“Contemporary” is defined as “being of the time.” When applied to music, the term indicates that the music is made up of elements that are currently in existence. Many of the elements will be brand new; others will have been around a while, but will still be considered viable. Contemporary musicians, then, are those who are able to draw from any and all of the current musical styles, and in the process, help to pioneer some new directions. The best of these musicians also have a clear understanding of the history behind their instruments, and are thereby able to achieve continuity between the most up-to-date musical trends and the more traditional musical values.
Danny Gottlieb is a contemporary musician. Whether playing acoustic jazz with someone like Stan Getz, or playing ultra-modern electric jazz-rock fusion with the Pat Metheny Group, Danny’s drumming reflects his ability to blend elements from a wide variety of musical styles, and make them all sound like they belong together.
Danny’s first involvement with music came when he was in junior high, but his first instrument was cello, which he played throughout junior high and high school. While in high school, he began studying drums with Meyer Sebold, and during his senior year, took lessons from Joe Morello. After high school, Dan spent a summer playing drums at a Catskill Mountains hotel, and then entered the University of Miami, majoring in Music Merchandising. After two semesters, he switched over to the jazz department, and soon afterward, met Pat Metheny.
DG: Pat entered the University of Miami as a freshman during my second year there. We hit it off instantly from the first day we met and started playing together. This was around the time that Miles Davis had done Bitches Brew and it was right before the Mahavishnu Orchestra stage. There was a newness about that type of music that influenced a lot of people at the University. Pat and I were part of a group called Kaleidoscope, which was sort of a faculty ensemble formed with Dan Haerle, Whit Sidener and Mike Treni. It was an experimental band and it gave us a chance to try out a lot of different things, such as playing in all kinds of weird time signatures and different textures. For me, it was something I could really concentrate on. It was the first real band that I was ever involved in.
When Pat and I were not playing with Kaleidoscope we would often play duo gigs. We also did some shows together. There was a club in Fort Lauderdale called Bachelors III that would have all kinds of shows, and people from the University would play there, as well as people like Jaco Pastorious. Sometimes Jaco would play bass; other times Jaco would play piano and Pat would play bass—it was just a lot of different combinations. There were a lot of good musicians there at the time and it was a great chance to get some experience. Pat and I also played the show Godspell for about six weeks. We were playing together in many different situations. That was sort of the beginning of the Pat Metheny Group, but we didn’t know it at the time.
RM: But Pat didn’t stay at Miami very long, did he?
DG: After Pat had been at Miami for a year and a half, Gary Burton offered him a teaching position at Berklee. That eventually led to Pat’s gig with Gary’s band.
RM: You remained at school?
DG: I wasn’t ready to leave. I was getting a lot of experience playing at school, and I feel that I really did benefit by going to college. A lot of times, young drummers or people in high school come up to me and want to know what I think is the best route as far as pursuing a career in music. I usually answer that there are a lot of ways of going about it, depending on how strongly motivated you are and if you know exactly what you want to zero in on or not. For me, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do, so I was one of the people who benefitted by going to college and being in that kind of environment. I actually stuck it out and got a degree.
Miami only had about 50 jazz majors at that time, and so there really wasn’t a lot of competition between people. Everybody was helping each other. There was a professional attitude there because all of the teachers were active professionals, playing gigs. The Dixie Dregs were all going to school there too. It was a real positive, productive environment for me. I don’t know what Miami is like right now, or what any other schools are like, but for a drummer who just isn’t ready to jump into New York, school can be a good opportunity to get experience playing with people.
If you get to a place where you can interact with other musicians who are around the same level you are, or a little better, it’s a real productive thing. Years ago, musicians could hang out around 52nd St. and hear everybody playing and have chances to sit in. I never had a chance to be a part of that whole environment, so school offered a viable alternative. If you are so strongly motivated that you feel that one or two years in that environment is enough, and you feel it’s time to move on and get with a better level of players—so be it. But I profited by staying in that environment.
RM: You mentioned that there were only 50 jazz majors. Do you feel that a musician would benefit by going to a small school where he could get more chances to play?
