Q - What was your first contact
Peter Sims - I grew up in a brownstone in 1940s-50s
Harlem with an extended family that was much involved in Jazz. An
uncle, Kenneth Bright, was a major shareholder in Circle Records
- he owned set no. 2 of the well-known interview of Jelly Roll Morton,
which now resides at the Smithsonian (musicologist Alan Lomax owned
set no. 1). He also managed rehearsal rooms above Harlem's renowned
Lafayette Theater and, consequently, I was able to hear the rehearsals
of many Jazz greats, like Bird, Dizzy, and Hot Lips Page, among
others. Because he was active in the Jazz community, artists like
Fats Waller would often play at family parties. Knowing of my fascination
with Jazz, he arranged for the two of us to be the sole audience
at a concert broadcast by James P. Johnson and Baby Dodds. I'm sure
there are others who share the privilege (maybe they'll read this),
but I've never met anyone else who has heard Baby Dodds live. Does
that mean anything to anybody anymore?
Also, my stepfather played Jazz trumpet. I often accompanied him
to jam sessions and enjoyed hearing him practice at home. When I
started playing, he would take me on his dance gigs and I would
play bongos when the band played a calypso, mambo, etc. Later, he
provided insight for my composing and arranging.
As to playing, I began at age 10 with a Junior High School orchestra.
I played timpani (on tom-toms) and learned drum fundamentals. At
Music & Art High School I played orchestral percussion (real
timps) and, since they had no drummer on the faculty, I was a student
instructor for 3 1/2 of my years there. I also played timpani in
the City College of N.Y. orchestra for two years. Beginning in high
school, I played timbales in dance bands for about six years and
had one fondly-remembered duet with Tito Puente. In 1955 I started
playing a drum set in a Catskill-mountain show band. My first Jazz
gig was with Sonny Rollins in 1957 (memorialized by a couple of
tracks on the Blue Note album, Night at the Village Vanguard).
Q - You played with Sonny
Rollins for a couple of years. I suppose you spent some time on
the road with him. What can you tell us about the great tenor sax?
Peter Sims - I worked with Sonny intermittently for a period
covering a couple of years, but there weren't many gigs (3-4 weeks
of club work and 3 concerts). He was one of my favorite players
well before I had the opportunity to play with him, so each of those
jobs was treasured. It was his piano-less trio period and the interaction
What I love about Sonny's playing is that he is so inventive within
the mainstream Jazz vernacular. Because he knows so many ways to
deal with musical material, he is never repetitive and hasn't had
to invent a new language. Also, he never asked me to do anything
Sonny was, and still is, one of my very few heroes! Incidentally,
so is Max Roach, who recommended me to Sonny. I'm always impressed
by Max's inclination to explore other elements of percussion and
Swing (Oom Boom, including a kettledrum, ensemble with strings).
Max alone makes me feel like I might be lagging behind.
Q - Can you tell us something
about George Russell?
Peter Sims - I know very little about George Russell.
I had the opportunity to do only one album (two rehearsals?) and
one concert with him. The primary time musicians spend together
is on the road, when they travel, eat, and sometimes room together.
George and I didn't share that. What I do know is that he contributed
a distinct, original voice, and that's the thing I like and respect
most in art.
I no longer have any of his recordings, but as I recollect, his
music was loyal to the Swing tradition (if not, I wouldn't have
Q - I mistakenly though that
you had a long term collaboration with George Russell, I hope doesn't
happen again! I apologize.
Peter Sims - Since I've had to spend so
much time away from the Jazz scene, I don't expect people (35 years
later) to know much about my period of greatest musical activity.
Even my personal discography is incomplete at 35 entries. The British
magazine Music Makers published a 36-item discography of mine in
the mid-1960s (there have been at least a dozen re-issues, new releases
and compilations since then). If I don't know the full details of
my career, I can't fault anyone else for not knowing. No apology
Q - You have played with another silent revolutionary of
Jazz: Mr. Andrew Hill. With what sort (size, instruments-line-up)
of group were you involved with? How do you feel about his music?
