I always find it fascinating listening to multiple people’s interpretation of the same song. Particularly with the drums, there are so many options available. As drummers we, more than other band members, have more freedom to add our own flavour to a song. You can have the same band and the same song with five different drummers all doing their take and it would be so vastly different.
Interpretation, I think, is what sets the ‘greats’ apart from everyone else. Tony Williams immediately springs to mind when thinking about this. The way he interpreted music was really amazing. Everything he played had meaning, there was never any rambling. It’s so easy to play notes ‘just because’ or because you think they might sound good at the time, but to actually play through a song and decide what to play, in the moment, and have it be perfectly musical, is the hardest thing to do.
I remember seeing Peter Erskine perform with a band, playing material I had played with that same band not long before, and being amazed at the parts he came up with. He was also the drummer on the CD featuring these exact tunes and when I did the gig, there was something in me that felt it necessary to honour the parts on the CD and stick fairly close to them. I’d imagined that would be what Peter did when it came time to play those songs again but he came up with totally different parts. I mean totally different. He’d drop out and just play hi-hat when you were expecting a heavy backbeat or play an unusual cowbell pattern in a place you’d never expect it. It was completely different and yet unbelievably musical. I was smiling through the whole gig thinking how musical it was and how and why he’d think of playing those parts at those times in the songs. But Peter is one of those genius interpreters. Utterly musical. Gary Husband is another. I’ve watched him take songs to a totally different and unusual place. These guys are real story tellers.
This is a long story simply to say that I found it so interesting listening to multiple drummers play some of the same Mike Stern tunes when I was preparing to do the gig myself (probably seven different drummers). Everyone’s interpretation was different. Some were more musical than others. Some played specific parts and some just ploughed through. Dave Weckl is particularly good at playing parts and his playing on Stern’s ballads is really beautiful. Such great touch and musicality. (He’s a great brush player too…underrated, I think). Anyway, on this particular tune called ‘Wishing Well’, the parts Dave played were by far my favourite of all the drummers that do that gig and I just couldn’t get away from some of them, simply because I felt they enhanced the music so much. I tried and tried to change certain sections thinking that I couldn’t copy the parts, but I couldn’t really come up with anything that made the music sound better, so I kept them. It is after all only about how the music sounds.
By presenting the video below, I guess I’m somewhat going against what I’ve just been writing about but there is the other side of the coin sometimes and that is when someone else’s interpretation is just perfect for the song.
So, here’s ‘my’ version of one of my favourite Stern tunes: