At workshops, a lot of people ask how I got into drumming. So here goes.
Despite the misleading photo of me from 3rd grade (above), I didn’t start studying music until the ripe age of 18. True story! Growing up my folks never put pressure on me to play an instrument and I didn’t feel the urge to go beyond being a devoted listener. After making a documentary on the Berkeley High School jazz program during my senior year there, I was inspired to take up jazz piano. My folks are jazz lovers — they met when my mom’s low range earned her a spot in the tenor section of Berkeley Community Chorus, right next to my dad — and my grandfather was Irving “Itzy” Riskin, a jazz pianist who toured and recorded with Bix Beiderbecke, and whose piano stylings can be heard on many seminal jazz recordings, including this track on the Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz. After his road years, he worked as Chief Arranger for the popular and long-running network show The Lucky Strike Hit Parade. Perhaps most notably, he composed the iconic Ajax jingle, the first commercial heard on television in the U.S.
Anyhow, soon after starting jazz piano in college, I was beset with an array of health problems (which I won’t detail here) and switched to composition, which is what I went on to study in grad school at New England Conservatory (NEC). Although I’d worked with Ewe Master Drummer C.K. Ladzepko as an undergrad at U.C. Berkeley, it wasn’t until NEC that I really caught the African drumming bug. Upon completion of my masters, it became clear to me that: a) I would find more work teaching African drumming than jazz composition and; b) if I wanted to continue my drumming studies, I would need to go to the source: Ghana, West Africa.
To be continued…