The date: May 20, 1984. The place: the Entermedia Theatre. The event: Zildjian Day in New York. Some of the greatest drumming talents in the world took the stage to display their craft. The artists appearing that day were Alex Acuna, Vinnie Colaiuta, Billy Cobham, Steve Gadd, and a man who, although not possessing the fame of these individuals, certainly possesses the drumming ability that ranks him among these gifted players. This man is Tommy Campbell.
His performance at Zildjian Day was inspiring. Unlike other performers that day, Campbell appeared alone, without assistance from other musicians. His rather unique setup (with two vast ride cymbals mounted high and at right angles to the floor) was all he needed to display his impressive abilities. He demonstrated lightning speed with all four limbs, and his solos consisted of emotional flurries between drums and cymbals. One comment made by a spectator (and one which was in the minds of many) was, “How does he play so fast and so strong, for so long?”
Tommy Campbell’s list of musical accomplishments is as impressive as his drumming technique. Currently, Tommy records and tours with jazz great Sonny Rollins. When not recording or touring the world with Rollins (recently back from a successful tour of Japan), Tommy works with fusion guitarist Kevin Eubanks, with whom he has recorded three albums. The rest of Campbell’s time is spent either giving drum clinics for Pearl or teaching in Boston at the Berklee College Of Music. He is so respected at Berklee that his teaching contract allows him to be flexible with his teaching schedule, so he may leave whenever necessary to pursue his professional playing commitments. It’s quite an accomplishment when an educational institution as renowned as Berklee will take Tommy Campbell “whenever they can get him.”
Tommy takes pride in his teaching at Berklee. Tommy himself attended Berklee a few years back, before the legendary Dizzy Gillespie heard the young Campbell play and asked him to join his band. After two and a half years with Dizzy and much critical acclaim, Tommy moved on to play with another legendary musician, John McLaughlin. Campbell recorded two albums (Belo Horizonte and Music Spoken Here) and toured with McLaughlin for almost two years—an experience which helped in developing his talents. Since McLaughlin, Tommy has been with Sonny Rollins. These credits are impressive for a drummer of any age, let alone a man who is only 28 years old.
This interview, which was conducted in Boston at the Berklee College Of Music, was a very pleasurable and educating experence. Tommy Campbell is a very cooperative “interviewee,” as well as being a kind person. After first meeting Tommy at Berklee, he showed me the room where he teaches, which contains two drumkits that face one another. He turned to me and asked me if I played. I replied yes. He then handed me a pair of sticks, said “Let’s do some communicating,” and we proceeded to play for 20 minutes. In the following interview, Tommy Campbell communicates verbally, as well as he does musically.
WFM: I was reading a description of your playing, where you mentioned that your specialty is playing “progressive and creative music.” As a drummer, what do you think it takes to be proficient at playing so-called “progressive” music?
TC: I think the same basic qualities that make a drummer good at any style of music are important in being progressive. Having good time, good technique, and a good feel are items necessary for being a good drummer. The one thing that I think helps any drummer in being progressive is the ability to keep an open mind. With an open mind, you’re able to draw on all styles of music to create something new. You’re also able and willing to experiment with different sounds on your kit, like odd-sized drums and specialty cymbals for different musical effects. There are a lot of people who close their minds off to one style and develop in one direction only. That’s fine, but that doesn’t help in being creative.
WFM: How did you come up with your open-minded attitude?
TC: I don’t think it was anything I worked on. It’s probably more that I’ve been exposed to a lot of different attitudes since I first started being serious about music.
WFM: What made you decide to get serious about music?
TC: Well, basically there were two things in my life that I did when I was growing up: playing drums and sports. These were the things that I did well and enjoyed the most. I either had a pair of sticks in my hands or a basketball.
WFM: Why did you choose the drums over sports?
TC: One thing happened that changed my mind. When I was in the tenth grade, I was playing basketball in a scrimmage game. I was on defense when a guy just brushed my knee, and I went down. I messed up my knees, which I’ve had trouble with, so I decided that the drums were a bit safer and I could have a longer career. From that point on, I really focused in on drumming and committed myself to playing.
