Saturday, January 29, 2005

Up North

Well, it is now Saturday night and it is cold outside. I spent most of my day driving home from St. Ignace. Last night I played at the Kewadin Casino with the Gratitude Steel Band. St. Ignace is on the North side of the Mackinac bridge, in the U.P. It was difficult for me to cross the big bridge and not turn west towords my hometown of Marquette. This morning as I got in my car to go home, I was very tempted to take the 3 hour jaunt over to Marquette, say hi, and head back. I didn't.
It was a good gig, although we had some sound problems and the crowd was small and less than enthusiasic, (sometimes it can be difficult to get people in the caribbean mood when it is -7 degrees outside). Once we got the bugs worked out of the sound, and stopped trying to get guys in snowmobile suits to do the limbo, the band got focused on the music and we had some great musical moments. I always have a great time playing with Guy Barker. He always plays with incredible energy and enthusiasm. Actually, the whole steel band plays with an energy that is very hard to find in the music business.
So many, (too many) career musicians play with this 'just another gig' attitude that makes it difficult to play up to their full potential. I believe you should always play with the idea that there is something to discover no matter where, what, or who you are playing with. Musical moments have no ego. They can come on stage infront of thousands of people, or at home in front of your cat. The key is to always pay attention so you don't let any of those moments pass without bringing it out and giving yourself to it. I live for those moments, and I love to play with people who feel the same as I do. I like the steel band, because they play with both spontinaity and focus from the beginning of the gig to the end. Of coarse there are always things that I would do differently if it was my band, but I won't get into that now. I love to play with them, and I look forward to the next show.


Monday, January 24, 2005



When I look back now it all seems so simple, but as I began this week I was faced with a logistical challenge that left room for no error. It all happened on Friday. I had a gig with the Gratitude Steel Band in downtown Detroit that went from 5 p.m. until 7:45 p.m. That same night I had a gig in Ann Arbor with Jazz trio Deep Blue at Cafe Felix that began at 9 p.m. An hour fifteen is plenty of time to drive from Detroit to Ann Arbor, but when you add in tearing down and setting up a drumset, things get a little hairy. My solution was to use 2 drum kits. I used my DW kit for the steel band gig and my little Sonor kit, (the one that I use for lessons at Oz's), for the Jazz gig. One of my long time students, Jesse Broman, helped me out by picking up my drumset from Oz's and bringing it to Felix, (Thank You).
The Steel Band gig was fun. We played at the Detroit Winter Blast. They blocked off a street downtown and set up all kinds of winter activities. They had an ice rink, and big sledding hill and a bunch of outdoor stages. Someone told me it had something to do with the super bowl coming to Detroit next year. We played in the Compuware building, on one of the only indoor stages, (thank goodness, cuz it was COLD). I always have fun playing when Guy Barker is on guitar. He has so much energy, and a great old funky mowtown sound. We didn't have the whole group with us, it was just Charles on lead pan, Janiela on bass pans, Guy on guitar, and myself on drums. The sound in the lobby was huge, I would have liked to record it, but that would have put the logistical challenge over the top.
So once that show was over, I packed up in record time and high-tailed it to Ann Arbor, where I could only hope that everything was going as planned. I walked in right at 9 and Jesse was there with the drumset, but it was not set up. No worries, I set it up in about 5 minutes and we were off and running. It felt good to be all warmed up at the beginning of the night, and we actually played pretty good. The cafe was dead though. As it turnes out, there was a severe winter storm warning that was to last all night, and it kept everyone indoors for the evening. I had fun playing, and that is all that really matters.

Talk to you soon,


Sunday, January 16, 2005

this is an audio post - click to play

Wind Symphony


Right now I am sitting backstage at a University of Michigan-Flint Wind Symphony concert. I play on just two pieces, so I am doing a lot of sitting around. It is relatively new for me to be in a group as big as this. I think there are about 30 members, 7 of whom are percussionists. We have to do a lot of part splitting just so everyone has a chance to play. I am used to sitting behind an instrument for hours at a show. Here I play for a total of about 5 minutes. It is definitely a powerful 5 minutes though. I am playing snare drum on Carl Orff's 'Carmina Birana'. We are being joined by almost 100 high school honors band members, so the sound is huge. I will leave an audio clip so you can hear what it sounds like from the percussionists perspective.

