have to remember old songs really quickly. With the exception of “The Rite of Spring”, we never have charts on stage. That’s the one thing we don’t do.
BPS - I was fortunate enough to perform at The Artist’s Quarter in St. Paul before they closed last year. I know that you’re from Minneapolis, can you talk about your history with the Twin Cities’ music scene and what that club meant to the musicians in St. Paul/Minneapolis?
DK - Well, The Artist’s Quarter’s closing left a huge hole in the local music scene. That club meant a great deal to the creative musicians,here,number one because it was a club run by musicians. There was no restaurant, it was just an old school jazz club. Just drinks, a stage, and a nice piano. It had room for 200 plus people, yet it was intimate and it was where I developed a lot of my groups. The first Bad Plus shows were at The Artist’s Quarter back when we just went by our names. We weren’t even called “The Bad Plus” yet. Those guys would fly in from New York and I had moved back to Minneapolis from Los Angeles. This would have been in the mid 90’s. I started playing there again right away and they were really supportive of my band “Happy Apple”. That band kind of grew out of that club.
The Twin Cities area is famous for its music scene and The Artists’s Quarter was a great place for jazz and creative music. The scene is well known for rock and hip-hop, however there is a strong contingency of jazz musicians here, so it was a really important place. I’m glad you had a chance to play there because it was one of the great jazz clubs in America. It wasn’t corporate-y or anything, you know? We’re all feeling it, I’m raising my children here and there’s no place like that for them to hear this music. I played there for years with people like Anthony Cox and Bill Carothers, and it was a real breeding ground for the music. Heavyweights like Roy Haynes were friends with the family that owned the club and they’d play The Artists’ Quarter every time they came through town. Now there aren’t a lot of options other than the higher-ticket price type of places that can afford to bring in touring acts. So yeah, we’re feeling it. We’re feeling the loss.
BPS - Absolutely, I understand. So, one thing I’ve noticed is the fact that you tend to inject a fair amount of humor into your live shows as well as your overall presence as an artist. Your sense of light heartedness reminds me of Matt Wilson. Has his sense of humor been an influence on your musical personality?
DK - Laughs. No, not really. I like him, he’s a nice guy but I don’t know him really well. We came up around the same time in the 90’s while I was doing Happy Apple and he was doing The Arts and Crafts band. I’ve only met him a few times over the years at festivals when he was playing with Charlie Haden.
I’ve always felt like the music will say what it needs to say, and taking yourself too seriously doesn’t do the music any real kind of justice. Staring at your shoes, or burying yourself in charts etc. For me, the music is joyous and I want the evening to be kind of a surreal experience for people. I feel like The Bad Plus has always followed that track as well. Talking to the audience in a way that feels more familial and just being more relaxed and unscripted.
If anything, I feel like I relate more to comedic people as opposed to say a musician who’s funny. Honestly, I’m not sure what Matt does that’s funny because I’ve never seen him live with his own band.
BPS - Oh, really?
DK - Like I said, I’ve met him a couple times, I’ve heard his recordings and no disrespect but I just haven’t checked him out that much. I don’t really know what he does, so I wouldn’t be able to tell you what he does that’s “lighthearted”. I’ve seen him play with Charlie Haden though, and he sounded great.
BPS - You mentioned comedians and the comedic “style" as an influence on your performances, can you elaborate on that?
DK - When I was growing up in the 80’s, David Letterman was on late at night and he was much more abstract than he has been since hitting the big time. I don’t know how old you are, but Letterman in the 80’s was really surreal, dark, and funny. I would watch Letterman religiously and I feel like that opened me up to a certain level of surreal rapport with an audience. That experience helped me realize a way of being serious and abstract at the same time. Being in the Twin Cities and watching a little black and white TV while in high school, I obsessed over Letterman and I feel like it left a mark on me. This idea of creating fantasies, basically creating scenarios where anything can happen.
If you were watching Letterman in the ‘80s, anything could happen. Andy Kaufman could come on and be insane, or he’d have Captain Beefheart as the musical guest. You don’t see that kind of thing anymore. So you were sort of wowed. Chris Elliott doing all these completely insane characters, drinking bottles of cooking oil, those guys were just out of their minds. That’s really where I would say the biggest influence for me lies. Taking myself seriously, but at the same time, leaving room for a surreal element.
