Saturday, February 27, 2021

Ten Songs That Changed My a Percussionist?

According to music educators I am a percussionist because my instrument is part of the percussion section. I don't dispute that because I do hit drums, cymbals, cowbells and jam blocks while I am do my thing onstage. However, as I have told a few of my friends: I don't like being called a percussionist. I am a drummer! 

Okay, it's true that I also own timbales, congas, djembes and other percussion knick knacks and do love to play them from time to time. I guess it's more of my comfort zone and also my regard for the drum set because one can go to music school and focus on the piano, voice, guitar, etc. but drummers are expected to be percussionists because somehow the drum set is not considered by those who created the curriculum to be an instrument that is worthy of lifelong study. 

Now that my rant is out I will backtrack a bit and admit that I am a big fan of world rhythms, which many of you know because you have seen my work on the drum set that is based on these rhythms. (EX:  I also grew up in the Los Angeles area so aside from listening to Latin and R & B classics that my parents played at home I also got to hear African, Polynesian, Asian, Middle Eastern and Native American music at various events I attended throughout my life.

While I am a big fan of any type of fusion music where drummers might take some of these rhythms and apply them to the drum set it is also important to hear these rhythmic treasures in their natural atmosphere, which would be in some sort of percussion ensemble. So, in the spirit of a blog I wrote a few years ago about some drum set performances that had a huge impact on me I am going to revisit the same idea with me sharing some percussion performances whose rhythmic brilliance impacted me as a drummer and a songwriter. It was really hard to narrow it down to ten but I also wanted to demonstrate the diversity of my interests. 


1) "Shango (Chango)" by Babatunde Olatunji 

The 12/8 rhythmic groove has a beautiful flow and shows how much the bell does in fact drive the ensemble. This song impacted me in a big way as it affected both my solo drumming work as well as the way I write tribal drumming compositions.


2) "Code of the Ninja Warrior" by Asiabeat 

I love the way this thing just moves as if it were imitating a ninja running after its prey. The power of those big drums and the bells layering these rhythms is just beautiful. I also love the way the drums are attacked, almost as if they were imitating the deadly strikes of the ninja. 


3) "Four by Two" by Tito Puente  

Following the ripping timbales that begin the piece Maestro Puente drives the groove in a very different way than we are used to hearing in an Afro-Cuban context. His soloing over this rhythm is amazing as we hear the young timbalero begin his conquest of the Latin world with his spitfire attack of the timbales. 


4) "Fuertes Ancestros" by Xavier Quijas Yxayotl 

The colors produced by all of these Aztec instruments is just mind boggling. It reminds me of those days as a young Mexican kid growing up in Los Angeles and seeing the Aztec dancers and drummers perform at Olvera Street. It was always a highlight for my family as we could really feel the presence of our ancestors expressed by our people in the modern age. The groove and orchestrations never cease to amaze me.


5) "Kpatse/Tokoe" by Obo Addy 

This is the first African drumming album I ever purchased. I still remember walking into a store called Africa 2 U in Carson, CA and asking the owner if he had any African drumming albums. Once I threw on this track I was hooked. I couldn't believe both the groove and sound of these instruments. It was certainly a huge influence on me both in my drum set performances as well as my writing of tribal drumming compositions. 

6) "Sunu/Diansa" by Mamady Keita

An monstrous track with some amazing soloing on the djembe by Master Keita The groove is absolutely amazing but the phrasing by Master Keita gave me a lot to take in as I began to experiment with soloing over various African rhythms. And did you hear the sound of these drums? Good Lord!

7) "Doom Tac A Doom" by Brent Lewis 

I walked into a Native American store in Santa Monica, CA on the 3rd Street Promenade and while I was admiring a vest this track came on. I turned to the cashier and had to know who it was. As soon as he handed me the CD I added to the rest of my purchase. I am amazed at Lewis' way of playing his carefully tuned drums in the most melodic way over an ethereal groove. 


8) "The World is my Oyster" by Hossam Ramzy 

This groove takes me into another place. It is both smooth and sexy while also relaxing and soothing me when I am stressed out. It's all about the feel of the groove and the way it influences the performance of the other instruments. A global example of how rhythm is everything and how if you don't have it then there is no musical composition. 

9) "Two Friends" by The Estrada Brothers (Percussion Section) 

Here is a duet between a drum set and a conga and it is deadly. Here we have the power and groove of Ruben "Cougar" Estrada and Raul Rico grooving through a careful arrangement that feels like one is moving slowly through the air before the kicks take us into a strong groove that feels like a roller coaster taking off. Absolutely amazing!


10)  "Guajira Candela" by Francisco Aguabella 

You want talk about a groove. Yes, this is a full Latin band but there is nothing going on without the groove of the percussion section. This takes me back to my childhood as I remember the music my father would play in the house, which of course had a huge influence on my musical upbringing. Of course this song features El Viejito Aguabella performing a beautiful conga solo that tells a beautiful story before taking the song out. 



Carlos Solorzano



Tuesday, December 15, 2020

A Year In the Badlands

A year ago at this time the Tucson based Country band Badlands had already started to hit the local music scene. The group started after some members of the Tony Corrales Band decided to stay together and form another group following the end of that band's run. All it took was finding the right people to fill certain spots while taking some time to define the sound of the band. Of course there are those who still are unaware of the origins of the group. 

In the fall of 2019 I spoke to guitarist Joey Cota about putting together a second group that would work around TCB's schedule. The idea was to play more Top 40 songs in order to get more work in another musical scene. While that band did not materialize into anything it did give us a chance to work briefly with Abelino Sanchez who is an amazing vocalist and guitarist. I first met Abelino when he came to a TCB gig at the Outlaw Saloon and was then invited by Tony Corrales to sit in on a few songs. He was fabulous so I was more than excited at the idea of working with him in the future.

Once TCB had completed its run Joey and I spoke with acoustic guitarist Robert Rojas about staying together in some kind of musical capacity. We had many years of collective experience performing in the Tucson Country Music scene and while we all love playing different styles of music we figured it be best to stay in what was familiar musical territory. Our timing could not have been better as Abelino had been thinking about getting into the Country Music scene in order to work even more as he was already busy with his other band, the amazing Ritmo de Sanchez. 

The first rehearsals went really well as the Country songs that we were accustomed to playing sounded amazing with Abelino on lead vocals. However, being from the Tucson area, we also know of the Spanish flavor along with a sprinkle of Rock that many people like so we decided to expand our set list a bit in order in order to establish our own song. We didn't want to be seen as a TCB with other members so we went ahead and stretched ourselves. To say that I was excited would be an understatement because aside from playing all of the Country grooves I was now grooving along to other styles of music that I had either not played in years or ever played at all! 

Thankfully, with the talent and dedication of those who made up the first lineup it didn't take long for us to be ready to hit the stage. It didn't take long for Joey and I to line up some shows as the years of hard work paid off when it came to convincing the booking agents of the quality of the new group that we had put together. The first shows went well as everyone loved the energy and new sound of Badlands. While it was nice to be so well received we were all still willing to give the group an honest look in order to make it eve better. In time that would require some changes to the lineup, which eventually led to Robert moving over to bass guitar while Abelino took on a more prominent role as the second guitarist. Once the core was reshuffled the chemistry of the band was even better.

Then the bottom fell out from under our feet. Right as we were catching some momentum the COVID-19 pandemic struck and we were shut down. The group did a few streaming shows but other than that we waited patiently while also rehearsing from time to time in order to stay sharp. Still, it was very disappointing because we not only sounded better but also had some great shows booked for the summer and now had to sit and wait for things to level out. 

