When I was a kid growing up in Hannibal, Missouri, I practically lived on a bicycle. There was no better feeling than to jump on the bike and feel the cool breeze on my face as I sped away from home, down the giant hill on Flora Av, past Mark Twain Elementary, down St. Mary's Av. and off to wherever my will wished. It was simple, yet it required effort in the hills of Hannibal.
The bike expanded one's horizons, circle of friends, possibilities, and it represented your spirit of freedom. Sometimes, when you see somebody on a bike, they look as if they haven't a care in the world, yet they are determined, they are moving forward. They are going somewhere.
Adventuring out on a bike would have it's challenges. I have a big scar on my chin from attempting to ride down Flora Av. hill. At five or six years old, I thought it was time. I probably thought: What would Spiderman or Luke Skywalker do? So I tried it. On this bike:
Despite an epic crash and several stitches to the chin, I tried again and succeeded.
When I was 10 I started racing. BMX. We hauled the bike up to Quincy, Ill to the dirt race track and I competed in three "motos" a day. Sometimes it was glorious, winning a trophy against the Quincy boys. Other times, a devastating crash would send me back to Hannibal with bruises and broken ego. But it was an adventure. When the lights went from red, to yellow, to green, a horn blasted and the gate dropped. What a rush!
My bike afforded me acceptance into a group of older boys who, rode the bike trails in Hannibal and raced at Quincy. We became pretty tight and the summers were adventures in dare-devil jumps, muddy trails, racing down St. Mary's avenue, searching for that next awesome ramp or natural berm to jump on.
My bike became a part of my identity. I never wanted to go anywhere without it.
BMX was my passion. I raced for three seasons, first on a Mongoose (I cut a lot of lawns and raked a lot of leaves to save up for it), then on a Kuwahara (the bike that was made famous in the movie E.T.). Even after a major crash landed me in the hospital with potentially ruptured intestines (luckily they were not) the racing continued until adolescence came on.
Then, adolescence came. Jr. High. Jazz Band. Drumline. Big Changes.
As music became my main focus, I sold the Kuwaraha for a Zildjian ride cymbal. My first Zildjian! Exciting times!
However, I still needed to get around Hannibal autonomously, so started riding my brother's Schwinn touring bike. A very nice machine from the early 80s. It was, of course, much easier to pedal over the hills of Hannibal, a welcome upgrade!
I saw a couple cycling movies that inspired me. "Quicksilver" with Kevin Bacon playing a down and out wall street trader to takes to cycling around NYC and "American Flyers" with Kevin Costner about a couple guys bent on riding. And of course one of my favorite movies of all time "Breaking Away", a coming of age movie about kids in a small town who are looked down upon because they are poor, but in the end they win the big cycling race. I still love that movie and will watch it over and over. I wanted badly to cycle, but the gear was so expensive, I had to choose between cycling gear and drums. It was no contest. The drums won.
I chose music. Moved to Kansas City. No time for the bike. And besides, I couldn't carry a drum kit on a bike!
In college my beloved old Schwinn fell to the wayside as I joined a band, moved into a bachelor pad, and simply couldn't afford to maintain the bike. It rusted. I moved out and left the bike where it lay. A hasty decision as life as a musician picked up full steam.
I moved to NYC. Lived in Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan for 10 years. Riding a bike seemed like suicide, human beings speeding around in traffic seemed so vulnerable, not to mention I still couldn't afford to spend money on one. Anyways, I worked non-stop on my music and survival in NYC, a bike was last on the list. But still, somewhere in my mind I thought it would be so cool to ride again, even if only on the bike path around the city. But I didn't act on it.
Then I moved to New Jersey. The traffic is so dense and moves so fast, I figured I couldn't trust my life to these people. Thoughts of buying a bike were quickly dismissed. Another 10 years went by as I worked non-stop on my music.
Then my wife and I discovered the Greenway at Metuchen: a 3.5 mile paved trail, specifically for bikes and walking. How intriguing! I began thinking about getting a bike now. Maybe this is the ticket! No traffic! And I figured, I deserve to treat myself. Life in NYC/NJ has been stressful as hell and relentless and draining. I needed a new view. Some oxygen. Some freedom.
A quick scan of bikes on Craigslist revealed a shocking and exciting prospect: The same exact Schwinn Sports Tourer that I rode in high school, even the same colors, was for sale, renovated and ready to ride. I jumped in the car, drove to Brooklyn and bought it on the spot.
After taking it to Jay's Cycles in Westfield for a tune up, new pedals and a new seat, I set out on my first ride. It was such a rush to feel that freedom again, that youthful adventure, the feeling of exploration and challenge. Let's see what this bike can do!
I took it on the Greenway and I'll tell you what, man, the wind, the sound of the bike, that familiar feel, the freedom... something in me woke up that had been asleep for, lemme see, almost 30 years. The kid in me came bursting to the surface like a person held underwater coming up for air. A grin came over my face. The cool air on my skin felt so good. The fluidity of the bike, the grace of it, being one with the machine. I almost started crying, man!
Since that day a few weeks ago I have increased my rides. I've ridden The 12 mile stretch at Sandy Hook Beach. Then the 20 mile stretch from Keyport to Sandy Hook. Then I did 40 miles from Freehold to Sandy Hook to Asbury. Feel fine afterwards. Im taking it slow. It's getting better and better. If I prove to myself that I will stick with it, which I can't imagine letting this go again, I will invest in a modern bike next year and head to the mountains of Pennsylvania or upstate NY.
How could I have let this go? Well, it doesn't matter. Why? Because bikes don't go in reverse. They only go FORWARD.
When I was in grade school, it was always the girls who could jump rope the best. The school had physical fitness test in which we jumped as many times as possible in a minute. Usually, I did about 12 or so, and made a joke of it so as not to be embarrassed. But in reality, I was confounded as to why the girls were better than us boys at something and secretly I wanted to be good at it.
Around the age of 11 my dad took me to the local boxing gym. I’d been hassled by a guy at school and the old man wanted me to be able to throw a punch. They let me work out there and I picked up on jump rope steps. It came pretty easily once I got the basic alternate foot step. With the alternate foot step you could pretty much run in place and go much faster with less effort. And it felt great, the perpetual motion of it, turning yourself into a human gyro. The sounds of the boxing gym provided me with the foundational rhythmic sense I would use throughout my life.
At the time, I thought I’d learned a novel kind of thing, but it was really a gift. The rhythm and timing that I had learned through jumping rope never left me. Years later, in college, I dusted off my old jump rope and started working at it again. It came back easily and I enjoyed the freedom of it as opposed to a stationary machine. I found that jumping rope for 10 minutes before and after lifting weights kept my muscles from stiffening up. And, it was the perfect quick workout for my college schedule when I may have only an hour to get in my workout.
Backtracking a bit, I began playing the drums at age six. After trying all kinds of sports, I found my calling in music. The drums are the most physical instrument and I knew that I had to be in shape to play them for a lifetime. Every great drummer I admire: Elvin Jones, Art Blakey and Roy Haynes always looked so strong in pictures and videos I saw of them. Roy is still playing at age 92, so it’s safe to say that it’s a good idea to keep yourself strong.
Music was usually a part of my workout. Many people use it to push themselves and stay inspired in the gym. Joe Frazier trained for Ali by listening to James Brown, and when you see the way Frazier moved in the ring against Ali, constantly sticking and moving, you can see it in his motion. I was always looking for ways to make my workouts more personal, and keenly interested in making my workout enhance my profession. I knew I could find a correlation between jumping rope and playing the drums, since it’s all rhythm and timing.
Ultimately I wanted to combine jumping rope with music. I tried many, many different albums, but could never find the right one because the beat would rarely line up the way I wanted it to. I used Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew album and Pat Metheny’s Secret Story to jump rope with, and they worked ok, but I wanted to beat to be inside the DNA of the jumping rhythm. I usually felt as if I were jumping against the rhythm of the songs, rather than INSIDE the rhythm.