I think it's revolutionary, but not in an inmediate way.
Peter Sims - I recorded with Andrew Hill - once
when we were both sideman and (I think) once with him as leader.
We never played on a stage together. That happened a lot. I lived
in NYC and was known to read music. Lots of musicians came to NYC
alone because there were so many good musicians here to play with.
Fortunately for me, Alfred Lion (Blue Note) and Max Gordon (Village
Vanguard) would often recommend me to them. But I only got to play
with them for one recording or a one week gig. I have no complaint.]
Blue Note told me that they polled their customers to determine
which artists to include in their Connoisseur Series. Andrew got
the most votes and I was second. That's what caused the re-issue
Q - You've had a long-term
relationship with Joe Henderson. Can you tell us about it?
Peter Sims - Joe Henderson is one of those
musicians with whom I got to record in the '60s (I think he had
then just recently arrived in NYC). There were two albums with him
as leader and one for Freddie Hubbard. We were both getting lots
of work then and went our separate ways.
I didn't get a chance to play on stage with him until 1997, when
he did a tour (3 concerts in Europe and 3 in the US) promoting his
Verve recording of Porgy and Bess. He may have done some club work
after that, but it was his final concert tour. Looking back, I feel
quite privileged to have been a part of it.
I was deeply impressed and moved by his masterful playing. He was
highly polished, profound, subtle, and intense. He was extremely
fluent in a great combination of the traditional vernacular with
his own. Hearing it unfold and being in a position to participate
was a great pleasure. Part of being an accompanist is that the stronger
the soloist, the more I can do all that I know to do. So, Joe was
as good as it gets.
Q - Would you talk about
your relationship with one of the most important figures in Jazz:
Peter Sims - My relationship
with Coltrane was short. When he got his opportunity to make a band
(@1959-60), the three guys he wanted in his quartet McCoy, Garrison,
and Elvin weren't available. So, John's opportunity became an opportunity
for me. Although I never got to play with Miles, Miles recommended
me to John, and I got to do the first 5-6 months.
That included the debut, which was 10 weeks at the Jazz gallery
in NYC Ð 2 weeks each opening for Dizzy, Monk, Chico Hamilton,
Max, and Count Basie. Jobs don't come like that any more, and, what
a way to introduce a band!
Steve Kuhn played piano for most of that 10-week gig along with
Steve Francis, a bassist from Philadelphia. There was also a tour
including Small's Paradise in NYC's Harlem, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh,
Detroit, and Chicago, by which time McCoy had joined the band. I
think there were also a couple of concerts, but memory is uncertain.
It was the perfect time for me to play with John. He had recently
recorded the album Giant Steps. The title tune was difficult for
me. It has a hard-wired harmonic rhythm (i.e., the pattern established
by the points at which a new chord is played). Drummers use those
points as accents or anchors. When they dominate, as in Giant Steps,
most drummers will do essentially the same thing and sound essentially
the same. I never want to sound like every other drummer and, at
the same time, I can't ignore the character of the material. So,
Giant Steps was difficult.
But John was moving away from that and we played Inchworm, Favorite
Things, Equinox, Body and Soul (I orchestrated John's arrangement
for my sextet) and lots of other stuff that I was more than happy
to play with him. Also, he had just left Miles and his playing was
marvelous - a true treat.
I say it was a perfect time for me because he hadn't yet gotten
to his Free/spiritual phase and was still swinging. I've already
expressed my preference for Swing over Free.
Q - Is it true what is said about him the he was all time
playing his instruments?
Peter Sims - "All time" has to be an
overstatement. E.g., he was not playing when we were driving from
one city to another. But, more than any other musician I've known,
John was likely to spend the between-set breaks playing in a dressing
room, hotel room, club cellar, or anyplace that provided a little
Withdrawal from Jazz business
Q - What are the reasons
that forced you to leave the music profession to became a lawyer
to practice show business law?
