On Atmosphere and adaptability

Talking to Les Tomkins in 1973

Session King
Kenny & Jake Hanna Parts 1 2 3
Drum School
Every night a first night
Atmosphere and adaptability

Studio work is pretty exacting. I mean, you get a live TV show, particularly if you’re a trumpet player, a drummer or a bass player—if you really goof, everybody knows about it. So there’s a kind of a common effort and a common standard of nerves that are required, and this makes you have a friendly atmosphere with each other. Because you don’t need anybody knocking you. If somebody’s giving you a hard time, that would destroy whatever confidence you’ve got. Fortunately, people like that, who start to knock other musicians, don’t usually last too long.

The gig is hard enough, without getting stabbed in the back. And it can be easy for somebody like a back–row violin player who doesn’t have the major responsibility on a live show to knock the ones who do; which takes that edge off it, and makes you nervous. And if you think about it enough, it is nerve–wracking! What I’ve learned about most over the years is adaptability, I think. This applies to jazz as well. You know, it’s no good playing old–time drums with a modern saxophone player, or the other way round. Whatever the situation is, you’ve got to join in with it.

I’m not so sure I agree with the current way of playing, insofar as the non–joining together of people. I’m not knocking avant garde in any way, because some of it is completely fantastic, but I would prefer personally if there were more times when it came together, so that the contrast of the other would be more marked.

Although there’s a lot of new things the older guys can learn from avant garde jazz, there are also a lot of things that the newer players seem to have forgotten, which are very valid. Just because it’s been done before, it doesn’t make it bad or completely taboo.

As for musicians who will play nothing but the new jazz—well, if they’re that dedicated, that’s fantastic, too. I’ve never been that dedicated to any one kind of music—just to enjoying music generally. I don’t like everything I do by far, but at least I try and do it right. One of the big satisfactions you get out of studio work is the fact that you’ve tried your hardest to do it good. Not always successfully, I might add! But not for the want of trying.

Do I collect the albums I’ve played on? Sometimes, yes, but usually it’s wrong, because I find such awful faults with it that it makes me miserable. “Oh, I shouldn’t have done that”, and so forth. I don’t think I’ve made a record yet that I’ve even been half satisfied with; there’s always something you wish you’d done better. I like to smile at music, but I find I listen too hard if I’m on it myself.

 Copyright © 1973, Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved.