I would just like to say that I don’t endorse anything that I don’t use and like. I have been fortunate to have been with these companies for many years and have had and do have ongoing good relationships with them all and would like to say a special thank you to all of them for their support.
EARLY YEARS & PRACTICING
Many people ask me how I started playing. When I first started I used to practice the rudiments while watching TV, I found it boring so TV helped distract me.
I had a set of drums in my mother’s living room, which she was not happy about, but I used to practice with LPs or vinyl as they are now known when she wasn’t home. I mainly played along with Miles, Coltrane, Max Roach, Ahmad Jamal (I loved Vernell Fourniers playing, especially for his brush work), Philly Joe Jones, and Art Taylor.
I think practicing with recorded music that resonates with you is one of the best exercises. I would go to jam sessions and listen, sometimes sitting in, playing as much as possible and with whoever would let me play with them. I was fortunate to have mentors that guided and supported me through my early days, including Muhal Richard Abrams, Pat Patrick and Eddie Harris. A good teacher or mentor is very important.
I still play Sonor drums and have been for over 30 years. They have been consistently a very high quality and great sound, I have always been happy with them, even the different models I sometimes have to play while travelling.
One of my favorite travelling kits is the one I have stored in NY, it is a Sonor Hi Lite Exclusive, it is black and copper plated hardware with birch shells that give a really warm projection, and with my signature Aquarian Heads the warmth is even more pronounced. The sizes I always use are, 8 x 8, 10 x 8, 12 x 8, 13 x 10, rack toms. 14 x 14, 16 x 16 floor toms. I use two different bass drum sizes depending on what music I am playing. For most recordings I use the 20” bass drum, but sometimes I use the 18” for small ensembles, it gives a more intimate sound. These snares usually come with the kits and I like them both, I use the Sonor Hi Lite 5 x 8 because I like the depth of the shell and it gives a full sound. The Maple Designer snare also 5 x 8, also because it has a crispier sound.
Another kit I love is the one I have in my studio, it is a Sonor Designer kit with maple shells, same sizes as above, except I have an 18” and 16” bass drum. The 16” I use because the sound is more compact.
For travelling I usually play either the Designer or the Delite set, that’s whats in my rider, but sometimes I have to be flexible though.
I use the Sonor bass drum pedals.
Aquarian Jack DeJohnette signature series, they are black coated on top, I find that when I play the snare it gets an especially nice texture when using brushes. For the bottom heads I use Aquarian High Frequency clear heads. For the way I tune my kit this combination really projects the pitches in a way that works well for me and the way I hear.
For the Bass drum I use my own signature Aquarian black head on the batter side and a clear head on the front for the same reason as above. I like the sound with both heads on, not with a hole in it. I do like to mute the batter head with a cloth and gaffers tape so that I still get a definite tone but not a lot of ringing overtones. I do this because playing halls and outdoor concerts, you need to have a tighter bass drum sound without ringing, it’s good for the ensemble and the hall sound. It’s also better for the sound engineers to work with.
I play a variety of venues, not with the most desirable acoustics and I try to adapt my playing for the various situations. The priority being the overall sound of the group and the venue sound for the audience. If the drums are too loud it can destroy everything! I am really grateful because I get to work with the best sound engineers; they are a major key in that.
I have been with Sabian cymbals for a long time as well, it has been a great association and I am grateful that I am able to work closely with them in a design context which has enabled me to develop some lines that I have always wanted to, and that still continues to this day.
My current set up is, 22” Jack DeJohnette Encore Series Flat Ride, 22” JD Encore China Ride Crash. The rest are prototypes, 22” mini bell ride, this is a wetter ride, not as dry as my previous lines, more of a mainstream cymbal. 18”,17” and 16” Crashes, I call them smooth crashes. They will be coming out as the Vault series. Also, I play 14” High Hats that will be coming out as well, they will have a crisp smooth sound.
Recently I designed a line of Resonating Bells, you can hear them on my CD, Music in the Key of Om and also on Alice Coltranes Translinear Light. They are more specialized, they don’t work in every situation but they are outstanding for exceptional situations or even on their own, people have also used them in healing modalities. They can be played like the Tibetan Singing Bowls with a special beater. They come in a set of 13, but for convenience purposes I use 8, piggy backed on top of my existing cymbal set up. Bobby Sanebria uses 3. Some people just use one. With Keith Jarrett I play the Paiste Cup Chimes.
A) 14″ Signature Encore Hats
B) 13″ Signature Encore Splash
C) 17″ Signature Encore Crash
D) Signature Resonating Bells (C, C#, D, D#,E)
E) 18″ Signature Encore Crash
F) 22″ Signature Encore Mini-Bell Ride
G) Signature Resonating Bells (F, F#, G, G#,A)
H) 22″ Signature Encore Flat Ride
I) Signature Resonating Bells (A#, B, C)
J) 22″ Signature Encore Chinese
I mainly use the Roland HPD 15 Handsonic percussion module. I love it because it weighs 5lbs and it seems to have all the percussion sounds I could ever want on it and it doesn’t take up a lot of space in my kit, it’s as creative as its user is.
No surprise, I use my own Vic Firth JD extended 5a stick and I am very happy with it.
I have had a long association with Korg Keyboards, and use the Korg Triton Studio model, its great, serves all my needs and you can hear it used on my “Music in the Key of Om” CD and my latest relaxation CD “Peace Time” plus some past recordings I have done.
I use the Roc-n-Soc custom drum seat, it’s the most comfortable one I have ever found and it has a back rest which really helps with my posture.
I endorse Shure Microphones because I really like them. Shure VP-88 stereo overhead mike. Shure Beta 52 for the bass drum and sometime on the snare and toms I use the clip on SM98.
You are on your own.
Important-Earplugs + hearing
We drummers can really end up with hearing problems and I did. I was very lucky to find a system that brought back my hearing in a non-invasive and gentle way, it came out of France and its called the Tomatis system, sort of like ear aerobics, there is a book about it called When Listening Comes Alive. I was lucky enough to find someone near where I live that does this work and I am so grateful to have my hearing restored. They have Listening Centres all over the world, not that this may work for everyone, but it certainly did for me. Make sure you have regular hearing tests and use good professional musicians earplugs. Actually this is true for all musicians not just drummers.