Tagged: 1998

Kenwood Dennard

Revisiting Mr. Kenwood Dennard

This past weekend, while clearing out one of the bedrooms in my house to make way for a nursery (yes folks, there’s a little Gruss set to drop in December), I stumbled upon an old shoebox containing dozens of old cassette tapes from my years at Berklee. A literal time capsule back to 1996-2000, these tapes captured everything from late night jam sessions in 150 Mass Ave, board tapes from various gigs with Jonah Smith, instrumental funk tracks featuring a classmate named John, and most importantly, recordings of my drum lessons with the legendary, Kenwood Dennard.

The Lost Tapes

When I was in high school, Kenwood’s drumming on Maceo Parker’s “Life on Planet Groove” was without doubt, the most influential of all of the CDs I owned. I must have listened to that album thousands of times, learning every funky ghost note and fill that Kenwood laid down on that record. My love for that CD practically bordered on obsession, which is probably why I was so estatic when I found out that Kenwood would be joining the Berklee faculty during my freshman year of college. It’s not often that someone gets to meet one of their biggest musical heros, let alone be mentored by them.

During my junior year, I performed in Kenwood’s “Music of James Brown” ensemble as well as studied privately with him. This was a great combination because he would have the chance to hear me play every week in a live setting with other musicians, and then we would break it all down in my lessons and tweak certain elements of my drumming.

Kenwood always had two drum kits set up in his office, so the majority of lessons were spent with the two of us playing together, refining various grooves and bouncing rhythmic phrases back and forth. Not wanting to forget a single note of our sessions, I always had a tape recorder running so I could analyze everything afterwards. It was humbling enough just playing with Kenwood, it was even MORE humbling listening to a recording of yourself playing with Kenwood.

Kenwood Dennard
Kenwood Dennard

At the beginning of one particular lesson in 1998, I was showing Kenwood some grooves in 7/8 I was working on. Nothing fancy, just some vanilla funk groove with a lot of emphasis on the “1”. What Kenwood laid on me next was something that would forever change my playing:

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You can totally reconstruct the entire DNA of a groove by NOT emphasising the “1”. And when doing this in an odd meter, things can get really interesting. Find the weak part of beats and try turning them into the dominate ones. And this doesn’t only apply to odd meters… it can be just as effective in 4/4.

A few of my favorite moments of this lesson:
– 1:30 Kenwood and I trying to find the “e” of 4
– 6:59 Kenwood asking ME how to play the groove to Super Bad
– 9:35 “You can do that for the next 10 years.” He was right.

Here’s a quick transcription I did of the concept we were working on in that lesson (pardon the unattached 8th note stems). Notice, there is nothing on the downbeat of 1 (other than the hi hat), with the kick drum anticipating each bar by falling on the “e” of 4. Any snare note that isn’t a back beat is to be ghosted.

Soul Patches and Fedoras

Last night I had a horrible nightmare. In this particular dream, I was back in 1998 and in between sets at my weekly Saturday night gig at Ryles. I had just ordered another Long Island Iced Tea to help numb the pain of my musically tortured soul, and somehow, manage to get through another 45 minutes of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Brian Setzer Orchestra covers. My cheap, polyester suit itched uncontrollably and I was surrounded by guys with soul patches and fedoras. This was the height of what was one of the worst periods of modern music (aka “the swing revival”) and I was right in the middle of it. Deep in the shit.

Some people are still living this nightmare

Loop #129

Before I awoke from this heinous dream, I ended up sleep walking into my studio and laying down the following groove. A two measure, four on the floor, swing beat with plenty of floor tom and a strong snare back beat. Can you dig, Daddy-O? It was so strong, in fact, that my wife jumped out of bed and woke me up before recording more than just a few seconds. After waking up and realizing that it was all just a horrible nightmare, I kissed her on the cheek, hugged my cats, and peacefully went back to bed. Thankful that it was 2010. Thankful that I wasn’t in a swing band.

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