by Gabe Villiani
Great musicians have commented on Duffy’s fantastic playing; Stan Kenton said, “Duffy will be our next big band leader”; Duke Ellington said, “Duffy plays great!”; Count Basie said, “Duffy is as heavy as they come”.Duffy Jackson is a fantastic musician and a wonderful man, and even though he is only 23 years old, he has experienced 1,000 musical years already.
Gabe: How did you get started playing drums?
Duffy: When I was 4, Don Lamond would come over to our house a lot. He was working with my father at the time. I would keep time to the records, so Don talked my father into buying me a set of drums. Don taught me some basic beats and I’ve been playing ever since.
The first 5 years that I was playing, dad would let me sit in with the bands he was working with. I must have played with some of the best musicians that ever lived. What a fantastic experience! Playing with my father taught me a lot. Dad is from the “King Kong” school of bass playing. We started a beautiful musical relationship that still exists today. We love each other dearly.
Gabe: What kind of formal training did you have?
Duffy: I never had what you would call formal training. I learned from all the wonderful people that my father knew, like Roy Burns and Don Lamond. I even had a lesson on television with Gene Krupa when I was 6. I taught myself to read music and I learned what we call rudiments, by sound. I learned by listening to sax players, bass players – everyone. Dizzy and Bird are very rhythmic players; I learned solo playing from analyzing their solos. I really never wanted to learn to play the way everyone else learned. My reading was helped by having been blessed with a good memory – I can remember an arrangement pretty fast. I must say that playing with a lot of great musicians were experiences that inspired me to be dedicated.
My dad taught me the most important lesson of playing. He taught me how to be compatible musically with other musicians. A drummer can develop all the technique in the world, but if he can’t be compatible musically, he can’t make it. I’d rather be able to swing a band than to have fast chops.
Gabe: But you do have fast chops.
Duffy: Not as fast as Louie Bellson or Buddy Rich. Speaking of Buddy, I sat in with his band the other night. He asked me to play the first tune of the second show, “The Rotten Kid”. It was an honor to be asked by Buddy and it’s a thrill sitting in the driver’s seat of Buddy’s band.
You know, Buddy is a ferocious player, but he is also one of the most sensitive brush players that I ever heard. He never gets credit for being a brush player, but he is. Buddy is one of my favorite brush players.
Gabe: Speaking of favorites, who are some of your favorite drummers?
Duffy: My dad is my favorite – you can say that I learned drums from a bass player. Another favorite is tap dancer, Steve Condos. Steve is the greatest tap dancer in the world. When I was 6 years old, he and I would play fours on the stage during Woody Herman concerts. Steve taught me rhythms and accents, just by listening to him.
As for drummers, I was influenced by every great drummer that ever recorded. I consider drummers to be a religion in themselves, that have been put on this earth to create rhythms and make people happy. I feel sorry for people that can’t take out their frustrations by playing an instrument. That’s why I’m dedicated to entertaining people with music. I put everything in my soul into playing. I guess I’m trying to say that I want people to know that I am a young musician who wants to be a gentleman that can swing. I want people to feel good. I’m trying to emulate the beautiful disposition of a Louie Bellson.
Gabe: Is Louie Bellson the drummer you want to emulate the most?
Duffy: Yes, not only musically, but spiritually. Louie Bellson is loved all over the world. He communicates a message of love through his music. I don’t think anyone has anything bad to say about Louie. He takes the time to really talk to you and he has compassion for what you’re going through in your life. Louie also has unlimited energy. He is the only drummer I know who becomes more relaxed the faster he plays. He’s thirty years older than I am, but he has much more endurance and unlimited energy.
I first met Louie when I was eight years old. We did a drum clinic together, along with Jim Chapin and my father. I didn’t see Louie for 10 years after that. We talked on the phone a couple of times, but it was actually 10 years later that I met him at NBC in Burbank. He got me backstage where I watched him play The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson.
Louie got me the job with Lena Horne when I was 18 – on just his recommendation alone, without Lena Horne ever hearing me, and he got me the job with Sammy Davis, Jr. He even gave me his personal drum set to play the show with, because I had a beat up set. Louie got me the job by getting George Rhodes to come and hear me at the Baked Potato in L. A. My audition was at a benefit that Sammy was doing and I had to play five of his toughest arrangements. To make the audition even more interesting, Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope were backstage digging the show. George Rhodes put a $100 bill in my hand and said, “Go out there and burn”. I was in seventh heaven. George called me a couple of days later and offered me the job. I spent two years with Sammy and George. I gained an unbelievable amount of experience and knowledge within those two years.
Gabe: Are there other drummers that have had strong influences on you?
