Ben Adkins is a drummer’s drummer. Not the kind who blows chops to impress his fellow musicians. And not the kind who puts out a solo record so he can make himself the center of attention. (Look, drummers have fragile egos. All those years backing people up make them crave the spotlight. They’re wont to do silly things, like when Tommy Lee thought he could become a lead singer. Remember that?) On his debut solo release, Adkins has created an ensemble outing and included the best players he could get his hands on.
On Salmagundi, Adkins brought in local heavies Alphonso Horne (trumpet), Joshua Bowlus (keys), Paul Miller (guitar), Stan Piper (bass) and a few others to perform both original and standards in a largely trad-jazz format. Do the players blow chops? Of course they do. But only at the right time in the context of the music, which makes Salmagundi a pleasure for both musician and non-musician alike.
Folio Weekly Magazine recently spoke with drummer and bandleader Adkins about brushes, hurdles, and his take on the state of traditional jazz in the youth-driven Internet age.
Folio Weekly Magazine: The original songs on the record – who wrote those?
Ben Adkins: It’s hard to pin all of the credit to any one person. Most of the ideas originated over the course of several years, as riffs stuck in my head. I would sometimes hum them in the shower, or hear the next phrase in the middle of the night. Once a concrete idea was formed, the rest was filling in gaps and expanding upon the idea. This often included longtime musical partner of mine — and chordal genius — Joshua Bowlus. Still, the tunes were far from complete before the rest of the band added ideas on how to improve things. So really everyone on this record has some skin in the game.
Who are your influences as a drummer? More wide-ranging, who influenced you musically?
That’s a difficult question to answer. As a drummer, my influences are very wide-ranging, but mostly come from the traditional jazz genre. Jimmy Cobb, Max Roach, Ben Riley, Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Vernel Fournier and, more modernly, Johnny Vidacovich, Bill Stewart, and Brian Blade. My brother, Chris, is an excellent guitarist and writer himself – he wrote and plays on track six [“That Jambalaya”]. We grew up playing music together, and naturally through him I heard a lot of guitar records: Wes Montgomery, John Scofield, Jim Hall, Pat Metheny, and Wayne Krantz. I suppose I’ve had a lot of musical influences from them, and naturally gravitated to many of the drummers they worked with.
Is there still a market for this kind of jazz?
I suppose that depends on how one defines success. In the traditional sense of a music market, maybe not. At the same time, I’d also say there is a decent population of people who enjoy good music, even jazz specifically, and will buy tickets and records and support musicians. To me, this project is more of a chance to get my own voice out, a chance to do it my way. It’s certainly more work to get it out there, but with that comes more satisfaction once it pays off.
How do you persuade a new audience to listen in a world of downloads of really shitty pop music?
That can be a tough one. In my heart, I believe the music has to stand on its own to some degree, meaning there’s a lot of selfish music out there that doesn’t connect with audiences. My goal is to find that middle ground where the audience finds it to be catchy, but the musicians aren’t bored. It’s a fine line to straddle, but if you can pull it off, it’s just a matter of finding the right channels to get it out there in the first place.
What is the biggest hurdle you had to cross putting together this record?
This being the first project I’ve produced, I was overwhelmed by how much paperwork and red tape there was on the business end – licensing, copyrighting, logistics, registering as a publisher, etc. I wish I could afford to just hire somebody to do it all, but that would cost a small fortune.
Where can we get the new CD?
Preorders are on Amazon and it’ll be available on CDBaby, iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeartRadio, and more.