Saturday, 18 February 2017

Irish Drummers; Kevin, when did you start playing?
I started playing drums quite late actually, I began playing when I was about 16 and previous to that I had played piano and trumpet. I started playing piano when I was 6 years of age and then I took up trumpet when I was about 8. I played them up until my late teens doing the usual grades thing. I took up the drums, purely by coincidence. It was an instrument I always wanted to try and I kind of stumbled upon it. Thankfully!

Irish Drummers; Who were your influences at that stage?
At that point, I was a huge Stewart Copeland fan and another drummer I really liked listening too was Manu Katche. My father gave me a record, at Christmas time, when I was younger it was Wynton Marsalis called Standard volume 1, I got to hear Jeff Tain Watts and I think that would’ve been the turning point for me with regards to jazz drumming.

Irish Drummers;  What was it about Jeff’s playing that made it such a turning point?
I think it was mainly because I was intrigued by the way that he was so free in his approach to playing and that he could play behind so many different styles. I was practicing reading basic beats, I wanted to be able to hold down a groove in time while reading. When I heard Tain playing I heard lots of different influences that were intriguing to me. He merged so many styles together seemlessly and that’s why it had such a big influence on me.

Irish Drummers; Did you get any drum lessons?
Not at first. For the first year and a half I didn’t get any lessons. There were certain things I couldn’t improve, like endurance, so once I hit the wall so to speak of developing, I went to Conor Guilfoyle at the Newpark Music Centre and I studied with him for many years. We have been good friends ever since. Another good thing of following one’s pursuit is that you meet so many great people along the way. I did a lot of drum-kit exams which I felt helped with my reading. I was about 20 when I started performing professionally on the drumkit, playing blues & rock gigs at first. When I was 21 or 22, Conor recommended me to go to Drummers Collective in New York City. I went there and lived in New York for a while and studied with Gene Jackson, Kim Plainfield & Bobby Sanabrias. I think Kim is still teaching at the Collective. Kim taught me many different techniques, co-ordination, fundamentals and reading skills and funk and swing and jazz related stuff. Bobby Sanabrias was for the Afro-Cuban part of performing on the drumkit. It was a huge learning curve for me, I saw so many people my age at the time that were way, way better than me, that was a real eye opener.

Irish Drummers; You came back to Ireland after a year, so what happened after that?
After that, I went to a jazz summer camp in Jordanstown at the University of Ulster and I studied with the fantastic teacher Keith Copeland & Hugh Frazer. I had studied with Keith previously when he came over to Ireland to perform with The Tommy Halferty Trio. I was lucky to have classes with Keith and at the end of that particular summer I enrolled at the Newpark Music Centre and achieved a professional musicians cert. For me, this was an introduction, formally to jazz studies. I finished the studies & went on to achieve an LGSM Diploma from the Guildhall School of Music in Jazz Studies.

Irish Drummers;  So that was your background regarding music education?
Yeah, that was kind of the start of it and when I finished, there was another life cycle for me. I had always wanted to travel around the world, so I bought a Round the World ticket and went to Australia, I also travelled around Asia and the U.S.

Irish Drummers; Were you drumming over there?
Yes I was, I had close friends from New Zealand that were really experienced Blues music performers, some of them singer/songwriters. We played regularly. I also had the chance to work for a recording & distribution label for close to a year which was a real eye opener for me at the time. I felt it gave me a fundamental background into marketing and the business end of things regarding music. This was a period of time that was extremely beneficial and to this day I still go back to the advice that I got while I was working there.

Irish Drummers; You played with both Justin Carroll and John Moriarty.
I was playing with the hammond organ trio called Organics featuring Justin Carroll on Hammond Organ and John Moriarty on Guitar, both of which have gone on to compose and record some amazing music individually.
At that time they had to get a replacement drummer in, while I was away, but fortunately, about maybe 8 months or so after returning home, I began playing with the group again and things kinda took off from there. I was 28 at that stage. I haven’t really looked back since, concerning gigging,recording & playing music.