Talk to you soon.


Saturday, January 08, 2005

Finding Creative Space

Last night I played at Cafe Felix on Main St. in Ann Arbor with Deep Blue. I have been playing this gig two fridays a month for about a year now. It is a pretty laid back gig. We play swing, bossa, and some flamenco stuff. It is a tough gig for a drummer because there is no bass player, just sax and classical guitar. I usually end up doing a light steady four on the floor, and keep the melody stuff in my hands. When I try to change up the bass pattern, there is too much of a void in the bottom end. The bright side is that they give me plenty of solo oportunities, which frees up the bass drum, and gives me an opportunity to let loose.
It is difficult as a musician to create opportunities for yourself where it is O.K. to completly go off on your own musical journey, (in this case, a drum solo). I have found that it always involves these very important ingredients: Practice, patience, focus, humility, and plasticity. There is also a lot to be said for the people you play with. If the people you play with do not give you enough respect, and space to develop your ideas, then the tention that fills the air becomes a breeding ground for mistakes and miscues, not just for you, but for the music in general. Scott and Paul from Deep Blue are awesome in this respect, and I appreciate it greatly. When musicians respect each other, then the music itself becomes the focus, and when the music is in focus, creative inspiration is the result, and that is what keeps me coming back for more. It doesn't matter if I sit behind my drums at a cafe', in my garadge, or in an arena full of screaming fans, if I am inspired to create beautiful musical ideas, then I can ask for nothing more.

Thanks for reading,

p.s. Next gig at Cafe Felix is Jan. 21st from 9-Mid.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Buying Drums?!?

Yesterday a student asked me about buying drums. All he wanted to get was an additional tom for his set, and a new crash cymbal. He has been taking lessons with me for a number of years, and wants to get some good equipment. I had to explain one of the harsh realities of being a drummer....DRUMS ARE EXPENSIVE. Now, there will always be deals out there, and with some luck, and many hours of searching, you may be able to find them. This is ecspecially true for universal components such as hardware, and pedals, so don't take what I say as the only option. I am assuming we are shopping for new, good equipment from reliable and reputable companies.

First let's start with the cymbals. For a good cymbal by a well known company such as Zildjian,, Sabian, or Paiste, you can expect to pay about $10 per inch and up, so a 16" crash would run around $160. Of coarse you will also need a stand to hold the cymbal up, which can run anywhere from $40-$140 depending on strengh and durability. My favorite hardware is from a company called Tama, They have very nice stuff that can be made to work with almost any kit.

Finding a single tom to add to a kit can be very difficult. A lot of companies change their drumset design every year, and don't usually keep the old stuff around. On top of that, many of them do not like to sell single toms because it is a very time consuming process of finding just the right color, size, model, etc. Not to mention the system for mounting it to your kit. I did a quick search on, and there was no way to buy just one tom. You may get lucky on an online auction, but it is kind of a longshot. I would not expect to find a tom for under $80, and would probobly guess more like $150. The mounting hardware can run anywhere from $100-$250, depending on how fancy you want to get.

So lets add it all add a crash cymbal, tom, required stand and hardware, you are looking anywhere from $380-$650. Wow. Plus many hours of searching to find just the right stuff. I suggest, in this case, that you seriously look into buying a whole new drumset. (Did I mention drums are expensive?)

The Percussive Art Society, (, just published a newsletter containing the results of Modern Durmmer Magazines 2004 Consumers Poll. Under the category of 'Most Valuable Product', they listed these drum makers: DW Collectors Series, Yamaha Maple Custom Absolute Noveau, Pearl Export, and Tama Starclassic. Every set except the Pearl Export is over $2000, but I would seriously look into the Export series to find one right for you. I am sure you could find a set that comes with all the drums, hardware, cymbals (alothough usually cheap), peadals, and throne for $600-$800. I can't quite tell you were to look, but perhaps a good starting point is Along those same lines, I would suggest the Tama Rockstar series. A lot of my students have purchased the Rockstar kit, and they have been very happy with it. Once you have an entire kit, it is much easier to replace and add custom components little by little over a period of time. I don't remember a birthday or Christmas where I did not recieve some sort of new piece for my drumset. If you care for your equipment, it will last a very long time. Some things, like drums and cymbals, can actually become more valuable over time.

