Tag Archives: drummer

In the Jazz Club and Classroom, Percussionist Nasar Abadey Inspires

Just after this photo was taken in 2010, Nasar Abadey of Local 161-710 embarked on a month-long Supernova tour to East Africa sponsored by the US State Department. (Photo credit: Jos A. Beasley.)

This month, Nasar Abadey, drummer, bandleader, and educator will receive the DC Jazz Festival Lifetime Achievement Award, alongside Cuban pianist Chucho Valdés.

Abadey, of Local 161-710 (Washington, DC), has played with masters of the jazz world, among them fellow DC union members Andrew White and Lennie Cuje. Abadey was tapped by Sun Ra in the early 1970s in New York City. “I was sitting in with McCoy Tyner’s band at a club called Slugs’ on the Lower East Side. When I left the bandstand, Sun Ra’s manager he asked if I was interested in playing with Sun Ra. I said, ‘Well, sure.’ He said, ‘Meet me at Penn Station tomorrow at noon.’”

Named Best Drummer in Jazz in 2011 by the Washington City Paper, Abadey went on to play with other greats, like Stanley Turrentine, David Sanchez, Charlie Rouse, Gary Bartz, Cyrus Chestnut, Gregory Porter, Frank Morgan, Dizzy Gillespie, Hank Jones, and Bobby Hutcherson.

Back in 1976, Abadey was playing gigs in his hometown of Buffalo, New York, when he got a call out of the blue to play with Ella Fitzgerald. Throughout his long career, he’s built a solid reputation as a sideman with many groups. He has recorded and performed with innovators Malachi Thompson and Joe Ford (saxophonist in Abadey’s group Supernova).

With Supernova, Abadey performs jazz steeped in hard bop, modal, and avant-garde, often incorporating traditional African rhythms, bebop, fusion, Afro-Cuban, and Afro-Brazilian influences. He is also founder and artistic director of the 16-piece band Washington Renaissance Orchestra (WRO).

For a time the family lived in Buffalo with his mother’s cousins, the Dunlops. Frankie Dunlop was the prodigious drummer who famously played with Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollins, among others. He says that Frankie practiced every day in the attic and became one of his main influences. Abadey was just six years old when Frankie put a set of sticks in his hands and showed him how to start playing.

“I didn’t know who he was. He left Buffalo when I was seven years old and I didn’t see him again until I was 13. I had a transistor radio and I heard the song ‘Monk’s Dream’ on a jazz program and I said, ‘Wow, the drummer sounds like my cousin Frankie.’ When they announced the group members, the drummer was Frankie. I remembered his sound.” They reconnected when Abadey moved to New York City. He’d often visit Dunlop in his Harlem home where Dunlop would tell him stories about his years playing with jazz legends. 

Abadey who has lived in Washington, DC, since 1977, embarked on his own career in jazz that placed him in a class all his own. Drawing on influences from powerhouse drummers such as Tony Williams, Max Roach, Roy Haynes, and Elvin Jones, he built a solid career as an artist and teacher. Now, he is one of the mid-Atlantic region’s premier jazz drummers.

In 2006, Abadey was asked to join the faculty of the Peabody Institute. “The process of education has been an organic kind of thing. Each semester, each year, I find myself incorporating more into what I teach and how I teach. As a result, I become a better musician and drummer,” he says.

“I like to think of music as going in many directions simultaneously—poly-directional.” Which he calls “multi-D”: multi-dimensional and multi-directional, a term that is also easy to pronounce and remember in any language. “It helps the listener understand that they are experiencing various dimensional realms while listening to music. I like to think the music is more complex than traditional forms of jazz.”

Abadey invokes plenty of John Coltrane’s automatic technique, which he says allows the music to lift off into a spiritual zone. “The unknown can always render something new because it is the unknown. How your spirit interacts with the creative endeavor,” he says.

He encourages his students to go to his gigs to hear him play so they know that what he’s teaching is not abstract. He adds, “It’s also important to articulate the source of a particular rhythm when I play it and understand it when I hear it played. I look at Africa as the source and different rhythms from Cuba, Brazil, Puerto Rico.”

