For the third year in a row, Drumland (a division of the Pro Sound music chain in Germany) recently presented their International Drummers’ Meeting in Koblenz. The director of Drumland—and host for this event—is Jurge Mader. Each year, Jurge brings drummers and percussionists together from all over the world. Some do clinics, while some just play and answer questions. Sometimes the artists just play together in a sort of uninhibited percussion jam.
This year’s artists included Rick Latham, Jon Hiseman, Freddie Santiago (an excellent Latin percussionist who demonstrated congas, timbales and bongos), Willie Wilcox, European drummer Willy Ketzer, Alex Acuna, the dynamic bass and drumset duo of Helmut Hattler and Udo Dahmen, and myself. Corporate sponsors included Sonor, Yamaha, Pearl, Sabian, Paiste, and Zildjian. (I hope I haven’t left anyone out.)
The event began early on a Sunday morning, with all of the artists on stage, setting up drums, selecting cymbals, tuning, muffling, and warming up. This set the mood for the entire day. Each one of us was laughing, playing, and testing new equipment all at once. At one point, Jurge was forced to say, “Boys, boys—not all at once. We have to be able to hear to finish setting up all the equipment.” His comment was accurate; we were like kids having a great time. The feeling of fun and togetherness among all the artists was a joyful experience. Drummers don’t often have the chance to play together in such a relaxed situation.
Once the setup was complete, our first task was to judge five young European drummers in a competition that took place around 11:30 in the morning. Each drummer came on stage and played a drum solo in his preferred style, and each was given the time to play anything he wanted. One young man played a very thoughtful 5/4 rock solo with good time, interesting phrasing and a good, overall musical feeling. The last drummer to perform received the highest scores. Take heart, all you left-handers; this young man was hot! He played matched grip, left-handed and left-footed. He had very good independence, a lot of energy (but no lack of control), and good time feel. He also played a solo that made sense.
After all of the artist/judges had filled in their score sheets, we discussed what we had witnessed. Amazingly enough, there were no disagreements between the judges. We all wanted to be as fair as possible, and in fact, we felt a little badly that all of the contestants could not score equally. Each young drummer had something to offer, each did some interesting things, and each had worked long and hard to get to this point. But without exception, the drummers who scored the highest were the most thoughtful ones. Technique and energy are important, to be sure, but they are most effective when channeled into some type of musical format. The drummers who scored well also made intelligent use of dynamics.
The artists’ presentations began around 12:30, with Rick Latham, who performed, demonstrated his inventive funk style, and answered questions. At 1:00 P.M. I played, answered some questions, and demonstrated some practice techniques. Then Rick and I played a spontaneous drumset duet, and the overflow crowd was really with us. They were having as much fun as we were.
At 1:30, Willie Wilcox performed with some contemporary taped material, exhibiting unusual accuracy, precision and power—and I do mean power. This guy can really hit a drum hard, and still get a musical sound.
Jon Hiseman’s clinic was funny, articulate, and practical. I loved Jon’s line when he said, “I have no chops, but I am accurate.” He then demonstrated how difficult it really is to nail a strong, accurate backbeat at a fairly slow tempo. Jon wound up his clinic by playing a solo which started in 10/8 time. Although he says he has no chops, don’t you believe it; he gets around the kit very well, indeed.
Alex Acuna’s session was especially interesting. He explained that his feeling for Latin music and Latin instruments (such as timbales and congas) had really influenced his approach to the drumset. He played all of these instruments with wit and energy, giving a dazzling display of rhythms and sounds, despite a bad case of jet lag. (Alex had flown in from New York the day before, but you would not have known it from his performance.)