WFM: What did your parents and the neighbors think of this commitment?
TC: The neighbors didn’t seem to mind, and my mother was very supportive. My mother always backed me up. I guess she thought that I was serious about music, and it was good for me. I would imagine that some parents wouldn’t consider music something that their kids should be serious about, but my mother respected the idea. My mother and my uncle helped me get my first set of drums. My mother put down some money on my first ride cymbal, and it took me something like three months to pay it off with the odd jobs I would take.
Besides my mother giving me support, I have an uncle who is pretty successful in music—organist Jimmy Smith. When I was growing up, he used to come by the house with his most recent album, which he would play for my family. He inspired me with the type of music he played. I was also inspired when he would drive up in his new Jaguar: I knew that this was the right business to be in. [laughs]
WFM: At that point, did you study privately?
TC: No, I didn’t. I got some training from school bands and groups like that. I did pick up a lot of things from a guy who played drums and who lived across the street from us. His name is Curtis Warner, and he is about four years older than I am. He was also responsible for motivating me to play. I sort of looked up to him, and he would play things for me that I had never heard before. When we were a bit older, he studied at Berklee, and when he would come back, I would check out a lot of the things he had learned. I eventually went to Berklee myself, after high school.
WFM: It sounds like you were more of a self-taught, “street player” back then.
TC: Basically, I just played what I heard, and tried to develop on that. In a way, I was self-taught because I didn’t know the “correct” way of doing things. I just played from my heart. This later became a problem for me when I first got to Berklee. I remember auditioning to get in Berklee, and Gary Burton was handling the auditions. He asked me to play in different styles, which I could do. But when he asked for certain technical things, I didn’t really know what they were. Once someone played it for me, I could play it. Luckily, I was accepted, but for my first two years at Berklee, I had difficulty. After playing for so many years in a natural sort of way, I had problems because my instructors made me start analyzing exactly what I was doing. Instead of just playing what sounded good, which is all I ever did before, I had to think specifically about what my hands and feet were doing. That was extremely foreign to me. The whole situation made me quite intimidated about my playing, but eventually, I got it together. I had to change my way of thinking if I wanted to improve. I worked hard at it, and my confidence came back.
WFM: How do you feel about that whole period of your playing— that “development period” I guess you would say?
TC: Well, now I’m glad I went through it, but at the time, I was frustrated. I felt like my playing was getting worse. I just tried to stick with it and keep practicing. After a time, I started playing at the different clubs in Boston, and I started forming different groups that were playing some good music. I worked with a lot of different bands, including Baird Hersey & Year Of The Ear. That experience also helped my confidence.
WFM: What type of music were you into then?
TC: The music that was happening at that point was the so-called fusion music. The original Mahavishnu Orchestra was really popular with the people I was playing with. Billy Cobham’s drumming back then was very inspiring to me. After a couple of years at Berklee, I formed my own band called TCB—the Tommy Campbell Band—with guitarist Kevin Eubanks, who I went to Berklee with. We played all of the Mahavishnu tunes and some originals that were in the same style. That band was good, and we started to have a following around Boston. Besides going to class and playing with TCB, I started to play out with some of the instructors from Berklee. I started playing with Tiger Okoshi’s group. That was funny because it got to the point where I’d be out working with Tiger’s band at night where a lot of my teachers from school would see me, and then I’d have to get up in the morning and make it to class. Once I started to get my playing together, I was fortunate to get out and play, instead of being stuck in the practice room. During my last year at Berklee, I was pretty busy playing in things outside of school.
WFM: Once you had finished at Berklee, you started working for Dizzy Gillespie. How did that come about?
