SCI’s Jason Hann Tells Us His Top 10 Favorite Percussionists

first_imgWith The String Cheese Incident set to make their debut at the renowned Kings Theatre in Brooklyn, NY (tickets), we asked percussionist Jason Hann to give us a little taste of his musical influences. In turn, Hann wrote out a list of his ten favorite percussionists, spanning genres, eras, countries and more. No stranger to the rhythms of the road, Hann has been an integral part of Cheese’s iconic sound, and his work in EOTO, with Isaac Hayes an the legendary Brothers Johnson only furthers his love of percussion-based music. Read on for Jason Hann’s ten favorite percussionists, and be sure to enter the contest below to win tickets for their upcoming run at the Kings Theatre from August 13-14!Indigenous percussion instruments are a lifetime of study in order to incorporate the history and breadth of expression that these instruments can produce. A percussion instrument is really any object you can pick up, but many modern percussionists might take random sounds and play them in a way that fits into film scores, sound design, and avant guard music. I didn’t include any vibraphone or marimba artists in this list, as it’s so specific, melodically, I felt like I would have had to include piano players as well. My favorite part about percussion is that you can go to any region in the world and chances are, they have a unique percussive instrument that has a deep history to it. Many of these places are creating their own voice and bringing it to the rest of the world as they combine their rich heritage with modern forms of music. Not ranked in any order, and far from any complete list…Don Alias – he’s my favorite percussionist, if anyone needs a quick answer. I remember when I was first starting to pay attention to percussion on recordings, I would hear something and run to the album cover to look at the musician credits. Don Alias’ name would always come up. Such great parts and vibe on everything, and his interaction with the music while grooving always felt like the most musical for my taste. You can hear him on Jaco and Miles Davis recordings, and he also plays some of the grooviest drumset playing you’ll ever hear on Joni Mitchell’s “Shadows and Light” live recording. Check out Jaco Pastorius’ “Word of Mouth” recording to hear a great example of his playing. Giovanni Hidalgo – Puerto Rican percussionist taking conga technique to levels way beyond the original style of the instrument. But that’s what master drummers do. He learned to apply drum rudiments to the congas from José Luis Quintana (Changuito) – the famous and most innovative congero from Cuba – and has continued to add new techniques to his repertoire. Known for being on Mickey Hart’s Planet Drum recordings as well, but maybe introduced to most of the world while touring with Dizzy Gillespie.Zakir Hussain – virtuoso tabla player from India, the son of another legendary Indian percussionist, Alla Rakha. One thing about tabla players who play music for a living, there is already a stunning amount of technique and depth of rhythmic phrasing that you need just to accompany another classical player or dancer. To achieve a level of mastery and push beyond the language of the instrument is something Zakir has done. You can hear him on Diga Rhythm Band, Mickey Hart’s Planet Drum, and Shakti recordings. His work with Tabla Beat Science (Bill Laswell) puts tablas in a modern dub setting. Aloke Dutta is another tabla player that pushes tabla to new mastery levels. He only plays solo tabla as there was a time in the early 1900s when playing tabla in India was revered as a lead instrument of India, more so than the Sitar. Aloke is more known as the tabla teacher to amazing drummers like Terry Bozio (Frank Zappa) and Danny Carey of Tool. He has done some solo performances opening for Tool.Assane Thiam – the Tama drum is one of the lesser known percussion instruments in the West. It has lots of strings that attach 2 heads of a drum onto a body of a drum. It’s held under the armpit or by the drummer’s waste. The strings are squeezed with one arm to change the tension and pitch of the drumhead, while the other strikes the head with a curved stick, and imitates the language of the region that it is played. It’s more commonly known as a “talking drum”, though there are many styles of “talking drums” such as the larger, lower, melodic drums of Ghana and Nigeria that you would hear in music by such artists as King Sunny Ade. Assane Thiam plays the Tama “Talking Drum” in the style that they play in Senegal, Mali, and Gambia. It’s a smaller drum with amazing hi pitched articulation that can cut through the loudest of Sabar (traditional drums) drums of Senegal. Assane has released his own recordings which feature the Tama, but he can be mostly widely heard on the recordings of famous Senegalese singer, Youssou N’Dour. The clarity he displays on the Tama within a band or traditional setting is unparalleled for my ears. It’s like a musical guide for the drums to follow. Check out his solo recording “Li Tama Di Joy Wax La” if you can find it. I also got to see Tama player, Petit Madou, from Mali play a 30-minute solo tama party at the Festival in the Dessert in Mali, that had the whole Malian community dancing and singing with his every phrase. He plays with Habib Koite.Naná Vasconcelos -a true soundscape master of sonic expression from Brazil. When I think of his playing, I can see the story he’s telling. It’s always a story. He creates moods with sounds and takes me through the forests, along the rivers, sitting with the tribes. His main instrument is the Berimbau, which has a long stick connected to a gourd with wire and played with a smooth stone in one hand to control the pitch, while a smaller stick strikes the wire, and controls the resonating gourd by bringing it to the body to give it a “wah wah” effect. One of my favorite recordings he plays on is “As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls” by Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays. His “Africadeus” recording from 1973 is one of those “turn the lights out” recordings that you’ll want to spend time with.Airto Moreira – another Brazilian percussionist. Seems like Brazilian percussionists, in particular, have this sound quest that always goes beyond the drums that are featured in their indigenous or popular Carnival settings. Airto just swims in all of the instruments and sounds from the region – that includes the sounds of the Amazon rain forest. He’s combining his voice along with sounds, and