Duffy: Alan Dawson really impressed me. He’s a very musical drummer. Three years ago, I was invited up to Dick Gibson’s Jazz Party in Colorado Springs. I roomed with Alan Dawson for three days. We had a ball. We did a number, “Milestones”, with two drummers and two bass players – it was wild!
Another drummer that was nice to me was Lenny White. I saw him at a concert and I went backstage. He treated me the greatest. That’s the instantaneous communication that I dig, drummers understanding and knowing what we as drummers love. It’s a fraternity.
There are a lot of drummers that have influenced me; Roy Haynes, Max Roach, Buddy; but I can’t express enough how much Louie has inspired me.
Gabe: How did you get the experience to play the TV shows the way you did? You did a great job.
Duffy: I learned on the job. I respect George Rhodes for allowing me to learn on the job. There were so many different types of acts. I didn’t have time to make mistakes. When I did make a mistake, George was kind enough to smile and say, “Well, O. K.”
Gabe: You can’t learn to play shows that polished without having some sort of experience. How did you do it?
Duffy: Working with my dad had given me the foundation to have the confidence to walk into any musical situation without worrying if I could take care of the job or not. I’m only 23, almost 24, but I have been playing for 20 years.
My father and I have a unique situation. We are a father and son rhythm section. I left Sammy Davis, Jr. to pursue this working relationship with my father which we still have till this day.
Gabe: Duffy, since this is a drummer’s magazine, let’s talk about drums. What type of set-up do you use, and how do you tune your drums?
Duffy: Well, first, let me say that I use all the heads on all the drums. I tune both my bass drums to a low C and I tune my 18″ floor tom, to a G; then I tune my other floor tom to an E. My two 9 x 13’s are tuned to C and B flat; finally, I tune my snare to a G. I use two bass drums with a big band and one with a small band.
Gabe: How about cymbals?
Duffy: I use 14″ hi hats; three 20″ cymbals, all mediums – one ride – one swish – one sizzle. I also use an 18″ and a 16″ crash.
Gabe: Do you use floor stands for all the cymbals?
Duffy: Yes, and before you ask, I use Jake Hanna model nylon tips.
Gabe: Aren’t you endorsed by Tama Drums?
Duffy: I love Tama Drums! They look good, they sound good and they feel good. Tama is a small company and I’m truly proud that they picked me to represent them. I am only the second drummer they’ve endorsed, and I feel very grateful and honored to have been selected.
Gabe: Who else are they endorsing?
Duffy: Several others. Mel Brown is the most known to other drummers. Mel is a musical Guru who owns a drum shop in Portland. He’s an inspiration to drummers wherever he goes. He’s beautiful! I am hoping that one day Tama Drums puts us out on clinics together.
I’d like to mention here that if any club or school would like me to do a clinic, or just wants information on Tama Drums, they can write to: Tama Drums, Box 469, Cornwells Heights, Pa. 19020. I would love to do more clinics.
Gabe: How about passing on to fellow drummers some of the tips you’ve picked up over the years?
Duffy: Well, I think the most important habit a drummer should develop is listening. Develop BIG ears. Try to be flexible, and don’t put down any style of music you don’t understand. Listen to jazz greats like Dizzy, to see how rhythmically they form solos; don’t practice on the job, and respect the other musicians. Remember that listening is 51% of playing; rhythmic intensity should be built with the bass player and piano player, not alone. When soloing, don’t throw your Sunday punch first, build up to it. Try to develop your psychological chops.
Gabe: What format do you use to teach a clinic?
Duffy: I get scientific, I even use formulas like x+y=z. Concentrate on sound (x) + performance (y) = production (z). To define it further, make sure the drums have the best sound by tuning them and changing heads as often as you can afford. Performance means to be as visually exciting as you can. Production means overall product or result.
Gabe: Can you give us a few more x+y=z’s?
Duffy: O. K. x+y=z. Authority + discipline equals a good performance. Pride plus enthusiasm = spirit. I shine my drums as often as possible to show pride in my instrument.
Gabe: Any other advice that you can give?
Duffy: I would advise drummers to restrain from being cocky on the job. If you want to show how hip you are, do it through your playing. Think simplicity, don’t mess up a groove. Ask questions during a rehearsal and write things down so you don’t forget during a show. Try to tape yourself whenever you can, so you can hear what you sound like. Weed out what you don’t like in your playing.
Gabe: How about your future plans?
Duffy: I am currently working with my father and Steve Condos. We just finished a very successful 17 week engagement at the Hideaway Lounge in Hallandale. Florida. We formulated a beautiful band during that engagement, so beautiful that we are going to do an album for RCA with the same band. My father and I are writing original material for the album. Ultimately, I would like to carry on the tradition of big band drummer leaders like Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, and Louie Bellson. There are no young big band leaders to take the place of the masters. I feel that I could do a good job at fronting a band. That’s my dream.