Author: jasoncruzdrums

In Memoriam: Ginger Baker

reuters_ginger_baker_05Oct19.jpg

On October 6th 2019, the drumming world and the music world at large lost an iconic drummer. Formerly of Graham Bond Organization, Cream, Blind Faith, Ginger Baker’s Airforce, Ginger Baker Trio, Bruce, Baker and Moore, Masters of Reality, and Ginger Baker’s Jazz Confusion, and having collaborated with such world music legends as Afrobeat pioneer, Fela Kuti, Ginger’s contributions to drumming and to music were massive.

Since I don’t have much time to write a lengthy tribute – although I might do so later this year – I shall share my first encounter with Ginger Baker’s drumming.

It was one evening in 1992. I was about 8 going on 9. My parents separated legally, and it was an extremely confusing and traumatic period in my childhood. Everything took a nosedive including my studies. I was going back and forth between staying with my mom and staying with my dad. But that one evening, when I was with my dad, and he bought me fish and chips for dinner, he put on The Very Best of Cream vinyl (yes, we still played vinyl records those days even when CDs were the dominant format).

The first track was the iconic Rock song, Sunshine of Your Love. I stopped eating and just couldn’t believe what my ears were picking up from the home stereo speakers in the living room. The guitar and bass riff on that song was the heaviest thing I ever heard at that point. Being very sensitive to rhythm also, I noticed the unusual drum pattern in the song also. The backbeats didn’t land on 2 and 4. It landed on 1 and 3 instead. There was no use of Hi-Hat or Ride cymbal. The main groove was just bass drum, snare drum, floor tom, with excursions around the toms in between Eric Clapton’s and Jack Bruce’s vocal lines – a beautifully simple and elegant example of setting up events in a song with fills.

In 1998, when I was going through yet another traumatic crisis in the family, I seemed to be drawn to the music of Cream, Jimi Hendrix, and Steely Dan. I distinctly remember playing all the Cream tracks from Eric Clapton’s Crossroads CD box set (1988, Polydor Records) over and over again. I marvelled at the songs, the musicianship (!!!), and not least, Ginger’s very unique drumming and drum sound.

In 2003, I bought the Strange Brew documentary DVD as a Father’s Day present. It was a 1991 documentary on Cream with mind-blowing clips from their legendary 1968 farewell concert at the Royal Albert Hall, London. I ended up watching the DVD more than my dad did. This was the turning point in my life. I decided I wanted to give being a musician a try, and to seriously devote myself to practice. I became a Cream fanatic for over a year. I searched everything I could find on the band online – bootlegs, reviews, interviews, information on their equipment, analysis of their playing styles, analysis of their songs, analysis of their live performances. I studied Ginger Baker’s drumming style and technique intensely. I play alot of stuff that came from him. The way I approach jamming with other musicians, my inclination towards thinking and listening like a Jazz musician (at least I try to), were largely influenced by him.

I then researched on their pre-Cream and post-Cream music projects. With Ginger Baker, I was fascinated by his versatility to navigate through Jazz, Afrobeat, Rock, Blues, and abit of Funk, yet still retain his strong drumming identity. You just knew it was him within the first two beats, let alone the first bar of music. I was inspired to be that sort of drummer – have an identifiable sound and feel to my playing while still being versatile and competent in a number of genres. I owe it largely to Ginger for setting me on this path.

Much has been said about Ginger’s personality. I do not wish to get into that here. I acknowledge his flaws. I’m flawed too. I try my best to prevent mistakes I made in the past from happening again, and am recovering from past mistakes. Ginger, through his drumming and music, however, gave me hope when I was hopeless. As a kid, I thought I would never be in a happy family. I would never be in a family with two parents living together like I saw my classmates, acquaintances, and few friends had. I felt isolated and alienated. I became angry at the world for a time. But Ginger’s music, amongst the many others I was listening to growing up, kept me grounded, and gave me something to look forward to.

Ginger Baker, Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Mitch Mitchell, Ian Paice, John Bonham, Stewart Copeland, Ringo Starr, Keith Moon, Billy Cobham, Neil Peart, Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, Buddy Rich, Steve Gadd, Dave Weckl etc…. Ginger’s name rightfully belongs in the company of these groundbreaking and iconic musicians. To me, at least..