As things started to open up a bit we had a week filled with gigs at various venues. It was an exciting time as it gave me a chance to start establishing the rhythm section with Robert. Right away I was loving the vibe we had because Robert is as solid as they come in terms of his feel and accuracy while also having an amazing sound, regardless of what instrument he is playing. He is as meticulous as they come so our grooves were solid and felt great. 

Abelino is absolutely fantastic both as a singer and a guitarist. His voice is as soulful as it gets while also having the perfect performance demeanor to really sell the story of any song that he sings. He also has a strong stage presence along with a friendly demeanor that has the audience smiling and laughing between songs. His work on the guitar is amazing as his riffs are solid and soulful while his leads tell a musical story. He is quite the character as you need to be on your toes the entire time to make sure you are not the butt of one of his jokes. 

Going into what would be my seventh year of working with Joey Cota has been an absolute thrill. He always brings great energy to the stage with his playing with that energy going to the next level when he takes a solo. Aside from that, his sense of humor and generosity bring such joy to the group as he always has us in stitches every time he shares one of his funny stories. Combine Joey's funny ways with Abelino and...well, let's just say that we already have some interesting stories to remember because those will not find their way onto a future blog.

As things shut down again we were blessed to still be able to perform at St. Philip's Plaza, which is an outdoor venue that was not under the same restrictions as all of the indoor venues. That allowed us to hit the stage at least once a month, which was better than nothing. Things went really well as Robert and Abelino continued to settle into their new and/or expanded roles in the band, which meant that the group also sounded better with each public appearance. 

That was also when we were all approached with an idea that would turn into a pleasant surprise. 

Abelino is a very band first kind of guy and had a great idea to not only expand our sound but to add a whole new dimension to the band. He showed us a video of him singing a duet with the amazing Karina Bermudez and just like that, we were all sold on the idea of adding her to the lineup. She was someone that he had known for quite some time and aside from hearing her amazing vocals along with his I could see that they had both a chemistry as well as mileage between them. Normally, I am one to say that I am willing to give it a shot and let's see what happens, but I could see right away that this was going to work. 

After a couple of Monsoon rain-outs we finally had our chance to hit the stage with Karina and it was amazing! Aside from her amazing lead vocals she added some beautiful harmonies to the songs that Abelino sang leads on and, when the two of them sang a duet....WOW! The audience was stunned and loved the sound that our newest member brought to the group. For me it was more than the musical performance. Karina fit right into the culture of the group and that was also something that the audience could see, as we always try to be as genuine as possible. 

This band had officially and finally arrived!

Then we caught another break. Many of the local venues were finally opening up again and although there were a number of restrictions we were finally going to have a chance to perform again at some the places where we started our run. It started with a night back at the Outlaw Saloon. We took out some familiar songs that many of us had played on that stage before but also took out some Latin and Rock songs that also went over really well. The limited crowd responded well as we continued to do what we always sought out to do and that was to give the audience our best, regardless of how many people were in attendance. 

Then came our return to The Maverick, where we had a great night performing for an enthusiastic crowd as we brought our diverse set list to a venue that was surprised by what they saw. Normally, we would not have been so daring being that we were performing at a well known Country Music venue, but we decided to give it a shot. I guess good music is good music, regardless of the genre as the response from the audience and staff was amazing. 

We finished the year returning to St. Philip's Plaza while also getting a chance to return to Whiskey Roads, which turned out to be a good thing for the band. The staff was so pleased with the band that they offered us a regular rotation starting in January of 2021. We were honored to say the least because it such a great venue with a great staff that is committed to giving their patrons the best service and entertainment in town.

2020 was supposed to be our coming out party but it also had some trying times for the band. I strongly believe that we endured those tough times and will endure the tough times to come because of the positive attitude that come from both Abelino and Joey who are always there to put a smile on everyone's face. Robert and Karina are also quick to offer an encouraging word so I am privileged to work with these amazing people both on a musical and personal level. 

This past year was like nothing we had experienced before but our band was able to find a way to both establish itself and endure these challenging times. We were only able to do this due to the commitment that the five of us have to the band first as we did whatever we could with every opportunity that came our way. That and the way that we always looked out for each other as we always prioritized the person first, with the band mate always coming second. We will continue to do this as the calendar rolls over to 2021 and look forward to seeing you all at one of our future performances.

Badlands: Karina Bermudez, Abelino Sanchez, Carlos Solorzano, Robert Rojas and Joey Cota

Monday, September 7, 2020

Roger Taylor: The Groove Behind the Hits

While growing up the 1980's I was surrounded by other kids who rarely appreciated the fact that you could love different styles of music. My social circle of choice was the hard rock crowd but my family upbringing always involved loving all kinds of music so it wasn't uncommon to see me watching MTV (back when they actually played music videos) and enjoying the variety or artists in their rotation (yes, there was a time when they played more than hip hop and angry females with acoustic guitars). That would include the various hits by the British pop group Duran Duran.

Here was a band that not only knew how to write pop songs but incorporated so many other elements into their music from soulful grooves as well as the use of electronics and sounds that grew out of the developing musical technology of the time. That and the fact that many of their songs had some deep lyrical themes that really held the attention of the listener. 

Yes, the band had a strong image and that was most important back in the heyday of music videos as such method of marketing helped sell records. Unfortunately there were those who never saw past the image of Duran Duran, thus, failing to see the musical brilliance of the band that has now gone on to leave a lasting mark on the music industry while continuing their 40 year career as a group.   

Roger Taylor was the drummer that began with the group in 1979 and would remain with them until 1986 when they decided to take a break in order to recover from their grueling schedule while also stretching their musical muscles in other musical projects. When the band reconvened Roger would not rejoin them so the group went on to work with a number of great studio drummers. The band continued to write and release some amazing music for many years but the one thing that remained in the background was that the amazing Roger Taylor was no longer the drummer of the group.

Roger continues to be one of my favorite drummers to this day and in saying that it is not just from looking back to some songs from my youth that offer up some great memories. No, Roger returned to the group in 2001 and has been part of a large catalog of great music that was created from the band's post 80's era and I enjoy that music as much as the classic songs. The band continues to write amazing songs and Roger's drumming is as good as ever.



Roger began his performance career in various school and club bands before he became a part of the Birmingham punk scene as well as the new wave/punk scene. That would eventually lead him to become a regular at the Barbarella's club before joining Duran Duran, which meant that he had a decent amount of performance experience before going in a different musical direction. 

It was in Duran Duran when he not only expanded his vocabulary of groove but also helped create a unique sound with bassist John Taylor. This began by taking his energetic and certainly more aggressive style that he learned from his most recent musical experiences along with his love for bands like The Rolling Stones, Roxy Music and Chic and mixing it with Taylor's love for both disco and R & B influenced bass lines. Their musical brilliance and unique solid groove continues to this day. 

In this discussion I will offer some insights on the musicality of this amazing drummer whose feel and presence have left a permanent mark on the music world. One quick note, while the band's classic tracks are certainly great examples of Roger's drumming many of the tracks being discussed in this blog are from the album Astronaut, which was released in 2004 after the reformation of the original lineup along with a number of live tracks, which offer a better presentation of Roger's drumming. This is not only a testimony of Roger's lasting musical abilities but also how important his contribution was and still is to the group.

In other words, give the drummer some.....respect!


The Power   

I love rock music so I have always loved powerful drummers who are the unshakable foundation of the band. This kind of drumming was not common is most 80's pop bands so imagine the impact Roger's sound had on Duran Duran since his presence only strengthened the groove of the group.