DG: I never went to Berklee, so I can’t speak from first-hand experience, but the few times I was up there, I think they were telling me that there were 700 guitar players and 300 drummers. With that many players, you’d never see the same person twice. I don’t know how well I would have done in that type of situation, but I know a lot of people who went to Berklee and felt it was a real positive environment. So again, there are a lot of ways to go about it.
RM: So Pat was in Boston and you were in Miami. Did the two of you stay in touch?
DG: Yes. In between gigs with Gary Burton, Pat was doing his own gigs using a variety of players. Sometimes I would fly up from Miami and he would use me.
RM: What did you do when you got out of school?
DG: I graduated in ’75 and I was ready to take the first gig that came along. Bobby Rydell, the rock and roll singer from the ’50s, was on the road and needed a drummer. He was going to go to Australia, and that sounded like a fun thing to do, so I took the gig. I was also trying to play with Pat Martino, the guitarist. A friend of mine, Gil Goldstein, was playing in his band, and he was looking for a rhythm section. Martino lived in Philadelphia and so did Bobby Rydell, so whenever I’d go there with Bobby, I would try to do some playing with Martino. We rehearsed off and on for about six months, and did one gig in New York, but that band really never got together after that. However, it made me realize that I wanted to play in a situation where I could grow musically. With Bobby, we would just pick up musicians wherever we went. I was the only one who traveled with him. Bobby was a good singer, but as far as the rest of the band, if we got a good bass player and the band could sort of read, that was as good as it got. There was nothing left to do in that situation in terms of musical growth. So I left and moved to New York.
RM: Was it hard to break in?
DG: I started out just playing some sessions with people around Manhattan. One of the sessions was with Barry Finnerty, who was the guitarist with Joe Farrell’s band. We played a session and the next night Barry was going to open with Joe at the Village Vanguard, so I went down to hear them. I don’t know who the drummer was supposed to be, but I was sitting in the audience and it was five minutes before it was time to play, and there was no drummer! Everybody in the band was milling around and the place was packed, so I ran up to Barry, he introduced me to Joe, and Joe said, “Look, if you can get some drums here, you can play the second set.” At the time, I was living at 171st St., which was about a half-an-hour drive, and my car was almost out of gas. So I made a bee-line up the East River Drive, trying frantically to get my drums in time and praying that I wouldn’t run out of gas. Of course, traffic was heavy, but I got the drums in time for the second set. Joe liked my playing and hired me for the rest of the week. So I did a week at the Vanguard and that was my first gig in New York.
RM: How did you come to join Gary Burton’s group?
DG: Shortly after I had moved to New York, I got a phone call from Pat Metheny telling me that Bob Moses was going to be leaving Gary’s band. I had always liked Gary’s playing, and since Pat was in the band, I had heard the group a lot and knew all of their music. There was limited rehearsal time, so I was a logical choice. I went up and auditioned and Gary liked my playing, so that’s how I joined his group.
RM: On the album you made with Gary (Passengers), Pat wrote three of the six tunes. Was he actually doing half of the writing for the Burton group at that point?
DG: No, the album just happened to come out that way. There was no set format. Whenever Pat would come up with a tune, Gary would listen to it and if he liked it, he would use it with the group. As far as that record, those just happened to be some of the tunes we had been performing. Eberhard Weber was on that album and that was my first meeting with him. It worked out great because I then got a chance to work with his band in Europe, which was an incredible experience. I loved it.
RM: You then played on the Watercolors album with Pat. Had the two of you left Burton or was this just a project on the side for Pat?
DG: That’s exactly what it was. Pat had done the Bright Size Life album for ECM while he was still in Gary’s band, and he was ready to do a second record. He used me and Eberhard, which was great because Eberhard and I had been working together for six weeks just before we did Pat’s record. That record was the first time Pat and Lyle Mays had worked together on a project.
RM: One of the tunes (“Florida Greeting Song”) was just you and Pat. I guess that came from the duo gigs you mentioned earlier.
DG: Right. Pat and I played together a lot and we wanted to include a little of that on the album. It was strictly improvisational.
RM: Getting back to Gary Burton, what are your thoughts as you look back on the time you spent with his group?
