Master Class

When I was a young man I played the drums, and was pretty sure that one day I would be a Great Big Rock Star. To advance this project, I went looking for a job at a New York City recording studio, on the theory that I’d then be right in the thick of things, allowing my incandescent career to develop along a natural course.

In 1978, I got the job. Indeed, I didn’t just get a job, I got a job at The Power Station (now Avatar), the hottest place in town. That was about it for playing the drums, though, because a) I had moved to a tiny studio apartment, with nowhere to keep drums or play them; b) I was working long and random hours at my new job, and had no time for a band; c) the best drummers in the world were trooping through the place every day, and it soon became cruelly apparent that I was not even close to being in their league; and d) I was learning the art of record-making from some of the industry’s foremost producers and engineers, realized that I had a knack for it myself, and saw that this was clearly where I should be concentrating my efforts.

So I stopped playing almost entirely, save for the occasional jam session at the studio, or the odd percussion overdub. (I did, however, play the propulsive eighth-note floor-tom pattern on the Rolling Stones song Going To A Go-Go, from the 1982 album Still Life — my foremost accomplishment as a batteur.)

I missed playing the drums, but I still had a couple of guitars to play at home — and as an engineer I always got along well with the drummers, and got a lot of satisfaction from making the best recordings I could of the fabulous variety of drum kits and players that I worked with over the years.

Fast forward several decades (note the clever studio wordplay there), past the fin de siècle decline of the recording industry, and you find me all but retired from record-making, and plowing a new furrow as a software engineer. With my son turning into a formidable guitarist in his own right, I decided it was high time I got back to drumming, and bought myself a set of Roland V-Drums: an electronic kit that I can play at home without the neighbors calling the cops.

Which brings me, at long last, to the point of this solipsistic ramble.

About twenty years ago I was a guest at a lawn-party wedding in Easthampton, Long Island. The hired jazz band was led by a simply amazing drummer, many years my senior. I was supposed to be mingling and making chit-chat, but I cared about nothing besides watching this maestro play. When the band took a break, I introduced myself, and complimented him effusively. It turned out his name was Jim Chapin, and that among other things he was the father of the late pop-star Harry Chapin. (Little did I know at the time that he was a legend in his own right.) He was an charming, affable fellow, and we chatted pleasantly for a little while about music and recording.

Well, when I started playing drums again a couple of years ago, I decided to take up the study of drum technique more seriously than I ever had in my youth, with particular focus on “rudiments”: the tricky sticking patterns that are the foundation of traditional drumming expertise. I started looking around online for some pointers, and lo and behold: there was Jim Chapin, explaining the practice of drum rudiments (as well as the “Moeller method” of wielding the sticks) in a series of video clips. I was thrilled to see this great master play once again, and delighted to have his instruction.

So, dear Reader, having slogged through this wandering and diffuse post, here’s your reward: Jim Chapin, working his magic on a practice pad. See here, and here, and here.

Jim Chapin died on July 4th of last year, just shy of his 90th birthday. Peace be upon him.

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7 Comments

  1. Alas, I cannot contribute anything intelligent to this post except to say that it reminded me of a very shrewd adage:

    ‘Timing, as in sex and drumming, is everything!’

    Posted April 29, 2010 at 4:54 am | Permalink
  2. Ron D says

    Mal,

    I did not know Jim Chapin passed away. Thanks for posting. I never saw him play, but I did study from his books. I must point out something funny. You would never know what an amazing musician Chapin was just by looking at him. Doesn’t he look like a guy that would be selling life insurance or an accountant?

    And just a side note, I also experienced your same realizations about being a famous musician – a, b, c, and d – in that order. However, my initial musical aspirations were even more impossible than yours: to be a Great Big Jazz Star.

    Ron D

    Posted April 29, 2010 at 10:11 am | Permalink
  3. Malcolm says

    You’re right about Jim Chapin, Ron. And to meet him, you’d never imagine that he was one of the most influential players and educators of the century, revered by generations of drummers. He was just a cheery, friendly fellow, with no affectations of vanity whatsoever.

    Posted April 29, 2010 at 10:56 am | Permalink
  4. Ron D says

    Indeed. Chapin is a special name in more ways than one. You might remember that the studio I started out at was originally formed as Look + Chapin. That pre-dates when I started there, but Rich and Tom (or was it Steve? Harry’s brothers/Jim’s sons) were collaborators.

    Ron D

    Posted April 29, 2010 at 11:29 am | Permalink
  5. Malcolm says

    Yes, I had forgot that, Ron. I believe it was Tom.

    Posted April 29, 2010 at 11:42 am | Permalink
  6. howsurprising says

    cool. loved the videos.

    i drum on occasion, am a budding software engineer, and my family owned a small recording studio where I worked rewinding demo tapes and such. as for drums, I was cruelly reminded of my limited ability at the drums when a small kid half my age passed me by in ability in a few short months.

    (see I don’t hate you malcolm- I just don’t like your anti-immigrant crankiness)

    Posted April 29, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Permalink
  7. Malcolm says

    Glad you don’t hate me.

    (Needless to say, I don’t see my position on mass immigration as “crankiness”; it’s an amply justifiable concern for the future of our nation and culture.)

    Posted April 29, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Permalink