There’s something special about New Orleans drummers. A statement I read and hear regularly and while my untrained ear suggests that is true, I cannot in my own words explain why.
Drum Magazine has made it easy for me though by interviewing four of New Orleans top drummers. (The article is no longer available online). The magazine pulled together musicians who have handled the beat for The Meters, Professor Longhair, Wynton Marsalis, Papa Grows Funk, Galactic and countless other projects. Some of the conversation gets a little beyond my understanding. Here’s a lay summary of it:
While New Orleans wasn’t much different as other Southern locales for discouraging the continuation of African culture, the city was unique in that it did allow for New Orleans slaves and people of color to congregate at a central location, known as Congo Square, on Sundays to share, among other things, music. From this setting, Caribbean and African rhythms and syncopation met European harmonies and melodies.
The key distinction of New Orleans drumming is an emphasis on the bass drum which in the New Orleans parade tradition is the heart and soul of the show. The bass “is the main voice; and the snare drum is the polish.” Interestingly, in the marching band, second line tradition, the bass drummer and snare drummer are two separate musicians.
“Bottom line is it has to be a pelvic thing. . . What makes me unconsciously decide whether it’s good or bad is when I’m having a conversation [at a gig] far away from the music with someone who’s totally distracting me, and in the meantime I’m moving my butt. Then I know it’s the science of true, organic swing.”
I’m Tim Sweeney and this blog is to support a radio show I’m starting on Monday called Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa. I’m incredibly excited as well as nervous. Nothing like getting what I want and then freaking out about whether I can do it right.
After retiring from a 30-year stint as State of Washington employee on Halloween 2013, I signed up for and took the KAOS deejay training class –which qualified me, upon completion, to host programs on one of the best known and regarded community radio stations in the country. KAOS has been on the air since January 1, 1973 and is located on the campus of The Evergreen State College. The station uses trained volunteer deejays from the college and the community and offers a diverse free-form radio format.
From the start, I’ve wanted to do a show that would allow me to pursue my love for New Orleans and its music. I was born in New Orleans and lived there until I was 10. I went back frequently until I moved to the Northwest 35 years ago and didn’t return until the first Jazzfest after Katrina (April 2006). I’ve been back several times since, always to catch as much music (and food) as possible.
Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa premieres on KAOS, 89.3 FM (www.kaosradio.org) at 10 a.m. (PST). The two-hour live program will air every Monday after that. The show will feature music from and about New Orleans, including blues, jazz, R&B, hip hop, folk, cajun/zydeco, Mardi Gras Indian, rock, and everything in between-new and old.
I’m hoping you’ll catch all or part of the show as you can and let me know what you think. I’ll be using this blog to support that show, provide more details, photos, links etc.
See you on the radio. (POST NOTE: My show later moved to Thursdays and on March 10, 2022 – I did my last episode after 7 and half years of weekly programs.)