Peter Sims - Although it's a common misconception, I never
did, or even thought, anything remotely related to leaving music.
You refer (below) to the critical time when Fusion arose. Fusion
has been my nemesis and put me out of business.
A few examples: 1. I once played with a fine Jazz composer/arranger
for a couple of years. He then decided to do an album with a very
popular Rhythm & Blues singer. It was probably commercially
advantageous for his band. But it required that I play the BackBeat
and Shuffle - extremely repetitive (and boring) straight-eighth
timekeeping, and the basis of Fusion. I protested. I was never asked
to play with that band again.
2. I once played for a fine Jazz soloist who was much favored by
the "industry," i.e., there were many forces at work to
make him that year's Golden Boy. He decided to do a recording that
combined his ensemble with The Byrds. Well, clearly, The Byrds were
not suddenly going to become swinging improvisors (to this day,
they have not). Instead, I was expected to accommodate them by "swinging"
straight eighths (that's Fusion again, folks). Again I protested.
And, again, I couldn't play with that band again.
3. After I recorded Basra and Turkish Women, John Hammond at Columbia
Records decided to record a great Jazz saxophonist with an East
Indian singer. The ensemble was the sax quartet (including me),
the singer, and an Indian band including sitar, tabla, etc. Frankly,
the music was divine - with one glaring exception. Hammond, hoping
to appeal to the broadest possible audience, included a Rock drummer.
How was that related to this ensemble? I could easily fit in with
the Jazz/Indian concept and the resulting fine rhythmic filigrees
- but, not with a Rock drummer slamming a BackBeat. Again, I protested
- actually, I refused to proceed as long as the Rock drummer was
involved. They sent in a couple of guys who looked liked they wanted
to break both my legs. I continued to refuse. The recording was
cancelled. And, I became a Bad Boy. Blackballed! Not to be hired.
My calls not to be answered.
After incident no. 2, I didn't get many gigs for my band or calls
to play as a sideman. My ex-wife then being pregnant, I started
driving a taxi to pay the bills. After incident no. 3 - and five
years of taxi driving - it was clear that the situation was not
going to improve anytime soon.
If driving a taxi became permanent, Fusion might have come to look
like a good way out (after all, it's not that I *can't* play that
way). Fortunately, I found a way to resume my education.
So, from my point of view, I went back to school to escape the taxi
- after the music business would have nothing to do with me. To
say that I left music is a canard. Reminds me of the saying, "Cut
off my legs and call me Shorty!"
Q - You also played during
the heyday of Free-Jazz. What are your thoughts about Free-Jazz?
What can you tell us about your record with Paul Bley? At the same
time (more or less) of Free-Jazz in the USA, in Europe (Germany,
England) there was a response to Free-Jazz. Musicians like Peter
Brötzmann, Han Bennink, Alexander Von Schlippenbach, Evan Parker,
Paul Lovens played that music in his own way. What do you think
about this musical movement?
Peter Sims - I like Free Jazz mainly in a logical
way, meaning that I respect its intention to extend the boundaries
of music. As with everything else, if there are rules, there will
be somebody who wants to break them. And, I'd rather hear free music
than rhythmically repetitive Fusion.
Emotionally, I feel that Free music misses some of the fundamentals
of music. I once read a story about soldiers having to break step
when crossing an old wooden bridge, because if they walked in march
cadence they might cause the bridge to come apart. In music, given
the energy level we use, the strength of hitting together (attack)
is very desirable. I seldom hear that kind of togetherness in Free
Much in music is not actually played. In addition to the charged
silence, the listener is often set up to fill in the blanks. For
instance, if one plays Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ti, and then stops,
the listener's ear provides the final Do. This is a fundamental
device for communicating through music. It draws on a universal
human awareness (which is why music transcends culture and language)
and it's quite common in Jazz and Symphonic. Listen to Stravinsky
and note how often you think you know where the music is headed,
but he then takes it someplace else. It seems to me that Free music,
by suspending the rules and avoiding any traditional vernacular,
is less able to set up expectations in the listener.
