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Every musician has influences. We take specific qualities of each, toss them into a pot, add some seasoning of our own and let it simmer. Hopefully what comes out is fresh and unique.

While it’s impossible to pay tribute to all the artists and musicians who have influenced me over the years, here are a few drummers whose work continues to inspire.

     
  When I first heard Tony Williams on “So What” from the Miles Davis album Four and More, I knew a door had opened and I was about to walk through. On fire at eighteen, Tony set the standard for everyone who followed. One of my favorite recordings of Miles’ 1960s quintet is a reissue of a live 1967 Paris radio broadcast titled No Blues. Tony is particularly explosive on that record, a harbinger of the direction his playing would take just a few years later.
 
Jack DeJohnette has been a source of inspiration for over thirty years. Like a favorite book or painting, his playing has become very much a part of me. In the late 1970s Jack was featured on a host of great recordings including Elm with Richie Beirach, Sound Suggestions with George Adams, and Tales of Another with Keith Jarrett and Gary Peacock. Another favorite is Homecoming, a more recent recording with John Abercrombie and bassist Dave Holland.   Jack Dejohnette
 

Elvin Jones

  Elvin Jonesplaying with John Coltrane in the 1960s was as good as it gets. His rolling-triplet feel, three beat phrases, and accentuation of the middle note of the triplet are just a few of the characteristics that make his playing so recognizable. In addition to his recordings with Coltrane, Elvin sounds great with McCoy Tyner on Inception, with Joe Henderson on In ‘N Out, and with Wayne Shorter on Speak No Evil. And check out his up-tempo brush work with Hank Jones and Art Davis on “Pretty Brown” from The Big Beat. Elvin was in his seventies when he recorded Trio Fascination with Joe Lovano and Dave Holland in 1997, yet he sounds as good as ever.
 
Bill Stewart plays everything with wit and style. He has a beautiful touch, perfect time, and executes his ideas with clarity and precision. I first heard Bill on the John Scofield record Meant to Be. His brush playing on that record is fantastic. Another favorite is Time and the Infinite, with Adam Rogers and Scott Colley.

 

Bill Stewart
 

Jeff Ballard

  I love the way Jeff Ballard plays. He’s extremely creative and gets a unique sound out of his drums. Listen to his sensational playing on The Next Step with guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, Metheny Mehldau Quartet with Pat Metheny, and Brad Mehldau Trio Live with Brad Mehldau and bassist Larry Grenadier.

 
I’ve stolen more things from Bob Moses than I care to admit. His ride cymbal conception on Pat Metheny’s Bright Size Life made quite an impression on me. Moses also sounds great on Steve Swallow’s Home, featuring Dave Liebman. Listen to the thematic development of his solo over the intro to “In the Fall.”

 

Bob Moses
 

Jon Christensen

  Norwegian drummer Jon Christensen has been a favorite of mine since I first
heard him with Keith Jarrett. He has a loose, springy time feel and essentially cornered the market on the broken-up, straight-eighth ECM style. Check out his brush playing on “Innocence” from Keith’s live recording Personal Mountains.
 
I’ve always loved Al Foster’s playing. He has a propulsive beat and can light a fire under anyone in a hurry. Listen to him burn behind Richie Beirach on “Nardis,” an amazing track from Beirach’s trio album Elegy for Bill Evans.   

Al Foster

 

Steve Gadd

  Steve Gadd’s deep pocket, refined technique, and innovative playing style on hundreds of sessions influenced everyone who came after him. Gadd’s intense
playing with Chick Corea on The Mad Hatter andThe Leprechaun certainly got everyone’s attention, but he’s just as impressive laying it down behind
James Taylor, Eric Clapton, and countless other artists.
 
Philly Joe Jones had a rock-solid rudimental foundation and impeccably swinging time. Check out his slick drum fills on “Two Bass Hit” and “Billy Boy” from the classic Miles Davis recording Milestones.

 

Philly Joe Jones
 

Billy Hart

  I love listening to Billy Hart. His loose, slippery playing always makes me smile.
One of my favorite recordings of his is Charles Lloyd’s The Call, with
Bobo Stenson and Anders Jormin.
 
Shelly Manne’s beautiful playing has had a huge influence on me. If you want to learn how to play with brushes, check out Shelly’s playing on the Bill Evans record A Simple Matter of Conviction and you’ll get the idea.

 

Shelly Manne
 
Vinnie Colaiuta  

I first saw Vinnie Colaiuta play with Frank Zappa on Saturday Night Live in 1978. Nobody was playing like he was back then. I remember spending an entire afternoon transcribing the out vamp of “Keep It Greasy” (in 19/16 time) from Zappa’s album Joe’s Garage, Acts II & III.  Although there are many technical virtuosos today, Vinnie always has a musical idea behind everything he plays.

 

Harvey Mason has a beautiful light touch and a seriously infectious groove. Everything he plays is money in the bank, but “4 A.M.,” with Jaco Pastorius and Herbie Hancock from Herbie’s Mr. Hands, is particularly funky.

  Harvey Mason
 
Peter Donald  

Peter Donald has a cool, hip approach in addition to one of the smoothest press rolls I’ve ever heard. He made three recordings with the John Abercrombie Quartet in the early 80s –Arcade, Abercrombie Quartet, and M – and he plays brilliantly on all of them.

 

Peter Erskine plays with sensitivity and finesse, leaves plenty of space, and gets a gorgeous sound out of his drums and cymbals. Regardless of the style or tempo, his time feel is always relaxed and centered. Peter sounds fantastic on Jan Garbarek’s trio record Star with bassist Miroslav Vitous, and on his own recording Time Being.

  Peter Erskine
 
Joey Baron   Joey Baron can blow your hair back and drop down to a whisper in the blink of an eye and do it all with energy and enthusiasm. One of my favorite records of his is John Scofield’s Grace Under Pressure, with Charlie Haden and Bill Frisell.
 

Paul Motian’s free and open approach to the drums was a revelation to me when I first heard it. Check out his unique playing on Paul Bley’s trio album Memoirs with Charlie Haden. And listen to the group improvisation “Interplay” from The Paul Bley Quartet, with John Surman and Bill Frisell. Paul often plays ballads rubato, yet he always maintains a sense of forward motion.

  Paul Motian
 
Carlos Vega  

Carlos Vega was a special player. He had an exquisite feel and his note placement was perfect. One of the top session drummers in L.A., he played on hundreds of recordings with people like Dave Grusin, Randy Newman, and Linda Ronstadt. Check out Carlos with James Taylor on the title track to Never Die Young. As usual, he came up with the perfect groove for the song.

 

I’ve got to give Ringo his props. When I was little I used to wedge myself between the piano and our huge stereo console and put my ear right up to the speaker. Introducing the Beatles was the first Beatle record we had, and it wasn’t long before I was bringing a pair of drumsticks with me to my favorite spot.

  Ringo
 
Vernel Fournier  

Vernel Fournier’s brush work with Ahmad Jamal influenced everyone who heard it. He was very explosive and got tremendous pop out of his snare drum. Listen to his spectacular brush fills on “Cheek to Cheek” from Live at the Spotlight Club.