Month: December 2012

The Genius of Stewart Copeland Part 1: Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic

When I first started listening to Rock music, it was Grand Funk Railroad with drummer Don Brewer, Rare Earth with drummer/lead singer Peter Rivera, Cream with drummer Ginger Baker, Deep Purple with drummer Ian Paice, Led Zeppelin with drummer John Bonham, Jimi Hendrix with drummers Mitch Mitchell and Buddy Miles, the Allman Brothers Band with drummers Butch Trucks and Jaimoe Johansson, Ringo Starr from The Beatles, and Charlie Watts from The Rolling Stones. All these drummers had one thing in common being contemporaries of each other: they all knew how to SWING. They knew that swinging the beat gives the music a more human and timeless feel. Till today, even as I’ve become used to working with a click track and programmed sequences, I’ve never lost my love for this piece of rhythmic philosophy.

Now I was born in 1983…I know what you’re thinking..but hey, the music of these bands gripped me and I couldn’t let go. Growing up and now in the midst of my journey as a musician, I’ve been absolutely happy to return constantly to their works for inspiration and a much needed reminder that in this age of over-produced, heavily edited/processed stuff (I nearly wanted to use the C word) that passes off for contemporary music today, I should just keep it REAL and HONEST, and produce music FROM THE HEART.

On the eve of Christmas in 1998, as my family and I were getting ready to go for midnight church service, I experienced a musical revelation that would make me approach my chosen instrument in a different way. We had the radio on in the house and it was tuned to Class 95FM. My ears, strangely enough, were more attentive to the music played on the radio that night then ever. It was like as if I knew I was going to hear a kickass song I’ve never heard before. After a bunch of  run-of-the-mill 80’s synth pop tunes, a song came on that was like…how should I describe it….a Carribean-flavoured pop-rock tune with really cool (jazzy) chords, a very pretty appregiated piano part, all tied together with punk energy. It’s perhaps not the best way to describe it, but that’s the best I can do for now..I’m a big fan of musical hybrids and this tune had everything that’s so attractive and sexy about those types of music.

The lead singer on the track sounded very much like Sting (you can’t miss his voice at all), multitracked, and I do recall that he was in a mega 3-piece rock band like Cream or Grand Funk before he carved a out a successful solo career for himself.  Could it be that band playing this song that I heard on the radio? The verses were played in a sort of straightened out half-time reggae groove with the singer lamenting rather ironically over a happy-sounding chord progression about how he tried hard to woo this girl and tell her of his true feelings for her but he just can’t get himself to do it – a cliche storyline but it was so expertly written with strong imagery that only a songwriter of Sting’s calibre could pull off. Then the chorus came in, double time and rocking, with the lyrics, “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic.” I was blown away.

The music on Class 95FM that night was pre-programmed as I remember, so there was no DJ to announce what the song was or who the band was after the track concluded. Thus, I figured that the “Every Little Thing She Does” line must be the song title since it was repeated alot in the chorus. To cut the long story short, I eventually found out about half a year later that the song title was indeed, “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” and The Police were the culprits for this tune. To add, their notoriously frisky and athletic drummer, Stewart Copeland, was the culprit responsible for changing my style of drumming, especially in the Rock context, forever…for the better…

I couldn’t get this tune out of my head for the next year or so until I had enough money saved up to puchase my first two CDs, “Phil Collins Greatest Hits” and The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” compilation. Apart from the brilliant production, the thick yet clean instrumentation, there was one thing that really jumped out at me in the face – the drumming (duh..). The drum sound got me first – really tight, sharp, and CRACKING along with a full, punchy kick drum sound. Kickass…The snare sound reminded me so much of that of Mitch Mitchell’s on the Jimi Hendrix Experience recordings, which I absolutely adore, and that of David Garibaldi’s with Tower of Power. It has since become my default snare sound.

Then the drumming got me – it was treading on familiar Rock drumming territory but there were some neat little twists. In the verses, Stewart phrased the otherwise regular 8th note hi-hat part with some very uniquely placed (and pretty funky) accents accompanied by kick drum and a popping rim click on beat 3. This is part of his signature style, and man, do his hi-hats sound as crisp as Ruffles Potato chips…

When the first chorus kicks in, it’s drumming heaven. There’s so much positivity and great feel exuding from Stewart’s drumming that it’s impossible to think that one would not be moved by that. Stewart shifts the stuff he played on the hi-hats in the verses to the Ride cymbal for this section. The way he attacks at the Ride Cymbal and phrases so freely between the bow and the bell of it, would become a major influence on my drumming style. Some musicians I’ve worked with told me that I’m one of the few local drummers they’ve heard that like to do a lot of stuff on the bell of the Ride Cymbal. I would then reply without hesitation, “That’s Stewart Copeland’s fault.”

I would  like to highlight here some of the great licks he peppers his drum part with on this tune that hopefully you, the reader, would dig too:

1) at 01:34: That hi-hat lick sounds simple right? Yes, of course it is. But the point is how so damn catchy it is!! Man, I can’t begin to recount how many thousands of times I’ve used that lick over and over. Subtlety and Simplicity is a killer combination.

2) at 02:57: I love this fill to death!! Again, I’ve used this fill verbatim and did variations with it countless of times. It also sounds very basic right? Yes of course it is! But that’s not the point. It’s the way he played that fill. It’s about the cleanliness of the 16th notes on the snare played purely as rim shots (note that he uses a traditional grip), the phrasing of the fill, and the raging punk attitude with which he execute the fill. He also pushes the time a little during that fill which helps raise the song to another level of excitement. At 01:50, you can actually hear a foreshadow of the fill in the hi-hat part at the line “long before my tongue has tripped me..” Whether it was deliberate or not, it’s hard to tell. Stewart by his own admission in interviews said that all his drum parts on those classic Police songs were “glibly arrived at.” Even so, this is evidence of a master musician at work – being completely in the moment and allowing the song itself to dictate what he/she contributes to it. Sure, Copeland plays some of his obvious patented licks, for example, the drags on the hi-hat, throughout this track, or the numerous flams on the snare, but it’s where he places them in the song to make it work.

3) The fade out section beginning at 03:47 and what Stewart does with his hi-hat: Stewart demonstrates some other very unique ways to phrase the hi-hat using the open-closed technique. No other drummer in Rock was playing the hi-hat that way until he came along.

With that, I thank you for reading my first in the series of “Genius of Stewart Copeland” articles. Watch this blog space for more updates!

Ok…enough of my ramblings, now enjoy the track:



Performing with Singer-Songwriter, Jonathan Meur, at The Esplanade Concourse, 14th December 2012, 7.15pm

Hey folks,

Just a little shout of the above and I will be playing percussion on the gig.

Jonathan Meur is an up and coming singer-songwriter with interesting lyrical themes and arrangements brought to life by organic blend of largely acoustic instruments. It’s been a great pleasure working with him and I look forward to many more future collaborations on his musical projects.

Also on the gig, is a prodigious cellist named Zhong Ren Koh.

Come to listen and relax to some soothing original acoustic music.

Here’s one of the tracks we’re playing at the gig:

Hope to see you there!

A Personal Tribute to Dave Brubeck

Dave Brubeck

This morning after I woke up, the first thing I saw on my facebook newsfeed was a post that read, “R.I.P Dave Brubeck”

I’m going to share a brief story of my encounter with the work of this wonderful American musician who left us at 91 years young.

My first introduction to Dave Brubeck and his legendary quartet was on the Gold 90FM station one evening as I was just chilling out listening to music. The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s iconic composition, “Take Five”, written by the saxophonist, Paul Desmond, came on the radio with this very crisp and hugely ambient drum groove played by the one and only Joe Morello (R.I.P). My ears perked up at that awesome drum and cymbal sound along with that very unusual swing groove. Now I was 14 years old at the time, and by then I knew what the time signature 4/4 meant as well I could add 1 + 1. This tune as the title implies, was in 5/4, as I would later find out (though I can’t exactly remember when I did).

The melody of Take Five was so catchy and sexy. The funky angular piano comping of Brubeck, the equally funky yet simple 3 note bass line played by Eugene Wright, and that ultra-cool tone of Paul Desmond’s saxophone got me hooked immediately. Then came the mind blowing moment for me as a drummer after Paul Desmond’s mesmerising solo – the great drum solo section played by Joe Morello. Joe displayed everything in that one solo that a serious drummer would would take years and years of practice and application to develop – pristine technique, precision time-keeping, a beautiful groove, great execution of dynamics, a huge rhythmic vocabulary, excellent independence, and a very strong compositional sense in an improvisational setting. These are qualities attributed to a musician who plays at the highest level. I became a fan of this band immediately just on the basis of Take Five..

Ironically, I didn’t seek out more of the band’s work until very much later when I had just completed the first year of my National Service. I was at the “That CD” shop outlet in Tanglin Mall to pick up a CD my father had ordered, and since I had a bit money from that monthly “allowance” from the army, I decided to pick a up CD for myself.  I saw a copy of the album “Time Out” by the Dave Brubeck Quartet, and purchased it without a thought.

Strangely, alot of the great music I discovered over the years up to this point were borne out of impulse purchases of albums, like Max Roach’s, “Members Don’t Git Weary”, which I bought at the now defunct Borders bookstore. I didn’t  hear even one note on that album but I intuited that it would offer a great listening experience. Some albums do have that sort of aura around it. I can say that “Time Out” is an album with the same aura. As I only knew one track from the album which I’ve just talked about, I wasn’t prepared for what was in store with the rest of album…

“Blue Rondo Ala Turk” opened Time Out. What a great start to the album! Just like Highway Star opening Deep Purple’s masterpiece album, “Machine Head” or their legendary live album, “Made In Japan”.  The into section to “Rondo” was full of shifting odd times. I didn’t really understand exactly what was going on but I eventually managed to transcribe that whole section for the drumset a few years later, armed with more rhythmic and technical knowledge. Great! Now I know about this new time signature, 9/8, thanks to Dave Brubeck and company!

Another favourite off  Time Out is “Three To Get Ready”. The form of this tune is based on alternating between two bars of 3/4 and two bars of 4/4. I never heard such an incredibly smooth navigation of both time signatures such that it all felt like it was in straight fours. That’s the Dave Brubeck Quartet for you. No matter how “out” they got with their rhythmic experimentations, it was all done in a such a way that was listener-friendly. Genius!! Another great track that demonstrates how they make odd time signatures sound so smooth  is “Unsquare Dance”, a 7/4 tune from their follow-up album, “Time Further Out”. There’s even a youtube video of a TV broadcast footage featuring a dance troupe performing to this tune! (

Moving along, I then discovered what is widely regarded to be one of the greatest live Jazz albums of all time, “The Dave Brubeck Quartet At Carnegie Hall”. It’s a 1963 double album that warrants serious study. The quartet proved  that night at Carnegie Hall that a Jazz performance could be both highly adventurous musically and highly entertaining at the same time. It’s such a enjoyable album to listen to throughout, but also at the same time so inspirational to hear four of the greatest Jazz musicians who ever lived at the very top of their game. We have Mr. Brubeck to thank for 1) having the guts to introduce a whole new range of sophisticated rhythmic concepts in Jazz in the 50’s and 60’s, and 2) putting together such a fine ensemble to help him realise these musical innovations. The music world is a greater place for it.

Today and in the days to come, I personally celebrate the life and music of Dave Brubeck. Without him, I would not have known about drummer, Joe Morello, who became a huge inspiration for me. Thank you Mr. Brubeck for all that you’ve done for modern music. It’s our responsibility now to see to it that your great work will not fade into obscurity but will serve as much needed manna for all musicians of my generation and beyond, be they in Jazz or other genres.