DG: I learned a lot of things. I can’t really think of a better early experience to have had than playing with Gary, from a lot of different angles. From a musical perspective, Gary is a great musician and a great leader. He has a definite sound in mind, and if he feels that something is not right musically, he won’t let it go by without making a comment. It was great to have an influence like that. From a professionalism standpoint, Gary has been doing it a long time and has a very calculated stage presentation. He is also very organized in his manner of going on the road, so I was able to learn a lot about the best way to deal with touring.
RM: How did the Pat Metheny Group finally get started?
DG: Pat and I left Gary at the same time, and the idea was to start a group. It was kind of a questionable thing to do because people knew Pat, but he hadn’t made a name for himself as a leader yet. So there was a question as to how well things were going to go. Pat got together with Gary’s booking agent, Ted Kurland, and they discussed how the group would work. The idea was to try and get us as much work as possible in a variety of situations. We knew Mark Egan from Miami, so with me, Pat, and Lyle, Mark made the group complete. Pat bought a van from his father, who is a Dodge dealer, and we went on the road.
They booked every possible gig. If it was somehow conceivable that we could get between two points, we did. We once drove from Seattle to Dallas to Quebec in five days. It was just the four of us—no road crew. We would take turns driving and sleeping on the equipment. It was a combination of Kurland’s ability to book gigs, and the group’s determination to go out and play music for people. We had a sound that we believed in, and all of that led us to going on the road and playing about 300 dates a year for the first two or three years of the group. Most of the time, we would be opening for someone or were by ourselves in small places where nobody knew who we were, or cared. But we felt good about playing for people who didn’t know us and getting them to enjoy the music.
RM: When did you record the Pat Metheny Group album?
DG: We were on the road for about a year before the Group album was done. There were a couple of factors as to why we waited on the record. For one thing, the music was growing on almost a daily basis. The more we played, the better it got, and everybody was aware of that. Another thing was that most ECM records were done either in Germany or in Oslo. We were hitting the road so hard we just didn’t have time to go to Europe to do the record.
RM: When the album finally came out, did it have an immediate effect on the group’s success?
DG: The album did well. I think one of the reasons, besides the music, was that we had been on the road for a year before it came out and people knew us. We had built up sort of a cult following, and a lot of people were waiting for a record from us. And then we continued touring, and people liked the music. We were not an overnight sensation or anything, but things did gradually get better. We got to the point where we could hire a small crew to help us, and if we had a long jump to make, we could afford to fly instead of drive.
When things started getting better, one of the first things Pat did was buy a 7- foot Steinway, because one of the main problems a touring band has is that the pianos are usually horrible. The next thing was to get our own PA system so that we would be assured of consistency of sound.
RM: How much input do you have in the group?
DG: I basically have the freedom to come up with any kind of interpretation of the music that I want. If Pat has something specific in mind, he’ll let me know how he feels it should be played, and then I can either do it that way or try and come up with my own conception. So it’s sort of a trade off.
It’s not a strict leader/sideman arrangement, but it’s closer to that than it is to a co-op band. I’m kind of idealistic in that I’ve always wanted to be in a coop band situation. But in most of the coop bands I know, where everybody has an equal say, a lot of times there is confusion as to the final decision, and it tends to cause a lot of inconsistencies. In this group, we can all try different things and give our own input, but Pat makes all of the final decisions.
RM: I understand that the group takes breaks now and then, during which, each member has time to pursue other projects.
DG: Yes. The idea is to have a group that we can play music with and grow together in, and also have the flexibility for each of us to do different things as well. During one of our breaks, I was able to play with Stan Getz, which was a great experience for me. So it’s a nice situation.
RM: Even before American Garage, the group had a certain amount of “garage band” spirit. I’ve even heard stories that in the early days of the group, you would often start playing old rock and roll songs as part of your set.
DG: That’s totally true. When we first started touring, we were a little more open because we didn’t have as many of our own tunes, so we were calling on a lot of different sources. One of the things we used to do was an open-ended guitar/drum solo. It would start out with me playing time and Pat playing whatever he felt like at the time. Sometimes, out of nowhere, Pat would start playing “Wipe Out” or “House of the Rising Sun” or “My Girl.” Sometimes we’d really go into it and play a couple of choruses, and other times we would just hint at it.
