Stanton Moore: The Alchemist is In
Photo by Norman Sands
As one of the leading contenders for the title of “Hardest Working Man in Show Business,” Stanton Moore continues to fill up his playing card with a variety of projects, which are both stimulating to him as a continually evolving artist and drummer, and fascinating to the musician and the casual fan alike. His latest project, Groove Alchemy is a how-to, ground-up guide to developing and honing one’s improvisational skills through a careful study of the funk drum masters. With focused determination, Moore catalogues and illustrates the specific skills of James Brown drummers Jabo Starks and Clyde Stubblefield, along with the Meters’ Zigaboo Modeliste. The quadruple-format multimedia release includes an intriguing 151-page instructional book, a three-hour historical film study of the relationship between walking the slow steps of the process, before one runs through the improv wilderness, a CD with a trio featuring keyboardist Robert Walter, and guitarist Will Bernard, along with Moore on his Gretsch drum kit, and an mp3 disc, which contains all of the book’s lessons in a portable iPod motif.
The modern drum master is also busy with a myriad of other projects, including gigs with Garage A Trois, Frequinox, The Drummers Cometh (a Zigaboo Modeliste-led project), and, of course, his stints as a producer (Anders Osborne’s new record), a bandleader fronting his trio, and as a founding member of the explosive jazz/funk/jamband, Galactic. As always, Moore is hard-working, and ever-diligent about honing and perfecting his craft, and continues to be a fine mentor, teacher, and scholar of the art of drumming. Jambands.com caught up with Moore while on the road to his home in New Orleans to…you guessed it…rehearse, and then play with various configurations at JazzFest.
RR: Let’s discuss your project with a look at the connections of specific drummers, and why a drummer of any experience needs to understand the roots and history of funk as displayed in the DVD, Groove Alchemy.
SM: With any kind of style of music that you want to approach, it’s always beneficial to study what the masters have done, and study what’s come before. The more that you know about that, the better off you’re going to be. In studying groove drumming, those things, and the drumming of those drummers—if you can understand that, and you can make that stuff feel authentic, and feel good, well, then, it’s going to be that much easier to understand a whole plethora of things. That was some of the most challenging stuff, and also the most fun, and most really relevant. If you can tackle all the James Brown and the Meters’ stuff, and understand it, and understand where you’re coming from, then you’re going to be able to play a whole lot of other stuff. And a lot of other stuff can be easier for you, too. It is kind of like jumping into the deep end of the pool. Also, digesting a lot of that stuff is to your advantage, so your skills will be honed, and a lot of other things will be easily understandable.
RR: What was fascinating for me about the DVD was when I picked it up, and read that it was three hours long, I thought, “Well, how’s Stanton going to pull that off? Three hours of sitting at the drums, playing, and then talking about playing?” But the linear thread was grounded in the roots of your thesis right from the beginning, and you told this amazing story, leading all the way through to the end.
SM: I worked on the book for almost five years, so when it came time to do the DVD, I had all my ideas very together and clear. There was a lot of preparation that went into that—exactly what we were going to cover. I couldn’t cover the whole book. There’s too much material. We had to focus on particular aspects, and hone it and edit it down a little bit to make a DVD with a little bit less information than the book. It’s presented in a way because some people don’t read music, which is fine. Some people like to learn by checking out the book, and checking out the DVD. I like that. I like reading stuff that helps you understand it. I like watching someone demonstrate it. It just helps having those two different approaches, and helps crystallize the information being presented.
And fans who are not necessarily drummers have the record, as well. Everything that I demonstrate, and lead up to, I show all of those—early funk, and the history and roots of it, and I show how it developed into a lot of the classic stuff that we all love—the James Brown and Meters’ stuff—but, how to then take that, develop it into new grooves, and maybe, put your own spin on it. Once I developed my own ideas, then we went in, and developed them with the trio. The record is the culmination of all that. That is why people who are not necessarily drummers can check it out. I’m really happy with the record.
RR: In the DVD, one sees how the drums can be used in a more prominent way, as well as a rhythmic force, adding more sonic colors. From your perspective, are you ever thinking of the drums as the lead instrument, pushing the rhythm forward?
SM: Sometimes, yeah. Realistically, a lot of times, I’m playing drums from the notion that the ensemble—the drums, organ, and guitar—are three equal parts. We’re all contributing equal amounts to what is going on. That’s why I like playing with the trio. It gives me room to really interact with the band, and really be expressive. It’s almost like driving a small sports car, as opposed to driving a Mack truck. Playing in Galactic is like driving a big truck, which is a lot of fun. Playing with the trio is like driving a smaller car, a sports car, so you can make tighter turns that make sense.
So, you know, as far as being a lead instrument, it allows me to intersperse things, and comment on things, and interact with the other musicians in a way that there’s more space there to do that to shape the music. I guess approach it at certain times as a lead instrument, but really interacting with the guys. It’s almost like we’re all equal parts. I like to at least envision it that way. Sometimes, I’ll sit in the back. Sometimes, I’ll be in the forefront a little bit. It just depends. Sometimes, when someone is soloing in a certain part, it is almost like we are soloing together. You’ve got to be really tasteful with that. You’ve got to be careful with that, but it’s almost approaching it with a jazz mentality where I’m interacting with the guys, not just sitting in the background, but we’re interacting when we’re improvising together. You should do that in the solo, as well, and not just be sitting in the background.