TC: The way I got the gig with Dizzy was kind of interesting. I first met him about two years before I finished studying at Berklee. I had gone to see Dizzy in concert with a friend of mine, and Mickey Roker was playing for Dizzy at that time. Between sets, I was talking to Mickey, who knew me because I was a friend of his son, but for some reason he never knew that I was serious about playing drums. Once he found out that I played, he asked me if I wanted to sit in during the next set. He introduced me to Dizzy. Dizzy was very friendly and said that if I wanted to, I could sit in. They were playing at a small club, so I guess he figured I wouldn’t ruin his career if I was bad. [laughs] Well, I was really nervous. Before I went on, all I kept thinking was that Dizzy would call some tune that I didn’t know or that I had to play brushes on. Back then, my brush playing wasn’t happening. Luckily, Dizzy called a funk tune that I felt comfortable with. I could tell he was grooving with what I was playing. I was really enjoying it, too. I finished playing, hung out, and watched Mickey play the rest of the night. Mickey was playing great. After the set, Dizzy came over to me and asked me what I was doing. I told him I was studying music at Berklee, and I wouldn’t be finished there for two more years. Dizzy took my phone number and said he would be in touch. I figured that he was just being nice. I knew I wasn’t ready at the time to work for him, but I really felt good about his compliments. So that was it. I didn’t stay in touch with him, but as soon as I got out of Berklee two years later, he called! He asked me if I wanted to go on the road.
WFM: He must have really been impressed with your playing to keep you in mind for so long.
TC: I was surprised to hear from him. I think Mickey might have reminded Dizzy a few times about me. I don’t know.
WFM: What was Dizzy like to work for? Whenever I’ve seen him perform, he’s smiling, happy, and having a good time. Was he like that to the band members off the stage?
TC: Dizzy is the most down-to-earth man you will ever meet. He always treated us with respect, and we did the same. He is very professional in his approach to performing, and he wants the audience to enjoy what he does. I learned a lot from working with him.
WFM: What sort of things did you learn?
TC: One thing I learned from Dizzy is how to be an entertainer. It’s funny, but what you just mentioned about always seeing him smiling and happy during a performance has a lot to do with it. He never brought problems to the stage. When he went on, he sincerely became an entertainer; he was there to make people happy and enjoy themselves. Besides playing great, he was fun. He took the music seriously, but he didn’t act like an “artist.” That’s something that I keep in mind when I perform. I try to play with a positive attitude, and I try to make the performance happen in other ways besides the music.
I also learned a lot from performing with Dizzy night after night. He has a way of keeping his performances consistent. After a time, I heard ideas in his playing that he would use—ideas that he used to help inspire him. For lack of a better term, I’ll call them guideposts—musical ideas that Dizzy would use to get the crowd going and to keep his performances consistent even on nights when things weren’t happening; I tried to adapt that idea to my own playing and soloing. By using these guideposts, I know I can fall back on them whenever I need to. The longer you play and the more experience you have, the more of these “tricks” you know. I use these like a foundation to create from.
Dizzy also taught me a lot about rhythms. He has some of the most unique rhythmical ideas of anybody. He knows the traditional rhythms and he knows how to work with them. He would clap out rhythms with his hands that he wanted to hear on the drums. He would try to get me to play things that he was thinking of, but they were almost impossible to play. I always tried my best to give him what he wanted, and after I was with him a while, I began to understand how he thought. I could adapt to what he wanted to hear.
WFM: Working with Dizzy, you must have gotten your bop playing together.
TC: I don’t consider bop to be my strongest area, but from working with Dizzy, I learned what works and what doesn’t. I loved playing with him.
WFM: How did you feel about playing Dizzy’s pet cymbals?
TC: I loved his cymbals! In fact, when I listen to cymbals, I want them to sound like his. Dizzy has a good ear for cymbals, and he knows what he likes. He knew I loved the sound of one of his China types, so he gave it to me. Unfortunately, it was lost with some of my other equipment in transit.
WFM: What made you finally decide to leave Dizzy?
TC: Well, I had toured all over the world with him, and I had the opportunity to meet a lot of different musicians. On one of the tours, I ran into John McLaughlin, who I had met back when I was at Berklee.
WFM: How did that happen?
