brian blade

Brian Blade: Serving the music

For the eminent jazz drummer and bandleader, who brings his Fellowship Band to Eugene and Portland this week, drumming in a band is about completing relationships

by KALEB DAVIES

The first time I saw Brian Blade, he was playing with Wayne Shorter at Bonn with 59,000 views, 375 likes, and 5 dislikes. The video had been recommended to me by Derek Sims, my instructor at the Alan Jones Academy of Music. I remember being intently focused at about the 6:30 mark. Shorter significantly increases the tension with a long note and Blade pauses to yell before repeatedly smashing his cymbals.

Seeing the expression on Blade’s face when Shorter hit that note has influenced my playing a lot. He was listening to what John and Daniel were playing before right before Wayne played that note, so he knew how it fit in and what exactly it meant. Brian’s tirade of crashes only delivers its devastating impact because it fits perfectly with the amount of tension being released in that moment. This has influenced me to listen to the musicians around me and not play the latest Luke Holland Esq fill I’ve been working on, but to fit my role of supplying “color, and rhythmic and harmonic motion” as Brian Blade himself would say.

blade

Like the moment in that video, Brian Blade’s highly textured playing contains many surprises, with moments of rapid tension growth and extreme climaxes. This has inspired me to think of the drum set as more than just a groove and fill machine, but also as an ambience creator. I try to incorporate this idea into my playing whenever possible.

Alan Jones sums it up perfectly. “He has an absolutely unique voice, and an immense amount of ability on the instrument,” he says. “He’s been a huge influence on a whole generation of drummers. As a composer and bandleader, he really has a style that you can identify and that is beautiful. He’s a very diverse and excellent musician, not just a drummer. I think most importantly, he’s a beautiful person, very humble and wise. There’s really no way in which I don’t respect and admire Brian Blade.”

Brian Blade started singing in his gospel church choir when he was growing up in Shreveport, Louisiana. His brother, Brady Blade Jr., played drums for church, and inspired Brian to focus on them throughout middle and high school. They took drum lessons from the same teacher. Every lesson, all they had was a grey Remo™ practice pad that they used to work on rudimentary exercises.

“It was humbling,” Brian Blade remembers. “If you couldn’t deal with these exercises just on this, when you get to the drums you really won’t be doing much more.” In high school, his teacher recommended albums by John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, and other similar jazz giants, and Blade says that opened up the whole world for him.

At Loyola University, Blade had two drum teachers who taught him two completely different and valuable ways of playing the drum set. Studying in New Orleans gave him the chance to play with the best musicians in the area. Blade started the Fellowship Band in 1997 after he met Jon Cowherd, Chris Thomas, Melvin Butler, and Myron Walden. Since then, he has toured with that group as well as with Wayne Shorter’s quartet, Chick Corea, and others. He released Mama Rosa in 2009, a solo album based on homemade four track recordings, on which he sings and plays guitar. After touring heavily for many years, Blade is pretty settled now back home in Louisiana, once again playing drums for his church.

Blade brings his Fellowship Band to the Shedd on Wednesday February 24 and to the Portland Jazz Festival this Thursday, February 25. I talked to Blade last week about his career and philosophy of music. Answers have been edited for clarity.

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