Of course, as a Jazz drummer dedicated to Swing, my bias is obvious.
I love the challenge and discipline of playing time. Sticking (pun
intended) with a great Jazz improvisor is the fastest ride around.
Anticipating what he's going to play and shaping the time flow so
that he's always accompanied (never alone) is the height of playing.
Also, timekeeping is an element of music that everybody feels, so
it lends itself very well to setting the listener up to expect one
thing and then doing something else. That was the nature of the
"bombs" dropped by the early Be-bop drummers. Surprise
and excitement were added to the music. It's a device that's been
used for a long time - e.g., Haydn's "Surprise" symphony
and lots of Beethoven.
Free music is in a constant state of surprise and, consequently,
presents no surprise at all. So, I'm not really a fan of Free music.
Having said that, Jazz is based on individual expression and I'm
compelled to respect the Free player's option to express himself
as he chooses.
As to Paul Bley, he was living in NYC when I first started playing
Jazz and, fortunately, I had several opportunities to play with
him, including two of his albums, Footloose and Floater.
I hope I won't offend Paul by saying so, but I don't think of him
as playing Free music. I think he is a free spirit. His music and
playing are unique and obviously good. In his trio we played mainly
his compositions and those of his then-wife, Carla. He never asked
me to do anything but swing, though it was impossible to predict
the direction his playing would take. The "glue" was our
sense (the bassist was usually Steve Swallow) of when to come together
for a strong attack in the midst of following our individual pursuits.
At all times, the Western music tradition, Jazz vernacular, and
Swing were happening, so I don't call it Free music.
Most of the same comments apply to Andrew Hill. But, I didn't play
with him as often, so it's harder to verbalize that experience.
I regret to say that I'm not familiar with the other musicians that
you mention, though I would certainly like to be.
Present times and thoughts about the business…
Q - You have played during
the golden age of Jazz. You were a contemporary to Miles Davis,
Coltrane, Monk... You have also participated in those critical moments
of fusion and the decline of Jazz's major audiences. What's your
vision about the current Jazz scene?
Peter Sims - It is indeed sad that there seem to
be fewer people who enjoy Jazz. However, what you refer to as "the
decline of Jazz" I see as a decline of culture. Or, more accurately,
the abandonment of a cultural tradition. Jazz is just one of many
things that have suffered as a result.
My sense is that the damage was done in the 60s, when the status
quo was challenged on many fronts. Some challenges are hard to deny,
e.g., civil rights and women's rights. Others were more subject
to debate, e.g., the sex and drug revolutions, Viet Nam war resistance,
Gay pride, etc. Then there were the assassinations - JFK, RFK, MLK,
Malcolm X - direct attacks upon institutions. Everybody had something
they held important either destroyed or turned upside down.
Fusion took hold in this climate. Jazz musicians, even when self-taught,
are pretty expert - they must be to create good music minute-by-minute,
night after night, ad lib. But, Rock bands, most with musicians
not nearly as good, were making the big money. Rhythm & Blues
and Country & Western also earned greater profits than Jazz.
Many Jazz musicians, knowing that they could play anything from
Bartok to Chuck Berry, decided to go for a bigger audience. There
were other innovations, e.g., Free music, but Fusion had the broadest
The best example is Miles. His sound alone made everything he played
beautiful. It's not often mentioned, but he was one of the all-time
great Jazz arrangers. It was not only the tunes he chose, but also
how he had the band deliver them. So, even when he went Fusion,
with the rhythm section usually playing something repetitive in
straight eighths, Miles himself continued to sound great.
The problem is that this was Miles. An alumnus of the Charlie Parker
quintet. The leader of many bands including the early quintet with
Bags, Monk, Percy Heath, and Kenny Clarke, that recorded one of
the great versions of "The Man I Love". Also, leader of
great swinging combos that can be identified by drummers - Philly
Joe, Jimmy Cobb, Tony Williams - and the reader should remember
(or go hear) the great albums that resulted. And, of course, there
was the marvelous collaboration with Gil Evans, that brought the
marriage of the African-derived Jazz tradition (rhythm, melody)
with the European symphonic tradition (form, harmony, devices) to
its greatest height since Gershwin.
