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The SIS is back this week, and I’m changing things up a little bit in featuring a jazz player, or at least a guy who is most known for his jazz playing. JT Bates is a Minneapolis native, playing constantly around town in every environment, but really making a name for himself in his trio, Fat Kid Wednesday. JT also hosts the 8-year-running Clown Lounge at the Turf Club in St. Paul, a weekly experimental music series that serves as a cornerstone for the Twin Cities’ underground scene.
(Me) How do you approach playing jazz in the studio vs. live? Are there any distinct differences? (JT) I try to not separate recording jazz and performing jazz. That music is so emotion-based for me – it really boils down to how I’m feeling that day, whether gigging or recording. One small difference, though… I love the peace and quiet of the studio and I can really live in the quiet moments.
What about non-jazz studio work… are you the same player just in a different genre or are you using intentionally different sides of your personality? I’d say a little of both, on some sort of sliding scale. I want to provide what the people are looking for, and hopefully I have enough taste to know how much of my own thing I should put on something, and if it doesn’t call for it then I can definitely just become a different player.
What’s your take on precision vs. emotion/magic. Do you value one over the other or do you wait for a take that has both? I definitely go for a take that has both, although in a jazz session I will opt for emotion over perfection almost every time… if I have to choose. Too much jazz now sounds perfect and it drives me crazy. Isn’t the idea that we’re supposed to be pushing all the time? If so, then I should probably be getting myself into things that I can’t really pull off…
What’s your pet peeve in a studio environment? My pet peeve(s): self-doubt, big egos, bad reading chops (if there are charts), general unpreparedness. If everyone is coming together to accomplish something, you have to be 100% there. If you aren’t, then you’re wasting a lot of people’s time, someone’s money, and chipping away at the cool positivity that comes from a group of people creating something. Also, slow Protools work drives me crazy. It can really get in the way of the flow of the session.
What, in your opinion, is the most effective way to prepare for a session? How can a drummer improve on his “studio chops”? For me personally, the best way to prepare is to get the songs as far ahead of time as I can, so I can play along with them… which, besides the obvious things, should also help me figure out what gear I should bring to the session (bright or dark cymbals, wood/acrylic drums, etc). Hearing the songs in advance also helps me determine what kind of style should come across for those songs. I also like to ask people what records they enjoy, and more specifically, what drummers they enjoy. I make my own click tracks (with a feel – rarely just quarter notes) in Ableton Live. I bounce those down and throw them into Protools or Logic etc, and they help me get to the feel I’m looking for without spending too much time on it. I also make charts on my own if I feel I need them.
Talk about your relationship with the bass player. How do you factor that into session where the tracking is soloed? Most of my best friends are bass players, my brother is a bass player – the bass player absolutely defines the sound of the band. Their feel, their harmony… I just try and connect with them constantly, and if I’m not, then I talk with them about it. I much prefer tracking with a bass so that the pocket is a real time, real life event. If that’s not possible and I’m tracking drums alone, I try and hear what the bass might do in my head so hopefully what I play has some relevance to them.
What’s your favorite piece of gear for studio stuff? My new headphones! I got these Ultrasone headphones – they have 5 small speakers for each ear which are positioned around the eardrum, so that no speaker is going straight into the ear. They’re amazing for me, because my ears don’t get anywhere near as tired as they used to w/ many of the usual headphones. Also, I love my Ludwig Supraphonic. Whenever I can’t find the right snare sound, that drum is almost always the answer, both for high and low tunings.
Vintage drums: over-hyped or everything they’re made out to be? Vintage drums are kick ass. New drums are kick ass. I like em both. I own both, and I just try and pick the right thing for each session. There’s nothing like an old, dried out set of Gretsch or Ludwigs. If I’m playing new drums, I will say that I much prefer custom drums to a lot of the hyper-engineered drums that are in all the magazines, that, to my ears, don’t have a lot of character. I have few Ellis kits that I love.
What are some records that have influenced who you are as a player the MOST?
Records that have influenced me the most non-jazz-wise:
– Tom Petty, Wildflower
– Traveling Wilburys, Vol 1
– Death Cab for Cutie, We Have the Facts
– Daniel Lanois, Shine
– Emmylou Harris, Wrecking Ball
– Neil Young, Harvest Moon
– Keith Richards,Talk Is Cheap
– Jimi Hendrix, Electric Ladyland
– Bob Dylan, Desire.
Records that have influenced me the most as a jazzer:
– Dexter Gordon, Go
– Thelonius Monk, Criss-Cross
– Joe Lovano, Sounds of Joy
– Paul Motian Trio… any
– Ornette Coleman… any (w/ Ed Blackwell)
– John Mclaughlin, Live at Royal Festival Hall
– Miles Davis, Miles Smiles, Bitches Brew, Kind of Blue
– Pat Metheny, Rejoicing
– Tim Berne, Bloodcount, Science Friction
…and a bazillion more…
Many thanks to JT for his interview, and be sure to check his myspace calendar (click the link on his name at the top of the post) and find a time to go see him live. (Editor’s note: The “Ellis” drums that JT mentioned are custom drums available through Ellis drum shop in St. Paul. Keith from Risen Drums was Ellis’ initial craftsman, and he designed/built all Ellis drums prior to 2007, including JT’s kits.)