Drums on Bass with Ian Froman

Ian Froman talks about drums, influences, and most importantly bass players in this exclusive interview with Active Bass member Chris Trinidad.
Chris Trinidad: What influenced you to play the drums and not any other instrument?

Ian: I originally played piano for a few years, but was really drawn to the drums at a very early age. I saw a jazz band when I was in grade school and the drummer really made an impression on me. My cousin later bought a snare drum and I got it after he tired of it. At 13 years of age, I purchased my first drumset.

CT: Who would you consider to be your primary influences on the drums? And of these players, how has their playing influenced your approach?

Ian: I first heard Steve Gadd and knew that the drums were something special. His time feel and the way he played the tune were really unique. Then Jack DeJohnette became a major influence and still remains one ...... I like the way he phrases and plays with the rhythm, both during the melody and solos.

CT: You have also been fortunate to have studied with Elvin Jones. How has studying with him affected your playing and what are some of the things that you have picked while studying with him?

Ian: Studying with Elvin was truly a treat, something that I would like to do now! I was always into his playing, so being in a room with him and talking about 'Trane and that style of drumming allowed me to check out the style from the source. The lessons were very conceptual and I have really taken that approach to my own private teaching.

CT: You have mentioned before that you did not wish to play with the hi-hat on two and four and the standard 'ding ding a ding' ride pattern? What made you arrive at this decision?

Ian: I never wanted to be restricted by any repeated pattern. I think that true creative improvisation needs to be a continuous flow of rhythmic ideas and playing something over and over again, does not allow that to happen. The ride cymbal can give you pulse but can also begin the phrasing process and play specific rhythms. As far as the hi-hat is concerned, I really like to use the hi-hat as a phrasing voice, not just something that repeats an ostinato thus removing it from rhythmic improv.

CT: To get to the point where one is able to phrase freely requires quite a bit of independence. How do you feel one would best achieve this? Sequential learning and using texts? Playing along to records?

Ian: I think that to gain independence and coordination on the drumset you must do a variety of existing exercises that most drummers have done: stick control and syncopation (as applied to the set). You have to learn to coordinate a number of rhythms, specifically quarters and eighths against the ride pattern. Playing along with records is cool but does not promote this independence work.

CT: What are your thoughts on playing traditional bebop with an acoustic bassist? Do you have a preference on working with acoustic or electric players?

Ian: I much prefer playing traditional bebop with acoustic bass. The sound and the attack is better suited for that music, but there are many great electric bassists today who know how to walk correctly and play great jazz! I think that I just need to play with a very good bassist regardless of it being acoustic or electric.

CT: Would you feel then, that the traditional role of the timekeeper would fall to the bassist? Or do you think that time is implied through the interaction of the players?

Ian: The time keeper of the band is the drummer. Nobody can dictate tempo like the drums. The nature of the instrument is so strong that the drummer really leads with regard to tempo and dynamics too.

CT: Certainly there have been situations when you get called to play with a bassist you haven't played with before. What kind of things do you look out for? What kind of things do you expect?

Ian: The first thing that I notice is time feel. I want to know where the beats lies. Is it behind, in the middle or on top? I want to get a rapport going fast so we can hook up and play well together.

CT: Bassists have often signed up for lessons with you, what kind of things can bassists expect in a lesson?

Ian: Pretty much the same thing that I did with Chris. Playing tunes and making it really swing. The feel is probably the most important thing that a bass player can study with a drummer.

CT: The tale of you and Metalwood's Chris Tarry hooking up is worthy of a folk song... How about telling your side of the story?

Ian: Well, Chris had a friend who was studying with me ..... Johnny Rabb.

To make a long story short, Chris started playing in my office and I began giving him tips about the bass and drum relationship (same as I had done with other bassists including Matt Garrison).

When Chris moved back to Canada and wanted to record a CD, he called and I flew to Vancouver to play. We had such a great time, that after the CD came out, he wanted to tour and I was free at that time.

The first two years of playing trio with Chris and Steve Fisk were the building blocks for a really strong relationship both musically and professionally.

We have been on the road so many times, playing so many gigs and hooking up so well that our relationship has grown into something very special. The musical feeling is very natural and comfortable - however, we have continued to grow and expand our stuff together!

CT: What intrigued you to work with Chris at Berklee? And at that, Chris is primarily an electric player within a jazz context. How do you feel about the electric bass in an acoustic jazz context?

Ian: I just had a good feeling about Chris, he was a nice guy asking intelligent questions and a real desire to learn. I enjoyed helping out musicians and showing them info that was passed on to me from other great players. If an electric bassist can walk correctly and play strong notes on strong beats, not rush or drag, then I generally enjoy playing with him or her.

CT: What kind of things would you be working on with Chris while at Berklee?

Ian: We worked mostly on swing time. Placing the right note (harmonically) on the right beat, then feel, and having the "swing time feel" feeling really good and swinging. We played open changes, blues, rhythm changes and different tunes to get the real jazz feel going.

CT: When you first started working with Metalwood, how did you want to approach the music that was being presented to you?

Ian: Groove music with no swing. But the thing is to make it loose and open. No slick fusion beats and all that rigid stuff. I did not want to play repeated patterns and have to stick to it - I wanted to improvise in a groove setting.

CT: You have worked with some very cool people. I'll name them, and then you tell me something about them that you've picked up and have been able to incorporate into your music.

Ian: Dave Liebman - Hard core! Right to the point! Play consistent and well - Focus.
Gary Burton - Extremely professional and a great musician.
Tommy Smith - Strong sax man. He allowed me to initiate drum parts for the music.
Ahmad Mansour - Great conceptual approach. Loose and open.
Chuck Burrows - He taught basics and fundamental of jazz drumming. Very thorough.
Joe Hunt - A very conceptual approach to teaching and learning.
Bob Kaufman - Elvin and more Elvin!
Mick Goodrick - Understated master musician. He can really set up a vibe.
Ben Monder - A wonderful stylist. He can really take the music somewhere.

CT: Who do you listen to these days and are there any players, drummers or otherwise that you find are innovating and pushing the envelope?

Ian: I listen to pretty much everything that is out there. I like a lot of styles and genres and really appreciate what different players are doing. many of my friends are great musicians that I see on a regular basis. And I enjoy hearing them create new music.

CT: Any plans on recording or leading your own project? If so, who would you like to have play on it?

Ian: At this point of my life I am still very interested in being the perfect interpreter of other peoples' original music. I love being a sideman with a lot of freedom to express myself

CT: Desert island discs. Name some of your all time favourite recordings.

Ian: John Coltrane - A Love Supreme
John Coltrane - Transition
Jan Garbarek - Paths, Prints
Keith Jarrett - My Song
Keith Jarrett Trio - Still Live
Miles Davis - Four and More
Miles Davis - Miles Smiles
Mick Nock - Ondas

CT: Any final thoughts on music, life, bass playing, drumming that you wish to share with ActiveBass community?

Ian: Being a musician is an extremely rewarding way of life. To be able to do something that I love, every single day, is really a treat. I am lucky to experience this unique and alternative lifestyle. Have fun!!!