I’m hurtling down New York City’s West Side Highway, being driven to high school. A very cool song with a very cool drum intro starts to play. I’d heard it before, but this time everything is different. I hear it anew because just a few weeks prior to that moment I had received a trap drum kit and a video from the Dave Weckl “Back To Basics” series as a gift from my parents, and I’d begun to teach myself how to play drums.
When I get home that day, I dig out the Dave Brubeck LP Time Out from my parents’ vinyl collection and listen to “Take Five.” My mother, a singer and lifelong musician herself, asks me if perhaps I’m biting off a little more than I can chew. She knows the technical complexity of this song. My reply is something to the effect of: “I can feel this song, so I can play it.”
Now, I’m not even sure I knew what I meant at the time, but somehow it made sense to me. Little did I know that this experience would be among the greatest influences on my life as an artist in a way that I could never have guessed; for me, truly thinking openly, creatively and out of the box pretty much began with Dave Brubeck.
Playing in 5/4 timing, or 7/4, or 9/8 as opposed to standard 4/4 time has its own level of challenges, particularly for a novice whose instrument is in the rhythm section. What “Take Five,” “Three To Get Ready,” and “Blue Rondo A La Turk” (the first three Brubeck songs that I taught myself as a drummer) did was force me to rely more on feeling and less on technique. Although it was pretty ugly at first, I was a stubborn 15-year-old and we fortunately had patient neighbors who were cool with the occasionally loud musical family a few houses down. After about a month I was able to play “Take Five” without butchering it, and actually did a respectable job with the world-class solo in 5/4 timing offered up by the legendary drummer Joe Morello (in my humble then-15-year-old opinion.)
The biggest breakthrough I had with playing Dave Brubeck’s works essentially was allowing my feelings to guide me, while letting technique keep me on track and professional. As a young actor at the School of Performing Arts, and as a budding filmmaker, theatrical tech director and producer whose work would instinctively center on socio-political subjects, these were hugely influential times for me.
In my adult years, I never lost the notion of letting the feeling guide you. My work is guided by my feelings about the subject, what those experiencing the art will take from it and how they will emotionally, spiritually and psychologically be affected by it. Dave Brubeck helped open the world of allowing instincts and improvisation to guide me.
As a teenager, I learned how to trust my instincts, go with the spiritual flow of the moment, and allow inspiration to take a hold and see where things lead. Never did I think I would get that much from a car ride with a song in 5/4 playing mellifluously in the background.