by Carey Rutherford
One of the last things Terry Bozzio says during our phone interview from Chicago is the most central theme that comes through in his conversation about his chosen field: Making Music On The Drums.
“The true ideal of every artist is to look inside, find what’s honest and authentic, and truly yours: that you found joy in. And then to try and realize that and share it with others.”
That covers it, doesn’t it? Go see him.
What, that’s not enough?
His bio is too lengthy to go into here: believe us when we tell you that he’s got the chops.
For what, you ask? Fine. Define your ‘jazz’ please, Terry:
“(It’s) what Miles Davis and Mahavishnu Orchestra, Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul and especially Weather Report did, (which) was to take every style of music, and incorporate what they wanted from it, from electronic and ambient and film score music, to different emotional moods, to ethnic influences from around the world, and put this all together in an improvisational context with guys that had a very deep vocabulary. And a proficiency of execution that’s unparalleled. That’s the jazz I’m talking about!
“There’s a lot of guys that can play perfectly, but have nothing to say … without the idea of stretching and moving into new territories and seeing what happens: experimentalism.”
We ask whether it’s his industry-centered reputation, or simply the anonymity of most drummers, that leaves Terry as less than a household name after so much work in so many genres:
“I would say more the latter, in combination with the fact that I’ve worked with such great names. Y’know, who cares about me when you’re talking about Frank Zappa, or Jeff Beck, or Robbie Robertson? (And) I didn’t request it: it just happened!
“I used to live in mortal terror of not having a gig; what do you do next? You go through these periods of depression and down time. I went through therapy and talked to a psychologist who said, ‘How’d you get the gig with Frank Zappa?’ Well, the phone rang. ‘How’d you get the gig with Jeff Beck?’ Well, the phone rang. ‘Don’t change your phone number.’ So I haven’t.”
“But, as you grow as an individual, I think the first stage is envy of those who are the real creative force, then the next phase is depression about it, and rebellion, and the next phase is doing something about it. That’s where I find myself. It’s taken me a long time to mature and use my experiences in a positive way. (Those greats) broke all the rules … it’s okay (to) start composing and working on your own stuff … Music becomes a joy, (even though) the business side and all the other crap does interfere sometimes.
“50 years ago this summer I took my first drum lesson. Then, after music in and out of high school I majored in music for 3 years at a 2 year institutional college. I had a talent, a feel, for the drums, and surprisingly enough for me I got a scholarship to study with … the tympanists of the San Francisco Symphony … and I got a really good jazz instructor … who was a real Zen disciplinarian guy, and he helped me with applying these things to the drum set. So by the time I came out of that school, I was ready for action!”
Then he falls into his drum teaching role for a moment:
“The European tradition is the language, art and science of music, and jazz is ‘just forget about everything else, and let something come out that’s unexpected’. And THAT I can’t live without.
“I’m taking my musical influences from this freedom of jazz (a la Weather Report and Miles; the spirit of experimentation, spontaneity), and from the classical tradition: when I use a technique, I want to explain in proper musical terms what it is I’m doing.
“And the 3rd direction would be from ethnic percussion, from anywhere in the world: usually I can find something that moves me or inspires me to do something along those lines.
“My drums are tuned, and there are midi triggers on each tom, so that it triggers a sine wave of the true pitch that I tune the drum to, so there’s no ‘misunderstanding’ regarding the melody. (So you hear) all of the acoustic aspects of the drum, (but) you have this there to protect the validity of the melody.
“This is the first time I’ve played this in the States, and people are actually getting what I’ve been doing for the last 20 years!”
He’s very excited: be there. Discover his music of percussion.