You learn something when you watch documentary about music. Even if it’s a small YouTube snippet.
For example, I saw Kenny Aronoff (if you don’t know who he is, keep reading) who’s talking about the few steps that decided his career. Literally steps with legs and feet. He describe how he went from the studio engineer’s room to the drum kit before playing Jack & Diane by John Mellencamp (You see now who Kenny Aronoff is?). 10, 9, 8, etc. 3, 2, 1 step, sit on the drum throne, roll the tape and that famous fill was played for the first time. Right before the fill, Mr Aronoff was just Mr Aronoff, and right after he was on his way to become a legend, one of the truly great that ever walked among us. Here’s a question: how did he pull it off? How did he know what to play? Let’s wait a second before we try to answer.
In the same concept, you have Stewart Copeland giving his account of his experience in the band The Police. He states that people now have all sorts of theory of why he played that flam here, that embellishment there, that extra bass drum in the third place, etc. His answer is simple: all of the Police songs were composed maybe the same day, sometimes a few hours before he would lay down a track, sometimes even a few minutes. He then talks about the very last song that appeared on the very last studio album of the band: “Murder by numbers”. They were in the studio, they had that little groove going on the bass, a few chords, that was it. The way the studio was set up put the room where the musicians were was in the attic of the house and the engineering room in the basement. Stewart recorded first, always, as is customary. The drummer usually goes first to set up the tempo for everyone. He was working on the groove of the song as the other band members (Sting and Andy Summers) were making their way down the stairs. Then he heard “rolling” in the head set that he was wearing and what he played right after is what you can hear today. No retakes, no overdub. What’s so exceptional about his story? Go listen to that track. Yes, I’m not going anywhere, I’ll wait right here.
Ah! Did you hear that? And you have the same question as before” how on earth did he come up with that?
Ok, the truth is I don’t know. And I think that the story that Stewart Copeland tells indicates that he doesn’t know either. Was it because he grew up in Lebanon and was immersed in rhythms that would be unusual for westerner’s ears? Or because he was so accustomed to play with Sting and Andy that he knew how to serve the song in an original way? Was it because he was an American citizen who, at the time lived anywhere but America? Maybe a little bit of all of that, and then some more.
It reminds me of someone who was asking Theolonius Monk if the hat he was wearing would influence the music he would make. To which he answered: “No! Yes! I don’t know.” Good old Monk, straight to the point!