Happy searching, and if you have any questions, please drop me a line.


Sunday, January 02, 2005

Day Two, Lets back up a bit.

Hello friends.

I am excited for this new medium of exchange. Right now I am thinking of it as a place to document my musical life. Since I graduated with a BFA in Music from CalArts in 2001, I have been on a very interesting musical journey. My wife Jody and I moved back to Michigan shortly after graduation. I believe it was the end of July. I immediately hit all the music stores in the area looking for a teaching job. I got two. One was in Southfield at the Mars Music Learning Center, and the other was in Ann Arbor at a place called R.I.T. Drums. Mars had all the glamor and glitz of a professional learning environment, but RIT had soul and a much more down to earth clientel. Not to mention the pay was much better. It was not too long before I left Mars and built up my student base at RIT. I taught there for the next 3 years. Last summer RIT was closed down forever and I moved to Oz's Music on the other side of town. I kept most of my students, and the room I teach in is much bigger. It was tough to see RIT go, ecspecially the owner Terry. He really helped me get on my feet in Ann Arbor. He put my name in tons of his avertisements and was always sending students my way. With his help I launched my Hand Drum Workshops, which are still going strong today.
Within the first two weeks of moving back from California, Jody and I went to a 'Concert in the Park' in Grand Blanc where we saw a steel drum band perform. They were composed of a family of musicians. A husband, a wife, three kids, and an aunt. They sounded great, but they were using a drum machine!! I really couldn't believe it. I had my resume in the car, so I handed them one and offered my services. The next day I was called for an audition and never looked back. I started playing with them 4-5 gigs a week all over Michigan. I really wish I would have started my blog back then because it has been an interesting journey. All I did was play and teach. It was very exciting, but also a lot of work, and more driving than I would wish on anyone. Jody and I decided that it would be a good move if I got my Michigan Teaching Certification, so I started taking classes at U of M Flint to become a music teacher. It meant a busier schedule and just as much driving, but I am hoping it will lead to greater things. I am set to finish up this April. Along the way I have played with many different people in many different places, including this Jazz trio that I will be playing with on Friday called Deep Blue. We are playing at Cafe Felix in Ann Arbor. I have been playing with them at Cafe Felix for almost a year. They have a regular gig on the first and third Friday of every month. I like it. I don't get to play much jazz, and this is just the perfect amount to keep my jazz juices flowing.

Well, I must go now and celebrate the new year with my Wifes family. I will write again soon. Thanks. -John

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Where am I?

Hello, welcome to my blog. If you are reading this, thanks. I am excited to step into this new "home on the web" for my thoughts, experiences, observations, ramblings, and perhaps an occasional rant or two. I am grateful to be able to share it with you. By the way, Happy New Year! I can not remember a time when I have looked so favorably to the future. It is a wonderful feeling. Last night I played with the Gratitude Steel Band at a church in Downtown Detroit. It was so great, I have never played my drums from one year to the next before. It seems I have always played until a quarter to midnight, stopped, counted down, and then play immediately after till the sun comes up. Last night at 11:55PM we played an inspired version of the Halleluiah Chorus with both ther churchs' choir and Gratitudes' choir. With about a minute to go before midnight we did the big ending, everyone was cheering with excitement and anticipation when we broke into a groovy little vamp. The Reverend asked the band to keep playing as the whole church gathered in a huge circle and held hands. He grooved right with us as he led a pryer that had everyone yelling out "Amen", and "That's right", and "Preach on". It was electric. There was no countdown, just the big Amen at the end as the band kicked back into the big ending. People hugged, smiled, laughed, and cheered. The best part about it was that it was all so spontanious. None of it was planned out. I felt very fortunate to be able to help bring in the new year with so much positivity and energy. Not to mention it was the most wonderfully sober New Years Eve bash I have ever been to. I must admit, I approched the evening in much the same way I approach a vegan meal, (insert crafty explination here), but it turned out to be an experience that I will look back on fondly.

I think this whole blogging experience should be a lot of fun. Please comment, email, call, write, or visit soon. None of this makes any sense unless we can be interactive on some level. I would love to hear from you, and I look forward to your thoughts, questions, ideas, criticisms, pictures, music or whatever else we may share with one another. I will talk to you soon, and again, Happy New Year!