Thank you, Mr. Peter Edward “Ginger” Baker for inspiring this broken kid to pick himself up and make something out of himself, as you did so many times in your own life. Rest easy.

My last wish when it’s time for me to go: play Sunshine of Your Love at my funeral. Blast that fucker loud. I don’t want any crying. I want people to rock out and sing their fucking hearts out. As one.

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Making the final push in the last 4 months of 2019

Dear all,

It’s been about 3 months since my last post. I hope all of you are well, productive, and contented.

I’ve just entered what is likely my third to last semester in my university course. The last semester was a success and I’m very happy with the results I got. I look back with fondness on the pressure I felt during last semester to work even harder especially on the essay assignments. As there were no pre-class quizzes which made up 10% of the overall grade, the essay assignments alone carried 50% of the overall grade. I felt the pressure to really score as well as I could on every single essay assignment. I probably grew a few more white hairs because of this, haha..

That was school. Then came the 2 month break after the exams, which I totally enjoyed. I was getting back into exercise, watching my diet more closely, going to more concerts, movies, and making a list of things I wanted to learn and practice. In that list, I wanted to learn more about Indian Classical rhythmic cycles and appreciate the differences of that between North Indian Classical music and South Indian classical music; work on my vocals as I’m doing quite a bit of singing lately with my new Beatles tribute project. More on that later; brushing up my metric modulation abilities and bass drum technique.I managed to complete almost of all these goals in the list except finding an organization to volunteer in. I’m a little disappointed with myself on that but I’m still working on it.

Now with the Beatles tribute project. I got together with the bass player from another band I played in who is a Beatles fan (or maniac), a guitarist from yet another band I played in who is also a Beatle fan (maniac), and an exceptional guitarist, bassist, and singer from the Philippines who’s working here, and he is a total Beatle maniac than the other three of us combined! It’s a blessing to have him with us and this is just another fun band to be in. I don’t know how long it’ll last, but we’re having fun working the Beatles’ catalogue and trying our very very best to be as close as we can in sound, feel, and standard to the original recordings. A tall order for us considering our individual limitations as singers.

This is our facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/BeatlemaniacsSingapore/.

On behalf of the band, I hope that you like the material. We’re in the midst of securing gigs in future. We just did an open mic session on the 26th of August to test how we sound in front of a live audience and what the latter’s reaction would be. Warts and all in our set, along with technical kinks particularly with one of the guitar amps, we had very positive feedback from the audience! You can see pictures and videos from that performance on the facebook page.

I guess you can infer from what I’m sharing above, that I’m moving towards playing more the music that I want to play with the people I truly enjoy making music with. It started as early as late 2015, and it’s now becoming a reality. I’m very contented and consider myself blessed to be in this position.

Having said that, I also managed to take part in two recording sessions in June! One was for Wong Kah Chun (https://www.facebook.com/kahchun.music/) for an original Rock song he composed with a school helping special needs kids. I helped him assemble the bass, guitar, drums lineup, and we found a keyboardist to complete the rhythm section. Kah Chun recently sent me a rough mix of the song we recorded with a brass section and classical percussion now added. It was amazing!

The other recording session I took part in was for a recording engineer working at Lasalle. He was able to get some studio time from the school’s excellent recording facility, and I laid down drum tracks there for two of his original Rock guitar instrumental compositions to be put out as an EP some time end of this year or early in 2020. That was another very enjoyable experience. The highlight  was I got to use my 2015-acquired pre-serial badge Ludwig Supraphonic snare drum. It just sounded amazing when I heard the playbacks. 16 Beat Drums helped me refurbish it and install new heads, and they did a great job. I just used the drum in the studio as how they set it up. Not a single lug on that drum was touched by a key. Beautiful tone. That’s my snare sound which I found in the Supraphonic. Again, I consider myself blessed that fellow musicians still remember me for recording work. It’s an honour to contribute to their music. Thank you all!

Now that the new school semester has kicked in in late July, I’m driven and determined to do even better than last semester. I love being a student again! Along with that, I haven’t stopped loving the routine of practice and improving my drumming. I do miss  the 3 to 5 hour practice sessions, but I think I gained alot more in terms or organizing and focusing better my practice sessions with much shorter time periods. Besides, I don’t consider myself in competition with any other drummer.

