Thursday, December 17, 2020

Interview with Russ Gleason - Drum Hangs

While we are still patiently riding things out, awaiting the day when we can once again perform and safely appreciate music in person (all together and in close proximity!), it's still worth taking note of all the amazing on-line resources, webinars and live-streams that have come available over the past few months.

In the wise words of Dan Weiss:

Gigs cancelled.
Tours cancelled.
Practice....NOT cancelled.

If so inclined, there is no lack of great information and inspiration out there to check out. It's never been easier to connect with the world's great jazz drummers via social media or on one of the many music platforms currently available on the web.

With that mind, Russ Gleason has put together an incredible initiative called Drum Hangs in which he has been interviewing (or "hanging" with) the greatest drummers in the world, on a regular basis since last Summer.

Russ's sessions are conducted using Zoom, broadcast from the UK, and have featured such artists as Steve Gadd, Jack DeJohnette, Bernard Purdie, John Riley, Adam Nussbaum, Mike Clark, Antonio Sanchez, Bill Stewart, Martin France, James Gadson, Vinnie Coluaita, Ed Soph, Jeff Hamilton, Peter Erskine, Steve Jordan, Simon Phillips, Nate Smith, Jeff Hamilton and many, many more. 

Check it out!

Russ was also kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about Drum Hangs. 

Thanks Russ and keep up the great work!

Russ Gleason Drum Hangs Interview - Four on the Floor December 2020

1) Tell us all about Drum Hangs! What is it all about?

Drum Hangs is a platform hosted on Zoom which connects drummers around the world directly with their heroes.

When the pandemic hit, my first thought was “What are my favourite drummers going to do? All the work is gone!” After having this initial thought, I wrestled long and hard in my head about a way in which I could help to support musicians. I saw a lot of content going up on YouTube and social media but when I watched it, I didn’t feel connected and it was over-educational at a time when I felt isolated and didn’t really feel like practicing.

Without any gigs to work towards, what was the point?! I think we probably all felt that way. The drumming world needed a more laid back way of inspiring folks with more of a focus on music not just technique and stuff that was way too ‘drum heavy’.

About a month into the pandemic, the idea came to me. I was talking to my great friend and top session drummer, Neal Wilkinson, very regularly and one day we decided to chat on Zoom and that we would be by our drums and play ideas as we both weren’t really doing much practice at the time; we had the ‘Pandemic Blues’ if you will. I still have the notes from that day which are titled ‘Drums & Tea with Neal’. After about two hours we both came away feeling good and I suggested to Neal that we should invite people we knew the next week. Neal could share some ideas, and I would host. There was a nominal charge to take part and we ended up with around 70 people.

The energy that leapt out of the screen that day was insane! People felt connected and were able to communicate directly with other drummers; it was an incredibly profound experience for us all. Soon after, we decided that we would invite special guests to come and hang with us and because we had monetized the platform, we were able to pay. This was completely unique to anything else that was going on in the drumming world at that time.

The whole point of Drum Hangs is to support our favourite musicians whilst keeping drummers connected. Connecting Drummers Worldwide is our tagline and that’s really what we have been able to do; we have been able to connect drummers and musicians from over 30 countries around the world! With a few exceptions, we have had most of the legendary drummers in the world appear at Drum Hangs and it has been nothing short of incredible. I regularly awake the day after a hang thinking “was that a dream?”.

The other unique thing about Drum Hangs is that nothing is recorded. I get no end of messages from people around the world complaining to me that we should put it on YouTube. They’re missing the point completely! If only they would realise the fact that when the camera is on and you’re being recorded, you are less relaxed and it’s pretty stilted. I realise that commercially it would be a good idea for us to do such a thing but it wouldn’t be the same and we’re certainly not in it for the money. Drum Hangs is relaxed, spontaneous and in the moment; exactly how we feel music should be. Our guests feel comfortable, they will be very open, and participants can interact with them directly. Akin to being in a drum store and then your favourite drummer walks in!