TC: As I mentioned earlier, while at Berklee, I was in a fusion band. When McLaughlin’s band played Boston, we opened for them. That’s where John first heard me play. Anyway, a few months before I left Dizzy, I bumped into John on an overseas flight. John mentioned he was going to be recording an album and asked me if I would like to play on it. Of course, I said yes. It worked out that, while I was performing with Dizzy in Paris, John was recording the album in Paris. For five days, I played nights with Dizzy, went to bed for a couple of hours, got up, and went to John’s sessions, which would last about six hours. Then I would try to get a little sleep before going on stage again with Dizzy. I wish I could have practiced John’s material more, but with that schedule, I needed all my spare time to sleep! Without rest, I wouldn’t have been able to play either gig.
WFM: Were you recording the Belo Horizonte album with McLaughlin?
TC: Yes, that’s the one. Once I finished the album, I stayed with Dizzy a few more months. Then I joined McLaughlin, and we toured for Belo Horizonte.
WFM: How did Dizzy feel about your leaving?
TC: I think he realized that it was time for me to move on. My ideas about playing were a bit different after having played with John, so Dizzy let me go. There were no hard feelings between us, and he was very understanding about it. I have worked with Dizzy since then, so I know he wasn’t mad at my leaving.
WFM: Did you record with Dizzy?
TC: No, unfortunately. That’s the one thing I do regret. A few months after I left Dizzy to join John, Dizzy was scheduled to record. From what I have heard, the drummer they used on that recording didn’t work out. I would have liked to have done that album.
WFM: Was it intimidating to work for McLaughlin, since he has worked with some phenomenal drummers?
TC: I don’t think intimidated is the right word. I think admiration and respect were the main feelings I had towards John. When I worked for Dizzy, I was exposed to a lot of highly regarded players, and I learned that they were all human beings, just like everybody else. It’s good to admire a player or be motivated by someone’s playing, but too many people start worshipping certain players, and that’s not right.
WFM: What was it like working with John?
TC: I enjoyed it. John’s concept at that point was different. I was the only American in the band. The rest of the musicians were from Europe, and they all had more classically oriented backgrounds. John played classical and acoustic guitar most of the time; the band tried to stay as close to an acoustic sound as possible. I found it challenging to work in that setting, since it was different from what I was used to.
WFM: How was the interaction between the musicians?
TC: Musically, it was interesting. Unfortunately, we didn’t all speak the same language. One of the guys didn’t speak English at all, and another didn’t speak it that well. Actually, that wasn’t as big a problem as it sounds. We did our communicating musically.
WFM: You mentioned that these musicians were classically trained. Did that cause any problems?
TC: There wasn’t a problem. However, they had a much different feel than John and I. In a way, it was a much stiffer feel. I really had to struggle at times to make the tunes groove the way I thought they should. The best moments of playing for me were when John and I would play together without the rest of the band. We had a natural empathy between us. I was so familiar with a lot of his ideas from having played his music in school that, musically, I thought like him. When he and I played, I could just let go and play. I think John had to hold back a bit when the entire band was playing. I know I did. Don’t get the wrong impression; the musicians in the group were extremely talented players. Their concept was just so different from ours. The keyboardist, Katia Labeque, is a world-renowned classical pianist. She and her sister work as a piano duo, and they are very popular in Europe. Oddly enough, she was not good at improvising. She could play anything written out, but she wasn’t one for playing over changes. She played the same solos night after night. Since she was playing a consistent part, I found that I would try to play differently from time to time, to keep things fresh.
WFM: McLaughlin seems like such an intense human being. What was it like working for him?
TC: Actually, John is very easygoing. He works very hard and he is a very inspirational person, but he is down to earth.
I mentioned before about Dizzy being into rhythm. Well, John is the same way, but he hears and understands rhythmic groupings that are very complex. John would feel odd-note groupings and polyrhythms so naturally, like anyone else would feel four. He thinks in a rhythmic language much like tabla players do. It was an education for me.
Another thing about John that I picked up on was his way of composing. The compositions we were playing were unique, and his approach to song form was different. If you listen to either Belo Horizonte or Music Spoken Here, you’ll hear some very original sounding compositions. I loved his way of combining instruments to create certain effects, and the whole concept of using those particular instruments was different.