BPS - That’s interesting, I guess I never really put those two together. I remember Dave Chappell commenting on the idea that all comedians want to be musicians and all musicians want to be comedians.
DK - Absolutely. Or visual artists, or whatever. Visual art is a huge thing for me and I spend huge amounts of time poring over art books and the different art movements throughout history. For instance, I would know more about a contemporary painter than I would about Matt Wilson. With no disrespect to Matt Wilson at all, he’s great, you know what I’m saying? We do music so we know music and of course I check out my peers a lot. I have my favorites, but I also spend a lot of time with visual arts and comedy as well.
BPS - You finished a tour with the Dave King Trucking Company this summer. Do you have any plans to record or tour in the near future?
DK - Absolutely. We’re going to make a new record hopefully sometime this winter. We’re hoping to tour more so we’re going to hook up with some European booking soon. I’ve been so busy with The Bad Plus that I try and fit other things in when I can. I also want to prioritize my trio with Bill Carothers, make a record in the spring, and tour with him.
Come 2016 I’m going to be working more than I have been in the past ten years with my own projects, alongside The Bad Plus. I’m going to constantly put out more records, but I want to tour with these bands as well.
A few months ago, in the article "School Band Percussion 101" we discussed ideas for newbie drummers looking to purchase their first instrument. As we approach the holiday season, the opportunity to augment your drummer’s arsenal of percussion tools is a great way to encourage them to practice during those cold winter months.
There are a lot of great options out there, and narrowing down the list can be daunting. Take a look at this guide for some suggestions on what to get to spread the holiday vibes.
If your beginning drummer has a habit of leaving sticks all over the practice room floor, what better gift than a drum stick bag? This handy case is a percussion implement essential and most models easily hold a dozen pairs of sticks, mallets, brushes etc. We recommend the Zildjian T3255 Nylon Drumstick as an entry level option. For drummers looking for a larger “toolbox” check out the Ludwig Lx31 Atlas Pro, complete with shoulder strap and side pocket.
Help your percussionist learn the art of drum tuning with this helpful digital device. Developed by Overtone labs, the tune-bot was modeled after digital guitar headstock tuning devices. Features such as pitch measurement, overtone filters, and save slots allow drummers to find optimal pitch ranges and save preferred tunings.
When all those overtones are slowing your drummer’s roll, give them the most popular dampening device available. Moongel is a self-adhesive, washable non-toxic gel that sticks to the surface of drum heads, cymbals and most percussion instruments. Cheap and effective, a tub of Moongel is an essential tool in any drummer's stick bag.
Easily the most crucial component in any drummer’s rig, a quality drum key can save both time and fingertips when it comes to tuning and setting up. For drummers looking for a multi-tool we recommend the Evans DATK Torque Drum Key. Complete with an ergonomic grip for maximum comfort, a knurled knob for quick spinning, and a slip-resistant magnetic head, the torque drum key makes the job easy. The torque drum key’s handle can also be set to a desired tension to help attain more accurate tuning.
Though we discussed the topic of metronomes in our last article, it bears mentioning a second time, that a quality time keeper is perhaps the most important tool for any musician. A simple device such as the Korg MA-30 will help keep the beat, while the Boss DB-60 offers a full range of rhythm patterns, looping functions and tuning options. For a more classic feel, the Wittner 803M Wood-Case Metronome is a great addition to any practice room or recital hall.
Within the creative music world at large, trombone-led projects tend to occupy a niche within a niche. By far the least common among the three typical “jazz” horn types, ‘bone"players are forced to contend with an mid to low range instrument that does not tune easily and is usually cast in a supporting role within the band. It comes as no surprise that the list of well known projects by jazz trombone soloists/leaders is short, at least in comparison to the plethora of saxophone and trumpet innovators. However, many landmark recordings such as Carl Fontana’s “The Great Fontana”, JJ Johnson’s “Spirit of the Horn”, and Frank Rosolino’s “Fond Memories” represent a huge part of our jazz heritage’s foundation.
