Monday, February 23, 2009

Message to a young percussionist.......

I'm not going to preach to anyone. It never did me much good. Rare is the individual wise enough to learn from observing and listening to others talk about their mistakes and not make the same ones. The human ego is such that we believe that we are immune and therefore must go through it ourselves to learn some of life's valuable lessons. No I will not preach, but rapidly coming up on 60 years of age, 37 years of which was spent playing my drums professionally, I can share some of my experiences which some of you may take to heart.
On the subject of talent let me say this. Our talent should be a source of humility. Some of us are born with more or less talent and Ive seen many with lots of natural talent never get where they wanted to go because of how they carried the gift around. I'll let you be the judge over how talented I am. There are many examples of my playing abilities on these pages. I'm smart enough to know that I had to work hard to get to the point that I achieved whereas with others it came much easier. Even though this was the case, I worked steady for years because I practised some other important behaviors beside the playing. Let your talent do your talking, you don't have to keep reminding everyone all the time how well you play. That gets tired real quick. Two, try to fit in with the situation. There may be other members of the group whom you don't particularly care for. The sound of the group is the priority and takes precedent over any petty rivalries. Please be on time for the gig, in fact be a little early. Making a group of musicians wait for you is selfish to say the least and will not make you any friends. Of course there will be unavoidable delays and an apology goes a long way towards good will.
Now Im going to talk about the dirty little secret most don't even want to think about, drugs and alcohol. Of those 37 years of playing, I spent nearly 20 of them under the influence of one chemical or another. To me, it made perfect sense that the word RUM was inside the word DRUM. I smoked lots of bud and sniffed and smoked a lot of cocaine during those 20 years as well. Now me and my fellow musicians fooled ourselves into believing that we played better under the influence. It's just not true. In fact it's a lie that has destroyed many talented individuals and sent many to an early grave. I remember the older Jazz musicians with whom I had the honor of playing when I studied at the Jazzmobile talk about the phenomenal Charlie Parker. Some of Charlie's contemporaries actually believed that the source of his extraordinary abilities were in the syringe he used on a daily basis. A whole generation of young musicians looking for Charlie's secret became junkies instead. Drugs and alcohol are insidious. They feel good for a long time then one day you wake up and you realize you need them. Bad news. I have been completely sober for 18 years now and even played in a sober band which carried the message of sobriety to others.
Last but not least, the new Lions of percussion are all READERS! They have studied and read and write music for that matter. My generation for the most part wasn't expected to read and we as congueros and other percussion committed the breaks to memory. This limits what you are able to do especially in the studio. I would urge you to learn to make you a well rounded player.


Bongos not Bombs said...

Hey Will,
if this advice helps me to play quinto like you can I'm following it to a "T".
What is truly sad is that the drugs people attribute to some amazing artists who suffered with addiction hurt them more than helped, the drugs have taken many artists way way before their time, and kept them from creating a lot of music if only they lived longer.

bronxrumba said...

Hi Geordie. Yeah I have seen drugs devastate many a fine musician. Could have very easily been me as well but I guess I was blessed to escape from the destruction.

duffsqfilm said...

Hey Willie,

Great post and great advice for anyone trying to master a craft. Keep sharing your experiences.