Bill Summers

Yesterday, in a clinic with percussionist Bill Summers, some strong points came across.

He treats his drums as a family, and the people playing them give voice to the family as a functioning thing. The drums themselves represent the family members: the mother (the one with the womb who speaks of wisdom), the father (the one carrying structure and discipline – the clave ), the child (the novice, the apprentice)… and that they should never be split up. Once they are – they aren’t played correctly. They have familial conversations. They have fights. They make up. They play.

Secondly, he lingered on the idea of african improvisation: specifically the fact that there’s no such thing. You can always tell a “real drummer” from a hippie banging a drum… a real drummer knows the rhythms, knows the discipline, knows the rhythms for each ceremony (each morning, each afternoon, each season (much like an Indian Raga), each wedding, each funeral, each birthday)..and only plays those rhythms when appropriate.

We spoke about the beginnings of man and the first instrument: the idea of an ancient guy hunting in the forests of Africa and a piece of fruit (a modern-day shakere) falls on his head, he brings it home, he’s sitting there bored, he starts shaking it – it becomes percussive, it becomes entertainment, it becomes a vehicle for ceremony… well …maybe not quite like that 🙂

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