This is all for now. Till the next post, take care!

Half Year Gone In A Flash…

And just like that, June is here…What has it been like for you in 2019, so far?

For me, it was probably the best first half of the year I had in a long time. Usually the second half the year is where the excitement and bustle take place, but for me, it happened early on in 2019. I just hope the momentum holds steady at least.

In addition to two studio recording sessions I am involved in this month, I made a list of things I wanted to get done during the June/July school break – where some of my drumset students will be on vacation and my next school semester commences at the end of July. These include taking up swimming again after many donkey years – I have returned to physical exercise starting last month, reading Dr. Albert Ellis’ book on his Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT)  which I just got in the mail, studying Talas or Taals which are rhythmic cycles in both Hindustani and Carnatic classical music of India, improving my metric modulation abilities on the drumset in both straight and swung feels, improving my singing technique – greater accuracy in pitch between huge jumps in intervals, better intonation, and harmonization abilities, and some basic left hand chord work and right hand melodic line facility on the piano – I’m currently working on a really simple songs in the keys of C, A, and F, and doing some volunteer work – I am still deciding which organization.

Great plans, so good luck to me fulfilling all of them!

 

 

 

Yamaha Live Custom Hybrid Oak Drums – New

 

As much a die-hard Ludwig fan I am who once loved Tama drums (and still have a soft spot for them), I have always been impressed with the quality of the drums that the Yamaha corporation make across the different price points. I have been fortunate to play many different models of Yamaha drumkits over the years, from the entry-level Stage Custom to the top-of-the-line Recording Customs, both on stage and in the recording studio.

The Recording Customs, which have seen a reissue a couple of years ago, are everything you could ask for in a drumkit: extremely well manufactured shells, uniformity and consistency of tone, dynamic range, quickness of response, incredible clarity, and ideal projection across all the drums.

Then enter these Yamaha Live Custom Hybrid Oak drums…The Yamaha company has outdone itself again! They took the same shell construction method of their now discontinued Phoenix (PHX) line of drums and came up with these incredibly fine sounding instruments, which history will judge them to be among the greatest drums Yamaha ever made.

Watch the demonstration in the link above. I’m sure you’ll agree with me! PS: That Japanese drummer has the most pristine single stroke roll around the kit. His groove is happening too.

Here’s an excellent review cum demonstration of these drums:

The Revival Band Opening Set at The Manfreds Concert, 24th March 2019, Kallang Theatre

 

It is with the greatest pleasure that I share this clip with you. Yes, it’s that Bee Gees song…

Personnel:

Martin Lee – Lead Vocals (guitar and backing vocals on other songs in the set)

Ricky Sng – Keyboards and Backing Vocals (also music director)

James Ng – Guitar and Backing Vocals

Peter Chng – Bass

Jason Cruz – Drums

Enjoy!

 

Songs From The Big Chair – Tears for Fears

SFBC

Spotify Link: https://open.spotify.com/album/06J93pgtDCUw6bsAQINhCs

Also available for purchase on iTunes.

I revisited this seminal 1985 work by one of the decade’s defining bands, Tears for Fears.

The songs have taken on a whole new layer of depth of meaning for me, especially with

where I am right  now,  the knowledge I’m gaining, and the newfound awareness I’ve

attained.

Since this is a drumming site, I should put in a word or two about the drumming…….AND

the drum programming. In my opinion, this is a textbook example of when excellent

live drumming (courtesy of one Mr. Manny Elias) meets excellent drum programming

to create a rich rhythmic tapestry. The sounds are dated, yes, but I think the rhythmic

creativity has never been topped since.

Give this album a spin……or as we say in today’s parlance…a stream….

My recommended tracks:

  1. Shout
  2. Everybody Wants To Rule The World (for the uninitiated drummers, see if you can figure out how this shuffle groove goes. Your ears might trick you…)
  3. Broken / Head Over Heels
  4. I Believe
  5. Listen

When Do I Stop Lessons?

This post is aimed at clarifying (hopefully) this often asked question by students who have been learning the drums for some time, who seem to be going nowhere, and are contemplating of quitting lessons, but are not sure if they should do so?

Note: Although this post is aimed at the drumset student, it is also applicable to any other music student.