WFM: How do you feel about your playing on those albums?
TC: I’m pretty happy with what I did. There are a few things I would like to go back and change, but nothing major. I wasn’t too thrilled with the drum sound on the albums. The sound is good and well recorded, but it’s not how I wanted them to come out. I used the drums that were in the studio, so I didn’t have much control over the sound, other than what I could do with my playing.
One other point about those albums is that the guitar part is way up in the mix in comparison with the rest of the band. On some things it sounds effective, but on others it doesn’t sound right to me.
WFM: Well, it was a guitarist’s band.
TC: That’s right, [laughs]
WFM: You were featured on a few cuts.
TC: There are a couple of tunes where I am featured. I’m happy with my performances on those tunes.
WFM: Why did you leave McLaughlin?
TC: Actually, I didn’t leave; the band folded. We recorded the second album, Music Spoken Here, but we didn’t tour after that. John was having some personal and financial troubles at that time, so the group disbanded. I think John and I would have continued working together, but he changed direction, and started playing in the guitar trio with Paco DeLucia and Al DiMeola. I think that situation was profitable for John, so he pursued it.
WFM: What did you do after that?
TC: I started playing a few sessions, but nothing memorable.
WFM: How did you get involved with Sonny Rollins?
TC: Well, Sonny had been auditioning a lot of drummers, and he couldn’t find one he was happy with. I really didn’t know he was auditioning people. Buddy Williams recommended me for the gig, so I got to audition. At the audition, Sonny and I played alone. After we played for about an hour, he had the rest of the band show up. He had me playing all types of styles and grooves.
WFM: Sounds like a long audition.
TC: The longer it lasted, the more confident I got. I loosened up and played better.
WFM: You must enjoy working with Sonny; you’ve been with him three years.
TC: I love working with Sonny. The music we play is great. We play different styles—straight ahead, Latin, calypso, almost any- thing—and he does it all great. The only problem with Sonny is that he doesn’t tour that often. We will go on the road for, let’s say, two months, and then be off for two months. That causes problems with band members, because they get involved with other situations during the off-time. I have worked with a few different bass players since I’ve joined.
WFM: It must be hard to build up a rapport with a bass player since, as you say, they change occasionally.
TC: That’s true. That’s the only problem though. As for the rest of the gig, it’s great. Sonny plays so few dates, because he treats each one with a great deal of importance. He always prepares and makes sure the band is very tight before every gig. That’s something I’ve learned from Sonny that I feel is very important. Sonny plays each gig as if it’s going to be his last. That motivates him to play, and he does play with such conviction. Sonny really means it when he plays. I try to approach drumming with that attitude. I don’t mean I play busier—play more notes. I just try to give everything I have to the performance, just as Sonny does.
WFM: Can you categorize your playing? You’ve played fusion, straight ahead…
TC: I don’t want to be categorized! I know I play certain styles a bit better than others, but I think a good drummer can cut it in any style. Fusion and progressive music are what I feel I play best.
WFM: Since you feel that fusion is your strong point, how do you feel about your work with Kevin Eubanks, since that would seem to be your style of music?
TC: I think Kevin is a good writer and player. I’m very comfortable with his music, since I’ve known him for so long. I have liked the albums we’ve done together.
WFM: From what I have heard you play, you have a lot of technique. What’s your approach to developing chops?
TC: My approach is simple and not very special; I try to practice as much as I can and as often as I can. I really notice it in my playing when I haven’t practiced in a while.
WFM: When you practice, what types of things do you work on?
TC: I spend a lot of time working on endurance. What I’ll do, generally, is come up with a pattern—let’s say some type of fill around the toms—that I want to work on. I’ll play the pattern over and over, until it’s ingrained in my head. I’ll play a single pattern for 15 or 20 minutes straight without stopping, and seriously concentrate on that pattern alone. Back when I had more time to practice, I would spend anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes on one pattern. I remember once spending an hour straight on one. When I work on things this way, I’m working on a few different items at once. The first thing is endurance. Being able to play for that long a stretch is great for endurance. It also takes a lot of concentration to lock in on a pattern and stick to it. Practicing this way also helps me to memorize the pattern I’m playing. It becomes automatic. I can play it without even thinking about it. I can then concentrate on adding or subtracting notes to the original pattern, and I only have to think about the changes, instead of the whole pattern.