The American Garage concept was a feeling that was generated while we were recording the album. We were reflecting on what we had done, traveling around. We were being pegged different ways. If we were on a concert with a jazz band, we were the rock group. If we were on a rock and roll concert, we were the jazz group. So it was kind of a weird feeling. We felt like we were breaking tradition in a lot of ways, and we kind of reflected on the fact that in some ways, we were like a bunch of kids getting together and having some fun and playing music and driving around the country in a van. It was similar to the fun we had all had playing music in garages when we were growing up, even though we were very serious about what we were doing. They needed a picture for the album, and there happened to be a garage around the corner, so one day we lugged our equipment there, set it up, and started playing “Louie, Louie” and “Light My Fire.” We were actually playing those songs when they took the picture that’s on the back of the album.
RM: So the members of the group actually have some background in rock and roll?
DG: Yes. We grew up in the ’60s, and that was the time of the Beatles and all of the rock groups. So we all had that kind of experience, although we had many other influences as well. It’s just a spirit. On the old Saturday Night Live show, they used to sometimes zoom in on a member of the audience and flash some kind of funny caption over the person. Sometimes when we play “American Garage” live, I visualize a caption over myself that says, “Thinks he’s Keith Moon.” We usually save that tune for the end of the night. It’s like our release from playing all of this music which has a lot of subtlety—we just bash it out. We try to play all of the music as authentically as we can. My idea was always to play in a band that had all of the power of the loudest, most intense rock band, and also had the subtleties of a jazz trio, and be able to do everything in between. I have as much opportunity to do that in this group as in any other group I could possibly play with.
RM: With the wide variety of music you do, I guess you can’t help being labeled a “fusion” group.
DG: People tend to call it that. We give it no label whatsoever. It’s funny; drummers will come up to me and say, “Show me a fusion beat.” That just cracks me up. “Okay. Listen to a Steve Gadd record and a Jack DeJohnette record and then play something that has parts of each but doesn’t sound like either one. That’s a fusion beat.”
We are all based in the heavy jazz tradition, but we all listened to Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles as well. Also classical music; I’ve been rediscovering a lot of classical music that I had only half listened to.
Lyle is a good example of what I’m talking about. If someone were to only hear the “American Garage” cut, he would hear Lyle playing rock and roll. But recently, I played a gig with Lyle in Atlanta, and we did tunes totally in the Bill Evans small group tradition. Lyle really sounded amazing playing that music. His roots are very deep and he can play those tunes very authentically. So that’s an advantage we all have. I’m constantly trying to strengthen my jazz roots, because I feel that is the strongest element on which my music is based. But I also go back and listen to rock and roll records of the ’50s and ’60s.
RM: To me, the aspect of your playing that stands out the most is your use of cymbal colors.
DG: I love cymbals! I always have. I think my first influence as far as cymbals are concerned was Mel Lewis. There was a Maynard Ferguson album called The Blues Roar that I heard when I was in junior high. Mel was the drummer on that album and his ride cymbal just floored me. I found out later that it was an A. Zildjian that had broken and Mel had cut a chunk out of it. It just sounds incredible on recordings. I got to where I could identify that cymbal on all of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis recordings. Mel always used cymbals as creatively as possible, and he was a big influence on me. I met him when I was in high school and I would go over to his house and hang out. He would play a lot of records for me, give me cymbals to try out, and sometimes we would trade cymbals. He helped me pick out my first Chinese cymbal.
Another influence was Tony Williams, specifically his playing with Miles Davis in the ’60s, which I basically discovered when I was in college. His cymbal colorations were just amazing, and Miles’ band offered a lot of opportunities for using colors.
Bobby Moses was a big influence on my drumming in general, but especially on cymbal playing. Bobby was playing with Gary Burton when I was learning Gary’s tunes, and he was using some flat cymbals at the time. The sound really knocked me out.
I remember a discussion I once had with Bobby, and he was talking about how much of the traditional African and Latin drumming was done without any use of cymbals whatsoever. It made me aware that there are a lot of things about drum tradition that I should incorporate into my playing. But at the same time, the cymbals are a new direction that is relatively unexplored. So I want to be able to draw from the traditional uses of the drum, but also incorporate the use of cymbals, because they are part of what’s going on today.