Throughout his career, the union, which he joined at 18, has provided support. He says, “With the union, you’re associated with an organization that has what every musician needs to indulge their art and the backing to make sure we’re getting proper wages, benefits, and pension. When you get gigs, you will not be paid below a certain amount. All those things are in place. Plus, you have legal representation.”

In addition to Supernova and the Washington Renaissance Orchestra, Abadey leads the Renaissance Trio (rhythm section) and the Washington Renaissance Orchestra Octet. In between gigs this summer, he is working on a project writing for strings for his 11-piece Supernova Chamber Orchestra.

Hand Pain

Relieving Hand Pain: A Drummer’s Story

by Dr. Marc Brodsky, Dr. John (Jack) Dowdle, Michele Lenes, and Joseph Corsello

drummer-hand-painRepetitive use injuries, particularly in the hands, are common for instrumentalists. Hand pain can be a result of many different ailments and musicians seeking treatment should be cautious.

Diagnoses should always be made by medical professionals. A team approach, especially consultation with specialists in musician injuries, can often provide the best treatment options. As pain can often have more than one cause, you should consider the possibility of following more than one treatment option.

Case Study

A 69-year-old professional jazz drummer had pain, accompanied by numbness and tingling, in both hands and could not bend his fingers. He experienced moderate aching pain and difficulty holding his sticks both while practicing (two to three hours a day) and during two or three gigs a week. The pain was relieved by rest and breaks from drumming, though he sometimes woke up at night with a burning pain in both hands. 

A rheumatologist originally diagnosed the problems as psoriatic arthritis, an autoimmune disease of the joints and skin. Powerful medications did not improve his condition and the pain proved debilitating. An MRI then revealed osteoarthritis resulting from overuse and general wear-and-tear of the joints.

An exam by an orthopedic hand specialist included observation of the musician playing the drums, which showed bone deformity and swelling around the middle joints of the fingers. Because the musician also had stiffness, numbness, and tingling the physician used Tinel’s test—tapping his wrists near the palm of his hands—and detected possible nerve compression in the carpal tunnel.

In the end, a hand specialist, occupational hand therapist, and integrative medicine pain management specialist were all enlisted as part of the drummer’s comprehensive treatment program.

Orthopedic Treatment 

The orthopedic hand specialist fitted the musician with hand splints for use at night, while the occupational therapist began hand therapy twice a week. Sessions included a paraffin wax dip and moist heat packs, hand massage to decrease swelling and improve mobility of the fingers, and gentle manipulation of the wrist, hands, and fingers. In addition, the therapist applied joint distractions (gentle pulling of the affected fingers). The drummer was taught hand-strengthening exercises to prevent pain recurrence.    

Integrative Approach

The integrative medicine pain management specialist performed acupuncture once a week for four weeks, gradually reducing the treatment as the musician felt relief. Treatment focused on strategic points in the neck, arms, and hands. Acupuncture is not for everyone, however studies have shown it may restore resiliency by improving circulation and reducing muscle tension and inflammation around the placement of the needles. (Always consult with your primary care physician, and find a licensed practitioner with appropriate training and credentials.)

The integrative medicine physician recommended natural anti-inflammatories, namely ginger and curcumin (found in the Indian spice turmeric). In addition, topical capsaicin, a highly purified, heat-producing component in chili peppers, was applied to the top of the hands once a day. According to the clinical studies, capsaicin depletes the amount of substance P neurotransmitter that sends pain messages to the brain. 

The Moeller Technique

The drummer modified his hand technique using the Moeller method. This technique uses gravity to do most of the work, emphasizing hand speed, power, and stick control, as well as the complete relaxation of the hand and arm muscles. Enlisting a strong downward whipping motion, the musician transitioned from pressing or gripping the drumstick predominately with the forefinger and thumb of the left hand down to the little finger. With this approach, the fulcrum is the back of the hand, allowing the other fingers to curl gently around the drumstick. This technique took pressure off the middle joints of the drummer’s hands, decreasing the risk of injury. 

By employing the above treatments and techniques, the musician had dramatic relief of his hand pain, numbness, and tingling within four weeks. In addition, he had less swelling and was able to move his fingers with greater ease. Not only that, he experienced a higher degree of function, improved sound, and an overall sense of wellness.   

