Tony Williams is famous for contributing massively to the expanding role of the drummer, from sophisticated time-keeper to "emotional energy center of the band" (Beyond Bop Drumming).  He has one of the most immediately recognizable voices in the history of jazz drumming.  Here is a taste:



Tony is often discussed as being an innovater, but interestingly enough when he was asked about his innovations, this is what he had to say (taken from the sadly discontinued "Traps"):

"You know the reason I play the way I do is because, when I first started playing, all I ever wanted to do was to sound like Max Roach, was to sound like Art Blakey, was to sound like Philly Joe Jones, was to sound like Louis Hayes, was to sound like Jimmy Cobb, was to sound like Roy Haynes. I really wanted to figure out why they sounded the way they did. I wasn’t interested in my own style. So I set about playing like these guys religiously, and playing their style because it was just such a wonderful, magical experience."

And more specifically his advice to young drummers trying to develop their own voice:

"I get guys coming up to me — they just got a drum set; they’ve been playing maybe four years — and they want their own style. They want to be expressive. I say, ‘Well, then, if you want to be expressive, you’ve got to find out what the instrument will do. And to do that, you’ve got to go back and find out and get an idea of what’s already been done."

The point is, Tony wasn't necessarily focused on developing his own voice, he developed his own voice as a byproduct of his practice and musical experience.  In an earlier post I put up a link to a statement from Kenny Washington who has a very similar thing to say about innovation (thanks to the great drum blog "The Thinking Drummer"). 

"What I’m saying is this, there’s a big emphasis and pressure being put on young guys to play something that’s so called different or fresh and new. I think a lot of younger guys have read too many Jazz books. They’re romanticizing about what they think these masters were doing in their early years. Also, a lot of this pressure comes from critics and record producers who never knew anything to begin with about music. A good portion of these younger guys never studied the history and have no experience as sidemen. If you don’t do the homework, you’ll never really get anywhere. Don’t worry about trying to play something new. Practice and study to be able to play your instrument well and swing your ass off. If the so called new stuff happens, it will happen. All the greats played with one foot in the past and the other in the future."

And it has been my experience that all the great musicians that I have met and talked to about this topic have generally the same thing to say.  Don't worry about developing your own voice, it will come naturally.  Don't worry about revolutionizing the jazz world.  Instead, just worry about learning to play your instrument and making the best music that you possibly can. 

3 Comments