Jan 12 2007

Bill Bruford: A Different Drummer

Published by at 9:07 am under Interview,Music

by Sander R Wolff
The Union
Published sometime in the early 1990’s

He was a founding member of the progressive rock bands Yes and King Crimson. He’s played with Genesis, and has toured or recorded with countless others. But Bill Bruford, drummer extraordinaire, really isn’t interested in recounting past glories, but in devoting his creative energies to his current group, Earthworks.

“[Jazz] is the thrust of my career right now, in that particular direction, ’cause there’s something I think I can do there with electronic percussion particularly. Taking that into jazz and having it taken seriously as a jazz instrument and trying to be creative on the chordal and pitched melody side of the instrument.”

Bruford was an early innovator in tuned percussion, working with keyboard controlled drums, and then electronic drum pads when they became available.

“I’ve been working with electronic drums for 10 or 11 years now, particularly a British manufacturer called Dave Simmons. I think that the instrument has a number of drawbacks; maybe you do loose some of the immediacy and sensitivity of the beautiful acoustic instrument, however I am able to offer Earthworks a wide ranging series of percussion backdrops that, if you close your eyes [and] didn’t see that I was playing electronic drums, you would think that it would require most of the percussion instruments in the symphony orchestra to produce.”

Earthworks is Bruford, Django Bates, Ian Ballamy, and Tim Harries, and the music they create is definitely unique.

“Obviously it’s unlike your average East Coast power fusion group in the sense that we are not interested in technique for technique’s sake. This is not a flashy band in that sense. It is capable of playing, of course, but we would subordinate that kind of athletic feeling to feelings of space and atmosphere and imaginative scenarios. That sort of thing would be more interesting to us as composers than flying up and down fret boards.”

Stepping away from traditional jazz has its pitfalls, however, since the audience is smaller; especially in the U.S.

“We all live in England and would like to feel that we have something British that we can offer to our American jazz compatriots. Right now the European scene is probably more open than the American scene is. There’s a kind of neo-traditional movement here with everyone going back to suits and ties and regular, straight-ahead ten-to-ten Jazz. Anything with an amplifier is looked at a bit funny these days.”

But traditional jazz was where he first found his roots, and was quick to say so.

“I was heavily under the influence of Jazz, not only the technical playing of Jazz, but the romance of it. That here was a reactive, revolutionary political force that was the black man’s voice in the United States. That it was a music that was an insult to the establishment, that it was designed to irritate. It was designed to show that phenomenal technical dexterity and passion could go together.

“All these things have stuck with me completely, therefore on that level, I wasn’t trying to go around trying to steal Tony Williams‘ licks. I always thought I was going to be a jazz player but I happened to be in rock for a long time. I suppose I’ve always had a Jazz mentality in the back of my head, and for a long time rock could absorb that, and a good band like King Crimson had a lot of that in it anyway.”

Bruford has played all over the world, sometimes to enormous audiences, but finds that playing jazz in smaller venues can be rewarding.

“Satisfaction in music comes from a lot of different places. You need to make choices sometimes about whether you want to please 10,000 people superficially or perhaps 1,000 people more profoundly. These are the sort of choices that musicians face daily. You can’t necessarily do it all, so people like me tend to go between one or two things.

“On the rock side it’s arguable that I’m pleasing a lot of people, but it may be that the feeling is fairly superficial. On the other hand, with something with a bit more depth to it, there’s going to be far fewer customers, but it may be that they understand something on a deeper level there, and it has more meaning, so it swings in roundabouts.

“If I was absolutely forced between the two I guess I’d rather have Earthworks than Anderson, Wakeman, Bruford & Howe but I don’t care because I’m a lucky bastard and I’ve got both.”

Bill Bruford’s Earthworks will be performing Oct. 18 at The Strand in Redondo Beach. See you there!

Hear A Brief Audio Clip From The Interview

Discipline Records

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