A View to a Kill: 

If you're going to write a song for a James Bond movie it has to support the iconic character that has inspired millions of fans for decades. Duran Duran was up for the challenge but this song would not be what it is without Roger's powerful groove. No better example than the live version of this amazing song as it releases Roger's raw drumming to help tell the story without all of the studio magic.


Wild Boys: 

This is a song that shows a lot of musicality within Roger's power. I have always loved the way he plays the toms with what I call a perfect presence. The groove is rock solid and is most needed over a song where vocalist Simon Le Bon offers one of his most aggressive performances on the chorus. Roger's stability is the foundation that keeps what sounds like a band standing its ground approach.


The Reflex:   

Yes, this song is known for it's funky groove but this live version shows how a band can't take the energy that you hear on a famous recording and take it up a notch. Not only does Roger throw down his trademark strong groove but adds some tasteful fills that add more color to this fun song. 


Girl Panic:

A great song with that trademark Duran Duran dance hall/models walking the runway/hanging at an art show vibe. And since it's live the energy level is astounding as the band truly delivers thanks partly to Roger's powerful drumming. Then there is the big surprise where Roger trades solos with touring percussionist Dawne Adams as the two of them offer some melodic rhythmic phrasings over the groove. This is a song where we get to hear Roger's tasteful musicality and serious chops.


Playing with Dynamics 

While Roger is certainly capable of playing with a powerful presence he is also more than able to perform with great sensitivity. In doing so he not backs down to a respectable dynamic level but also offers some great color to the sound of the band. Here are some examples of Roger's musicality: 


Save a Prayer:

One of the most hypnotic songs ever written as each member is at the top of their musical game. The mix of the passionate story that is told by vocalist Simon Le Bon while keyboardist Nick Rhodes sets the scenery that is painted over John and Roger's groove is brilliant. Roger's drumming is not only solid but also gentle with some beautiful grace notes and light touches, almost as if it is playing the male lover in the song who is showing such affection to his female companion. 

What Happens Tomorrow:

This is such a great example of how a groove can also help set the mood. In this song Roger supports that mood with his trademark solid groove along with the grace notes that keep the groove going in a smooth way. If you listen carefully you can hear how his groove helps express the mood of the story told by Le Bon. 


Ordinary World:

Roger always spoke highly of the songs that the band recorded while he was away. Here is one of the band's most emotional songs and what's amazing is how Roger not only supports the song in the most musical way but performs with such ownership that would probably surprise many when they would come to find out that he was not on the original studio recording. His groove and accents are executed perfectly while his fills add his signature color to Le Bon's emotional performance. 

A Perfect Day:  

Slow and light grooves are not easy to execute and not something that one would expect from a powerful drummer. In this case, Roger adds some light stability to the background even when he starts to get a tad busier as the song progresses. It is no wonder that many fans call this recording one of the finest performances on a album of cover songs that pay homage to many of the band's favorite artists. It was certainly an exciting time for the fans of the group as Roger returned in 1995 to lend his hand on this track originally done by Lou Reed.   

The Groove 

Any time you get Roger together with bassist John Taylor it's going to be exciting...and funky! So when the word got out that Roger was returning to the band I was more than excited to hear those signature grooves from the past along with what they would come up with once the band started to release some new material. 

Want You More:

Roger is a big fan of those dance hall beats as he has been a working DJ for several years. This song shows his ability to nail that dance hall feel as he throws it down during the verses before he brings out his signature power in the chorus while John is right there with him.


Bedroom Toys:

Sometimes you just need to get funky even when it's straight and simple. Not only does this groove feel good under a song that is kind of funny as well as bizarre Roger's solid precision keeps it all together from start to finish. 



Here we have that dance hall feel again but in this case he is allowed to add a little more teeth to the back beat. Once again, we see that feel that only Roger could provide as he is able to give us the soul as well as the power. 



This classic track shows Roger's ability to really propel a band along with those trademark dynamics. The groove is amazing as John's bass line offers a smooth layering over Roger's drums. Then the break down section somehow drops down while continuing the up tempo motion. Back in the day one would get the feeling of being on that yacht that propelled the band in the music video before seeing the short film. This song would be a preview of what we would come to know about Duran Duran: a band that writes pleasant sounding songs that also give a vivid picture of the story they are telling. 

Final Thoughts

Duran Duran wrote some of the most popular songs in the history of pop music so their impact on the music industry is without question. For those who know their music well also know that one of the signature pieces of this music is that famous Taylor groove. Therefore, Roger Taylor is the drummer behind some of the most famous grooves in music history and he would never take such credit without including John's bass playing as part of that legacy.

Too many times people judge a group based on their image or level of success. Pop musicians recognize the full package that an audience wants when it comes to giving their audience a complete performance and Duran Duran continues to be one of the best when it comes to delivering the goods. Thankfully, they had Roger Taylor to establish the foundation of the group before returning years later to continue his amazing legacy.    

Carlos Solorzano


IG: desertdrummer

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Beneath the Surface: A Different Musical Journey

When I was sixteen years old I started playing around with my father's acoustic guitar. I had no idea what I was doing but I wanted to learn how to play the instrument because I had always admired drummers who also wrote songs. My first experience with this was growing up around my father who was a big fan of Tito Puente. Of course we know that El Rey was not only an amazing percussionist but also a phenomenal composer and arranger. To this day I think his Afro-Cuban arrangements of many of the world's most popular Jazz standards are far and away the best versions that anyone has ever recorded of these classics.

Later on I would seek out and encounter other drummers who were also able to write songs from Peter Criss & Eric Carr of KISS, Will Calhoun of Living Colour, Phil Collins, Steward Copeland, Billy Cobham, Tony Williams, Thomas Lang and many others. Aside from the fact that they wrote great songs you could also see that musical element in their drumming, which is why they have such unique drumming styles.

During my teen years I learned basic guitar chords and wrote Rock riffs that many of my high school and college bands incorporated into our original songs. By the time I got to college I was studying music theory so I learned how to add a lot of things I learned at school to the songs I wrote as I continued to expand my guitar playing before experimenting with the bass guitar and piano. To this day I am far from being as efficient on these instruments as I am on the drums but I do have enough skill to not only write my own songs but to also play all of the parts on my own recordings.

Going Solo

My first experience doing a solo recording was when I released my Desert Drummer solo CD, which featured both original multi-tracked drumming compositions and drum set solos based on world rhythms that were arranged in familiar song formats. It was a lot of fun to do and upon its release put me out there enough to get the attention of those in the music licensing world who have used many of my drumming compositions on several television shows around the world.

While I am very proud of that release there was something I had still yet to do and that was to release a solo recording where I am playing non-percussion instruments. The last time I was involved in a musical project that allowed me to showcase those musical skills was when I was a member of the band Come Thirsty as I played acoustic guitar on the song "You Are Here" that was released on our CD called Colors of Faith.  I would also play guitar on it live whenever it was part of our set list. After that group disbanded I focused mainly on performing with working bands but there were still those moments when I would work on my own music just for the sake of letting out the creative spark that still burned inside of me.

I can't say that I purposely set out to write a new album's worth of songs. I was just being me and did so when I had the time to do it. Sometimes my performance and recording schedule kept me really busy so when I had some down time I didn't always want to do anything else other than rest and spend time with my family. There was also a part of me that wasn't sure about doing it anymore for a lack of self-confidence in myself. It wasn't that I didn't think I could write anything good. I just didn't think anyone cared so why go through all of this work to have a handful of people listen to it. It was my friend Angel Delallana who reminded me that music was not only something that I do but a part of who I am so numbers had nothing to do with that. So once I realized that I had enough material to put out a new album I figured....why not?