I have thought for some time about what I would do if I were in the shoes of such a student, and I came up with a list of questions I could ask myself, in order to derive at a conclusion, and hence a decision to either continue or cease lessons. I then explain some possible reasons. Please note that this list is not necessarily a complete one, but I hope it serves as a springboard for the other relevant questions you can ask yourself:

  1. Am I able to continue committing time for lessons?

Sometimes, a temporary or indefinite break from lessons may be needed. If so, let your teacher or the school you take lessons at know. Be sure to check the lesson termination policy with your school, or if you are a private student, directly with your teacher. This, in fact, should have been communicated to you before you embarked on lessons.

2. Am I struggling to find time to practise?

Oftentimes, our other commitments at work, school, and even our social and family lives pile on, and we have lesser and lesser time to practice. If this were to happen to me, it is only reasonable for me to stop lessons for awhile, so that I can hopefully free up some time to catch up with practising the material I worked on in past lessons. Of course, it is still your prerogative as a student. If you do not mind continuing lessons because you may enjoy the therapeutic benefit that comes with them, continue by all means. Who is to say you are wrong?

3. I have been taking lessons for awhile now, but I am still not sure if the drums are still for me as a musical instrument?

This could be due to a number of factors including, but not limited to, the following:

A. I am struggling with co-ordinating my limbs to play the instrument.

Yes, for some students, psycho-motor co-ordination on the instrument, can pose a big challenge. But as I have mentioned in my FAQ a couple of years back, this is precisely why you take drum lessons. I say it is important to have a teacher who is willing to go at YOUR pace, and break things down intelligently so you can manage it. Please speak to your teacher and ask him/her for help in this area if need be.

I may even be so bold to suggest that if your budget and time allows for it, do take some dance lessons – hip hop, swing, latin e.t.c. – and learn to loosen up your body in order to GROOVE…You may want to do dance lessons first, then take drum lessons later.

B.  The lessons are not very motivational or inspiring…

Ah….this one goes a number of ways. Either the problem lies with the teacher – who might be boring or unmotivated to teach – or the rapport between yourself and your teacher is not happening. Like in a counselling session, where if the relationship between the counsellor and the client fosters conditions for positive changes with the latter, so too does it apply to a teacher/student relationship.

It could also very well be that you are just not feeling a connection with the drumset, and that is fine. There is a likelihood that you may connect better with a stringed instrument or a brass instrument, or a woodwind instrument. At least, you gave the drums a shot, and you are the richer for it for having gone through the experience.

C. The lessons are ok, but I just do not like to practice on my own at home.

I had students like this many times. All teachers can relate to this. Some students may have the false impression from other sources that you can learn AND master a drumming technique or concept within the lesson itself. There is no need to follow it up with individual practice to further refine the technique or concept. This is obviously not true. If one aspires to play at the level of the Pros that he/she looks up to, then individual practice time is a non-negotiable element in the game of progress.

Some students just take drum lessons to take their mind off possible stressors in their lives. Hence, they see lessons as a form of therapy. As a teacher for many years, I have gotten better at asking the right questions to the student at the trial lesson, to clarify WHY he/she decided to give learning the drums a try. A competent teacher should be able to help draw out the answer from within yourself as to your motivation to learn drums in the first place. Then, it is up to you and your teacher to see if you can both come to a mutual agreement to either continue with the lessons or not.

Again, I emphasize, speak to someone about any concerns you have as soon as it affects you – your teacher (naturally), your parents, a friend (preferably someone who has the same background in the instrument you are learning), or even a counsellor. Doing so will help you clarify your thoughts and hence make an informed decision. Insight into why the lessons are not going the way you would like them to is very important to gain.

Sometimes, it could be a personal insecurity or fear that is hindering your progress with your learning. Perhaps you have a fear of making mistakes and being judged for it. You fear being scrutinized for every note you play on the instrument. You may feel that if you do not learn things as quickly as you would like to – perhaps you are comparing yourself to similar others you know – you are inferior to others. In such cases, do seek professional counselling as teacher or even the music school, may not be professionally equipped to help handle these deeper psychological issues.

With all this said, I assert that full insight into why you have arrived at a point where you are doubting your abilities to learn the drums and contemplating on quitting lessons will help you make a much more informed decision.

I hope this post sheds some much needed light on an issue that I find is not addressed enough in the music education field, but one that is every bit crucial.