Since Drummer last spoke to Terry Bozzio in 2005, much has happened in his life: he has married his third wife and relocated from Austin, Texas back to Los Angeles. He is also now the artist in residence at Drumchannel.com. Not content to rest on his laurels however, he continues to push the harmonic and melodic boundaries of drumming with his solo drum concerts, CDs and DVDs. He toured in 2012 in a totally improvising quartet featuring Pat Mastelotto, Tony Levin and Allan Holdsworth as well as with a reformed UK, and recently began working with another fully improvising group Überschall. Although there have been many changes in Bozzio’s life, one thing that hasn’t changed is his deep and obvious passion for drums. This was abundantly evident when Drummer caught up with him after his solo performance at Islington’s The Garage.
“Don Lombardi decided to retire from DW so he could set up the Drumchannel and we’ve been working on that for the last four or five years. Don’s one of the nicest guys you would ever want to meet. He calls me ‘artist in residence’ and I’m so happy. I get to teach with my series on The Art of Drumming, which is like a college course covering different techniques like composition, harmony and melody and how you apply them to the drums. I also interview drummers such as Mike Portnoy, Neil Peart, Lenny White, Dennis Chambers and we also did the Zappa drummers roundtable. Drummers come in and I talk with them and ask them questions and then we jam at the end or they will play with their band, if they have one. It’s been wonderful. There’s so much great knowledge there and so many great musicians are involved; we’ve got Peter Erskine, Gregg Bissonette, Efrain Toro, Alex Acuna, Neil Peart as well as Joe Porcaro and Ralph Humphrey who have their series on reading and technique. You just couldn’t ask for a better bunch of stuff all in one place and it only costs five dollars a month.
”There are many things that we are constantly tweaking to make it better for people, but, ultimately, I don’t see how for two cups of Starbucks coffee per month people wouldn’t want to be a part of the Drumchannel.”
Terry clearly enjoys all aspects of his role at Drumchannel, but when asked about personal highlights, a recent collaborative percussive trio gets his vote. “One of the highlights for me would have to be the DVD Efrainization that we did with Efrain Toro and Alex Acuna. I played my African drums and percussion and it was just such a wonderful thing. Those guys are such beautiful players, man. We improvised for 45 minutes and then sat down and talked about what we played. The DVD also contains some other jams with Efrain, the tabla player Satnam Ramgotra and Alex.”
As he mentioned, Terry’s Art Of Drumming show features on Drumchannel, but some time ago he mentioned an Art Of Drumming book that he was working on. As Terry explained, it’s a work in progress but in the interim, there are several other Bozzio releases to keep us happy.
“Originally, I had an outline for it, so what I’m doing now is compiling it and writing the exercises for it, using Sibelius, as I cover each topic for Drumchannel. I still have harmony and orchestration to cover and I want to get into compositional techniques, form and structure. The last part will be more theoretical, but I’ll get through the whole series and it will get done when I’m done filming and come out via Drumchannel. I also have a new DVD called Musical Solo Drumming that was shot in Japan with my great friends and supporters at Rittor Music. It was done in English with Japanese subtitles and I’m hoping it will be available worldwide soon. It’s the latest stuff that I know. I basically just improvised and then talked about it right after, just analysing what I played. It’s a dual DVD, so there’s a lot of instructional stuff and little things that I’ve been working on that I think are interesting and that I haven’t shared before. There is also a new two-CD set, Live in Japan 2007. I just basically edited my favourite stuff together and we put it out last year. I got one of my wife’s friends to write my name in Kanji for the cover. There’s also another DVD called Live In Concert and Seminar. That was filmed in Austin and features the peak of my playing before I went to the chromatic toms. All of the material that I used to play, I pretty much don’t play anymore. The layout of the kit is different and I don’t feel like revisiting it. There’s a Harmonic Etude and all of these other things on there. It sounds superb and was a great seminar and I believe that it is the best that the material has ever been.”
So what else in the archive? “Well, there’s something that I did with Pat Mastelotto which was also filmed in Austin. We just filled the stage full of percussion. It’s all filmed, but we never got it finished. There are many things I did at Drumchannel that are still in the can. Also, several nights of the tour I did with Allan Holdsworth, Tony Levin and Pat were filmed, but Allan will never release any of it. We all had a great time and, as far as I knew, it was a very successful tour and everybody was happy with it, but then I found out that Allan wasn’t happy with it as some of his fans gave him a hard time about it. His fans expected us to play his tunes or UK or King Crimson tunes, but the whole point of it was to give them an evening that could never be repeated. Some wonderful stuff happened in my opinion. It was just incredible stuff and I would release every night of it, but I’m told that it was difficult music to listen to. For me, after the pressure and responsibility of playing by myself, to have Pat and all these other musicians to take the pressure off it was like a completely different head space of touring for me. I was not nervous at all. I knew that it didn’t matter if I didn’t have an idea or Joe Blow didn’t have an idea, something was going to happen that would be phenomenal and it always did! Everything just morphed from one area to another. I didn’t think there were any meaningless jams or dead spots. I just loved the whole organic statement of it, you know? Every night was like two 50-minute improvised sets; I just love that and I’m really sad that nobody will ever hear it. I was hoping we would be able to do more of that because once you’ve played with Allan Holdsworth, I mean… there’s just nobody else on earth that I’d rather play with. Unfortunately, it’s probably not going to happen again, but Allan did ask me to play on a track of his and, whenever he finishes it, I would love to do that.”
