The Other Side of the Story
No story is complete when you just hear one side. The great philosopher Herbert Spencer in his book “First Principals” speaks of the truth as being “two truths” meaning that no one side of a truth is wholly true. I find this highly intriguing!
“If both have (truths) have bases in the reality of things, then between them there must be a fundamental harmony”
“Fundamental Harmony” I like that.
One side of my story is that I am known as a drummer. I started playing as a sideman, supporting the band, when I was fifteen. When I was 25 I led my first gig at a jazz club in Kansas City because I wanted to play the music I loved, the stuff that excited me most. I wanted to play what I wanted to play. So I did.
There was only one problem: I hadn’t written any of my own music. After a while, I became uncomfortable with playing covers, even if they were the hippest, coolest songs I could find. I felt incomplete as an artist unless I was out there presenting my own musical vision.
I wanted to present the other side of my story.
I’ve always been writing. Luckily, I documented most of it. Either on cassettes, mini-discs, hard disc recorders or just plain ol’ pencil and paper. By 2016 there were an enormous amount of ideas. So I sifted through them all, finding the most promising stuff. Most of them were grooves or vampy ideas.
I desperately wanted to finish these ideas and hit the bandstand with all my own original music. The distance between where I was and where I wanted to go was vast; melodies and arrangements needed to be written, charts for the band (ones they could read easily)
I knuckled down and started working; piano study with a local great, Bob Himmelberger, made a huge difference in the possibilities I could realize as a composer and after two years of piano lessons, several rough drafts and revisions, I had 13 new songs to record.
Before I recorded them though, I took them out to KC and played a show of my music with a great group of young cats. The response was amazing. People liked my music! Not to mention the band played my stuff well, and that was a great feeling. The show went really well and I found the confidence to go record the music with my NYC band.
I chose to work with Michael Carvin as the producer. As soon as Carvin signed on, the project took on an intensity. He picked Systems Two studios in Brooklyn, a legendary studio with amazing people running it. We sat down and read through the music, discussing the concept. A lot of planning went into it and we left no stone unturned.
These days, especially in NYC, when you want to work with great musicians, you’re usually going to have one or two who are busy and can’t commit. It’s the bandleader’s quandary. Luckily, all of the musicians I wanted to work with were available.
Mark Peterson: A wonderful spirit and human being. He's played with Stevie Wonder, Ornette Coleman, Sonny Sharrock.... how's that for a resume? Being around Mark is always elevating and optimistic. Mark plays incredible electric and upright bass. I knew he’d bring the anchor that I needed. Oh, and he’s from Missouri, too, so we have that geographical connection which is an intangible that's difficult to find..
Klaus Mueller: I met Klaus at the New School in NYC. We were playing in the brazilian ensemble, playing a lot of Hermeto Pascoal and Jovino Santos Neto music. We made a connection immediately and I have always loved playing with him. His touch and rhythm are impeccable and his harmonic thing is quite deep. Klaus doesn’t miss a thing. On top of all this, he’s adventurous and daring in the music, but never to the point of dropping the ball. A real gem of a player.
Vic Juris: Vic is sometimes touted as "unsung" but if you ask any musician around New York about Vic, they will respond with respect and props. My first experience with Vic was when we recorded Steve LaSpina’s “Destiny” album on the SteepleChase label. I have been a fan since. In my opinion, Vic has created his own vocabulary, which is the ultimate for a musician and few ever get there. Vic’s experience and sensibilities were perfect for my music, especially since I wrote most of it on guitar. Vic brought life to the songs and added nuances that I could’ve never dreamed of. That’s why he’s Vic!
Peter Schlamb: I met Peter in Kansas City in like, 2013 or something like that. He was all over those vibes. Then I heard his album “Electric Tinks” and I loved his vision as an artist, so I called him to play my music when I debuted it in KC in 2017. He really brought a lot of imagination to the music and I couldn’t consider doing a record without him. Peter brought it all to the session and then some. I am extremely grateful that he was in NYC to be on the album. He’s a one of a kind, like all the cats on the record.