The title of the album reflects more than me just playing non-percussion instruments. In fact, one major thing that I did differently on this recording that I didn't do on my last album was use nothing but electronics when it came to all of the percussion parts! That is not to say that I did not perform any drumming parts. All of the percussion is a mixture of programmed loops along with some overdubs that I did using the various sounds available on my electronic drums. Yes, I do continue to orchestrate rhythms in my music but I wanted to focus on different sounds that I didn't use on my last album and since I didn't have every type of percussion instrument at my disposal I allowed technology to assist me on this endeavor. I know that doing such a thing may not be to the liking of musical purists but I did what I did and I don't feel bad about it. In fact, I did enjoy the process as well as the fact that the signals were both clean and consistent, which helped me get things done faster in order to spend more time working with the other instruments. 

I played acoustic guitar on two tracks, bass guitar on one track along with keyboards on five of the tracks. I have no problem saying that I played some of the bass lines using my keyboards as the sound that it offered did the job for me. No apologies, no looking back. It is what it is and what I love most about this project is that it did the whole thing in the privacy of my home studio, just me doing my own thing on my own time. So, here is a track by track description of what I came up with:

1) Tenochtitlan
Many years ago I came up with a melodic line on my guitar while playing along to a traditional Native American drum pattern. All I can say is that it was meant to be a heavy rock instrumental track but once I revisited it years later I wanted to do something different. I ended up playing many of the melodies on the keyboard using a pan flute sound and then used an acoustic guitar over what was now a Chicano rock beat. The upbeat section was me adding a Tumbao bass line over a Songo beat and Clave pattern in order to break things up a bit. Then we return to the beginning, which is meant to be a new beginning as the song pays tribute to my Aztec heritage.

2) La Chachita
The bass line is from a piece of music that I was working on that I had hoped to present to my old band Come Thirsty but I never finished the song. So I took it and made it into my version of a dance track in the spirit of those old Miami Vice type movie scenes. I have no problem saying that I am a child of 80's and I am pretty proud of that because the music is not only amazing but timeless. The title is dedicated to all of those Latin ladies that I am both related to and grew up around who had a way of walking into the room and taking over.

3) Gethsemane
This song literally wrote itself. I was sitting at home one day and randomly put the capo on the third fret of my guitar, put my hand in the E minor add 9 position and then just played the opening arpeggio. Once that happened it all went from there. If memory serves correctly I literally played through the whole guitar part arranged in the way you here on the recording today. In listening to what I had played I had images of Christ in agony as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane so that immediately led me to the title of the piece. I added some keys to fill in the background and the percussion loops and tom overdubs were meant to emulate both His heartbeat as well as the fear that went through His entire being as He prepared for the inevitable.

4) Suruuq 
This song started out with me playing the opening melodic line on my guitar. After coming up with the second and third parts I decided to move the melody over to the keyboards and then added the counterpoint parts in order to add some color to it. The low end string part and percussion loops are there to fill in the rest of the song. In hearing what sounded like a relaxing Middle Eastern theme I started to think of a sunrise, hence the title in Arabic.

5) The Upper Room 
This is a piece of music that started many years ago in a practice room at El Camino Community College back when I was studying music. I had recently came across the chart that I wrote many years and started to play with it again just to see where my head was back in the day. I realized that I was thinking too much, perhaps being a bit too ambitious so I made a few changes that not only simplified the song but also opened it up a bit. That gave me the option to record it four different, which allowed me to vary the sounds a bit. The title is named after the location of the Last Supper.

6) Thunderclap 
My daughter is a dancer and one day while we drove home from one of her dance classes she was listening to the Michael Jackson song Slave to the Rhythm. I was digging the beat so once we got home I started messing around with a groove on my drum machine. Before I knew it I had something and what I liked about the rest of the parts that I came up with is the fact that they are either a percussion sound of something I could hit with my electronic drums. That was not my original intention as I had planned to add other musical instruments to the track but ended up being happy with it being a drummer song. The title was a suggestion from my Sun Mirror Productions partner Angel Delallana because I couldn't think of anything. 

7) Protector 
The last few years have seen me become fascinated with all kinds of Asian drumming. One form that really gets to me are Samurai war chants. I get chills thinking of those great warriors getting pumped up by the sound of those big drums as they prepared to go off to battle. But there was this sentimental part of me that wondered how many of them thought of the women that they loved and how their willingness to die for their country also included the protection of these women. That was the inspiration for the title. It's not too often that one gets to write a love song on the drums but for me this was the case for this selection because the intent behind it was a man doing whatever it took to protect the woman that he loves.

8) Hail Storm
Yes, it's the same title you may have seen on my Desert Drummer album and the truth is that recording was an idea that happened in the studio. It really should have been a working demo but I ended up putting it on the album. I decided to play around with it again and this time I got it right. Start with some heavy rain and then start messing around with some Timbale sounds along with some toms and now it sounds like an Arizona hail storm that I have been caught in numerous times.

Time For a Change

On another note that is somewhat related to this time in my musical life are the changes that I am going through in other parts of my life. In late 2019 I started a Catholic ministry with my friend Angel Delallana who is a Nurse Practitioner, Catechist and a very talented visual artist. She had already been producing some great work for our ministry so that was on my mind as the idea for a new album started to brew in my head.

It was also at this time that things stared to change in my writing career. I ended up making the decision to leave my publisher and began re-releasing my books under the umbrella of my ministry because my stories all have a faith based theme. Along with that we are in the process of making other products to sell in order to help support our ministry so that's when we thought of the idea of just putting together our own production company that we call Sun Mirror Productions. The name is based on the combination of the root of my last name (Solorzano...Sol...Sun) and her maiden name, which is Espejo (Spanish for mirror). With this company we are going to be putting out my books, my music, drumming books that I am working on right now, other writing projects her and I are working on together at this moment as well as many creative products that she creates with her amazing talents. Most importantly, I will have more control over the products I am putting out with a partner that is not only very supportive but very reliable. In terms of this project, that support began with her creating a beautiful cover for the album. 

In conclusion, I am pleased with the end result of Beneath the Surface. It's nice to take a totally different approach musically than I did last time because as far as I'm concerned, that is why people make solo albums. You want to show people a different part of your musical abilities. Years ago I showed what I could do with the drums besides play in a band setting. This time it was more of here's what I can do with other instruments as I now have something to say in a different musical language.

Carlos Solorzano
IG desertdrummer

Friday, April 24, 2020

Time's Up: A Musical Masterpiece

The year 2020 marks the 30th Anniversary of the release of the Living Colour album Time's Up. During this time of quarantine I've had time to go through my music collection and once I realized the significance of this year for one of my favorite albums of all time I knew I had to share both my thoughts and experiences with this masterpiece.

The official release date was on August 28, 1990 with the album peaking at number 13 on the Billboard 200. It would go on to achieve gold status in terms of sales and won a Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance. These public achievements would certainly deem this album a success but its meaning for me goes far beyond a chart topping multi-platinum selling release.

This album had a huge impact on me both as a musician as well as a music fan because it not only changed my musical life at a very important time in my journey but continues to inspire me to this day with its socially conscious lyrics to the personal stories that are told both in the lyrics as well as in the musical expressions from each member.