In 2012, Eddie Jobson reformed UK for a reunion tour but, unfortunately, Terry didn’t play the European dates. “I previously had some personal issues with Eddie and that’s why I hadn’t worked with him for some time. Then my friend Alex Machacek, who I play with in the Out Trio, played with Eddie and said, ‘Eddie’s mellowed. He really was OK on this last tour’, so I thought that maybe, with Eddie mellowing and my friend Alex being in the band, it might be a good time to play with Eddie again. So I went back and I really enjoyed myself. Eddie just got better and better with his solo parts and his nightly solo improvisation. I really had fun playing the music and I felt like I was in good shape and what I’ve learned over the years really helps me to play it so much more musically right now.
“The reason I didn’t do Europe was that, initially, I agreed to do a few dates in Japan and then it suddenly turned into the US and Japan, and when he finally sent me the itinerary, it was 10 weeks of non-stop touring, including South America and Europe. I was thinking, ‘Wait a minute, man! We haven’t even talked to each other in 33 years. I don’t know if this is going to work. I don’t know if you are going to be happy and I don’t know if I’m going to be happy. Let’s just do Japan and the US and see how it goes’. Having done the US, I would have gladly continued, but Eddie had already made other arrangements.”
Over the years, Terry has improvised in many settings from his early days playing jazz, through his time with Zappa and more recently with Holdsworth, Levin and Mastelotto and his solo drum shows. When asked what’s different about the way he does it now compared to 20 years ago, his answer is simple.
“I trust it more now. I trust having no clue about what’s going to happen, whether that’s with the hundreds of drummers I’ve played with at Drumchannel or with the Holdsworth gigs. Just let it happen. Get out of the way and let it happen. My idea of a band is always unconditional acceptance of the members and their ideas. I have never told Tony, Pat or Allan to play one thing. I just said, ‘Let’s just let it happen’ and we all improvise in a compositional manner. They get it – they are that high quality of creative minds and anybody can do that if they just have that intention and don’t have an agenda, like, ‘I’ve got to do this’ or ‘You’ve got to do that’. For me, I just closed my eyes and went, ‘Wow! This is so much better than I could ever have thought of or could have ever told you to do’ and I’ve learned to trust the spirit that wants to do that in the moment. I feel that I’m giving people a one-time, authentic, never-to-be- repeated, exclusive musical event.”
Listen with Zappa
In the improvising environment, listening is all-important and in a previous interview, Terry had mentioned visiting Frank Zappa’s house for late-night (or sometimes all-night) listening sessions where the music was cranked up really loud and Zappa would comment on the music. I wondered what types of music Frank played and what his comments were.
“There were so many, man. One I can remember is that he played me the first example I had heard of the Bulgarian women singers, Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares, and this was an old LP and it was just riveting to hear that stuff. This would be around 1975 but I don’t think they started touring until 1983/84. Frank would play me this stuff and you could hear every note. He played Sugarcane Harris saying: ‘Check this out because he’s not using any hair on the bow’. Frank could hear it and he knew I was hearing it, and there was this feeling of ‘Who else does this on that level?’ It would be Patrick, Eddie Jobson, myself and Frank and those kind of nights really had an atmosphere to them, you know, and you left there with a higher sense of pattern recognition and concentration.”
The urge to perform
When asked if he wanted to add anything, Terry’s passion and enthusiasm shone through. “Man, at this point in my life I really don’t want to sit at home and not play. I really want to perform and I will do whatever it takes to perform and that’s why I am out here. I’ve got other options and solutions for this economy and I’m going to make use of those. If I have to use a smaller kit and just go out on the road with my wife Mayumi, then that’s what I’ll do. I have a smaller jazz kit that still has a lot of notes and I can still play enough solo drum music on it to be happy and it comes apart in three sections. It’s all on wheels so it can roll into the trailer with no set-up so I’ll take that sucker out and hit the road myself. All I care about is to continue to compose and write. I’ve got several people that I play with and will continue to play with. Alex Acuna and I are getting on great and we played The Baked Potato recently and sold that out. No music, just improvised and it’s just like a film score when we play together. He’s such a great guy and we have a great chemistry. Alex Machacek and Jimmy Johnson are in the Out Trio and I have two new pieces that I’m writing for the trio, but then my computer crashed. I also just made friends with a doctor of music called Dr Peter Alexander Thoegersen who is a percussionist into polytempic music. That’s several tempos running concurrently and with several micro-tonalities. He’s into Ives, Carter, Cowell and Harry Partch and it’s fascinating. It’s nice to have people that you can talk to in that depth and at that level and just fresh out of college with all of the information you could ever get out of a university.”