I enjoy practicing patterns that are disjunct—going from unrelated sounds, like from a high tom to a mounted bass drum to a cymbal/bass drum combination. I like to work on these types of things instead of just practicing things in a row, faster and faster. I think of those disjunct patterns as asymmetrical. I also practice just the opposite, which would be symmetrical: As one hand moves from the snare, for example, up the kit, my other hand “mirrors” the first by moving down the kit from the snare. These are just some of the ways I practice moving around the drums faster and more easily.
WFM: Your overall approach seems to involve the ride cymbal sound. Is that something you think about?
TC: Yes and no. I like to play short accentuations with the bass drum and the ride cymbal simultaneously. That’s one reason for my ride cymbals, and why they’re positioned where they are. Instead of playing a lot of crashes, which I do sometimes, I’ll play the ride cymbal and get a more defined, less cluttered sound.
WFM: Your ride cymbals are set up pretty high and angled.
TC: You think so? I’m used to them being up there. When I was with Dizzy, Buddy Rich came in one night to see us, and he sat in on my drums. Well, I don’t have to tell you what he thought about my ride cymbals being up there, [laughs]
WFM: At Zildjian Day, you impressed a lot of people with your hi-hat and bass drum technique. How did you develop your feet?
TC: I don’t have any special techniques with my right foot. I just play in the normal fashion. I do use some techniques with my left foot that I have developed. Besides playing the hi-hat in the normal way, which is the heel-up technique, I move my foot forwards and backwards on the pedal, playing with my toes with my heel up for the first sound, and then with my heel down and my toes up. As I move from heel to toe, the hi-hat produces two sounds: an open “swish” sound, and then a tight, closed “chick” sound. With this technique, I can get it moving pretty fast, and at up-tempos, it sounds good. I also take that basic idea and expand on it. I’ll play two closed notes with my heel up and one open swish with my heel down. When I play this pattern fast, it sounds kind of like the traditional Latin rhythm played on a guiro. I would play that underneath bossa novas and things like that. It’s very effective.
WFM: I remember you playing that at Zildjian Day.
TC: To be honest, I wasn’t that happy with my performance at Zildjian Day. Zildjian videotaped all of the performances that day, and I got to analyze my playing from the tape. Looking back, I rushed through a lot of ideas that I wanted to develop.
The one thing that I was pleased with was the sound of my drums. I had them tuned the way I like, and I thought my sound really contrasted with the sounds of the other drummers performing that day.
WFM: How does your sound differ from theirs?
TC: I don’t know if my sound is so different, but my philosophy about tuning is basically to cover as wide a spectrum as possible. That’s why I use as many toms as I do. My highest tom is tuned very high in pitch, and I go for a consistent range all the way down to my mounted bass drum. I have the entire range covered from the extremely high to the extremely low. I use my toms musically, and I try to approach them in that way when I am soloing. I also tune my snare drum high and crisp.
WFM: How does Sonny Rollins feel about you using such a large kit?
TC: He loves it. He understands my concept and appreciates it. Besides a lot of drums, I use a few cymbals too. I like having differ- ent sounds to choose from. It gives that much more to interpret the music with.
WFM: Since we’re discussing your equipment, could you run down your kit, including drums and cymbals?
TC: I have been using Pearl drums for a few years now, and I’m very pleased with their quality. My new set will have Pearl’s new, black piano finish, which I saw at the factory on my last tour to Japan with Sonny. It’s a beautiful finish. My previous set had Pearl’s Extender Series, which had the normal head size with a slightly smaller edge on the drum. Unfortunately, they’re discontinuing that model, so my new set will be normal size. I’ll be getting two bass drums: a 16×20 and a 16×22, which I won’t be using simultaneously. I don’t play double bass drums. I’ll choose between the drums depending on the type of gig I’m playing. I also have a mounted bass drum up over my floor toms. It’s a 14 x 20. The toms are 8x 12, 10x 12, 11 x 13, and 12x 14, and the floor toms are 14 x 14 and16 x 16. All the drums will have Pearl’s SuperGripper lugs and Super hoops.