I wanted to get further inside the actual rhythm of jump rope. I had always noticed that there is certain rhythm that is created by the sound of the rope slapping the floor and the feet landing. It’s something of a shuffle beat, or in musicians terms, a triplet rhythm, which is found in the rhythms of African music. The triplet rhythm has a rounded feeling to it, as opposed to evenly divided beats which can sometimes have a ‘stiff’ feeling.
I began recording African beats at different tempos to jump with, created playlists in iTunes, transferred them onto my iPod and found the answer I had been looking for. Jumping rope this way has become irreplaceable. With these rhythms to jump with and monitor tempos and lengths, it’s a whole new personalized way to work out. I don’t have to work out at the tempos of somebody else’s music. I make my own playlists of tempos so that I can get great use of my time, monitor my progress, know exactly how many calories I burn and my MHR.
The rhythms also help me keep track of my breath, for years I did four counts in and four counts out, but later I found that six in and six out was more relaxing and comfortable. It’s basically a quarter note, breathing with the count, 6/4 time, multi-faceted beat, with the basic quarter note pulse.
For a drummer, I can absorb rhythms thru exercise, literally practice, while I workout. We drummers (or all musicians for that matter) have what we call an “Internal Clock”, which we use as a master timekeeper, while we subdivide the beat between our four limbs. The drum set, being the four limbed monster that it is, requires a highly developed sense of balance, in order to coordinate these limbs, or voices, all at once. Especially in jazz drumming, the “four way” coordination involved in playing musical phrases between all four limbs is incredibly difficult and time consuming to acquire. Some people may pick it up easier than others, but to be assured, nobody is born being able to play four separate parts on the drum set, because it just isn’t natural. The trick is to make it seem as if it IS natural.
I always like the sounds of the boxing gym the most, the rhythms. The speed bag, heavy bag, the jump rope, the sound of sneakers squeaking on the floor. And I can turn those rhythms into music.
I feel like we have these channels of energy in our arms, legs, torso, head, and when we engage in a satori zen physical act such as jumping rope, it’s opens those channels and lets the energy flow unhindered. At first, jumping the rope, spinning it with your arms, begins to make all the muscles reach failure, and in a sense, release and give up. Then, when you keep going, those tense muscles become open and loose.
I made beats at several tempos starting at 155 bpm, moving up in fives to 185. This is ok, but it was too square. It wasn’t a complete workout. There was no specific changes of footwork or dimension in the beat and it was very tedious sounding. I wanted to break up the music, the rhythms, the routine, the footwork and control the time better with the loops. Seven minute warm-ups, two minute sprints, one minute sprints. Vary the beats and textures, use the strataspheres of rhythm, feel it.
I jump rope to warm up my body, open the channels, loosen up my shoulders, get blood to all my muscle and fine tune my nervous system. In the winter time, I have no choice but to warm up with the rope for 20 minutes, or face a day with cold hands, never really being able to warm up completely.
For gigs, if I jump rope the day of a gig, I’m automatically going to be quicker, looser and more in the groove. Because my body has grooved that day already, and the channels are open.
The benefits of jump rope are almost more than I can name.
It unifies the body and mind.
Increases agility and can even make your reflexes quicker.
Increases your sense of rhythm, deepens it.
Burns more calories in less time.
Kids like it, keeping them off the video games and the couch.
As long as your knees are ok, you can do it. It doesn’t involve the shock that running does.
Why using rhythms has helped me:
I can track my BPM precisely.
I can control intensity and peaks.
Sync my movements and breath.
I can ingrain rhythms into my body, so that when I play them on the drums, it’s like I’ve already practiced them on a deeper level.
It’s like dance.
It makes it more fun.
It propels my body, gives me something to move with.
The African rhythms are more dance oriented.