I have always been interested in using as many cymbals as possible. With Gary’s group and with Pat, cymbal textures tend to blend very well with the music they play, especially with Pat’s guitar sound. The cymbals that I find tend to work the best are the flat cymbals that Paiste makes. A lot of people complain that the flat cymbals don’t project well and they’re not very loud. But if they’re miked, you can really have control of those cymbals. They sound good in the audience and they get a really beautiful sound.
A group like ours offers so many possibilities as far as textures, because we play a wide variety of styles, from ballads, to rock and roll, to groove tunes, to avant-garde jazz, and that’s why I have so many cymbals up there. I might only use a certain cymbal once or twice a night, but it might have the perfect sound for a certain spot.
RM: What is your cymbal set-up?
DG: I’m changing it all of the time. I change it whenever I find a new sound that I like, or if we do a new tune that I feel calls for a different sound. But at the moment, what I’m using, from left to right, I have a 20″ Dark Ride with rivets (they’re all Paiste, by the way), then I have two Rude crashes. That’s a line that Paiste recently came out with. It’s mostly for the rock drummer who wants a cymbal that is loud and doesn’t break very easily. I’m using a 14″ and an 18″, and they sound great on stage. Then I have a 22″ medium flat cymbal with two rivets in it. Then on the right side, I have a 22″ heavy flat 602, then a 22″ Dark Ride cymbal which I use for jazz playing, then a 15″ medium 2002 which is really a crash cymbal, then a 20″ 2002 China-type. I’ve also got two bell cymbals, one is a 602 and the other is a 2002, a set of seven cup chimes, and a pair of Sound Creation Dark hi-hats.
RM: Did you ever have trouble getting your cymbals in a position where you could reach all of them?
DG: Lately, drum companies have come up with ways to use as much or as little equipment as you want. But at the time I was starting to do this a few years ago, there really wasn’t that much available. I was augmenting my Ludwig stuff with bits and pieces of various holders to get multiple cymbal set-ups. My stands looked like they came out of an Erector set. It was a complete mish-mash of every type of part I could find. But I was able to use four or five cymbals on a stand. I couldn’t always do that from a balance standpoint—the bases were not strong enough to support that. Also, you couldn’t always set it up the same way. One time it would work and the next time it would come out totally different because of all the different parts involved. So it was kind of hard, from that standpoint. But since then, the companies have come up with all kinds of different configurations and it seems to get easier and easier all of the time.
RM: You seem to use quite a variety of drums.
DG: That’s the beauty of playing a lot of different types of music; you can sort of pick and choose sounds that meet the specific demands of what the music calls for. I know that there are a lot of people who feel that a drum is a drum, and any drum sounds pretty much the same, and to a certain extent that’s true. But yet, in terms of developing a personal style, there are sounds that people have come up with that are very identifiable for themselves. I tend to like a lot of different types of sounds, and as a result, the types of drums and cymbals I use vary from situation to situation. I was using Ludwig Vistalite drums for a while. I was tuning them low for a rock and roll sound. It was a very controlled, low, “thuddy” sound; it wasn’t that long, ringing sound. I used those drums on the Watercolors album and on the Group album. But then I was looking for something that had a little more sustain and I came across the Eames drum company, who manufactures drum shells only. They are completely hand-made, and they have very thick shells for projection. I went on the road with one of their 15-ply snare drums, and it had amazing projection. So I now have a couple of sets made with Eames shells that I use for certain playing situations. When I want a metal snare drum, I’ve been using the new Ludwig hammered-bronze model. I have also been to Japan several times, and I find that I like the sound of the Yamaha drums made in Japan. They are different than the ones sold in the U.S., which are made in Taiwan. I’ve always been attracted to new ideas in drums, and I recently found out that Premier is coming up with some new products, so I will probably be checking those out shortly. I try to remain as flexible as I can, and use as many different sounds as I am able to in the course of playing music.
RM: You have studied quite a bit with Joe Morello. How have you utilized what he has taught you?