The Producer: Michael Carvin
In this session I learned what a real producer does. Carvin has made a lot of records. As a Motown studio drummer, he learned from Barry Gordy. We’re talking HITS! I 100% trusted him, yet I had didn't exactly what to expect, only that it would be all business and that we would have fun, too.
Carvin guided us through the music with a decisive hand. He kept us on point. Sometimes, musicians need a no nonsense decision maker who is thinking of the sound of the album, the way it’s going to make people feel. Keeping the musicians from getting too wrapped up in the minutia of their individual sound and thinking about the big sound, the group sound. With Carvin, it's all about SOUND.
Through two days of recording, Carvin worked respectfully, with intensity, with discipline, with humor, with love. It was really something else. After many years of studying with Carvin as a drummer, in the studio many of those lessons came to fruition. I learned what a real producer is. I learned how to handle musicians, engineers, studio owners. I even learned more about myself; how to trust myself.
Most of all, the session reinforced the maxim: Surround yourself with the best possible and good things will happen.
As the session came to a close and cats were packing up, everybody had a sense of “what just happened?” about them. In a good way. They all had a grin on their face. It hadn’t been like work. In fact, it felt like nobody wanted it to end.
Systems Two Recording Studio: A Family Affair...
We recorded "The Other Side of the Story" at Systems Two Recording Studio in Brooklyn. Nancy and Joe have been running this legendary studio since 1974. I met with Nancy before the recording and I could hardly contain my excitement and was awestruck at the vibe and layout. This studio had it exactly right. High ceilings, wonderful drum booth, visibility, breathing room... And talk about microphones, woah! Max Ross is also a beautiful cat, wonderful engineer and positive spirit to have in the studio. It makes a big difference.
Mixing with Dave Darlington at Bass Hit Studios, NYC
Every now and then you meet a person who has all the combined qualities you’re looking for: optimism, work ethic, cool personality, experience, creativity. Dave Darlington is the best engineer I’ve ever met. I don't like tagging him with the label of "engineer" because he's a composer and musician, too. His experience speaks for itself, winning Grammys with people like Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock and Sting. He’s like one of the “secret weapons” of NYC musicians. Cats “in the know” go to Dave.
I have a 15 year history with Dave, I met him in 2005 when I was mixing a hip-hop record and his knowledge and depth struck me instantly. This dude knows music. After a few mixing sessions with Dave, my standards for sound were forever changed. I learned a lot from watching him and just being around such a craftsman of sound, I tried to absorb as much of that magic as I could.
Since then, I've work with Dave on several albums: "Acknowledgement" "Progressive Jump Rope Beats" are two of them. I also played drums on his album "D-Tour".
Carvin and Dave have a history, too, and they worked in tandem like clockwork. Dave took Carvin’s descriptions of the sounds he wanted and realized them into the mix. It was uncanny! No matter how abstract Carvin’s suggestions could seem, Dave turned into into tangible sound.
I’m beginning to think that mixing is my favorite part of making a record. It’s just so rewarding to hear that album come together and then sit back and listen to a beautifully crafted SOUND.
I could go on about Dave, but I’ll just say that when you hear “The Other Side of the Story”, you’ll know. Trust me.
Artist: Debra Marleen Smith
I didn’t know what I wanted for the cover of this album, but I knew what I didn’t want. Not another picture of myself! Something artistic, something interesting to look at. Something that can resonate with the music.
My search ended one day when I was looking at Instagram. A friend from high school who now lives in Kansas City, Debra Marleen Smith, had posted something that was infinitely interesting. I couldn’t stop looking at it. And, I’d never seen anything like it.
Debra has her own fingerprint as an artist. That’s difficult to realize, weather it’s in music or visual art or whatever… To get out of our own way and allow ourselves to be who we are, can sometimes take a lifetime. Debra has become true artist, all the way. She has an identity. She stands for something.
Just in the way Debra creates her art is intriguing; Textiles. Fabrics. All cut up and reassembled, composed. Statements. Improvisations. Embracing what she loves and going with it.
I asked Debra if she’d be interested in working with me on an album cover and she said yes.
Photography and Design: Chris Drukker
Anybody who has an insight into life is going to have an insight into art. I’m typically impressed with people who are somewhat obsessed with life’s intricacies, especially when the obsession is music. I met Chris Drukker one time when he was photographing two of my students. When I saw the photos, I was knocked out because he captured them in such majesty, honesty, optimism and poignancy. He captured them as DRUMMERS. It was beautiful and I knew I wanted to work with him.
Through the past few years I’ve gotten to know Chris and come to be almost in awe of his knowledge of music and musicians. He knows everybody on the scene. He’s photographed ‘em all. And so, when I chose to have Chris come to the studio while we were recording, I trusted him because I knew he’d respect the vibe. And he did.
Chris captured the session beautifully. You could feel his respect for the musicians and the music.
It can’t be an easy job, to come into a dark recording studio and capture musicians on film while they are at their highest concentration. I don’t envy that. It takes a special temperament; a tenacity mixed with compulsion to create art, to capture the rarest of rare moments that tell the story.
And lastly, Chris Drukker has done the graphic design art for “The Other Side of the Story” and that’s the finishing touch. When I saw his design, it LOOKED like a Chris Drukker fingerprint. There’s a good reason he’s done 700+ albums in his time. He’s got the touch. That’s for sure.
Making an album is a very personal process and one reveals oneself; good, bad or otherwise. In my mind, an artist is one who realizes their creativity honestly and in alignment with who they are. That's what I set out to do here and I hope you all enjoy listening to "The Other Side of the Story".
A quick blog post on the cycling topic. If you're here reading this blog, there's pretty good chance you know I'm a drummer by trade and cycling is one of my hobbies. Recently I discovered something interesting on the effect of cycling on my drumming.
I found after a few long distance rides of 40 miles that my endurance had increased significantly and my mental focus and momentum could be held for longer periods of time while playing.
When you're cycling long distances, once you get out there 20 miles or more, well, you have no choice but to ride back. Unless you wanna call an uber. Which I don't. Anyways, cycling kind of forces you to deal with it. and that mentality, once you've broken thru a few mental walls that tell you to stop, you'll likely find that on the other side of that wall you can go a lot further than you might have thought.
Bring that mindset to the drums and holding a groove. Cyclists hold what they call a cadence for hours. It's hypnotizing. After a few rides, I sat down at the drums and that hypnotizing feeling was still there. It was like I was already totally in a pocket, and I think that's maybe because I HAD been in a pocket for hours at a time already.
I don't have any other major revelations to add. I'm still sussing it all out. This is my first summer back on a bike in many years. But Hey! Nevermind that, the important thing is that "groove sports" like cycling, jump rope, speed bag... that kind of stuff, is very interesting to me and I have found them all to be beneficial to my playing physicality.
More to come on this topic soon...
A breakdown of the songs from the album
People are often interested in where songs come from, especially the titles. They like to hear about the circumstances in which the song was written, or the inspiration. So here's a breakdown of the songs on "The Other Side of the Story"
Eureka Springs is a beautiful little village nestled up in the Ozark mountains of Arkansas. In the 90’s I performed there with Ahmad Alaadeen’s band, The Dean’s of Swing. The town had a magical quality to it and we were treated very well by the locals. I wrote this when I got back to KC, it’s actually the first "jazz" song I ever wrote. We played it a lot in my KC bands of the 90s and the cats seemed to really like it, it’s fun for them to solo on and has a few feel changes that are fun to play.
Viewpoints: is a song that I wrote on guitar and it came out in it’s entirety, all at once. I call it Viewpoints because the melodic theme is viewed from several different angles within the tune. I first called it “Wayne-ish” because it reminded me a little of Wayne Shorter. But I later renamed out of respect for Mr. Shorter.
