Alan Dawson exercises in a New Orleans context

When I attended Berklee in the late sixties, I studied with Alan Dawson and couldn't endure his drive for perfection. I wanted to move forward in a quest for new concepts, and he wanted to make sure I dotted every “I” and crossed every “t.” Alan had the patience of a saint, while I was a child that couldn't get his pants up quick enough to get started every day.

Our personalities at the time were, in many ways, at polar ends of the spectrum; yet, his demeanor was easy going and he was easy to like. Alan would say, “Here's your assignment I expect you to put a lot of time into the concepts I give you,” which, in his delivery, might include a passive-aggressive tinge. Alan preferred to imply his core message, rather than just say it out loud. At the time I didn't get it: I couldn't wrap my little young-adult head around such nuance.

Hungry for more and more, I was a sponge; but my focus was a little left of center, not fully appreciating the perfection of one idea before wanting to move on to the next. Although my personality remains different from Alan’s, I have gained the patience that comes with being an "older" adult. Yes, I was of legal age adult when going to college, but didn't understand until later in life that I was merely a child. Some wisdom only experience can deliver! Sure, some young adults might be mature enough to have that kind of patience, but certainly, in my case, I was a "pain in the ass."

Only later did I learn that the articulation of what your drum music presents is your VOICE, and it may be the qualifier for how much you're paid to perform. Along with the inclusion of a submissive, "Is this beat sexy enough for you?" you could be the person that sucks up all the freelance gigs. Ok, not really, but if you are using your musical voice to speak the clearest possible musical message, and are humble and easy to work with, the likelihood of a booked calendar is substantially increased.

I've watched Pat Mastelotto play many times: I think he epitomizes great drumming. Pat can be playing in 15/8 with the conviction of the oldest studio musician in Nashville playing his favorite country two and four backbeat. Knowing something very well, and not knowing it very well, is not what I'm identifying here: it is what the acceptable minimum of something you aren't familiar with might be. What is your acceptable performance level before taking it to the street? After the years of Alan's insistence on perfection, I tend not to perform at the level that I want to approach. I find myself sometimes accepting less than what my sensors are indicating is required. The idea of today's freelance drummer is frightening to me. Hey I still stoop down and scoop up the dough on occasion, but I'll often feel awful after the gig, and dirty, like I need to take a shower. We sometimes have to suffer the consequences of our musical barometers for survival. I'm sure if I were given control in each situation, I would never play for anyone, only with my fellow brothers and sisters in sound!

I hope I never inflict on my prodigies the same dosage of integrity that Alan gave, to me. Ha! I respect that, don’t get me wrong, but it's a lot like your grandmother making you feel guilty. Alan Dawson was, and will always be, one of the greats; but sometimes, the company of your brain surgeon's bedside manner isn't the most desirable place on the planet. The patients sometimes need a lot of patience.

contributing editor: Tyler M. Gill