A Hang can go in any direction. Some guys play, some prefer to take questions and hang out. We play records, we have fun - it’s MUSICAL!

2) Did you have any experience interviewing drummers or producing on-line content before the global pandemic hit?

Before the pandemic hit, I had no experience in interviewing drummers but I knew I could hang. After 25 years of working in the music industry in drum stores and for drum manufactures in sales & marketing roles, I’ve dealt with drummers every day of my working life; I guess it was second nature to some extent. In regards to online content, I’ve ran social media accounts and wrote a few things over the years but nothing that was really my own; always on the behalf of a company. I’ve always been active arranging masterclasses, gigs, and clinics, so I had built a few relationships up on the way, I guess.

Was it a steep learning curve in terms of learning how to use the technology?

We use the Zoom platform at Drum Hangs which was pretty straightforward for me to use. The tricky part at the beginning was the administrative side of things and making sure that I did a good job at being organised. Pretty soon after we started, I knew we needed a brand name, a logo, and then I was able to develop the website, www.drumhangs.com, and now everything is pretty automated in terms of bookings.

3) Tell us all about your colleague Neal Wilkinson and his role in this project.

Neal is one of my absolute favourite drummers. He’s one of the greatest to ever do it and I have admired his playing for as long as I can remember. I feel so lucky to have Neal in my life and to have him be a part of Drum Hangs is just out of this world!

To me, Neal is the ultimate working drummer. One minute he’ll be at Abbey Road doing a film session and then he’ll be out on tour with James Morrison, and then you’ll spot him on the drums on a TV show. He can do it all and he does it as good as anyone and he doesn’t make a song & dance about it; he’s working!

Neal has such common ground with many of our special guests, so the conversation at Drum Hangs tends to be on a different level to anything else I’ve ever seen. At Drum Hangs, Neal will share a few ideas and chat with our community before our special guest arrives and it’s always such a pleasure to hear him play and talk!

4) What are some of the highlights from Drum Hangs so far?

There have been so many truly magical moments since we started Drum Hangs back in May that I really need to write a book about it all to be honest. There’s never been a platform like this with so many of the world’s truly legendary drummers involved and I’ve been so fortunate to be able to have direct contact with all these heroes of mine in putting all this together. I’m hugely grateful to all of them for believing in me and for being a part of Drum Hangs.

I would love to share every magical moment here but I shall just pick one for now. Steve Gadd has appeared twice at Drum Hangs, which is a dream come true, and the first time he was on everyone showed up for it; and I mean everyone! It was just out of this world. To hear Steve and Vinnie Colaiuta chatting about the challenges of traditional grip, and then to hear Steve chatting with Ed Greene about the groove was just unbelievable. We all really celebrated Steve’s huge contribution to music that day and it was so special that I still get goosebumps when I think about it. The sense of community and the love in the room that day for Steve was just something else. As we all know, Steve Gadd is one of the greatest and humble people on the planet.

The thing is, you never know who may check into a hang. This very small corner of the internet that we have created has become a very special place for drummers. I realize that I’m being quite guarded on Drum Hangs highlights but believe me, if you’re not attending, you’re missing simply incredible moments with the world’s most legendary drummers!

5) What are some lessons you've learned from this project?

The most important thing anyone attending Drum Hangs will have learnt is that humility is one of the greatest attributes any person can have working in the music industry, or any industry for that matter. All of the guests that we have featured are simply the most incredible, inspiring, and humble people you’ll ever meet. Humility is incredibly powerful and the world could certainly do with more of it.

6) Can you give us a preview of the drummers who will be appearing on Drum Hangs in 2021?

We’re looking forward to 2021 at Drum Hangs and we’re in the process of scheduling our special guests for January. There are still many great musicians that we would love to have appear and we’d also like to do many ‘part 2’s’ with previous guests. Once the pandemic has lifted a little and folks are able to start travelling and touring again, we would love to assist in promoting live gigs, masterclasses, and clinics in the London area under the Drum Hangs banner.