DG: I studied with him in high school and I still go back and study with him as frequently as I can. The reason I feel that his particular way of teaching is important is that he encourages you to find your own way. He really doesn’t influence you that much stylistically—he doesn’t tell you how to play. The mistake a lot of people make is that they go there hoping to sound like Joe Morello, or they go there and work on nothing but technique and they don’t really have a musical application for it. I can apply the technical approach he has to offer to any type of music I want to play. When you’re working on things it is important that you have a balance. You need an opportunity to play music so that you can learn how to apply the technique. But you also need to keep working on technique so that you can play the ideas that you hear in your mind. It has to be a combination of both.
When I go to him, we basically study the snare drum. He studied with Billy Gladstone and George Lawrence Stone, and he has combined their approaches with his own feelings about how to play the drums. He has a real specific way of teaching that not everybody would want. It requires a lot of discipline and a lot of work. It’s an approach to using the fingers and wrists and arm muscles in a real controlled manner so that you can get a great sound out of the instrument.
He would, for example, have you play the first three pages of the Stone Stick Control book as written, but so that both hands sound perfectly even, without putting any unnecessary pressure on the sticks. Years ago, I would go through the book, but I would never really listen to the sound I was getting. It’s very hard to make them all sound the same. But when Joe plays them, you can turn your head away and you won’t be able to tell which exercise he’s playing because both hands sound exactly the same. The reason for doing that is to develop a clean sound. After doing that, you can add a variety of accents to the exercises. You can also play the first three pages as triplets. Another one of his exercises is a control exercise where you play single strokes, double strokes, and paradiddles, two measures of each, trying to make each of them sound identical. That helps you develop the ability to go from one sticking to another with a reasonable amount of flexibility and a controlled, clean sound. Yet another way to play the first three pages is to play a right paradiddle for every R, and a left paradiddle for every L. You should try doing that both with and without accents.
RM: A main point that a lot of people talk about in the development of a drummer is the “feel.”
DG: I think it’s something that drummers can work on, as far as deciding what swings and what doesn’t or what grooves and what doesn’t. Of course, a lot of it comes from experience, but it’s definitely something you can think about. If you know what feels good and what doesn’t, you can work on it on your own. If I’m working on a particular coordination pattern, I’m aware of when it’s feeling good and when it’s not. Listen to yourself and decide how it is supposed to sound, and then strive to make it sound that way. There’s a lot of thought that can be put into practice. I tape myself on gigs and during practice, and listen for swing and groove as well as for technique.
RM: So far, your only recorded solo has been on the Gil Goldstein album, Wrapped in a Cloud. How do you feel about soloing?
DG: I like to solo. With Gary’s group I used to solo every night on one particular tune, but that tune happened to have already been recorded. With Stan Getz, I also got a chance to solo every night. With Pat’s group, Nana Vasconcelos and I have been doing a duet in one piece, which is fun, but it’s not a complete, open solo. But I do like to solo, and it’s something I hope I will get a chance to do more of.
RM: What kind of solos do you like?
DG: I like drum solos that have a lot of different parts to them. I don’t like solos that are just one thing over and over. My favorite kinds of solos are free form and offer a variety of possibilities as far as rises and falls dynamically. I like soloing that has something to do with the music you’re playing, but I also like soloing that just stands by itself.
I like soloing that has interesting phrasing. I find it very interesting that both Pat and Joe Morello conceive of their instruments like horn players, in terms of phrasing and playing notes. In fact, when Pat plays, I’ve even seen him breathe as though he’s blowing a horn. Morello also hears the drums as you would a horn, and that’s something I’ve been working on. It’s very easy to sound stiff on a drum. It’s more difficult to play your notes as a horn player would. I think Tony Williams and Jack DeJohnette both have that in their soloing. Breathing is very important to phrasing. If you’re playing a phrase and there’s no space, it’s hard for someone to listen to it.
Another important part of soloing is being able to start somewhere and end somewhere and keep continuity. With a lot of solos, there’s one little section that sounds good, another little section that sounds good, a lot of different little choppy ideas that sound good by themselves, but tying them together is difficult.
RM: Do you like soloing over the rest of the band?