The duet performance by Helmut Hattier (bass) and Udo Dahmen (drums) was intense and dramatic. It was a fitting climax to a day of clinics, drumming, and good feeling all around. The audience—drummers from all over Europe—was attentive and appreciative of each artist. They were open-minded and enjoyed every minute of the day’s events. While other artists performed, Rick Latham and I sat in the audience, and enjoyed talking with a number of the people in attendance. Although it was cold outside, you wouldn’t have known it by the feeling of the people inside. The performances were held in a nightclub that had been rented for the day. Many people sat on the dance floor, and on seats and bar stools around the room. The atmosphere was much more friendly and down-to-earth than that of a concert hall. We were all so close together (there were literally hundreds of people) that the crowd was part of the event. The communication between the artists and the audience was both immediate and relaxed. When the audience and the artists are together all day, and the audience members can actually come up and talk to the artists, they realize that an artist is more than a picture in a magazine: He or she is a human being, involved in music. And I think that makes the drummers from the audience walk out reassured.
An event of this kind was especially valuable to the drummers in this particular audience because European public schools don’t have music education programs. There aren’t any school jazz bands, marching bands, or orchestras. A music student must either study at a conservatory or take private lessons. So without a traditional format for music education, an event like this becomes that much more important.
Besides benefiting the drummers in the audience, getting so many artists from so many different musical areas together is good for the artists themselves. A problem that occurs with artists who are busy is that they rarely have a chance to get out and hear anybody else play. And even going out to hear someone else perform in a show situation is not the same as playing with other drummers, hanging out with them all day long, and making a point to catch their presentations. It’s an enriching process for the performers.
Another advantage for the artists is that a meeting like this one gives them the opportunity to talk with young players. This provides artists with the opportunity not only to give information to the young players, but to pick up input from them as well. The questions asked by young drummers are an indication of what they’re interested in. One of the worst things in the music business is getting behind, and this can happen to performers who become very successful doing one kind of thing. Drummers who do a lot of studio work are often called upon to do a lot of the same thing, because that’s what they’re known for. But while they’re spending time in the studio doing their thing, there’s another trend developing, and five years later, they aren’t wanted there anymore. The world has passed them by. So I think that the interaction between the pros and the young players that took place at the Drummers’ Meeting offered a tremendous benefit to the artists who took part.
It was also noteworthy that the particular group of artists who were assembled this year were not only cooperative with the event, but were also cooperative with each other. That sets an example for all the young players. For instance, I think it was good for the audience to see that Rick Latham and I could play a duet together without being competitive. The stage was completely open—there was no “backstage” area—so that the audience could see all the artists talking with one another, shaking hands and laughing. They could see our enthusiastic reaction when someone else was playing. I think that they could sense a fraternity among the professionals that is of great value to the young player. Sometimes the biggest problem we have in setting a good example for young people is the fact that good news is no news. A lot of characters in our business get attention by doing or saying outlandish things, whereas if a drummer is just a real friendly person and a professional who takes care of business and plays well, you can’t write too much about that. (Nobody puts out a newspaper with the headline: “Airplane Landed Safely.”)
That positive example was probably the single most significant benefit of this event for young players, even though it was sort of subliminal. Nobody got up and preached about it, but the audience could see what was happening among the artists, and people are influenced more by actions than by words. To see that comradery and cooperation among so many strong, professional players might make the young people walk away with the impression that there’s no need to be competitive, or to be against anybody.
Later that evening, our host, Jurge Mader, took 40 or 50 of us to dinner at an elegant restaurant. We had a huge room to ourselves, and it was a great party. The artists, the people from Pro Sound, and the many company representatives from various countries all basked together in the warm afterglow of the entire day. I know that Jurge and his partners do not make a profit on the International Drummers’ Meeting. It is a labor of love—a love for drummers and percussionists, no matter what musical style or country they represent. At the party, Alex Acuna said, “Jurge, this was beautiful. Anytime you would like me to come back, just send me a ticket. I’ll play for free!” I think Alex summed up the feelings of all of us who were fortunate enough to be at this event. We need more drummers’ meetings like this one, and we need more people like Jurge Mader in our business.