So, when this iconic champion of Jazz (with several other Jazz greats)
went Fusion, it was the death knell for Swing. Since this is my
chance to tell the story, I'll put it another way: Miles opted for
Fusion and nobody listened when I said it was a catastrophic mistake
- that Swing was the sine qua non of Jazz. Yet, the fact that your
question refers to "the decline of Jazz to major audiences"
proves (to me) that I was correct. And, Jazz musicians did much
of the damage by abandoning the essence of Jazz, Swing.
A couple of definitions: All popular music gets a "groove".
A groove indicates where to bob one's head, snap fingers, pat feet,
or make a dance step. There's one particular groove that's called
Swing. It's syncopated (not straight eighths) and American-born.
I think of it as chank-a-dang (say that a few times and you'll know
what I mean). It occurs only in Jazz! All other popular musics use
straight (even) eighths.
There's another, even more vital, element of Jazz, i.e., the walking
bass. To me, it's the greatest musical development of the 20th century
(12-tone notwithstanding). If one is aware of European music history,
and its evolution from Plainsong, then there'll probably be no serious
dispute. The walking bass provides basic propulsion and a countermelody
(ad lib) at the bottom of the ensemble. Fusion abandons the walking
bass and, again, it was Jazz musicians who did the most damage.
It was during the heyday of my predecessors, Clarke, Max, Haynes,
the two Joneses, Shelley Manne, and so many others, that nightclubs
got rid of the dance floor. Drummers were free to "drop bombs"
(as it was called), i.e., to play accents in unexpected places that
were not limited by dance rhythms. The drummer became a creative
player; timekeeping was a living thing determined by the tune and/or
What an insult for Fusion to impose the repetitive BackBeat on Jazz
drummers! How ironic, since the BackBeat is merely the handclap
used by American slaves when they were forbidden to have drums!
How bizarre to haul a set of drums just to do what people did without
drums! Given my origin (described above), and given that I can still
Swing, Fusion was/is not an option.
The critical element in all this is human nature. Great masses of
people find their comfort zone in Fusion, Rock & Roll, etc.
The 60's revolutions undermined the positive elements of Society's
institutions as well as the negative. The assassinations deprived
us (in the U.S.) of reliance upon (s)elected leaders.
Who profited from this? Of all things, the common man! That's a
good thing, right? Well, if we forget that all musicians used to
have their own sound, and we don't mind that today's musicians and
bands sound more alike than different, then that's a good thing.
If we forget that there are guitarists like Jim Hall, and don't
mind that rather mediocre Rock guitarists define today's guitar
vernacular, then that's a good thing. If we remember, then we've
lost precious values, including our taste for excellence and virtuosity.
There is some evidence of loss in the names today's bands choose.
Here are some from ads in a recent Village Voice: The Barbarians,
erasure, Dead Emotion, Pungent Stench, Lost Souls Society. This
nihilistic trend has eclipsed the traditional artistic goals of
emphasizing the best of human nature and trying to expand our grasp
There is further evidence in the (U.S.?) television and film trend
toward "reality" programming. News announcers host "Magazine"
shows that use documentary-type footage of actual events. "Law
and Order" and similar shows dramatize real-life legal events
and situations. Films too often take the form, "The Story of
..." - some actual person's crisis. And of course there are
the "reality" shows that take people of no particular
distinction and put them into an artificial competition often depending
upon their willingness to eat spiders, etc. I like a good Whodunit,
but that takes an imaginative writer and they don't get much work
Unfortunately, the U.S. doesn't have a Secretary of Culture who
would correlate to the Minister of Culture in many European countries.
If we did have, he would probably put this soccer-club mentality
in the proper perspective and promote the higher values and potential
of culture. Instead, MBAs look at the bottom line and declare that
whatever produced the greatest profits last year is what should
be done again this year. For the arts, that's looking through the
wrong end of the telescope. An artist doesn't ask his audience what
to create next.
