Sunday, March 14, 2010

Jazz Drummer Jeff Peabody, Part Two

This is the second part of an interview with jazz drummer Jeff Peabody. Yesterday he talked about how he became a drummer, and today he shares what jazz drumming is about, and how he unintentionally came to replace Billy D at the Club Saratoga.

Ennyman: How'd you get interested in jazz?

JP: As time went on, I played in different groups. I liked fusion jazz, not so much the old swing style but the more rock.

E: Like what Miles did in the late 60's and 70's?

JP: Maybe more like Chick Corea, Stanley Clark, Return to Forever type of stuff.

E: What about Majavishnu Orchestra?

JP: I was aware of John Mclaughlin. I actually have seen him. I went to see him not to see him but to see a band called This Oneness from the Twin Cities. They warmed up for him.

E: So you got introduced to jazz through fusion.

JP: Right, and I knew about swing style jazz and stuff like that, and it really, it still to this day is a challenge for me to play.

E: Because?

JP: Well, because it’s a whole different thing. It’s not just playing on the 2 and the 4. It’s a much more involved style than just playing the rhythm. So after playing in many bands over the years, when I started to get into photography, as my interest grew in photography, the music thing started to fade. And also I was working full time and I'd just boiled it down to playing in a weekend band. I was playing almost every weekend, so I was working full time and playing every weekend and, you know, falling asleep at the wheel on Friday nights used to scare me. If we had to go out of town, I was always scared to drive home. Even if I didn't drink I was so tired. Even just a short run to Two Harbors, I can remember waking up after a second or two. After a while of that, I decided that I wanted to focus my energy more on photography and less on music. And when I did finally decide that, I knew that there was a jam session at the Club Saratoga every Saturday and my good friends played there, so I decided to start going down there... started playing one song, maybe two.

E: So there are other drummers playing?

JP: Yeah, there was a drummer, Billy D. It was his thing, his deal. So as long as they didn't play too fast, I could do it. It got to be where I was doing a little better and I was playing 4 or 5 songs, and eventually, I don't know at what point, but eventually I was playing the whole last set. It was almost every Saturday. I'd show up about 5:30 and at 6:00 when they took their break I would go up and play. I was getting that good at it.

E: When was this?

JP: It was probably about 3 years ago, maybe 4. I did that for a long time, because it wasn't my show, and they had a drummer. I was thrilled, this was perfect. I didn't get paid, but I was happy, and I didn't have to go, and I could go and not play, and I didn't have to haul gear. I didn't have to go anywhere, and I could have as many drinks as I wanted. For playing 1 set I could have 5 beers. They didn't care. So it was wonderful, and I did that for a long time and was still working at the photo lab and doing weddings and stuff like that. So things were good. But eventually there was trouble in the band between Billy and the other band members. One day they came to me and said, “Do you want the job?” And I wasn't so sure about that for two reasons. First of all I felt terrible about taking Billy's job because it was kind of his thing for 20 some years. Also, did I really want to lock down every Saturday? On the other hand I was thinking that I go every week anyway and this way I'd actually get paid and they pay pretty well. So they tried to work their problems out with him and it just came down to that. No, they were going to get somebody and that somebody they wanted was me. I was the logical person to do it, and I'd been doing it for a while and as I did, I’d gotten much, much better.

E: What kind of jazz do they play down there?

JP: Just standards, just jazz standards like Billy Holiday, Frank Sinatra, stuff like that.

E: Did they have vocals and everything?

JP: Yeah.

E: Did they have non-vocals? Do they have improv?

JP: Sometimes. It was a trio, piano, bass and drums and every week there's a guest. Most of the time it's a singer, sometimes a singer/player. Once in a while it's just like we have a great, great guitar player, Billy Franzie who has played world class. He's played with Prince, and John Lange. He plays multiple instruments. For some crazy reason he loves to play with us, and he does often. He's coming again soon. He's a great singer but he'd rather just play his guitar. So he'll sing a couple songs but its an open stage, so you might have the trio with a guest and have two or three people sit in during the night.

My interest in jazz is definitely the latest swing style jazz standards, brushes, you know, style jazz. And I, when I got the job I actually bought a jazz style drum set and tuned it the way that they do, and since I do it every week now I'm playing 4 hours every week. I definitely got much much better, to the point now where rock and roll is silly, and in fact it's really really fun to play now because I can. It's what I dreamed of when I was a kid, the way I wanted to play now is so simple after playing jazz all the time that it just makes it like a piece of cake.

E: What's the difference in the complexity of the jazz?

JP: It’s a lot more complex, and the technique, you have to have technique to do it with any variety or speed. In fact, the way you learn is you learn to play with subtlety. Because it’s not loud, you can't take, it doesn't impressive you because it’s so powerful, it's the tinniness, the timing, but you have to apply the same power and the speed that it requires; if you don't have good technique you can't do it. All those things that they tried to teach me when I took the few drum lessons that I did, you've got to learn these little rudimentary movements. I knew what the techniques were but I didn't have to study them. But now, I do. Because otherwise you'd just be beat to hell at the end. You just wouldn't be able to do it, not very nice.

E: The Saratoga's a strip club normally, but on Saturday afternoons its a jazz club. Do you have people show up who think its going to be a strip club?

JP: Yeah, every once in a while you see a group of young guys come in and they're looking around, like "Oh, wow." I always kid with them, I say they're coming (the girls) and we're just the warm up act. It does happen. but we have a pretty regular crowd.

E: How many people show up, typically?

JP: I'd say 150 to 200 people.

E: Every Saturday? What time do they play?

JP: Yeah, from 3-7, and the winter months are always better because in the winter, your Duluth people will come down. They're not going to their cabin on weekends and stuff like that. In the summertime on weekends, Duluth people want to be outside and Canal Park is full of tourists, which is unpleasant for locals, and tourists do not generally come in. We get very few tourists. They're not there to sit inside a bar. They have kids. They're here to see the boats and stuff like that. But we have since I've come on, we've kind of changed things up a little bit. We've had a pretty steady house for many many months now, even in the summertime. I can remember going down there when there was near nobody in the club on Saturday, and that never happens today. We always have a crowd. I think we always pay for ourselves, if nothing else, and they pay us pretty well. One of the things we did do, one of the changes was that we did lower the price to make it more affordable for the club, because they were like...

E: Lower the price for the band?

JP: The cost for the band for them is cheaper now, so that helps, too, but also the crowd's increased and we have been drawing in people. People are coming up from the Twin Cities. We have a guy that just started coming up who heard it through the grapevine, who came up to check this out. He came up and he stayed for 3 hours, 2 weeks later, he drove back and played 3 more hours and said he'd be back. He's a great jazz guitar player. He said this is terrific. He got up on the microphone before he left and said, “I just wanted to tell you people here in Duluth that you have a treasure, so keep supporting this, it's a great thing.”

E: Thanks for the stories. Here's a clip I grabbed from my visit to the club last weekend. Let the beat go on. [Note: the sound mix is much better when you hear it in person... great piano and bass, but I was standing up near the drums and killed the balance a bit. You'll have to check it out yourself sometime.]


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