STORY WRITTEN BY FERN BRODKIN
For Digital First Media
We didn’t need Rolling Stone magazine to tell us that Terry Bozzio is one of the “100 Greatest Drummers of All Time.”
Bozzio’s resume includes some of the most innovative and influential artists in rock, jazz, pop and experimental music. Frank Zappa. Jeff Beck. Allan Holdsworth. UK. Mark Isham. The Brecker Brothers. And the list goes on.
Bozzio said that Zappa was “the guy” who had the biggest influence on his career.
“He took me from being a nobody in San Francisco to being internationally famous with credibility in about a week,” said Bozzio, by phone, while en route from Colorado to Texas for a show. He continued by saying that all the artists he’s played with “had an impact on me. I’ve been really blessed to get to play with so many great people. Everybody I’ve been blessed to play with has helped me somehow, making it possible for me to get to where I am today.”
And where Bozzio is today is alone on stage behind a massive drum kit, unlike which you’ve ever seen. That’s right — on this tour he is the band. But before you groan, envisioning a never-ending head-banging drum solo, read on. Bozzio has taken drums and percussion to an entirely new level.
“When I was a kid I’d see Buddy Rich do a drum solo on ‘The Tonight Show’ and I always thought, ‘There has to be something more. Orchestration. Yes, he’s got better hands and feet than I’ll ever have… but in terms of musicality, variation, orchestration and new ideas …’” it didn’t push the envelope as Bozzio envisioned.
“In terms of the show, I play solo drum music that is musical,” explained Bozzio. “You probably think, ‘Oh God, Ginger Baker for two hours.’ That’s not what this is. This is true composed music.”
After years of solo drumming for clinics, Bozzio decided to take his drumming to a new level. And he’s proud to be the only one to ever do anything like this.
“I now play this large drum set that’s tuned. Each note that I tune to is doubled with a Midi note so you can really hear the pitches. It’s playing a melodic musical experience but on solo drums.”
Bozzio explained that “Frank [Zappa] and classical artists have touched on this with percussion setups and for me, [Zappa’s extraordinarily difficult composition] ‘The Black Page’ is a very melodic piece. The drums are considered a non-specific pitch instrument and now my kit is a specific pitch instrument.”
Bozzio said, “I think still Miles Davis and Weather Report are my two biggest musical influences in jazz and improvisation. (With this show) I draw from classical music in form and structure and compositional aspects. I draw from improvisation, a la Weather Report and Miles Davis, and I also draw from ethnic percussion styles from around the world.”
He added, “It doesn’t really divorce itself from the tradition of timekeeping and rhythm and all the flash and pyrotechnics that you’re capable of on a drum set. It enhances the experience by having melodies, harmonies, dynamics and orchestration through different sounds. (It’s a) compositional approach to playing the drums.”
New and unusual music has long flourished in Europe. Is the United States ready for a show like this?
“I found that the audiences here are not as willing to go out and support live music or art … as they are in other countries with a better educational system and a better cultural support system,” said Bozzio. “There (aren’t) even that many places you can play music in America anymore that are for mid-size artists like me. It’s a difficult situation.”
So why do this tour?
“Because I have to,” explained Bozzio. “I have to play just like you have to breathe. … That’s it. I think my tech and the booking agent will probably make more (money) than me but I’m willing to make that sacrifice in order to get the payback of getting to play. It’s the typical artist mentality. I just can’t do it any other way.”
And if you think you need to be a drummer or musician to appreciate this show, think again.
“Two years ago when I did the same thing I would ask how many drummers were in the audience and maybe 10 would raise their hands. People who have seen me or have been following me get it. One of the best examples of that was one time I was playing somewhere in the Midwest and a farmer came up to me after the show and said, ‘You know I totally understand what you’re doing. You’re playing real music on the drums and I’ve never heard anything like it and I love what you’re doing.’”