It's curious that Jazz is belittled for its origin in bordellos
and now I'm speaking like an elitist. But things have gone too far.
E.g., an ad for a popular U.S. beer features a young Rock band and
one of the "musicians" states, "You don't have to
be good. You just have to really mean it." Well, where does
that leave people who have invested the time and effort to become
really good at what they do? Does the ad intend that we should not
strive to be good at what we do? Some defense is necessary here,
even if it sounds elitist.
If great numbers of people are satisfied by jumping up and down
in place, returning to paganism/tribalism, and watching people just
like themselves, then they should have those things, and the MBA's
will make sure they do. But when they suppress creativity and imagination
then it's a tyranny of the majority. Jazz has suffered from this
as have many elements of culture. With luck, this will be a temporary
aberration and we'll have more truly creative art to enjoy.
Q - What's your opinion about the current state of Jazz,
musically and economically?
Peter Sims - I've stated much of my opinion in
terms of the "decline of culture", how Fusion displaced
Swing, the tyranny of MBAs catering to the masses, the resulting
loss of interest in virtuosity, and the absurdity of Music Television.
There are a few other issues. i) One is that Jazz typically combined
African-American with European culture. The African-American elements
included "blue" notes, syncopation, harmony (much enriched
by the European counterpart, and a vernacular that is, perhaps,
best identified when back-related to Black Gospel music.
As Jazz survives today, the African-American elements are less and
less apparent. Just as Free music is a logical extension of the
Jazz tradition of personal expression, so is Jazz without the African-American
elements a logical extension.
Again, my bias as a Black Swing drummer is obvious, but I submit
that neither such extension is authentic. Apparently, there are
more people who disagree with me than there are who agree, but,
that's exactly the problem with the current state of Jazz and why
it's sensed as a decline Ð it's not what it used to be, and
that's not necessarily progress.
It must also be said that since Black performers have discovered
they can make a fortune in Rap and Hip-Hop, they're not much interested
in learning to play less profitable Jazz.
ii) The technological revolution also has a detrimental effect on
the arts and, particularly, Jazz. The best-known problem is the
new idea that "since my computer can do it (e.g., download
music), it's OK." But there are other aspects.
First, there's the home entertainment center. When I was young,
people read newspapers and gathered around the radio. Going out
was a common form of relief from the everyday routine. Today, TV,
VCRs, CDs, and DVDs seem to bring the world into one's living room,
so why bother to leave home? Of course, the venues that present
live performances then lose their audience and disappear!
Performing arts need to be performed. Bands blend and coordinate
when they play together over time. Composers scale the scope of
their projects to what they can get rehearsed and performed. IMO,
there is no greater economical detriment on the current state of
the arts than people staying home and not attending live performances.
Only acting and related screen/TV arts can prosper in the Home-Entertainment
environment. Music, in particular, suffers because a few musicians
who can manipulate MIDI, write for screen/TV, and displace live
iii) Next technologically, a recording of me is my only real competition.
But, more importantly, a recording "freezes" the music.
A recording is the image of one performance, once upon a time. In
real life, performance incorporates the instant time, place, personnel,
acoustics, audience, and, among other things, the possibility that
one of the performers is having a difficult time in his personal
life. The same tune performed the next time with the same personnel
may take on quite a different character. On many levels, recordings
are the enemy of live performance. If people only hear recordings,
they will never get the sense that music is a living thing - yet
everybody is rushing to download free recorded music. A professional
Jazz player has tremendous lore on tap that allows him to respond
quickly and appropriately to the various thrusts and nuances that
arise during live performance.
iv) Also, I've owned one computer or another since 1980 and they
have become a wonderful aid to creativity. But they've also contributed
to the decline of culture and, especially, music tradition. For
example, Time magazine (Jan. 26, 2004) reviewed Apple Computer's
new program, Garage Band, as follows: "Garage Band is aimed
at amateurs. You don't need to read the manual to put together a
pretty professional-sounding tune. You don't even need much talent."