Marc Brodsky, MD; John (Jack) Dowdle, MD; and Michele Lenes, OTR/L, are part of the Musicians’ Wellness Clinic in the Stamford Health System and are 2017 members in good standing of the Performing Arts Medicine Association (PAMA).

michael walden

Narada Michael Walden: Evolution to Success

michael walden

Drummer, producer, songwriter Narada Michael Walden of Local 6 (San Francisco, CA) has written hits for some of the biggest names in the industry.

Narada Michael Walden of Local 6 (San Francisco, CA) was just 21 when he was discovered by the avant-garde guitarist John McLaughlin and joined the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Taking over for the illustrious drummer Billy Cobham was a pivotal moment in Walden’s career. The experience defined his life on many levels, from visionary, genre-blending new music to the spiritual quest it would take him on. McLaughlin introduced Walden to a guru, Sri Chinmoy, who gave him the name Narada and who taught him not to judge himself too harshly. “The only person you need to compete with is yourself. Be the best you,” advised Chinmoy.

At 64 years old the top-flight producer, songwriter, and musician, who has produced 57 number one hit songs, and received three Grammys, and an Emmy, is still humbled by life. His joie de vivre is compelling as he talks about success and contentment. “Did you have a good time?! Did you accomplish what you wanted to? I played with John McLaughlin, Jeff Beck, Carlos Santana [of Local 6 (San Francisco, CA)], Aretha Franklin, and Stevie Wonder [of Local 5 (Detroit, MI)]. I had fun, I had children—all the things we’re here to do,” he remarks.

Walden calls Evolution, his 16th album with the Narada Michael Walden Band, “a celebration of delight.” On it, he revels in late-in-life fatherhood and pays homage to musicians who have inspired him. “I’m calling out their names,” he says, “A lot of high-spirited dancers came out. Curtis Mayfield touched my heart. Rick James’ spirit, just crooning, came out. Rock blues came out. Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, and Jeff Beck all came out. The 1978 dance music came back around again.” The album includes two covers: “Freedom” by Richie Havens and “The Long and Winding Road” by John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

Growing up in the 1950s, between Detroit and Chicago, Walden listened to everything. “Even before Motown, we had beautiful music. There was Curtis Mayfield, Johnny Mathis, Patti Page, Jimmy Smith, and Dave Brubeck. Anything that was cool, even country, like Patsy Cline—we loved,” he says. Heavily influenced by Ray Charles, as a kid he carried around his live album What’d I Say. “Every song was so deep. Groove, all the while his feet beating under the piano. So much command, control, and discipline,” he says.

Walden’s debut album back in 1976, Garden of Love Light, featured tracks representative of his experience with the Mahavishnu Orchestra. But Atlantic Records was looking for commercial hits so Walden’s follow-up work moved toward the dance-pop and soul music for which he’s become most famous. He says his hit from that album, “I Don’t Want Nobody Else (to Dance with You)” saved his career. As a producer and songwriter, he’s collaborated with musicians across the charts, notably Stevie Wonder, Stanley Jordan of Local 802 (New York City), Whitney Houston, Steve Winwood, and Mariah Carey, while scoring many hits of his own. With Jeff Beck he wrote and played drums on the seminal album, Wired, earning each a Gold Album.   

Walden makes his home in the studio, but still loves live venues. On occasion, he plays with his old friends, like Aretha Franklin. Recently, in New York City, for the first time they performed the hit he co-wrote and produced for her, “Freeway of Love.” Walden expresses awe for that generation of singers, especially from the gospel tradition. “It’s a power that’s ordained, almost transcendental,” he says. 

He describes Tarpan Studios as a nesting ground for developing talent. Part of his genius as a producer is freeing up the artist so he can capture the emotion. Walden creates ambiance, the perfect lighting, the vibe, getting to what he refers to as the deep heart space to touch the emotion. He says, “The timing, how it feels, the tuning, how it goes down—the emotion is critical. A few great singers absolutely love the sound of their voices. And that’s what makes it easier for me as a producer. They just love the sound that comes out of the speaker.”