7) What kind of drumming activities are you usually up to? (when not in the midst of a global pandemic!) Also, would you mind talking a bit about your relationship studying with Jim Blackley?

I’ve had the drumming bug since I was about 15 and have studied with some great teachers over the years including Jim Blackley, Bob Armstrong, Allan Cox, Spike Wells, and Phil Solomon. I love pretty much all styles of music and these days I’m not a big ‘practicer’ but I listen to so much music; the records are where all the magic is!

Since starting Drum Hangs, I’ve been asked a lot about my studies with Jim Blackley. In my early twenties, I was studying with Allan Cox who is a fantastic player, educator, and he also created the ‘Meet the Bass Player’ play-along series which has been so successful and helped many players & teachers around the world. I worked so hard on Jim Blackley’s material whilst studying with Allan, and one day during a lesson he said to me “you should go and study with Jim”. I looked at him and thought “is that possible? could I really do that?” He assured me that it’d be great and more importantly, life-changing. He was correct!

Allan put me in contact with Jim’s son, Kaja, and we arranged that I would travel to Canada from the UK for a week of lessons with the master! I couldn’t believe that the pilgrimage was going to happen, and it was all very overwhelming simply because I had worked so hard at Jim’s material and really made it a part of my being.

Jim’s material is incredibly musical. It will develop the drummer’s sense of swing and hopefully give your time that bounce and lift that the music needs. You learn to be able to listen and react; the music should play you! The material really helps to keep your ego in check and you develop rhythmically in your approach to musical phrases.

Like I said, people have asked me a lot about studying with Jim since I started Drum Hangs and I always say the same thing. The thing that affected me on the deepest and most profound level, was the warmth I felt when I was at Casa Blackley. His family are truly beautiful people; just amazing! The first time I went to study with Jim, his wife Aisha was still with us and I swear that she was an angel. It’s hard to put into words what it was like to be in her company, just an absolutely incredible lady and I was very sad to learn of her passing. Jim also sadly passed a few years back and I guess now he is reunited with Aisha. In their youth, they were champion ballroom dancers, so they’re dancing in the skies somewhere, no doubt!

I realize that I’m not giving too much away about what lessons were like with Jim. I guess I can say that you just played for around 6 hours each lesson and he guided you. He wanted you to find yourself and he seemed to know exactly where your head was at before you even said a word and he gave you that push you needed. The man was wise beyond words - HEAVY!

I can’t recommend Jim’s publications, ‘Syncopated Rolls for the Modern Drummer’ and ‘The Essence of Jazz Drumming’ highly enough. Get the books, but get your head out of the books! Make sure you seek out a teacher who has studied with Jim to take you through the material; there are many subtleties.

Playing-wise, I just try to be as versatile as possible and I’ve always admired the guys who can go and play any gig. I’ve just tried to prepare myself for any musical situation that may present itself. I’ll rarely miss an opportunity to go and play whether it’s 1920’s tea dance playing dixieland jazz, a Big Band playing Sammy Nestico charts, a theatre production, ‘Stuff’ style funk club date, a ‘Top-40’ wedding gig, or an all-out rock ’n’ roll thing, I’ll try to let the music play me and react accordingly. Playing the drums is no big deal; playing music is what we should be striving for and if we can meet some great people and build long-lasting relationships along the way, then surely that ticks many boxes towards achieving the ultimate goal; a happy life!

Don't miss out and visit www.drumhangs.com to learn more about this wonderful project.

*Hey, while we're on the topic of Hangs....don't forget to tune in to the inaugural episode of Four on the Floor *Live* happening tonight Thursday, December 17th 7pm MST (9pm EST) on Instagram IGTV @fouronthefloorblog with special guest Chris Smith, curator of the Jazz Drum Hang! www.jazzdrumhang.com*

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