On his debut recording “Green Ruins”, trombonist Luke Malewicz presents a collection of original compositions with a somewhat unconventional lineup including Rich Moore on tenor saxophone, Andrew Toombs on piano, Tim Seisser on electric bass, and Makaya McCraven on drums. Born in Nowa Sol, Poland, Malewicz immigrated to the United States when he was 20 years old. After graduating from Manhattan School of Music, Luke settled in Chicago and began a busy career performing both stateside and in Europe.
The opening track “Basso Blue” makes no bones (no pun intended) about the fact that this is a trombone led project with its low, rhythmic ostinato featuring Malewicz and Moore. The tune then leads into a fairly straight forward 15 bar jazz samba solo section with an interesting breakdown before the head out. “Heathers” features a trombone melody coupled with a delicate chord structure and piano solo by Toombs. Again, the overall rhythmic feel of this tune is a jazz samba, though McCraven does an excellent job of differentiating between these first two tracks.
The “Sliv” opens with a quick 12/4 pattern that transitions into a floaty ECM feel on the bridge transitioning into a trombone solo. The opening pattern is extremely catchy, and could have warranted an entire tune on its own. Moore plays an angular solo over the groove before the band heads out with the mellower transition. “Rooftops” is a groove ballad that begins with a piano cadence by Toombs before continuing into Joshua Redman sounding tenor sax melody. Seisser performs his first solo of the album accompanied by McCraven; notably playing with sticks in lieu of brushes for the entire piece. Malewicz continues the solo lineup before performing a lush duet melody during the headout.
The title track “Green Ruins” was inspired by “Buildings ravaged and overgrown by time. Crumbled bricks. Climbing vines. These are the green ruins of my past.”. In the liner notes of the album, Malewicz pays tribute to his mentors Tim Coffman and Luis Bonilla, as well as family and friends. The inspiration for the final track “My Fair Waltz” reads - “This song is written for my family. I could not have come this far without you.” Both songs reflect a strong introspective personality and this sense of vision radiates throughout the entire album.
Chicago based drummer/percussionist/composer Juan Pastor's latest release Chinchano represents a successful fusion of traditional latin rhythms, and modern jazz sensibilities. Born and raised in Lima, Peru, Pastor made his way to Chicago after studying at DePaul University. Featuring equal amounts of cajon, drum set, and other percussion items, Chinchano briskly covers a range of latin inspired patterns including Afro 6/8, Lando, Waltz, Festejo and Cumbia. The opening track "Fina Estampa" features a cajon intro and some excellent traded solos by Marquis Hill and Richard Moore. "Chakana" features some interesting sus chord harmony by Stuart Mindeman and a solo by bassist Jorge Roeder.
Pastor experiments with a more "ECM" floating feel on the tune "En Otro Talvez," while "Negra Presuntuosa" features a Lando pattern in 6 and gives way to a more traditional modern jazz feel at the end of the track. "Lucia" is reminiscent of a Steps Ahead style ballad and Keyboardist/Producer Paul Mutzabaugh lends a beautiful Hammond B3 harmony to the mix.
While this album prominently features polyrhythms in groupings of six, surprisingly few of the patterns actually fall into the well known "Afro-Cuban 6/8" style. With the exception of a clave here and there, most of the actual patterns are set by the cajon and do not feature any sort of lead voice from a bell or cascara sound. "Tiene Picante" comes as close to a traditional "Afro-Cuban 6/8" pattern as any track on the album, though the feel is fluid and dynamic, especially during the drum solo.
One of the more unique tracks on this album, "Avellana" experiments with a Coltrane-ish free jazz vibe before the chord changes set up the melody. Obviously a nod to keyboardist Stuart Mindeman, "Amigo Stu" prominently features a bass/piano left hand unison riff and the combination of muted trumpet and clarinet provides an interesting texture in the melody. The final track "Andino" works in a bass and cajon dialog interspersed with melodies and solos by both Pastor and Roeder.
Long dominated by Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Brazilian artists such as Gonzalo Rubalcaba, David Sanchez, and Eliane Elias, the Modern Latin Jazz genre has now been graced with a new element in its sonic palate. Juan Pastor's "Chinchano" proves that traditional Peruvian music has found its place among the styles of jazz that define the artform.
Kid - “I wanna join band.”
Parent - “That’s wonderful! What instrument do you want to play?”
Kid - “The drums!”