In the ’60s, ’70s, even into the ’90s, music had air, making space for artistry. “These days, it’s got to be mastered to the point where it’s super powerful, which often takes air out of the music. Going fast,  intense and big sounding.” Walden remembers what Quincy Jones of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) taught him long ago: “If it’s number one it’s number one for a reason”—which these days means keeping up with cultural shifts, being competitive in the industry, all the while preserving an art form. 

A longtime session musician, Walden is a strong advocate for musicians’ rights. He regularly contracts union musicians. “We want to make sure we protect ourselves and artists and songwriters get paid,”  he says, noting the solidarity and order the union brings to the industry to keep musicians in business.    

Through his own foundation, he’s broadened his advocacy work. The Narada Michael Walden Foundation fosters music education for children by providing instruments for private lessons and music programs and camps. In addition to Christmas shows and jams throughout the year, he invites students into the studio for sessions on recording and writing, where they participate in singing or drumming classes. For many of the events, Walden calls on high-profile friends, like Sting, Dionne Warwick, and Martha Reeves to work with kids. “It’s a confidence builder. We both win.” 

In a life that’s come full circle, with Evolution, with his family, and the foundation, Walden has found his center. Invoking the guru, he tells students, “Be the best you.”

Classic Swing Drumming

Classic Swing Drumming: Methods and Techniques for the Development of Swing Feel

Classic-Swing-DrummingFor more than 40 years, swing drummer Gregory Caputo, a member of Locals 9-535 (Boston, MA) and 171 (Springfield, MA), has played with many legends of swing, from Phil Woods of Locals 577 (Pocono, PA) and 802 (New York City) to David Brubeck and Duke Ellington. In this book, Caputo explains the fundamentals of swing drumming with many examples. Included are comments from many world-class musicians explaining what they like to hear from a drummer. Also available is Caputo’s Classic Swing with Modern Drive CD, featuring Phil Woods.

Classic Swing Drumming: Methods and Techniques for the Development of the Swing Feel, by Gregory Caputo, Pittsfield, MA, www.gregorycaputo.com.

Steve Gadd: Secrets for a Successful Freelance Career

Gadd2If there is one drummer you could say has literally kept the beat for “everyone,” that drummer would likely be Steve Gadd, a member of Local 802 (New York City). And when asked about all the different genres of music he’s played, and diverse acts he’s worked with, he approaches the topic very matter-of-factly.

“I’ve been a freelance player my whole life,” he explains. “I love to play music with people who love to play music, so that’s the way I approach it.”

From his earliest days of drumming, Gadd took an eclectic approach to learning. “I listened to a lot of different drummers and copied them—Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Louie Bellson, Art Blakey, Max Roach, Jimmy Cobb, Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, and Jack DeJohnette [of Local 802]. To this day, when I hear someone play something I like, I copy them,” he says.

But, while watching, learning, copying, and taking lessons from a lot of different teachers, Gadd was also developing his own style. “The last teacher that I had, John Beck, always encouraged me to do things in a way that felt comfortable for me. I think that’s very important for young people. It’s okay to copy, but they have to find a way to make it feel comfortable for them. That’s what will make the most sense musically.”

However, he explains, becoming a successful session drummer is not just about learning your chops and developing your own style. “You’ve got to be able to fit what you are doing with other people; it’s not about feeling like your way is the only way,” he says. “It’s about making your way work with whoever you are playing with and making the music feel the best you can. It’s a give and take thing.”

Gadd takes on each job with the professionalism of an experienced musician whose focus is keenly on the end product. “For me, before anyone starts talking about the music, I would rather hear the demo or have them play the song; until you hear the song, there is nothing to talk about,” he says quite simply. “I think that listening before talking is important because then you’ve got something you can relate the words to.”

50 Ways to Groove on 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover

His humble, patient, and accepting approach to music leaves Gadd’s mind open to try many different possibilities, until everyone is pleased with the result. For example, one of Gadd’s most talked about and well-recognized grooves happens in the intro to Local 802 member Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” Gadd explains how he was just noodling when he happened upon it.

“We had been working on that song for a while, and the chorus part fell into place easily, but the first part wasn’t really feeling the way it should and we tried a few different things,” he says. “A lot of times I would stay in the drum booth while Paul and Phil [Ramone] were discussing what they wanted to do and I practiced different things. I was practicing a little military beat and Phil heard it and thought we should try it for the first part of the song. We just sort of stumbled on it by chance.”

Among the other “pinnacle” Gadd recordings are his solo work with Steely Dan on Aja, and recordings he’s done with Local 802 members Chick Corea and Bob James. “I feel very fortunate to have been able to have done what I’ve done with as many people as I’ve been able to play with; on a certain level, they are all special,” he says. “When I go in with everything I’ve got and it has an effect on the industry, I’m proud of it.”

However, Gadd explains that he isn’t one to look back on his accomplishments, however remarkable. He is more affected by when something he’s done has meant something to other people, especially other drummers. “Those are the things that are special to me,” he concludes.

From the early days of his career, Gadd made it a point to not get pigeonholed into one specific genre, but rather to take on new and diverse projects as they came along. “I like variety; I am challenged by that,” he says. “When I first got into recording there were certain things that I wasn’t comfortable with, but I kept trying and I was able to find a comfort level in a lot of different styles.”

Another Gadd key to building your freelance career: be reliable. “When you accept something, you give your word that you are going to do it, if something else comes up that you would have rather done, you have to stick with your word and your honor,” he says. “That is a basic rule. However, business-wise, you can’t afford to say ‘no’ to certain things. If you are a person of your word, then people understand when things happen and you can work it out.”

Have the Right Gadditude

Steve-GaddAnd then there’s attitude. “If you are in the studio and you want people to call you back, a lot of that has to do with your attitude,” he continues. “If you are on the road, you are playing the show, you might be playing for two or three hours, but you are spending the other 20 hours of the day traveling with people. All of that enters into it: how you get along with people, how much of a team player you are, and if people start to get tired and things get dark, shine some light on it because, in the long run, that’s going to affect the music.”

“It’s not just about the playing; it’s about showing up on time, doing your best, and trying to understand what people, like the producer, are verbally trying to get you to do on the instrument. That takes a lot of energy. If you try something and it’s not really the right thing and they want you to try something different, after that happens a couple of times, you can start to get a little paranoid. You have to remember why you are there and remember that the guy who is talking to you about the music is not a drummer, so it’s not easy for him to explain what he wants,” he says. “Just give 110%.”

Throughout his entire career Gadd has had the AFM by his side. “All the guys I work with are in the union,” he says. “I am happily a member and will continue to be. And a testament to that is that I’ve gone through my whole career and not really had any problems. I can’t imagine not being in the union.”

Not living in a big recording center like L.A., these days Gadd, a resident of Phoenix, Arizona, is not involved in recording as much as he once was and this has allowed him time to create a few of his own projects. The Steve Gadd Band (with Local 47 members Michael Landau, Larry Goldings, Walt Fowler, and Jimmy Johnson) released its first album, Gadditude, in 2013 and just finished recording its second album, 70 Strong, scheduled for release April 2015. “I’ll be 70, so that’s where that comes from,” he explains.

Gadd has also been putting together his third album as the Gaddabouts with Edie Brickell. “That was her idea and it’s with Pino Palladino [of Local 47] and [Welsh guitarist] Andy Fairweather Low. It’s all Edie’s songs,” he says. Other 2015 projects will have him working with Local 802 member James Taylor during March and April and Eric Clapton later in the year.

Regardless of whether it’s his project or someone else’s, Gadd says his approach is the same. “If I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, then people around me sound good. It’s not about drawing attention to me, it’s about playing in such a way that everything flows and everybody feels comfortable,” he concludes.

Worship Drum Book

The Worship Drum Book: Concepts to Empower Excellence

drum-bookThis guide is for drummers in contemporary churches or for drummers in traditional churches that are transitioning from organ or piano to worship supported by a full rhythm section. Author Carl Albrecht of Local 257 (Nashville, TN) shares his more than 30 years of experience in the modern worship movement. The book addresses important traditional drumming techniques and concepts, but also clarifies the unique role that drummers—or musicians of any sort—have as minstrels in the worship service. He also gives tips to help touring music groups and worship artists called outside the church walls.

The Worship Drum Book: Concepts to Empower Excellence, by Carl Albrecht, Hal Leonard Corporation, www.halleonard.com.