1) Max Roach:
Max had elegance, economy of movement, and a sense of architecture in his playing that intrigued me as a kid. I wanted that effortless kind of grace at the set. He never spoilt his suit with sweat! I covered solos of his ( ‘The Drum Also Waltzes’ on my album Masterstrokes, and ‘Self-Portrait’ with the World Drummers Ensemble ) as a tribute to him, and to reference my style to his. I met him several times at King Crimson shows. Always interested in new things, he was there checking out my electronic percussion. His recent death (2007) leaves the drum community a poorer place.
2) Joe Morello:
Joe fascinated me in the Brubeck Quartet of the mid-60s with tunes like ‘Far More Drums’, ‘It’s a Raggy Waltz’, and ‘Take Five’. He had spectacular technical ability, very smooth, but also a great ability with odd time signatures. Mostly we only played in duple or triple meters in those days, and Joe opened a whole world of odd numbers and Turkish rhythms that I took to like a duck to water. I could never think of anything of interest to play in 4/4, but had something to offer if we could make it in 5/4. As with Max, I covered one of his famous 5/4 solos on my album ‘If Summer Had Its Ghosts’.
3) Art Blakey:
Watching B.B.C. television as a kid in the late 60s, I heard all the great American jazz musicians coming through London. They were filmed and recorded for a prime-time TV show called Jazz 625. I heard everybody, but particularly Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Art had this thundering deep tom sound, and a snare drum roll from Heaven. I loved the way he controlled the band, like a guy driving a fast race-car, or a thoroughbred horse. Nobody went anywhere without Art’s say-so, but when it was time to play, he fired them up, stoked the fires, and then reigned them in. Complete control. From Art I took that idea, and also the colour and timbre of his sound.
4) Jack DeJohnette:
I think in every generation there is one guy who really has the ball and is running with it, and for my generation, it’s Jack. Skip to any place on the record, and its like he’s playing a measure of 4/4 swing that he’s never played before. Of course he has, but it seems like he is a constant stream of invention and nuance, one idea rolling along straight after the previous one. Jack’s soul-funk band ‘Compost’ supported Yes in New York once – we shared the same manager for about a week. That was a long way from his current sublime playing with Keith Jarrett . I cannot and wouldn’t want to play anything like him, but he is nevertheless a big influence.
5) Bill Stewart:
I met Bill at the 2006 Montreal Drumfest, and he struck me as extremely disciplined and intense. A beautiful player with a gorgeous sound, and a risk taker, like Tony Williams. Bill’s first album demonstrated not only that he could play like a dream, but also that he could write intricate and beautiful music, too. I have a special soft spot for the drummer-writers – Pete Erskine, Paul Motian, Bill – because that is also my area of interest. Bill has a special way of building up poly-rhythms between the limbs of great complexity, and exerting tension as they build, before bringing release at exactly the right moment. Its all tension and release, and dynamic control. Bill is a master of these.
6) Mark Guiliana:
Mark is one of the new breed of fantastic young musicians. You can hear him wailing with Avishai Cohen, Brad Mehldau, and with his own groups. When I grew up, there was jazz and there was rock. You could like Hendrix or Coltrane, but not both. The jazz guys were terrible at rock, and the rock guys were worse at jazz. Mark is typical of the new generation that not only knows Hendrix and Coltrane and has absorbed the music of both, but now sees no real separation. For the new guys, music is one complete whole, and they have a technical ability to accommodate all styles and start building a personal, fresh, composite style from all elements of current (and maybe ancient) percussion.
7) Tony Williams:
There is no drummer on the planet who does not include this sensational player in a list of favourites. He changed everything. From him I learned the art of the ‘flam’. My favourite recording with Miles Davis is probably ‘Seven Steps to Heaven’. Tony was on top of his game at that time. The solo is one of the finest drums solos ever recorded – not a note wasted, not a note out of place. But there are so many records. I also love ‘Believe It’ with Allan Holdsworth.
8) Doudou N’Diaye Rose:
A Senegalese master of the sabar, Doudou is a whippet-thin, seventy-six year old from Dhakar. The personification of rhythm. He plays only his 100 year old drum, seated, with the instrument on the floor in front of him, one curved stick in the right hand. Check him out briefly on the CD / DVD ‘World Drummers Ensemble’ ( Summerfold BBSF015DD ) . His music is him – he is the music. He is very connected to his culture. It is difficult for an Englishman to be connected to his rhythmic culture ( the British are one of the most determinedly a-rhythmic cultures on earth!) , so I am connected to the broader culture of rhythm and the global percussive arts, through working with people like Doudou.
9) Gavin Harrison:
Fellow countryman Gavin is leading the field in improvising with meters. He has managed to distil the essence of , and codify the laws of what I think is generally considered to be the next big step in drumming, namely the ability to move at will through several parallel meters, whose relationship to the basic pulse can then be said to be ‘displaced’ or ‘modulated’. He has the cleanest and tidiest execution of any drummer I’ve ever heard. Try his group ‘Porcupine Tree’, or some of his excellent instructional books and DVDs.
10) David Garibaldi:
In his own way, David also codified a language – the language of 16th note funk – with Tower of Power in the 1970s. Like all the drummers I’ve picked, there was really no-one else doing it quite that way at the time, so he wrote the rule book. ‘Squib Cakes’, ‘What is hip?’ ‘Oakland Strokes’ were all fantastic. When I heard the band play on Long Island, NY, USA in 1977, I’d never seen 2000 people leap to their feet with such an intense groove. Highly complex drumming, it never lost the simple strength and elegance of the groove.