Thursday, May 28, 2020

Steve Fidyk "Battle Lines"

Drummer, composer, author and educator Steve Fidyk recently released his third solo recording entitled Battle Lines featuring a stellar line-up of musicians on a diverse and dynamic program of tunes.

Steve was nice enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about his recent recording project.

Steve Fidyk Battle Lines - Four on the Floor Interview May 2020

1) Tell us about your latest recording!

First off, thank you for hosting such an incredible jazz resource in Four on the Floor. The drumming community has benefited greatly from your insights and contributions. I appreciate the opportunity to answer some questions on my latest recording Battle Lines, which features Joe Magnarelli (trumpet), Xavier Perez (tenor saxophone), Peter Zak (piano) and Michael Karn on bass. At the session, we managed to lay down a total of eleven compositions, of which seven were originals of mine.

This was the first solo recording I’ve done in about four years, and it’s representative of experiences that have occurred throughout my life during this time. For example, in 2017, I closed my position as drummer with the Army Blues Big Band after 21 years. So many of the experiences I’ve had working with them helped shape my style and personal sound. The same year I left the Blues, I lost my father (and mother shortly there after) which contributed to the emotional aspects that you can hear on the recording. One of the selections I dedicate to my parents, a ballad called Lullaby for Lori and John which was a very emotional experience for me.

2) How did you choose your repertoire and sidemen?

For any project I put together, I try to build on experiences and concepts that I learned since my last one. For me, it’s all a process of progress that takes place in very small increments. I like mixing up the instrumentation, using the group and its players personalities to help create different moods in the music. I grew up on 70s pop, so my music reflects that influence as well as the tradition of players that have forged the way for all of us. The rhythmic language or vernacular I strive for in my playing (and compositions) is equal parts modern and traditional with a tendency to lean towards the blues feeling.

The musicians featured on Battle Lines are consummate professionals that I have worked with in different musical settings over the years. Xavier Perez for example is a member of the Army Blues. He’s the musical director and holds the tenor one chair - a great player with traditional roots that can also stretch and play very modern. His eighth notes have a special feel to them that work well with my ride cymbal beat interpretation. I played with Joe Magnarelli on a Positone record date for tenor saxophonist Doug Webb, and in big band settings like the Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia. We’re also teaching colleagues at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA. Every note Joe plays comes from the heart. He’s one of the finest jazz trumpeter’s on the scene today and I’m very grateful for his contributions to this recording.

Both Peter Zak and Michael Karn I met through my association with tenor saxophonist Walt Weiskopf. We were the rhythm section on two of Walt’s recordings—Open Road and Fountain of Youth. Both players elevate my playing and are extremely conversational in their approach to rhythm. Together, they both generate a propulsion and lift in the music that is exciting and fun to play with.

The music of Eddie Harris, Dave Brubeck, Charlie Parker and Blue Mitchell are also featured prominently throughout the recording. This year, we celebrate the centennial of both Parker and Brubeck, so I felt it was appropriate to include music from each. I also have a kinship with the music of Dave Brubeck from my years of studying with Joe Morello. I felt strongly about including an Eddie Harris tune because his music has that blues element we talked about earlier, coupled with funk— modern, yet traditional...I feel the same about the music of Blue Mitchell. A very underrated trumpeter and composer in my opinion.

3) What inspired you to pursue the vibe and instrumentation that you did?

Battle Lines is my third solo project, and for each I try to mix up the instrumentation and players. On my first recording which featured Terell Stafford and Tim Warfield, the only comping instrument was guitar, which can produce a thinner, more transparent texture. My second recording featured the prominent sound of Brian Charette on organ, which helped to reflect the blues and funk feeling of the music from that set. For Battle Lines, I thought I would strive for a more traditional rhythm section set-up with the addition of Peter on piano. We played a few dates a month earlier with Walt Weiskopf and it felt strong and steady as usual, so I pulled the trigger and put together a group with that centerpiece in mind.

4) Was there a particular message you were trying to convey to the listener?

My tune titles tend to shed light or expose the politics in our society and government. I’m not a political person, but performing and living in the Washington DC area for so many years has influenced my outlook for sure.

5) Who are your influences with regards to your style of writing and playing?

I like a good strong melody that hooks the listener, much like a pop tune would. My compositions are simple vehicles for improvisation. If a horn player has fun improvising over the progression I came up with, then I feel like I did my job. Playing in the moment, listening, interacting and initiating conversation are essential elements for my music. Early drumming influences included Buddy Rich who was the first jazz drummer I saw perform when I was eight years old. Next came the music of Dave Brubeck, which was anchored by Eugene Wright and Joe Morello. The journey of influence and discovery is still continuing today.

6) What are you practicing/studying/listening to/researching these days?

I continue to work on maintenance exercises for tone and dynamic balance at the kit (fundamentals). I've also been experimenting with polyrhythms orchestrated between my hands and feet, improvising on both sides of the polyrhythm simultaneously. I recently posted a video to social media demonstrating the concept with 5:4—improvising in 5 with my hands while my feet stay in 4 (*see below*).

Recently, I’ve been listening to the new Tom Misch/Yussef Dayes record which has some very cool tunes and grooves. Chris Dave’s groups also produce very funky and creative music. Gretchen Parlato’s band with Mark Giuliana have a very cool sound with interesting arrangements and original compositions that focus on melody and meter. All of these musicians are changing the landscape of modern music.

7) What other current and future projects do you have on the go at the moment?

This recording is on a new record label I formed— Blue Canteen Music. We’re very proud to partner with Warrior Beat, a nonprofit veterans organization that helps to enrich the lives of military veterans suffering from PTSD and anxiety from long deployments. Blue Canteen Music is donating a portion of the proceeds from each CD sold to help purchase hand drums for use in drum circles and music therapy. For more information on this wonderful organization, please visit www.bluecanteenmusic.com 

8) How does the drums and your overall approach to rhythm factor into your compositions and concept?

It’s been pointed out to me (mainly by horn players) that my tunes have interesting rhythmic ideas and counterpoint, with listenable melodies. It’s a natural extension because I’ve been playing drums for so long. Each composition I write is different, in that sometimes I begin with a chord progression, sometimes a bass line, sometimes a drum groove and sometimes a melody. It all depends on the mood I’m in.

9) What drummers (or other musicians) do you consider as influences?

This would be an excellent opportunity to acknowledge my teachers. Without there help, advice and guidance, it would be very difficult to navigate the musical terrain I find myself in—Angelo Stella, Ed Soph, Joe Morello, Bob Grauso, Kim Plainfield, John Riley and Ralph Peterson were all very patient and encouraging to me throughout the journey. Unfortunately, some of these men have left us, so I try to carry on their message through my music and teaching.

I’m influenced by so many, but it all started with my parents. They provided opportunities and encouragement to study music and believe in myself. I’ve had so much help along the way, it would be impossible for me to list everyone.

10) What advice do you have for younger, aspiring jazz musicians and jazz drummers?

It’s important to study and learn as much about the drums and the music you inspire to play. It takes dedication and lots of hard work, and even then, goals and aspirations are sometimes not met to a players expectation. You have to really LOVE the instrument and listen to musicians that have more experience in order to grow. Study with a reputable teacher in your community and trust what they are giving you to practice and EXCEED their expectations by being prepared and asking questions. The path to success isn't always a straight line, but you learn something about the music and yourself from every twist and turn.

For more information about Steve Fidyk and his music, please visit www.bluecanteenmusic.com

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