instruments and always creates an entire percussion section on his own, whether he’s playing percussion or combining it with drumset. Everything he picks up is another expression played with fluidity or recklessness, depending on the moment he’s creating. All sounds are fair game: bird calls, shakers, tree branches, pandeiro, surdo, repinique, caixa. Having been with Miles Davis, Weather Report, and Chick Corea’s Return to Forever project, Airto is one of the most influential percussionists by far.Paulinho Da Costa – from Brazil, maybe the most recorded percussionist of all time. You probably hear him playing on something at some point in your day. He’s played on over 2000 albums and over 150 films. From films like Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park, to modern TV shows like American Horror Story. I remember before I was playing percussion, I would pick out his parts that would jump out on Michael Jackson’s debut “Off The Wall” recording. The way his percussion parts were arranged in that setting was sooooo deep for me. Lots of parts that just added to the groove and never got in the way of other parts. Just about every album I checked out the liner notes on, I would see his name. When I actually started playing percussion, I went back to all of those records and listened with a more sensitive ear to what he was doing. He’s also played on Miles Davis recordings, all of the Michael Jackson recordings, Madonna…really too many to list. All Music Guide has him with over 900 artists playing all styles of music.Kim Duk Soo – from Korea. At the age of five he was getting awards from the the Korean president for his performance of traditional drumming from Korea. If you haven’t seen Korean drumming it’s one of the most incredible visual and rhythmic treats. the drums are hourglass shaped Janggu, strapped in to be played horizontally with drum heads on each side, played with sticks. The technique crosses sticks across the drum, while the drummer moves their head in a circular pattern to note the breathing cycle that is their method of keeping time. You know that you’re inside of the music if your head pattern allows a 5-foot ribbon attached to your hat to do circular and figure 8 patterns while you play. All of this while dancing at the same time. This dance also involves all of the drummers whirling and doing flips while everything else is going on…and Kim Duk Soo single handily brought this traditional farmers music to the world stage. Shunned as “music of the farmers” and not considered valuable to cosmopolitan Korea, Kim Duk Soo made it so popular in Korea again through his group SamulNori, that colleges continue to have national competitions the way the US has Drum and Bugle Corps competition between elite marching bands. I was fortunate to go study in Korea with Kim Duk Soo in 2 different years and participate in his international drumming competition.Manolo Bedrena – from Puerto Rico. My dad was always playing Weather Report records when I was young. Badrena is on almost all of the different eras of that band. There’s so much about his playing that I love. The way he jumps into phrases, does a certain thing that seems to move the whole band to the next level. You can almost hear the band react to certain things that he does, and it feels right. I wasn’t sure if I was just making that up in my head but I got to see him with Joe Zawinul’s band in the mid 2000s and, watching his interaction with other musicians, it confirmed so many things that I pictured from listening to the recordings. He has such a creative way of having one hand in the world of congas, while his other hand plays timbales and bells at the same time, whether there’s a stick in his hand or not. Super musical at all times. In those settings with Zawinul, Weather Report, or Sixun where he can be creative with no rules on how a type of music is traditionally played, is some of my favorite playing.Djembe – Ha. I just wanted to list this as an instrument and list different players to look up. You can do a similar thing for any percussion instrument. You can follow recordings for the conga drum back to the 1930s and there were moments in American culture where percussionists like Tito Puente and Mongo Santamaria had an incredible influence on popular music in the US through the conga drum. It’s really in just the last 20 years that the djembe drum has spread to the rest of the world, with it’s largest impact in the US being mostly seen at drum circles, while the culture of serious study that supports it is much greater, but not as often seen. It seems like every 5 years, though, I hear another evolution of phrase and technique on the instrument. There weren’t many recordings to check out when I was younger. I would order from overseas music catalogs to get all of the Les Ballets Africans, Mamady Keita, and Famadou Konate recordings. Now, there’s a ridiculous amount of resources for hearing new djembe music coming out of that area of West Africa (Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Senegal) as well as hearing players that have moved to the US. Some of the players that have made me rethink what’s possible on the Djembe are Moussa Traore (Mali), Bassidi Koné (Mali), Sidiki Dembele (Ivory Coast) …so many more on the list. Weedie Braimah (US/Ghana) is part of the new generation that’s taking it to another level.I’d also like to address some players that play the smaller, middle eastern/North African, goblet shaped drums known by names such as Doumbek, Darbuka, Darabukkeh, Tombak and Tablah (not to be confused with the pair of drums from India called “tablas”). Hossam Ramzy might be one of the most well recorded of these artists, releasing many solo recordings of middle eastern percussion, as well as playing with Robert Plant during his exploration of Middle Eastern music. You can see these drums as usually the smaller and lighter drums at a drum circle that look like mini djembes, but the traditional/classical way of playing these instruments is as deep as any other instrument can get. The traditions of these instruments go back to 1100 BCE with a continued evolution by younger generations. The finger and snap techniques on these drums are so intricate in getting so much expression out of the drum. Check out artists such as BURHAN ÖÇAL (Darbuka), ‪Erdem Dalkiran (Darbuka), Misirli Ahmet (Darbuka), Mohammad Mortazavi (Tombek), and the young Servan Gider (Darbuka).Win two tickets to see The String Cheese Incident at Kings Theatre in Brooklyn, NY by entering the contest below!last_img read more