Up & Coming
A twelve-year-old reaches into the “El Negro” clave bag, and more than holds his own on a disc featuring Eddie Gomez.
by Ilya Stemkovsky
Most twelve-year-olds are busy trying to beat that hot new combat video game, and even the more rhythmically inclined are trudging to weekly lessons, wondering why they need to learn that ratamacue. Not Aleks Girshevich. He was busy coming up with the involved “three handed” grooves that form the basis of the tunes on Algorithmic Society, a beautifully executed jazz trio recording featuring his father, Vlad, on piano and bass legend Eddie Gomez.
The cymbal touch and sophistication of the patterns and drum solos on the record are indeed a marvel, as are the gorgeous, flowing compositions. Girshevich was born in Uzbekistan but has been stateside since age four, and today he finds himself as certainly one of the youngest but more accomplished jazz drummers on the Denver music scene. “I started at the age of five,” Girshevich says, “and my dad would test me out to see if my ear was good. He would play me a rhythm, and I managed to follow it pretty easily. He is a heavy jazz player, and jazz is the route he chose for me. I don’t think I’d enjoy any other type of music as much as jazz.”
Girshevich ingested the diet of Al Jarreau, Oscar Peterson, and Keith Jarrett records that his father fed him early on, but the internet played an important part as well. “YouTube is a helpful tool,” Aleks says. “That’s where I check out a lot of super-good drummers. But I also checked out Jojo Mayer’s [instructional packages], where he explains everything about technique so in depth. And that really helped with my playing.”
Algorithmic Society will confound even the most seasoned of jazz listeners. It’s easy to throw out terms like “prodigy” or “mature beyond his years” when describing Girshevich’s playing, but the drumming throughout is simply brilliant for any age. Aleks would come up with parts inspired by Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, and his father would write compositions based on those patterns. “With Horacio, he pretty much always has that left-foot-clave thing going on,” Girshevich says. “And he inspired me to do that. I learned how to solo with that at first. I thought it would be a useful tool to learn how to do that at an early age. The other thing I learned from him is how he would sound like two drummers playing. He would have one groove [going] and so many other cowbells in the background that you wouldn’t understand how they were there. So I created my grooves based upon that.”
It’s challenging enough to play jazz in a small-group setting and sound assured at a tender age, but left-foot clave and cowbell parts too? “The challenges were thinking about how all the different parts have to link together,” Girshevich explains. “And then playing the groove itself and adding the cowbell to that without having the groove fall apart. I have one cowbell with a pedal and then a few more on the drumset itself—two attached to the kick, one on a tom, and another individually on a stand.”
So how does bassist Eddie Gomez, who’s no stranger to working in piano trios or playing with legendary drummers, get involved with a project like this? Father and son went to hear Gomez at the Denver club DazzleJazz and laid a demo disc on him. That usually never works, but one can imagine the high level of playing Gomez heard, and things moved into place to make a recording.
“At first it was a little frightening, considering who Eddie was and all the cats he’s played with,” Girshevich says. “But when I was in the studio, I tried to be as professional as I could be. I just tried to play music rather than worry about everything else that was going on. Eddie wanted the recording to be great. Every time he took a solo, he wanted it to be the best solo he could play. He would do a take and say he didn’t like it and keep going back until it sounded perfect. He enjoyed playing with us and put so much effort into his solos and playing well in general.”
So is Denver the last stop for this drumming phenom? Or is the plan for brighter lights? “After I graduate high school, I’ll definitely consider the New School,” Girshevich says. “There are really great players in the Denver scene, but I also need to play with other musicians in different states.”
Tools of the Trade
Girshevich plays DW drums, Evans heads, Zildjian cymbals, Pearl Horacio Hernandez cowbells, and Vic Firth sticks.