WFM: Why do you use a 14″ rack tom and a 14″ floor tom?
TC: I’ve always liked the sound of the smaller floor tom, and there is enough of a difference between the two 14’s. I also use the smaller floor tom, so I don’t have to turn as far to reach the 16″ floor tom.
The snare drum I’m using is a 6 1/2″ Pearl Free-Floating Shell type. I have a maple shell and a brass shell for it, which is nice because it gives me a choice in sound with basically the same drum.
As far as mounting is concerned, I will be using Pearl’s rackmount system to hold everything in place. Concerning drumheads, on the bass drums I’m using Remo Pinstripes. The snare drum has an Evans coated head on it with no muffling. On the toms, I have been using Remo clear Ambassador heads, but I’m switching to Pinstripes for a fatter sound. I’ll still tune them up high. I’m also switching to a thicker head, because I have been wearing out the thinner ones due to the size of the stick I use, which is the Vic Firth Rock model.
My cymbals are all Zildjian. My setup varies from time to time, but here is what I have been using. From left to right, I have a 14″ swish. Next to that is my 20″ K. ride with three rivets. Next is a 12″ splash, which is set between and underneath my two rides. My next ride is a 22″ Brilliant K., which I love to death. When I’m playing fusion, I’ll switch that with a 22″ Brilliant Earth Ride, which has a very defined sound. Next to that ride, I have a 16″ crash, and next to that on my far right is an inverted 22″ China Boy High. Between the 14″ rack tom and the 14″ floor tom, I have a Latin Percussion cowbell mounted with an 8″ splash cymbal mounted upside-down on top of it. They are separated by a felt washer. My hi-hats are what Zildjian calls “cross-matched.” When I’m playing a fusion gig, I use a Rock top with an Impulse bottom, which is what Zildjian means by cross-matched. When I’m playing with Sonny, I use a pair of 14″ Brilliant Quick Beats.
WFM: You have an elaborate setup.
TC: I like having a range of sounds to choose from. I’d like to mention my roadie Tony Pleas. I call him my “gadget man,” because he is up on all of the current trends in the drum business. I met him when I was with McLaughlin, and Tony gives me advice on equipment. He also does all of the maintenance work on my equipment when I’m on the road. He is very good at what he does, and I would like to use his services more but he only works with me when I’m working on the East Coast.
Now that I’ve given you this list of equipment, I’d like to say something about it. The equipment I use is some of the finest available. It’s important to have equipment that is good and reliable, but good equipment doesn’t make a good drummer. A good drummer should be able to get a good sound happening on any set. It’s not the drums; it’s the drummer. After mentioning all of the specifics of my set, you probably think I’m equipment oriented. In a way, I am, but only to the point that it helps me express myself. I don’t use anything that I don’t feel has a place in the music and in what I play.
WFM: Do you think that drummers coming up today are too equipment oriented?
TC: There are a few, I suppose, who need to get away from thinking about it so much and just think about playing. I have a few students who seem to be overly concerned with equipment.
WFM: Since you mentioned teaching, what is it like teaching at Berklee?
TC: It’s very busy, but I enjoy it. I have 35 students, and I find that teaching helps my playing. I think, to be a good teacher, you really have to know your own playing. Some things that I have been playing for years are like second nature to me, and in order to relate that information to students, I have to analyze what I’m doing more carefully.
I’m very honored to be teaching at Berklee. When I am out play- ing, I represent the school, and I try to promote Berklee to the different people I meet. It’s a good school, and I’m pleased to be involved with it. Since Sonny tours so irregularly, it’s good to be able to balance my playing with teaching.
WFM: Could you see yourself teaching full time at some point?
TC: I can’t see myself doing that in the near future. I’m a player. I want to keep improving myself and concentrate on my own musicianship. I plan on playing for a long time.