“One of the finest exercises for the development of a sense of balance is undoubtedly not ordinary haphazard skipping, but rather the real thing.”
“Body Feel suggest a harmonious interplay of body and spirit, both inseparable.”
“A fighter should not be flatfooted but should feel the floor with the balls of the feet as thought they were strong springs, ready to accelerate or slow movements as required.” - Bruce Lee
I first heard of musicians doing "clinics" when I was in high school. My dad read in the St. Louis paper that an amazing drummer, Dave Weckl, was doing a doing a drum clinic for Drum Headquarters Drum Shop. I was curious, so my dad took me down to St. Louis, a 2 hr trip from Hannibal, Mo, to check out Weckl's clinic.
It was hosted in a high school auditorium, which was pretty full. There were a lot of guys wearing their Zildjian shirts and hats, I was one of them, and there was an expectancy in the air. Something big was going to happen.
Dave put on a fantastic show, his kit was hooked up to the latest in drum processors and he played with some pre-recorded tracks that showed his orchestration and groove skills. The audience was truly blown away, I know I was. After Dave played a couple tracks he spoke in depth about his approach to the drums; his concept of snare drum technique, his kit, orchestrating musically, tuning, and the New York music scene. Weckl spoke at length about New York and that there was room for everybody and that if a musician was very serious, they should think about going to New York. That was maybe the first time I thought seriously about it.
Over the years I went to a few more clinics and they all had their own vibe. Ed Soph was very matter of fact and no-nonsense. Gregg Bissonette was high energy and entertaining, while also very grounded and conversational. Louis Bellson. Dennis Chambers. Simon Phillips. Tony Williams. Kenwood Dennard. Victor Lewis. Every clinic I ever went to I can remember something interesting about each one of them, I came away with something to think about.
I also dug the clinics by pianists and horn players: Bob Brookmeyer, Clark Terry, Lew Soloff, Clare Fischer, Gerald Wilson, Phil Woods, Kenny Werner. They all came to UMKC where I was studying and spent some time with us. All amazing musicians with a lot to share. Just being in the same room with them, listening to their ideas, elevated those who came to listen.
So, now I'm doing my own clinics, sponsored by Canopus Drum Company. In 2015 we had a great day at Explorer's Percussion with Wes Falcouner and his wonderful family. Wes and Lorainne have been friends since the 80s. They have one of the absolute best and most successful drum shops in the world.
In my clinics, I like to tell stories. Musically and otherwise. Melodically or rhythmically and of course, both. I talk little about mechanics and more about the "Why" behind our playing. I talk about health and fitness, jumping rope to tune your body's rhythm.. Audience members ask questions, I try to answer them by relating my own experiences.
I will be returning to Explorers to perform an clinic I'll cover topics that relate to all drummers, regardless of the music you play: warming up, rudiments, mastering the snare drum, rudiments to the kit, defining your 'why', fitness for drummers.
Well, that's my post on clinics. Hope you enjoyed it and if you live in KC come check out the clinic at Explorer's Percussion, October 24th, 2018!!
Welcome to my world!
I like to write about things I am currently doing in life; jumping rope, riding bikes, reading books, taking piano lessons, education, clinics, students, hiking with my wife, food, travels and of course... music and everything to do with it.
I have a new album coming out called "The Other Side of the Story". I'll tell you all about it!
I have many thoughts on teaching, so there are lots of posts about the various issues I deal with in helping great young drummers discover themselves.
Cycling was a dream of mine when I was a teenager. I stopped for many years to pursue my dreams in music, but I am coming back to cycling and want to tell the world how amazing cycling is!
One of my favorite physical activities on the planet, next to playing music, is JUMPING ROPE! I'll tell you why.
And, I love my life. I have an amazing wife, family and friends stretched out all over the country. From my roots in Hannibal, Missouri, to Kansas City to New York and New Jersey. Through music, I have met a lot of great people. I find that if you put out a good vibe, it will come back to you.
That's about it, enjoy the blog and see you in the next post!