Like so many other music fans I certainly have my favorite albums and when I take the time to break down such favorites with other music fans I tend to categorize them by genre. There are always favorite songs of mine in terms of the fan in me that just loves to listen to his favorite tracks. Then there are songs that inspire the drummer or the songwriter in me. But it is rare to be able to say that every single song on an album had a deep impact on me both as a fan and as a musician. To me I would compare it to finding the one. The attraction you feel to that person, flaws and all, and how for some reason you can't stop thinking about this person because they truly grabbed you...and you know that no other person in all of human history could ever have such an impact on you.

That is what the Living Colour album Time's Up did to me.


When I started college I was a clueless 18 year old that decided to study music at El Camino Community College in Torrance, CA because musical ambition was all I had at that point. I really didn't know who I was as well as my place in this world so I preferred to get lost in any good music I could find. A lot of times it would be nothing more than knowing the popular songs that were on the rotation cycle at MTV and that included several selections from the band Living Colour. I remember being very impressed with what I had heard but it had never dawned on me to go out and buy their albums. Then one day I was talking music with a friend of mine named Holly Owens, who was also the daughter of my Jazz Theory professor. When the topic of rock  music came up Living Colour was one of the bands that we discussed and before I knew it she had strongly suggested that I buy the two albums that they had out at the time because to paraphrase her words: The singles are good but there are so many other great songs that you need to hear.

Soon after that conversation I was at one of my then favorite music stores, The Tape & Record Room in Long Beach, CA. This is the place I would go to for import and bootleg albums but I was also aware of the fact that they also sold used albums. Being the poor college kid that was almost out of money after adding to my illegal collection I had just enough cash in my pocket to buy two $3.00 used cassette versions of the band's first album Vivid as well as Time's Up. To this day these two purchases that I made at that time (in case you are wondering I have since purchased multiple CD copies of both of these albums) are some of the greatest musical investments I have ever made in my life.

Vivid was an amazing album. To hear rock songs that had both a pop edge along with elements of funk blew my mind. Vocalist Corey Glover had a power and emotion that I had never heard in anyone before and he really knew how to get into character when he sang the story line of each song. Guitarist Vernon Reid had a great presence, wrote some amazing riffs and was downright scary when it came to both his rhythm playing as well as his soloing ability. Bassist Muzz Skillings was both solid as a rock, smooth as silk and had this amazing way of moving around the fret board. On top of that, his slap bass in the grooves was so refreshing since it was not something one would hear in rock songs at that time period. Finally, drummer Will Calhoun definitely had my attention as he had some serious power in his playing yet I could also hear his familiarity with many of the other musical styles that I too had grown up. I was a big fan of the feel in his groove, his beautiful two handed ride patterns as well as well as his melodic fills. Yes, Living Colour is a rock band but it would not be incorrect to identify them as a fusion band as they knew how to blend so many elements from so many other styles of music to create their own sound.

Once I got through Vivid I couldn't wait to hear it's follow up. To say that my jaw hit the floor was an understatement. In my mind, it is not only the band's best album but I would go as far as saying that it is as good if not better than any of the greatest rock albums of all time. The diversity of the songs alone are what make it a musical masterpiece but I have always been amazed at the flow of the songs because they take the listener on an emotional journey. The musicianship is second to none and while we all have our preferred tastes there is no rock band in my mind that collectively have better musicians than the four members of Living Colour. From chops to deep grooves, amazing dynamics to beautiful musical expressions...this album still has so much to offer both to any musician looking for something fresh to inspire them to the music fan hungry for a unique sound.

Being a music student at the time meant that I was learning so much from music theory to different musical genres. It was always good to listen to any kind of music that featured many of the things that we were learning in class as it definitely brought all of those lessons to life. Aside from that, this album also gave me a lot to learn in terms of drumming as I not only listened to Calhoun's performances with a curious ear but also transcribed the drum parts to the songs Time's Up, Elvis is Dead, Type and Information Overload in order to get a deeper understanding of his playing.

Outside of my college studies I was performing in clubs with an original progressive rock band that featured school mates of mine that proudly wrote music based on a lot of what we were learning in our music classes. Many people complimented our sound as they compared us to other great bands such as Iron Maiden and Queensryche. I was proudly playing all of what I thought were interesting part on my then 11-piece drum set and thought that I was on the right track. However, the album also showed me something that I really needed to hear at that time: the groove! Suddenly I realized that it was no longer just about how clever one could be with their fills or their tricky time signatures even though Living Colour mastered such concepts. It was about being one entity, one driving machine filled with energy and power and I just couldn't get enough of it. It was like nothing I had ever heard before. Everything from the old school funk, to the current R & B, to my parents' Latin albums to the driving rock songs of my teen years...nothing sounded like the groove of Living Colour. 

The Masterpiece 

In this portion of my blog I am going to list each song along with a link while also sharing a bit of either what I observed in the song and/or what I learned from the song.

1) Time's Up:
Anyone who was a fan of the album Vivid knew that Living Colour could bring the energy. Songs like Cult of Personality, Desperate People, Funny Vibe, and Which Way to America really got us moving. But I had no idea what was waiting for me when I heard the title track, which was also the opening track of the album. It hit me in the face like an opponent in a classic Mike Tyson fight as the opening groove rivaled the speed and energy of bands like Anthrax, who were musical peers of the band . Then they kick into a solid mid-tempo groove for the verses before taking us back into opening section again after Calhoun takes us back with a fill that sounds almost like someone is stumbling back into a raging river. The guitar solo section begins over an intense syncopated groove before going into a max for speed section where Skillings plays off of Reid's guitar solo while Calhoun pounds the opening groove with even more intensity. Then back to the verse section before they go into one last guitar solo before ending the song with a strong finish. Amazing!

2) History Lesson: 
This band certainly has progressive elements to their music but one thing that they are really good for was giving their audience something to think about, especially when it came to culture and/or racial injustice. This musical selection allowed us to have a greater insight to the musical approach of their ancestors and it led perfectly into the next song.

3) Pride:
One thing about this band is that they are proud of their heritage. They also have no problem looking anyone in the eye and telling you exactly what they think or feel. As a drummer I have to admit that I had a special sense of pride in this song because of the fact that it was written by Calhoun who we already know started to have a huge impact on me first as a drummer. The song features nice riffs that feature some tricky rhythmic parts that was very refreshing for that time period. The songs also featured some honest lyrics that were delivered with that now signature personal performance that I had grown accustomed to hearing from Glover.

4) Love Rears its Ugly Head:
If you're a guy this song already resonates with you on so many levels. Musically it's brilliant as you can see a combination of the band's R & B and rock roots joined together in a beautiful way. As always the band is going to add some tricky elements to their songs but it is never done in a way to upset their beautiful flow. Lyrically the song is filled with lots of honest humor and can only cause the listener to walk away with a smile on their face.

5) New Jack Theme:
Another song where you can hear the band's diverse musical influences. The verses feel like a Soka groove on steroids, which causes a dramatic feel since this song is about an arrogant character. Calhoun adds some nice trigger placements throughout the verses while Glover again plays the character well. Then we get to the guitar solo section where there are several electronic sounds that were common in up tempo dance music at that time. Add some electronic percussive overdubs and the groove only intensifies. The outro pushes even harder before hitting a wall at the end of the song that leaves the listener on the edge of a cliff. Why was this important? Because the album was about to change moods with the next song needing us to really stop and listen. 

6) Someone Like You:
A straight ahead song written by Skillings that is driven by a simple but catchy riff with some serious emotion as it may be the most personal song on the album. One can listen to this song and respond with either anger or tears as it tells various stories of the experience of inner city life. For those who do not know, Glover is not only a great singer but also a highly experienced actor and this song really shows that because of the various personas he plays including a narrator who is speaking to someone that may not care about the struggles faced by people living in these conditions. The choruses are short but the riff that unfolds under the vocals shows a sense of resolution as the character seems to be coming out of his struggle before stating openly that they know how to address these various struggles. It is a simple but brilliant song. 