DG: Yes. I like playing in that type of situation because then you’re not responsible for having to lay down time while you’re soloing. You can just play over the changes. Also, other people can hear where you are in that song. I also like to play over vamps and ostinato figures because, again, you can play over the time, like Morello did in “Take Five.” Rhythm boxes and synthesizers with digital loops have opened up possibilities in live situations because you can have a machine keep perfect time and you can kind of weave in and out over the top of it.
RM: A few moments ago, you mentioned Nana Vasconcelos. Have you enjoyed having him play with the Metheny group?
DG: Nana is a great, great percussionist. I had never really played with a percussionist on a steady basis before. It has created a whole new approach within the group. Before, there was always a decision to be made between breaking the time up or playing a steady groove. Now, there’s another factor involved where if Nana plays a steady groove, I can play over it a little freer, and if I play a steady groove, he can be freer. So using a percussionist offers another option. Nana has a great sense of musicality. He will fill a lot of spaces that before, never really seemed that open. But after you have Nana play, it seems like it should have always been there. He has a great sense of what to play, as well as, what not to play. A lot of times, he will leave holes around what he’s doing just because he wants the music to have room to breathe. Coming from Brazil, he’s an expert at all of the authentic Brazilian rhythms and instruments. With the group, it gives us the ability to play everything from this earthy, primitivetype music all the way up to modern electronic rock and roll, and everything in between. And instead of just one person creating sound textures in the freer pieces, there are now two people and a whole new variety of instruments. So I think it’s fantastic.
RM: Did you have to simplify your playing to leave room for him?
DG: Yeah. A lot. In certain situations I might find that what he was doing would be complete within itself, or might just need a little bit of punctuation from me. If he’s playing real busy, I’ll play simple. If I’m playing something that’s busy, he’ll play simple. It’s just a question of what sound fits with what particular song. Sometimes we’ll try different things after we’ve been doing it one way for a while, just to try something different.
I consider myself a team player in situations that demand that. I’m always trying to listen to what the others are doing and really be a part of the ensemble as opposed to playing something just for the sake of playing it. Everything should have a reason for being played.
RM: The group recently changed bass players. What effect has that had?
DG: Mark Egan was with the group for three years, but when we had a big break from August ’80 to February ’81, Mark got involved in a lot of studio gigs, and decided he really wanted to do some other things. Meanwhile, Pat was going through sort of a change of direction, because he was hearing things in a little more of a jazz tradition than we had been playing, and felt that we couldn’t really do a lot of jazz tunes with electric bass. Mark plays upright bass, but he was primarily concentrating on electric bass.
Steve Rodby became the new bass player in the group. Pat and I had first played with Steve back when we were in college and we went to a summer jazz camp. Steve is special because he plays both electric and acoustic bass equally well, and they are equally important in his life. Also, he is well-versed in all styles of music and can play them authentically. When Steve joined, he brought a new element to the group because he was coming from having done a lot of studio gigs. His sense of time was very, very accurate and accute, and he was used to playing in a very exact environment. The group has a more flexible and loose way of doing things. So Steve brought a little more consistency to the way we played, and we brought a little more of a looseness feel to the way he played. He was a nice addition to the group and it has offered a lot of different possibilities.
RM: There is a certain “personal” quality in the group’s music.
DG: A lot of people feel that your personality comes out in your music, but it’s not always directly proportionate. There are people who are wonderful people and who play wonderfully, but there are people who are great people and they play horribly, and there are bad people who play great music. So it’s hard to really draw a direct tie. In some cases, a person with a sour personality who has trouble communicating with people might play great music because that’s his way of communicating. It’s the only way he can get it out. I don’t feel you can draw direct proportions all of the time, although I feel that there are a lot of things about my personality that do come out in the music. That’s something that all of us have tried to do, which is, by playing this kind of music, we try to tell a little bit about ourselves and how we feel about things. It’s not like communicating with words—it’s always open to interpretation, so I guess the audience perceives it in different ways.
RM: My perception was that you have a positive attitude towards life.
DG: I’m a firm believer in thinking positively just by giving the subconscious the right messages. If you constantly think that you can’t do something or that you’re going to fail at something, it’s like your mind is already trained to think that you have failed. So you’re going to fail. You’re not thinking in the right direction. I try to constantly affirm things to my subconscious by thinking about exactly what I’m doing and getting a grip on it. A lot of times, things will come out the way you want them, simply because you’ve trained your subconscious mind to do that.
Sometimes I get discouraged because I can think of a million things I want to do and I’m not at a point where I feel I can do them. But I’ve been thinking that even that can be channeled positively because I can think of a lifetime’s worth of work. It means that I’m not going to stagnate; there will always be a new level to reach. There will always be things to work on and it will always be challenging and fun. You need to concentrate on the things you can do now and think about how to use those things in the best way possible. If you say, “I can’t do this and I can’t do that,” the minute you say “can’t,” you’re telling the subconscious mind that you can’t do it, which is another strike against you. I tend to use the word “can’t” to mean that I haven’t reached that point yet, but I know in my heart that eventually I will be able to do it. But a lot of people use the word “can’t” and really start thinking about it and it becomes a negative attitude. It can definitely affect you. It’s hard because there are a lot of pressures in the world today. It’s a very demanding environment.
I think it’s important to do something that you enjoy. That’s the main thing. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t enjoy it. It can be very frustrating at times because of all the demands—demands that you impose on yourself. But you have to recognize what you believe in and hold fast to those principles. You may have to deal with a lot of unpleasant situations and react in ways that you may not feel are really how you want to react. But if you keep your long-term goal in mind and realize that those are the conditions you have to deal with, and know in your heart what’s really important, you can deal with those factors.
RM: A lot of musicians complain that it’s hard to concentrate on being creative while dealing with the pressures of the music business.
DG: I don’t know what it’s like having record company pressure to produce a million-selling hit record. But I do think it is possible to play music that is important and worthwhile, and make a profit. When we first went out, the attitude was, “We’ll do what we can with the budget that we have.” We drove around in a van, we didn’t have a road crew, the pianos were rotten, we didn’t have a sound system, we didn’t have an elaborate anything! But we were able to work and we were able to play music under whatever conditions. We felt we had something to say, so we just went out and played and had fun doing it.
People say, “Well, I can’t do what I want to do because the record company makes me do this and makes me do that.” Maybe I’m talking too idealistically, but I know it’s possible to do a low budget production for two thousand dollars and put out 500 records on your own. If you feel the music is significant, why not do it that way? You can sell them by mail. You don’t have to make a million dollars on every album. If you feel the music is good and it’s something you want to get out—then do it! Some bands that are with record companies that are trying for amazing hits might be better off with a lower budget. By staying within their means they could play the music they feel should be played and still make some sort of a profit. If you have music you want to make but you feel pressured that no one’s going to like it, my feeling is to play it anyway. Be true to yourself.
I realize that I’m lucky to be in a position where I can pick and choose the music I want to play. If I have the choice, I prefer to play music that I feel is significant. But if I were starving, and I had a wife and kids, if I had a chance to do club dates and I needed the money—I’d do them. As I said, you have to look at your own situation and decide for yourself what is the best thing for you to do. Some people might prefer to operate an elevator during the day so that they can play only the music that they want to play. Other people might be willing to play any type of gig, just because they enjoy playing. So there’s no real right or wrong. You just have to figure out what’s right for you.
RM: What do you feel is right for Danny Gottlieb?
DG: I’m interested in a lot of different types of sounds. I guess that’s the underlying factor that led me to become a drummer/percussionist. I love listening to the sounds of nature and hearing the rhythms of nature, such as rain storms, the ocean, birds, and a lot of water sounds. Throughout history, the major musical developments have been by people combining what’s happening at the moment with what has gone on beforehand. They come up with something new based on all those factors. I think we are in a prime time for some new music. We’re in an amazing age of electronics and there’s also a tremendous amount of traditional values to pick from. I feel it would be nice to combine all of those elements and do something which represents feelings about what’s happening in the world today. It would be nice to combine all of these elements in a way that really is impartial to any one element over another element. People say that there’s nothing new under the sun and all that, but there are a lot of new ways to combine things. This is really a great time to experiment. I feel I want to be a part of it.