drummer Jon Fishman of Phish“If someone had told me all the things that would happen in my life in 2001, I wouldn’t have believed them,” says Jon Fishman, the famed Phish sticksman. After the band’s 1999 New Year’s concert, where tens of thousands of fans spent the weekend listening to the band play for hours at a time, then their summer and fall 2000 tours, Jon and his partners in improv decided to take a break. They had been touring and recording for seventeen years and “found it difficult to top themselves,” according to the drummer. The hiatus has opened up time for him to play with two bands that pull his playing in two directions.

The Jazz Mandolin Project gave Jon the opportunity to build his jazz chops. “This band magnifies the open improvisation of Phish,” the drummer says. “I had to use most everything in my bag of tricks. Soloing and filling space is more important with these guys than with Phish.”

Jon is also the “defacto leader” of Pork Tornado, a funk and R&B band that recently released its first CD (Ryko). According to Jon, “In contrast to JMP, with Pork Tornado, creating space is the priority. Besides, I feel that playing a straight backbeat groove is just as valid as any other style. It’s harder than it looks.”

Two of the biggest changes of 2001 were the passing of Jon’s mother and his starting a family of his own. “To not take this time to enjoy my family and build a stable home life would be foolish,” he says. The drummer says he wants his family and home to be more than just a pit stop between tours. “I’m using the studio I built in my house as a scratch pad for my writing. Maybe I’ll do a solo album some day. If I do that, I want to play everything, making it a true solo recording.”

It looks like it may take a while before we see a solo effort from Jon. His schedule is heating up, as tour dates for the re-formed Phish have recently begun.