7) Elvis is Dead:
What happens when a young drummer with a massive drum set hears a song like this? You want to rediscover your kick and snare and lay down some serious pocket. In other words, this song took me back to those moments when I first discovered the groove but came from a different perspective of both power and precision. It's so hard to put into words how it made be feel but I do know that it literally changed my life as a drummer. The band drives right through each verse before hitting the choruses, which are filled with some cool syncopated licks. Reid's amazing rhythm playing along with Skillings' amazing bass work have to be recognized along with Calhoun's performance because they help propel the groove. Lyrically, the song took some heat from Elvis Presley fans even though it was addressing many of the supposed Elvis sightings that were common at that time. Even though it was done with some humor Little Richard's guest performance reminded us that we should just appreciate all that Presley did for us while letting the man rest in peace. It s not only a fun song but a great piece of music.

8) Type:
This was another song that showed me what it meant to lay down a strong groove. For this to come right after the last song took me to groove heaven. The main riff was catchy as it really stuck in your head. The breakdown section after the second chorus was a nice little statement riff that also told a bit of a story before kicking into a final verse that had even more energy than the previous verses. Ironically, the sound of the song was joyful for me even though the lyrics kind of stopped you in your tracks and really made you think about the world around you. How much of it is real? 

9) Information Overload:
This is probably my favorite song on the album as it was the song that I studied the most during my college music studies. Calhoun's drumming style and performance gave me so much to take in and I spent hours listening to it before I decided to transcribe it. During that time there were moments when I was simply trying to figure out what Calhoun was playing and then there were moments when I tried to understand his approach. There were certainly elements to his playing that influenced what I did but I also wanted to see how a different approach would inspire me to find my own voice as a drummer. The power of the first half of the song always kicked me in the gut and yet I still had a ways to go on this musical journey. Enter the guitar solo section, which for me always felt like I was getting on a roller coaster. The musical performances are top notched but the energy the band produces is flat our scary because this section is not just about Reid's amazing solo but also the tight groove between Skillings and Calhoun that starts at the bottom and then rises until it seems to explode at the end of the section with the three of them playing the same hits in unison. Then it goes back into the last verse and chorus that help finish this story of great concern with a message that is arguably prophetic considering a lot of what is going on in the world today.

10) Under Cover of Darkness:
This is one of the most thought provocative songs I have ever heard as it addressed a subject that needed to be talked about during a time when AIDS became a big issue. Once Reid delivered his opening arpeggio we could hear that this song was going to be not only intense but very personal. The honesty in Glover's message and performance are stellar and the groove that the rest of the band lays down under his story of both desire and discipline shows the complexity that we feel as people when it comes to our sexuality. In other words, we know what we are feeling and in most cases that seems to overshadow the thoughts to come to mind when it comes to reminding ourselves of what we should be doing. Thankfully, at least in the song; there is Queen Latifah acting as the voice or reason even though for most of us that is not always the case.

11) Ology:
Skillings is a musical giant and to hear all of the amazing sounds that came out of his bass to write this song was one of the most refreshing pieces of music on the album. He didn't just groove and then lay down another bass line over that groove, which we have seen in the past with bands that feature two bass players. He used his instrument to layer this song with various melodies and almost percussive like figures. In other words, he orchestrated a song with one instrument and showed how the bass can be used in ways other than just an instrument of support. 

12) Fight the Fight:
This is a very powerful song. The opening groove is light and kind of moves around in a lot of places before it kicks into a strong groove that has that signature Living Colour soul. The thing I like about this arrangement is that it really seems to express all of Glover's feelings who in a lot of ways is speaking for the rest of us. We share our thoughts and feelings before going deeper as we now share our deepest concerns. At this point many of us are now speaking with great intensity as the dialogue has now become more personal. On a musical level I love how the music starts lightly and then becomes more intense as it too is also sharing that same experience that Glover is singing about.

13) Tag Team Partners:
Here is a bit of fun that is had by Glover and guest performer Doug E. Fresh. The mouth percussion bit was real popular back then and like with the song Ology we see how this can be used in a refreshing way. You know, why not?

14) Solace of You:
This song has always fascinated me because it has that pleasant Calypso feel yet features lyrics about pain and struggle. Still, it goes to show that when we endure such hardships that we have to identify how we feel and then find a solution to our struggle. The chorus of voices that gather behind Glover are like a rising of the people who are aware of what they need to do to free themselves from the shackles that others have put on us. It is a beautiful song of hope. Meanwhile, the music driving the song is absolutely beautiful. Reid's guitar playing shines like the sunshine while Skillings offers that smooth signature bass line of his over Calhoun's beautiful brush playing.

15) This is the Life:
There are days when this song really hits home for me. It's usually when I am filled with disappointment while still searching for answers. The riff and the groove are light and reminds me of those days when I stood on the roof of my house and just thought about the world around me. Lyrically, it seems to address every thought that comes to mind during those what if moments. In most cases we think of the negative and try to identify the things that need to change. By the time we get to the guitar solo section there is a groove that has an almost offsetting feel, which seems to represent that feeling of discomfort. The last verse and chorus is the message of hope and encouragement that we need to hear as it reminds us what we have to do while also reminding us how we need to see ourselves. The end of the song is always sad for me because I enjoy the comfort that it gives me while also realizing that this masterpiece of an album has now come to an end.


So how does one truly summarize 30 years of gratitude for a musical masterpiece that still moves me to this day? Most of the time I'll revisit the album while I am alone and just immerse myself in the music. I rarely share it while I am in the company of others because if I see them get kind of ho hum about it I take it personally because of the way the album has impacted my life. That is not fair to others as I have to respect the things that move them so again, that is why I prefer to listen to the album alone.

I didn't get to see the band on that particular tour but to see them perform several songs from this album on the following tour was still a pretty amazing experience. What made that moment even better was to be at that show with two of my closest friends who were also musicians that were really into the music of the band.

On a very personal note the greatest moment I had regarding this album was when I met drummer Will Calhoun at NAMM 2016 in Anaheim, CA. I actually got to shake his hand, tell him how much the band meant to me while sharing how his drumming changed my life. The look of gratitude on his face took me back to the excitement of my teen years as it gave me a moment with one of my drumming heroes that I will never forget.

Writing this blog took me back to so many emotions that I felt when I first heard this album and it still amazes me that 30 years later I can still listen to the same collection of songs and feel such a level of excitement. Again, one can never underestimate the timelessness and impact of great music. To me this album was a such a gift as it not only helped shape my musical journey but also challenged my thinking in so many ways. There is so much more that I wish I could say but I can't put into words many of the feelings that this album stirs within me. Again, it's like encountering the one.

So with that, I say thank you to the amazing Living Colour:

Vernon Reid
Corey Glover
Will Calhoun
Muzz Skillings

Thank you for this gift that you gave to me as well as the rest of the world 

Carlos Solorzano
Twitter: @csolorzano18
IG: desertdrummer

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Backing Tracks in a Live Setting

Lately I've been hearing all kinds of complaints about this band is using backing tracks and this performer is lip-synching with so many people having very strong opinions about both. In most cases people are very critical of artists who are even suspected of doing so with most of these artists being called a fraud in one way or another. So I thought I would take some time to reflect on this discussion and offer my own thoughts on the issue.  