Time magazine continues: "... you lay down loops Ð prerecorded
short riffs by drums, bass, piano and so on. ... The loops are arranged
... also under mood-based headings like 'Relaxed,' 'Intense,' 'Cheerful'
and so on. Click and drag your loops into the score, and they become
It's hard to know what to say. Time magazine, in a way, sums up
all that I've been getting at. I've been privileged to hear and
play with, or, as a kettledrummer, play the music of, some of the
most talented musicians who ever lived. In this case, Apple Computer
and Time's uncritical review are extremely offensive and dangerous.
Next there will be an algorithm that enables the computer itself
to select and combine the loops and eliminate the human factor entirely
Ð and they'll say that's music, too.
Well, excuse me, but music is the result of bow on string, breath
through metal, fingers on ivory, sticks and mallets on brass and
skins - all applied by real people who've taken the time to learn
the skill and magic of it. Musical compositions are created by people
who are well aware of what was written before and are respectful
and caring enough to be sure that they have something significant
to add. And, any musician worth the title hears phrases longer in
time than 4-bar and 8-bar loops.
Technology gives a person with no particular talent a videocam and
it's, "Look, Ma, I'm on television!" He gets Garage Band
and it's, "Listen, Ma, I'm a Rock star."
The harm is that the passage of time diminishes the number of true
artists among us and our memory of their work. As the definitions
of music, professionalism, art, etc., are changed, we'll get lulled
into acceptance and find it harder and harder to preserve any semblance
of true creativity.
At bottom, again, is human nature. I can only regret that so many
people are satisfied by childish timekeeping, repetitive melodies,
and banal lyrics (Cole Porter, where are you when we need you?).
Peter Sims: the musician nowadays
Q - You are now enjoying
a brilliant rejuvenation. You have recorded for Blue Note. Are there
plans for a new record?
Peter Sims - There aren't likely to be any recordings
for an established label since, advised by MBA's, they're looking
for Pop artists and the "next hot act" (Alfred Lion of
Blue Note is twirling in his grave). I do have some DAT's of the
band's last performance at Sweet Basil and I'm mastering them for
an artist-released CD.
I want to make one comment outside the context of your question.
Music today is in a strange, unfortunate position. In the U.S.,
we have a TV channel called Music Television (MTV) which makes the
absurdity obvious. Music can't be seen! Music is a treat for the
ear. So what is MTV about? Well, it's about celebrities, visuals,
lyrics, dancing, etc. It's not about music. When music is subordinated
to all these other purposes, it doesn't have to be very good music
- and, most often, it is not. But MTV has changed the definition
of music, and actual music, that transcends language and doesn't
need lyrics or costumes or any other trimmings, gets lost. If you
like real music, close your eyes and listen to MTV, you'll soon
get bored; close your eyes and listen to actual music, it becomes
ever more clear and powerful.
Q - You perform in live concerts. Would you introduce the
members of your group?
Peter Sims - Taking this position, I'm
not an industry favorite and I don't get a lot of work. Also, SwingTime's
repertoire is not easy. Since, as a result, the band's personnel
changes a lot, I'm fortunate to have a lot of fine musicians who
have learned the material and enable me always to get a great band
together. Usually, many of the following are available:
Dave Liebman, Chris Potter, Marcus Strickland or Joe Ford - s. sax
Don Braden, Ricky Ford, Ravi Coltrane or David Sanchez - t. sax
Jimmy Owens, Eddie Henderson or Claudio Roditi - tpt./flŸg.
Steve Kuhn, JoAnne Brackeen, George Cables or Carlos McKinney -
Santi DeBriano or Walter Booker - bass
Q - What is the quality of the music you wish to deliver
to your audiences?
Peter Sims - Your question regarding musical "quality"
is very interesting. I hope I understand it correctly. The following
is an attempt to direct the listener's ear and attention.