Infinite Six: My favorite rhythms are usually in a three or six beat feel. I feel like triplicate beats have an infinite quality, meaning they can go on forever. With that as the basis I wrote the melody on guitar, which is my favorite instrument to write on, and it came out like what you hear on the song.
Hannibalian: The definition of that word would be “One who was born and raised in Hannibal, Missouri” No matter how far I have travelled from my Missouri hometown, I will always be a Hannibalian. To be honest, for many years I didn’t even claim to be from Hannibal because nobody knew where it was and they’d make a joke about Hannibal Lecter, so I claimed KC as my home. Which, to me, KC is my musical home. Hannibal is my hometown and I claim it. To be from Hannibal IS special; to grow up on the river, running through cornfields, playing in creeks and streams, fishing for catfish… it was a dream.
Drive: This song has two main influences. I was playing the bass, just having fun, and the bass line came about and I really liked it. The melody came from an inspiration when I was watching the movie “Tron” which has a brilliant score written by Wendy Carlos. The melodies in Tron are very angular, which I love, so I used some of the intervallic ideas from Tron to compose this melody.
The Distance: Sitting in my NYC apartment in the days and weeks following 9/11, there was no music that would comfort me, so I wrote this on guitar and sang the melody, it was about the only way to make myself feel any better. I put the song away for many years because I felt it was too personal to play in public. I included it for this album because it really worked in the studio, thanks to producer Michael Carvin who guided us to the “Other Side”. The title, The Distance, refers to the distance I felt, personally, between myself and the horror of the event. Even tho we watched it from our doorstep in NYC, in an obtuse way life went on and there was a distance between us and the actual horror.
Jump Rope Dance: I have long been obsessed with the jump rope and the way it makes me feel. I especially love jumping rope to music. The bass line came first, written on bass, then the melody was inspired by a Horace Silver line, which also sounds like a lick I’ve heard some guitar player use and the bridge is a total departure melodically. The final result is this song Jump Rope Dance.
Ozark Flight: This song is me imagining what it would be like to fly over the Ozark Mountains. At the time this was written I was listing a lot of Pat Metheny’s album “Bright Size Life” and also Stevie Wonder. I wrote it on guitar way back in 1999 and put it away because it never sounded right with horns playing the melody, but now with vibes/guitar it really sounds the way I intended it to.
Ascent: The most recent of all the songs, Ascent was written completely on piano. After studying piano for a couple years, I began to understand harmonic movement better, so this tune came from that. I call it Ascent because it has this feeling of rising up. I like it when chords change, but there is one note that can work with all the chords. I plan on developing this concept further in the future.
Start of the Change: This tune was first written on guitar using minor 9 chords. I first recorded it as a hip-hop song, tricking it out with a lot of production to make up for the fact that it was only a couple chords. Recently I revisited it and wrote the bridge and melody on piano. The result is what you hear now. The title comes from a period in my life when I felt a big change coming on, getting away from playing jazz of the past and getting to my own music.
Vistas: The guitar has been a loyal and truthful friend since I first picked one up and began learning chords. Through guitar, I came to appreciate guitarists/composers. My favorite one is a guy named Toninho Horta. Toninho is a genius of music, pure and simple. His chord voicings are so cool. I learned some of them and put this tune together, it took a year trying to find the right resolutions and such, but eventually I got something I liked. I performed it as a solo piece on this album because the guitar is such a personal instrument to me and because the song represents the optimistic spirit in which I made this record. The title, Vistas, refers to an image I see of flying over mountain tops and across vistas into the horizon.
The Other Side of the Story: No story is complete when you just hear one side. The great philosopher Herbert Spencer in his book “First Principals” speaks of the truth as being “two truths” meaning that no one side of a truth is wholly true.
“If both have (truths) have bases in the reality of things, then between them there must be a fundamental harmony”
“Fundamental Harmony” I like that.