Click Tracks 

I have performed with backing tracks several times in multiple bands. I will admit that there was never an effort in any of these groups to hide that fact from the audience as one band had one keyboard player but still had multiple keyboard parts while another project was made up of a singer/guitarist and myself on drums, which led to this person tracking the bass parts himself since he was unable to find a reliable bassist and didn't let that obstacle keep us from the stage.

Being the drummer of the group I had to play to a click track and while that is not something I prefer to do I accepted long ago that this is a reality in today's music world. The only time I grew somewhat frustrated with it was when we had a great gig with an energetic audience because one tends to feed off the energy of the crowd. This led many of the songs to feel really slow but of course that didn't stop the performance from being spot on as the click track kept my adrenaline from taking over, thus, making sure that I didn't choke the song by playing it too fast.

This of course allows us to take a detour in the discussion as there are also those who have opinions on the use of a click tracks. I have used a click track for years when I work out on my practice pad and when I work out certain rhythmic patterns on my electronic drums. As a drummer I always need to work on my consistency so I have no problem using a click track when I practice. However, this is not a performance setting so one is rarely criticized for using it while they practice but that doesn't mean that using it in a live setting makes a performance less musical.

Take for example when the band Queensryche had their drummer play to a click track in order to stay in line with the video presentation that was playing behind them during their musical performance. In this case I think most musical purists tolerate such a thing if they in fact found the video portion of the performance to be of great importance. Of course the audience loved it so when it comes to doing good business we can already see that Queensryche did the right thing.

Of course there are those who refuse to use click tracks in the studio and speak of how the classic rock artists never used them (um, sometimes the truth is that the in fact did...anyway) so why should we? Well, consider this for a moment. Do we honestly think that they would not have used this and/or any other forms of technology if it was in fact available to them? I have done several sessions where it saved us time and money when we were able to take a part of the songs that was in perfect time and copied and pasted it on a part that was not in perfect time. In each case the project didn't have a maximum budget so yes, we had to get things done with what little time and money we had. What is wrong with that?

Back to the live setting: when a band is in their heyday and their tour has a bigger budget to work with they may hire extra musicians to join them onstage.  Years later they work with what they have but that doesn't necessarily mean that their audience wants to hear a stripped down version of their songs so if they have to fill the sound with a little bit of technological assistance then so be it. Maybe they need to use prerecorded background vocals because they can't afford to travel with additional singers. If it's the lead singer and perhaps Father Time has already had an impact on their voice then maybe they need a bit of help when it comes to hitting certain notes. I know that seems like a mark against the singer but I would suggest we consider being a little less critical in this case.

There are other options as well. Sometimes the backing tracks are being played by a keyboardist offstage and while this is not a prerecorded track it is certainly not a group of live background singers. Is that also taboo to those with a purist attitude? If not, is it simply because it is not a prerecorded loop? If so then I guess the big problem is the click track and not the prerecorded track. If that's the case then this whole debate is absolutely ridiculous. 

It's NOT just singers who age and sometimes can't perform the way they did in the past. As a drummer I have seen many drummers who later in their careers lack the power and feel they had in their younger days. We also see guitarists who also seem to have lost a bit of their skill over the years and while many people will in fact comment on such things we don't see them under the same scrutiny as lead singers. Further, if musicians are so critical of performers being able to pull off certain things in their later years then perhaps they should think more about the future while are younger and smoking up a storm or knocking back drinks like there is no tomorrow. Obviously there are more than enough examples of performers who have more than demonstrated the harm that comes with such behavior.

There are many reasons why a band's sound changes and it's not just from how a musician sounds as they age. Aside from aging it can also be from changing members as each musician has their own unique sound and approach to playing both their instrument as well as a song. Either way, if you don't like the sound of the band you are free not to listen to them and in this case, not to attend their concerts.

Educational Setting 

Now I would like to take the discussion in a different direction and remind us that live settings are more than just concerts. Take for example a person who leads a Master Class. Personally, I don't care for such appearances when the person plays along to a backing track. I want to see them play something on their instrumental that we normally don't see them do with one of their bands. I once attended a Dave Weckl drum clinic where he played to several backing tracks from his solo CD so he could break down what he played for the audience. I also saw Peter Criss do something similar but he actually brought in his band at the time and they played live for us before he discussed his drumming concepts. Any thoughts on which presentation was more musical? Well, that depends on your view of using backing tracks in a live setting but I can say that I actually enjoyed both presentations.

Years ago I was totally against the use of drum machines, electronic drums and the use of backing tracks. To be honest I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that I was not familiar with how to work with such devices both in composition and live settings. I don't think it had anything to do with being afraid of the change that was occurring in the music world but there was certainly a level of ignorance on my part. (

Meanwhile, I am currently looking at some possible solo drumming appearances and in order to vary things up a bit I am considering playing along to some backing tracks. If that's the case then yes, I have come a long way in my opinion of playing to prerecorded tracks. In this case, it would allow me to work without having to rely on other artists to put a group together with me while also giving me a chance to present my own musical vision. How is that a bad thing?

The Only Guarantee is Change

Things change and it's not just the instrumentation onstage. It's also in the way music is sold, the way musicians network as well as how people learn from music teachers as we see more people making use of video when it comes to working with a teacher. I'm sure no one would deny how much better it could be if the student was present with their teacher but this is way things are done now. And, by doing things in this way music teachers can now expand their pool of students as they are no longer limited to the area in which they live. Of course sometimes the instruction is not that personal as a monthly payment leads to having access to an instructor's videos without the option of asking questions. While that also might not be the way a student wants to learn from a teacher it's still something that they wouldn't have without technology. This has also given students access to their favorite high profile artist as many of them are now offering instruction in this way.

We also buy instruments without trying them out first, which I think is totally crazy. I mean, how can I fall in love with the crack of snare drum without hitting it first? Music stores continue to stock things at a minimum so unless I go to an event like the NAMM Show and try the drum out first hand I have no idea what it sounds like. Of course, even if I buy it later from an online seller I am still not trying out the instrument before I buy it so I can argue that I'm still taking a chance with my purchase. Be it as it may, this is another change that isn't going anywhere and it isn't going to change any time soon.

So opinions vary on the issue and that's fine. All I sought to do with this blog is encourage people to expand the conversation a bit in terms of what a live setting actually is, which I think shows that we don't exactly hold all musicians to the same standard. I don't think a musical setting should dictate the purity of one's performance but that's just my opinion. I also want people to consider the fact that using a backing track is not in fact a crime. A purist attitude is fine but it doesn't make you a better musician or a better music fan. All that matters is that the music continues to move people and we know that a live performance is in fact a great way to experience the music.

Finally, the personal approach to music is in fact more than a live setting and while some people may not find Master Classes, networking and the purchase of instruments to be as important as a show I do think we underestimate their value in terms of the impact they have on others. Master Classes give us a very intimate look at an artist in a more instructional setting while also giving us a chance to ask questions ourselves rather than be at the mercy of a journalist who conducts and interview with the artist that we want to learn from. As far as musical instruction, many of us have had some amazing teachers and it was in fact that personal time we had with them that made all of the difference in the world. However, there was a time when a student may have to travel to see an instructor that did not live close by, which also meant that this personal time with them was more minimal than they would have preferred...until the internet came to be. Again, how is that a bad thing?

Musical genres change, the distribution of music has changed, the way we network for gigs has changed, the way we record music has changed and notice I didn't say whether any of these changes were good or bad. They are simply real and if this is the direction the business is going then so be it, we have to adapt to the situation or we're going to be sitting in our rehearsal rooms going nowhere. The same thing applies to how music is performed. Backing tracks are here and whether the purists like it or not they are now a part of the business of musical performance. So, if you want to keep working you may have to ask yourself how important your pride is when it comes to paying your bills. 