SwingTime's musical qualities center around the fact that it's a
drummer's band. Drums are typically an accompanying instrument.
Many drummers who play in a very personal style have their own bands
because the style is more prominent than is appropriate for a pure
accompanist. One prominent element of my playing is an intensity
that, hopefully, propels the soloists and provides excitement for
To cushion the intensity and, as a good accompanist, get out of
the soloists' way, I do everything I can to smooth the timeflow.
One technique is to phrase everything in one (1/4, 1/8, etc.), i.e.,
every beat gets the same emphasis as every other beat; the meter
sign doesn't dictate where accents occur (remember those bombs!).
Another device is to play as much on the leading edge of the beat
as possible, which has the effect of blurring the separation of
one beat from another (how different from the BackBeat, Rock &
Roll, Rhythm & Blues, Country & Western, HipHop, and every
other form of popular music). This also gives a feeling of speed,
even at medium tempi.
Another major idea is avoiding patterns. Once a pattern is begun,
it will be missed if it stops, particularly a rhythmic pattern.
So, of course, the best course is never to start a pattern. Instead,
we rely on the power that comes from attack - even at off-beat places.
Hopefully, the audience will be engaged in an interactive way -
staying with the twists and turns and eager to see how they're going
to resolve. At best, they'll find themselves suspended/floating
in an unfamiliar place. With the beat smoothed, no dance rhythms,
and robust syncopation, the music never sets down and is always
in motion. The unfamiliarity comes from an impression of newness,
since everything is designed to change. The tunes are chosen and
arranged to result in quite different performances from night to
night (Heaven forfend that _I_ should get bored). And, much of the
basic character of the band changes depending upon which of the
above musicians are playing; consistency comes from the repertoire
Perhaps most important, I hope the audience senses being in the
heart of Mainstream Jazz, played, as always, in a very personal
way. They should perceive that variety can be had by importing music
from other genres and cultures (Basra, Turkish Women, Drum Town,
Nihon Bashi) to produce a band that can swing all night, without
resort to Fusion, Funk, etc.,. And they may conclude that if one
is interested in helping Jazz to thrive, then one should preserve
Swing, one of the main components that distinguishes Jazz from all
Q - I understand that you
like Indian music. How do you relate to it?
Peter Sims - Actually, among the tunes I've recorded
are Basra (Middle Eastern), Malague–a (Spanish), Drum Town
(African), Nihon Bashi (Japanese) and Turkish Women at the Bath
(a set of six tunes based upon themes from various Middle Eastern
countries and Turkey, intended to "illuminate" the Ingres
painting that is so named). One of my tunes, Raga, is based upon
a definition I once read of how an Indian raga is constructed, but
I haven't had the opportunity yet to record it. (More to come!)
Q - What do you find in it that makes it such a special
Peter Sims - My use of these ethnic themes is primarily
an homage to their beautiful qualities. Also, it's my way to expand
the Swing vernacular. Usually, people borrow elements of Jazz, e.g.,
harmony, melodic devices, improvisational sense, and take them to
other musics. The one thing they don't (can't?) take is Swing. If
they take Swing, then they're playing a form of Jazz.
I try to do the opposite, and bring elements of other music into
Jazz and apply Swing. It's much like what many other Jazz musicians
have done when they take popular tunes, Broadway tunes, folk tunes,
even nursery rhyme melodies, and Swing them. On a lesser scale,
it's akin to Gil and Bill Evans, and Gershwin bringing elements
of Symphonic to Jazz.
IMO, those who borrow from Jazz without borrowing Swing simply want
to associate themselves with Jazz (it *is* a credential with cachet)
with no concern for the wellbeing of Jazz. Those who bring elements
of other musics to Jazz (i.e., Swing) help Jazz to thrive (survive?).
Finally, as a Jazz drummer, I'm looking for material that allows
me to Swing with a broad brush and does not restrict me to repetitive
rhythmic patterns. Such ethnic material accomplishes that and is
about 1/6 of SwingTime's book.
© José Francisco Tapiz, TomaJazz