Drummers, the Joneses and other influences


The composition Deranged Drums on Digital Vistas is nearly ready to be put together, I have over 50 ideas, that have been filling a notebook over the past few months, to work with plus a selection of soundscape interludes to complement the more traditional musical concepts.  All this but what about the drums and the derangement?  How will these fit in with the composition? Who/what will be the influences?  Now is the time to consider the whole and especially the main element in the work, the drum kit (or ‘set’ as it is known in America). 

There are only a few drummers who have made me stop, listen and listen again.  The three main ones are Steve Gadd, Elvin Jones and Spike Jones.  An eclectic mix but each one created an individual ‘signature’ sound, sometimes in a very percussive way, that immediately made me stop and think about what I was listening to and how it was conceived and produced.  The tense of the last few sentences is difficult to identify, especially as their body of work is recorded, but my memory of the sounds they created is as fresh and current today as it was when I first heard them over thirty years ago. 

The many Joneses that have influenced jazz and popular music styles can be quite confusing.  As far as I can discover: only Thad (trumpet), Hank (piano) and Elvin (drums) were related (all brothers), but other influential musicians with the Jones name have been inspirational during my career.  “Papa” Jo Jones and then Harold Jones (both on drums) were precise and emphatic with the Count Basie band, Philly Joe Jones as a main component in the music of Miles Davis and then the anarchy and precise musicianship of Spike Jones that had immediate appeal to a percussion attentive drummer (who also spent many hours experimenting with effects as part of theatre shows). 

The other main Jones influence was that of Quincy: composer, producer, musician, actor, arranger and musical director who managed collections of musicians in the invention of some of the most original (and profitable) recordings of all time.  The first impression of the music that Quincy Jones produced was the energy and excitement of the performances he had captured.  Some of the performers, when interviewed later, recalled how during the first hour of the session they talked, joked and relaxed, a typical social get together of musicians.  This friendly, exciting but relaxed environment was how Quincy Jones managed to obtain some uninhibited and brilliant performances, creative people management that achieved world-class results. 

The effortless sound, groove and drive that Elvin Jones produced was a revelation to me when I first heard it.  I remember listening over and over again to his playing and never tiring of the sound, it was fresh and I immediately became a fan.  Steve Gadd was so full of groove and some of these were his own creations, fusions of traditional music styles from North and South America that he developed and placed within popular music and jazz recordings.  This extra layer of interest from the drums intrigued me as a composer and arranger, the attention to detail that is needed to create interesting music within the confines of a particular style is something that has been part of my composition method since discovering the many bands and artists he performed with. 

The next few months will be taken up with the organising of the ideas, one of the most time consuming parts of composing.  The duration of the new work will be between twenty-five and thirty minutes and each time I work with the material it will take that amount of time to listen to the music unfold in my head and make sure the order makes sense to me.  In the creative cycle this is the period of enhancement, development, evaluation and implementation (action) but this process is cyclic as well.  The evaluation often leads back to generating or adapting ideas that will be evaluated and refined a number of times before the final version is considered acceptable.  The choices made are what makes each composer individual and is often the reason their ‘sound’ or ‘musical signature’ is recognisable. 

The structure of the music is defined by the landscape of a 360o photograph I have taken, looking from my current home of Yorkshire across to my birthplace in Lancashire.  No choices to be made here, the contours of the hills will dictate the order of the music.  This is a basis for the structure but there are many more layers to the vistas that have been pulled together to produce this image.  The sky, clouds and sun, the swathes of heather on the moors, woods, forests and gardens, the dry stone walls that look like someone has placed a layer of slightly crumpled graph acetate across the land, the buildings that grow out of the fields and congregate together to fill areas in a man-made patchwork of brick, stone, tile and wood. 

All these visual stimuli will suggest and inspire during the process of composing the music, the ‘Deranged’ part is a different concept that will be revealed when the work is complete.  Filled with all these processes and inspirations, the next few months promises to be an exciting (and sometimes exasperating) time but the thought of completing the music will keep me working.  Thank you again to the Joneses for the inspiration, and also Peter Erskine, Keith Moon, Birger Sulsbruck, Duke Ellington, Gil Evans, Benjamin Britten, Igor Stravinsky…


About derangeddrums

Composer, percussionist, musical director, teacher and educator. My music has been written for audiences in palaces and in the street. Music is my vocation and my passion and I hope you enjoy it too.
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