Carlos Solorzano

Saturday, February 1, 2020

My Thoughts on the Movie Whiplash

I know that most people would say that a blog about a movie that came out in 2014 is way past its time but this is not a movie review. I am writing this because for some reason I have heard the same question from several people the last few weeks and that is: What did you think of the movie Whiplash?

I have been most surprised by this question as this film's day seemed to have come and gone but I guess a lot of my peers are like me these days in that they get to see a film when they actually have time to sit down and watch it and for many of us it can takes years. I am just as guilty of this as my busy schedule prevents me from seeing most films while they are in theater.

The same thing happened when Whiplash came out. I did not see it in the theater but many people who knew that I was a drummer encouraged me to see the film. So one day I had a Best Buy gift card that someone gave me for my birthday so while I was there I bought a Blue Ray copy of the movie and watched it the moment I got home. As a film it is very interesting and there is a lot of great acting so kudos to performers. Still, I know that most people want to know more than what I thought of the film. They want to know what I think of the whole relationship between Andrew Neiman and Professor Terence Fletcher. Knowing that I studied music for a while in college they also want to know if I dealt with any teachers like Fletcher. So, here we go but let me warn you right now that I'm going to be very honest about a number of things.

First off, while I would never discourage someone to go for their dreams I think Neiman is foolish to pursue jazz studies. In most towns there is no or very little work for jazz musicians and this I know because I have my own instrumental trio and it does not work nearly as much as my country band. This is one of the reasons why I find it interesting that there is still so much emphasis on jazz studies in music schools when in the real music world, which is struggling on so many levels, is certainly not flourishing with jazz musicians. In fact, most of my college classmates who finished their musical studies are either teaching or moved on to another career. If they are performing I can assure you that they are not playing jazz on a full time basis. So I look at Neiman and think, Wow, kid. You're going to this prestigious music school (I don't recall if he was there on a scholarship) and racking up this huge loan that you're going to have to pay back with tip money as your performing jazz groups will get replaced by DJ's and Karaoke machines that bring in many more patrons than a combo of musicians, who I hate to say, are usually in a grouchy mood. I know it sounds cruel but in the world of business it is about the bottom line. Again, go for it if jazz is your thing but trust me when I say that most of us have had enough of the number of bitter jazz musicians who are out there complaining that there is no work.

Second, Fletcher and I would have never gotten as far as he did with Neiman during the first rehearsal. The whole not quite my tempo was nonsense. They never got far enough for anyone in the room to know if Neiman was rushing  or dragging so this scene was all about Fletcher busting his chops. With me, he would not have gotten further than not quite my tempo. I would have handed him my sticks and said, Why don't you show me the perfect performance? The moment he threw the chair at me I would have been on my feet and demanded he apologize before I throw the chair back at him. That means he would have never gotten as far as the verbal attacks or the slapping because if he would have tried to justify his actions and/or raised his voice at me for not putting up with his nonsense then he would have seen some of my Carson, CA roots to say the least.

As a side note, I never had a teacher like Fletcher but I did have a jazz band teacher at El Camino Community College (my friends know who I am talking about) who certainly had his moments. He never spoke with the same choice words or even with the same volume as Fletcher because he actually had some class. But, he knew how to say just enough to get under your skin. I put up with it because performing in an ensemble was a requirement to be in what was called the Applied Music program and with my work schedule I didn't have a whole lot of options to work with. If it wasn't for that I would have walked out of class probably within the second week of class and never returned.

The rest of the movie is basically more of Fletcher ridiculing both Neiman and many other students and from what I can see it's again, to get his rocks off. Take this scene where he is doing nothing more than berating the drummers. First off, he stops them as they get through one measure of an up tempo song. Then he continues to degrade them for not being able to play fast enough. I find this amusing because the piece they are trying to keep up with is supposed to be musical but all I hear, when Fletcher let's us get beyond a measure, is just a choppy piece that is meant to show how fast some jazz musicians can play. To the musical snobs out there, this type of song is somehow music but the your crazy blast beat driven devil metal song is not.. I disagree because it takes both talent and commitment to play at a very fast tempo regardless of the musical genre.

Again, I see it all of what Fletcher did as nothing more than a power trip more but Fletcher's rationale is that he was trying to push his students in order to produce the next Charlie Parker. That's when he tells the story of Philly Joe Jones throwing a cymbal at Charlie Parker when he was not cutting it only to have this defining moment push Charlie Parker to do better. When Neiman questions such a method and how it could in fact go too far Fletcher stated that such behavior would not break the next Charlie Parker. (start at: 1:06).

The problem for the ego maniacal Fletcher is that not every student is going to be the next Charlie Parker. In fact, he may never have any student that comes close to being the next Charlie Parker and yet those who would in fact break after being exposed to his vicious methods were also his responsibility so it is foolish for him to try to put them all in his experimental box . He also forgets that such artists and athletes for that matter may have a defining moment that moves them but it is almost certain that they have that special drive to begin with.

Take the story of Michael Jordan being cut from his varsity high school basketball team during his sophomore year. He wanted to make the team really bad so he was already driven to succeed. Yes, every athlete fails from time to time and all you can do is move on and keep trying to get better. I mean, do we really think that this high school moment was really Jordan's defining moment or was it those first seven years of his professional career when he could not win a championship until the Chicago Bulls organization surrounded him with great players including two Hall of Fame players that were also in the starting lineup during his last three championship years?

Jordan had the drive not to quit and this was most apparent when the famous Bad Boy Detroit Pistons were literally beating him and his team up during their epic playoff match ups. I am more than certain that Jordan wasn't thinking about his high school failure at the time he was trying to get past the Pistons.  His frustration of not being a winner at the highest level drove him to improve his game and to build up his body in order to handle all that the Pistons were giving to him. Once he along with his teammates figured out the Pistons they sent them packing once and for all with Jordan even admitting that if the Pistons had not done this to his team that they probably would not have had the run they had. Still, that is the Chicago Bulls team, not Michael Jordan the famous basketball player because even before the Bulls had won their first title people were already looking at Jordan as possibly being the greatest player of all time. Sounds to me like he already had the drive to be the best because he was known to be the hardest worker on his team both during the game as well as in practice before he finally became a champion.

Finally, people ask me about the drumming in the film, specifically the parts when Neiman is bleeding from all of his practicing. I am not going to get too into that because to me that's just Hollywood being dramatic. Do some drummers mess up their hands and at times bleed from all of that practice? Sure, especially when they are as tense and out of control as Neiman is during the film but I don't expect a movie to give me a proper display of what it's like to be a great drummer that is working towards being the best he can be.

In the same way that I don't think in today's safe space college environment that a teacher like Fletcher would have a job for even a week if he spoke to and acted in such a way towards his students.  In this case I would be on the side of the students because a school is not only a place to learn but a place for them to fall on their face and make mistakes in order to get ready for the real world. The teacher's job is to tell them what to expect, not to administer the abuse themselves. That's why you're a teacher and not a tyrant.

Fletcher had absolutely no understanding of that. That is why I say to people, if you like the typical 21st century smack talking fest that entertains the audience at the expense of a vulnerable character then go for it. Watch the movie. For me, well let's just say that it took two viewings for me to decide it needed to be traded in to my local used record store for something a whole lot better. It's just not worth my time on so many levels because it's...not quite my movie. 

Carlos Solorzano