Irish Drummers;  When did you decide that music was going to be your fulltime career?
I can tell you exactly. It was just after my Leaving Cert and I had decided when I was about 17 that that was what I wanted to do. I had been involved in music all my life. I remember even saying to the careers guidance teacher in secondary school that this was what I was going to do, but obviously they tried to put me off that direction, but I stuck to my decision. Glad I did and glad that I had the support from my folks as well, couldn’t of done it without them.

Irish Drummers; When you started performing live did you get stage fright or get nervous?
I think I was fortunate, I naturally took to it. When I was studying & playing the piano I was also playing the trumpet. I played in a concert band and we had the opportunity to perform throughout Europe. I was quite young and I loved every part of the travel process and getting organised for the performance. Playing drums was different for me, I didn’t play melody anymore, it was a different type of role, but I think, and feel, that my role is as important to make whatever musical situation exists become the best that it can be. The only time I think I got stage fright, was when I did my first gig as a band leader with my piano trio, I was no longer a sideman. I organised everything and tried to develop something new, for me to be able to develop… there’s always something new to learn.

Irish Drummers; What is your drum gear preference?
I love using Evans DrumHeads & I find them really easy to tune. I have a couple of different kits, I have a Limited edition Tama Classic I bought about 2 years ago and they’re beautiful drums, loud!!!
Two kits that I really love playing, were made in New York at a shop called Modern Drum Shop, which unfortunately know longer exists. Joe Cusatis was the owner and he was actually a great drummer & Adam Nussbaum’s first drum teacher. Joe was well known in New York City, when I was there about 13 years ago, I stumbled upon the shop (as you do in NY). I was looking for an 18 inch bass drum and when I walked into the shop I saw that Joe made a variety of great kits. Since then we met many times when I was in Manhattan and over the years I bought bits and pieces from him and I own two of his kits. His store closed down about eight years ago, unfortunately.
So I am lucky to have these sets, their real. There’s a nice sound projection from them, I use a variety of different snare drums, when I go abroad to play. I usually bring my aluminium Manu Katche signature series. It’s like a Ludwig Black Beauty Snare and I have a Brady Snare Drum that I got made for me by Chris. The cymbals I have are primarily Bosphorus.

I have a couple of old K’s that I bought in Steve Maxwell’s Vintage and Custom Drums. The store is in Manhattan and anytime I go over there I’ll always head in and check to see what he’s got in stock just to be tempted. When I’m recording I’ll use 15 inch trans-stamp High-Hats from the 1940s, real old sound. I love that tone. At the moment I’m using Vic Firths 7a drum sticks and I use Regal Tip Classic Telescopic Brushes, they’re just really manageable & light, anything heavier than the latter I would find it too heavy. Most of the mallets,etc. I would use would be made by Vic Firth.

Irish Drummers; How do you decide what to play when your recording?
Well when I recorded my last record, I was singing a lot of melodies and I would record the melodies no matter when the idea came to me I would just record it there on the spot so I could remind myself what it was, meaning, I would use my smartphone,etc. It seems kind of in depth to do stuff that way but it just means that I had a lot of different files and ideas. Sometimes I would think of a topic and would write about that as well. That would influence the melody development or chords structures. I love to write tunes that people can hopefully remember. I find with some jazz melodies the music can be quite angular, I don’t want to write music that way. When I write, I prefer having the old jazz standard and the structure of a song intact, I  learnt melody after all when I was a kid, that’s what attracted me to music. So I always try, to write music in that way, I want the listener to be able to remember the tune. When I give the guys in my trio the tunes, one of the main reasons I play with them, apart from their great musicianship, is because their knowledge of harmony is so strong and they’re going to re-harmonise the chords anyway and develop the music. I'm lucky to play with them.

Photo credit; John Cronin at Dublin Jazz Photography

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