Once upon a time, a wise man I knew said that in order to correct the failures of our different communities, the first thing to do was to recognize and face those failures. So inspired by those wise words I sent to the editor of “Modern Drummer Magazine” an article I titled “Alfred Nobel and the Invention of the Microphone”. It didn’t work out.
On the article, I mentioned how, unfortunately, the use and abuse of microphones and amps, in the long run, has created serious damages in the good taste and eardrums of the music listeners. All of that with the support of too many sound engineers and the consent of some musicians (mainly percussionists) who seems like they are convinced that the louder, the music is heard better since the volume is supposed to be a synonym with energy. So, I naively thought that a well-known publication like “Modern Drummer Magazine” would be the ideal vehicle to awake drummers, as well as sound guys, percussionists and electric players to the fact that they crossed the volume line a long time ago, and that it is about time to do something about it. But for some reason said magazine refused to publish my article. Too bad.
“Paquito, ¡Nos hablas al alma de las innumerables victimas de esta fenomenologia! (you speak to the soul of the so many victims of this phenomenology!)”, wrote Colombian pianist Hector Martignon after reading a preview of my article.
I thought about this problem a million times, said Brasilian Trumpetist extraordinaire Claudio Roditi, while soprano Brenda Feliciano mentions on my FB page that “Many a vocalist has been a victim of this noise-volume syndrome. I’m just one of them”.
A few years ago, the legendary recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder, who made all those famous recordings for Impulse, Blue Note, CTI and Atlantic with Coltrane, Monk, Hubbard, Rollins, Miles, Lee Morgan and all those hip jazzmen of the 50’s and 60’s, had the guts to say to a journalist that ” Jazz pianists don’t want or don’t know how to get a decent sound on the piano”. And to a certain point, he was right.
Nowadays it is not easy to find jazz pianists with the elegant, delicate, yet swinging sound of Kenny Baron, Teddy Wilson, Makoto Ozone, Alex Brown, Renee Rosnes or Bill Evans. There is no doubt that some of the faults lie on the drummers that everyday play loud and louder, forcing the pianists to bang on the keys, to ask for more volume on their wedges and thus destroying the inherent acoustic character of the instrument. So I wonder if that was one of the reasons that Nat “King” Cole and Oscar Peterson many times didn’t use a drummer in their trios.
On the other hand, the only way to play in tune and blend on an ensemble is by listening to each other, but how in heaven can I listen and play in tune with the guy next to me if all I can hear around is guitar, bass, and drums acting like if on a gig with Grateful Dead or Metallica?!
With no need to mention names; the other day I went to listen to the supposedly “acoustic band’ of an unquestionably outstanding drummer, and when they started playing, the volume of the PA system for that tiny club was more than enough to be used at the Yankee stadium for amplifying “KISS.” But people in attendance didn’t seem to be bothered by that at all, so everyone took out their ear plugs and enjoyed until the last note of that set. Meaning that people are getting used to decibel abuse all around the world. And I ask myself if finally, we made them addicts to that deadly volume drug. Scary symptom isn’t it?!