Parent - (Radio silence)
Parents, if this conversation sounds familiar you may be suffering from a case of “percussive misinformativ-itis”. However, you should have no reason to fear. Far from a chronic headache of blast-beats and drum rolls, band percussion can be a literal symphony of sounds and textures. A burgeoning percussion student will soon discover that the decision to “play the drums” in school means learning all the note-reading skills of his/her peers as well as developing proficiency on a half-dozen unique instruments. Oftentimes however, this instrument choice can quickly become overwhelming as parents feel the pressure to decide what gear to buy.
The most obvious first instrument choice for a new percussion student is a snare drum. Beginning lessons will focus on stick technique and rudiments, so a snare kit with a stand, case and sticks is an essential piece of gear. We recommend the Ludwig LE2477RBR drum kit with rolling bag as a first purchase for your new drummer.
Within any music program, a multitude of options exist for new instrumentalists looking to explore the percussive arts. Concert band and orchestra will usually require an entrance audition, and ensembles such as marching band and jazz band may or may not be extra-curricular. As I’ve written before, the process of choosing correct sticks depends on what type of music your student will be performing. Band and orchestra will require specific sticks, as well as mallets for timpani and xylophone. We recommend the Vic Firth SD1 General, the Vic Firth T1 Timpani Mallets, and the Mike Balter “Band Director’s Special” pre-pack.
If your student gravitates towards drumset, jazz band may be an appropriate choice. Most programs require students to audition for a concert band spot, and jazz band class may not be included as part of the curricular program. While drumset may be the obvious choice for jazz oriented percussionists, vibraphone is also an option and the request to “play vibes” will definitely perk up any director’s ears. For drumset, we recommend the Vic Firth VF 7A Wood Tip drumsticks and the Regal Tip Classic Telescoping Brushes. The Gretsch Catalina Club Kit is also an inexpensive standard drum set for students looking for a be-bop trap set. For vibraphone, we recommend the Mike Balter Pro Vibe 23 Mallets with rattan handles.
Drumline and marching band go hand-in-hand with football season, and this activity requires a special set of implements. Most, if not all, programs provide drums, and depending on the assigned spot, it is a good idea to purchase a personal set of sticks or mallets. For percussionists in the drum line, we recommend the Vic Firth Ralph Hardimon SRH Marching Snare Drumstick, the Vic Firth Corpsmaster Multi Tenor Stick or the Vic Firth Corpsmaster Marching Bass Drum Mallet. Side note - if your student is playing marching bass drum in the line, be sure to purchase the correct mallet that corresponds to the size of his/her drum. If your percussionist is performing in the front-ensemble (pit), we recommend the Mike Balter Chorale Series Birch Handle Marimba Mallets and the Vic Firth T3 Staccato Timpani Mallets. Again, the Mike Balter “Band Director’s Special” pre-pack is a good investment as your student will likely perform on more than one instrument if he/she is placed in the front-ensemble.
It is important to note that this guide is intended for percussionists who are entering their school music programs without much if any prior experience. As your student progresses, choices will be made regarding instrument specialties and style preferences. Mallet/keyboard instruments such as marimbas and vibraphones can cost thousands of dollars and tend to take up a large foot-print of space in a house or apartment. Timpani can be even more expensive, and transportation alone requires a large van or truck. Even a drum set can be a financial and spatial investment. While no student should be discouraged from pursuing a specialized percussion instrument due to cost or space concerns, most band programs provide access to these instruments during school hours. Every attempt to take advantage of school-owned equipment should be made before a student commits to purchasing his/her instrument.
On a final note, I would like to mention the fact that a percussionist’s best friend is his/her metronome. No setup is complete without a quality time-keeper and most brands can be adapted to project through headphones or an amplifier in high-volume situations. We recommend the Boss DB-60 Dr. Beat Metronome for general applications. Drum set musicians will also appreciate the Vic Firth SIH1 Isolation Headphones. These headphones feature an internal metronome as well as volume control, and a line-in for playback and monitor mixes.
Well, there you have it. We hope that this guide provides you with the tools to properly equip your budding percussionist. Remember, there is no substitute for a good teacher, and music education can provide a young person a lifetime of opportunity and enjoyment in the arts.