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  • Jon Sheckler

Flock to Shepherd Part II - The New Guard

Today’s generation of drummer-leaders don’t overtly credit the earlier generation with influencing their decision to lead ensembles. While Mark Guiliana specifically included Brian Blade Fellowship as an influence in

deciding to lead bands, others did not express an overt knowledge of drummer specific bands. If anything, hyper awareness of bandleading in general influenced many of these new leaders. “I guess the unusual thing was leading anything,” Blade stated. “Drummer, bassist, oboist. . . are you capable from wherever you stand to offer something to everyone else and then have every-

one. . . build something together.” Composers became the most overt influence among the new generation of leaders. Tyshawn Sorey knew of drummer-led ensembles, but the influence of those ensembles was limited to those drummers who were formidable composers such as Jack DeJohnette. As a unique drummer-singer, Jamison Ross cited the recording of Grady Tate, a successful jazz drummer-singer himself, as an influence on his approach, but quickly minimized that influence in favor of pop and R&B drummer-singers such as Stevie Wonder, whose fame made them easy examples to follow.

Whereas the past drummer-bandleaders were regarded as stars who took the next step into bandleading, today’s drummers led bands well before they became widely known. Bandleading has transformed from a reward for outstanding service into a means of expression. Without a star, these bands have been forced to rise to prominence collectively rather than individually. Brian Blade was an anomaly to this trend, as the Brian Blade Fellowship was founded after Blade had become a star sideman of Joshua Redman’s. But the Fellowship still stood as a creative outlet for the drummer, who only began composing in 1997.

Today’s drummer-bandleaders negotiate a starkly different landscape than their predecessors. The advisory role of the producer in jazz music has all but disappeared. Between the modern drummers interviewed for this paper, only three albums had credited producers, and those records were either the first or second album released by those musicians. As previously discussed, producers were members of the creative team for the older generation of bandleaders. However, after hiring Daniel

Lanois to produce their first album, Brian Blade and Jon Cowherd have produced the output of the Brian Blade Fellowship since. Likewise, Tyshawn Sorey has self-produced all his recordings since his debut. In opting for more control, modern drummer-led ensembles also have a greater awareness of non-musical responsibilities. Multiple leaders discussed their heavy involvement in all aspects of the album cycle with most of the leaders making final decisions and all leaders creating a road map in the very least. Now the main musical force behind their albums, drummers have taken over many of the duties previously assigned to a producer. Leaders have become more thoughtful about album making, consciously trying to not repeat themselves. As each drummer has grown as a composer, they have corralled further creative control.

The album itself has grown in significance. Past leaders rarely planned albums in advance, as seen by the recording processes of Elvin Jones and Philly Joe Jones. However, today’s bandleaders continually think about the next album as opportunities for creative departures. While not the main driver of composition, recording maintains greater value in the eyes of today’s artists. Each bandleader is highly aware of their audience during both the album cycle and live performances, leading to planned shifts in musical direction. This has led to longer album cycles and less extensive touring, leaving only the most prolific composers of the modern generation to record near pace of past generations. From 1968 to 1975, Buddy Rich released fourteen albums as a leader, according to Tyshawn Sorey, the most prolific modern band leader interviewed, has released twelve albums as a leader in his nearly two-decade career. Elvin Jones released twenty-two albums as a leader from 1971 to 1982 while Jamison Ross, Mark Guiliana, and Brian Blade have release seventeen albums collectively as leaders since 1998.

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