Joanne Ruocco, Drummer furthermore Percussionist, interviewed by Alice Frances Wickham
Q: So, JoJo, let’s get started, when did you germinal jump drumming?
A: I was thirteen years old, I started with the Mercer Ellington orchestra, just after Duke Ellington died; it was a fundraiser for cancer awareness. I went up and did a drum solo, and later accompanied Ella Fitzgeraldon Satin Doll. Then I got a call out of the blue from the William Morris agency asking if I wanted to play alongside Chuck Berry at Hunter College, NYC. What? Is the Pope a catholic? Of course I wanted to play!
That night I met beside Chuck. It was phenomenal.The audience was terrific. We played a number of gigs together during my teen years. Back then, Beef had to do rhythm over tax evasion, and he was continually writing to my home address. Similarly that was verily quite precious. He was my guide, a mentor, giving mij words of advice from his prison cell! Warning me to pay my taxes! I still have those letters somewhere.
Q: Who else inspired you at that time?
A: Well, I studied with Joe Morello; he was with the Dave Brubeck band. Joe was starting to … as I say … really starting to go. He showed me some really intense stick work; this was while he was poem his book, ‘Master Studies.’ We just started exterior together, doing variations regarding syncopation patterns, playing between snare and bass drum, and keeping consistency on the right cymbal and hi-hat. So it was constant, versus variable technique, which is what a group of people consider to be linear. Back in the generation regarding bee-bop, that’s what they were doing naturally. If you pull out back even further, African drumming is picked up, it’s just everyone puts their own little header and name to it.
After Joe Morello, I began with Peter Erskine, concerning the band Weather Report. I was working in Orthodox Track Studios as a tape assistant, trying to understand engineering. Erskine came in, he was recording ‘Steps Ahead’, and I began studying with him.
Q: What was the most noted thing you learned?
A: First of all, drumming mannerism and posture from Pete, so gentle and controlled, plus the hi-hat, opening and closing eighth notes, whilst doing various syncopation rhythms with the right hand. Here’s this guy working with Weather Report who I admired, and he was so approachable. What I astute back then is that everything is possible in music, it doesn’t matter where you chance on from, your background. It shouldn’t matter if you’re from America, substitute whatever country, or if you’re rich or if you’re poor. The key element is conative and perseverance.
Q: And technically, as a stylist?
A: With Pete, I picked up sensational dotted eight plus sixteenth notes, variations of 5/4 and 7/4 time signatures, so that was really good, learning to apply odd time meters.
Q: What kind of music you would apply that to?
A: For instance ‘Birdland’. If you listen to that track from Weather Report, that’s really an excellent track plus varied meter changes. Or ‘Heavy Weather,’ that album is without a doubt, one of my favourite albums. I used it when I was working Robin Jones on Mr Gong.
Q: What mode of drumming is that?
A: Animation Fusion.
Q: Did that take you in a new direction?
A. Yes. Well, I went on to travail with Montego Joe, and subsequent I met up with Glenn Webber of the New Jersey School of Percussion, where Danny Gottleib, studied the drummer of Readily Metheny group. Glenn is one of my favourite drum and percussion teachers. Basically, I went through the full repertoire from Jazz, and went on from there, all the folkloric Afro-Cuban impact rhythms, Congas, Timbale, Bongos, Tabla drums and orchestrated percussion.
Q: Skin drumming is popular today, the Bodhran is gaining worldwide recognition, and the Congas are always in demand. What urge can you offer people who are starting on these drums?
A: Well with Congas for instance, it’s getting your tones, open, settled plus slap sounds. Then the folkloric rhythms like the guaguanco – are very sexual – or bolero, or tumbao, that’s basic.Q: What about timings?A: You’re looking at a variation of pulses and notes per bar, e.g 4/4, or half-time, and then you’re going to 6/8. It’s applying it, coming in besides out of different meters, and applying those techniques to commercial music; giving you that edge. With Glenn we started going over tabla drums, and for learning the vocal points, the vocabulary of tabla, it’s pivotal to understand that it’s a language. If you can say it, you can play it.
Q: Can you present an example of some drumming masters?
A: Yeah, Trilok Gurtu. Quite he would use the tabla drums. He plays it amazingly, he sits on his knees, you know, he can impish the kit on his knees, and bring in the tabla drums.Move To London
Q: I know you quit the diapason scene for a bit, when did you come back to drumming?
A: Well, what happened was, I was in New Jersey, married, settled down, and I got a call out about the glum to go hindmost out as drummer near an artist called Howard Carpendale who was signed to Polydor. It was a sell-out tour during Germany; usually a 55,000 seater. I had the percussion chair, then I had to do orchestrated percussion on timpani’s, tubular bells glockenspiel. So I booked Glenn for a 5 day crash course, and we went through everything.
Q: What’s everything? A: Well, you’re talking about different types of rolls, and staccato, variant ways of looking at drumming; Jewfish clef and gauges for timpani’s also treble clef for glockenspiel and tubular Bells. When I brought in the African drums it became a rock ensemble. So here I am, with a ten-piece Latin percussion cage around me. I had German timpani’s and a 48 inch diameter gong! One night, the musical director pissed me off, so I put all my anger into the mallet. When I hit the gong for emphasis it split in half!
Q: You tintinnabulation like Bruce Lee!
A. (Laughs) Can you believe? Everyone got a laugh out of it, and later the songful director and I became best of friends.
Q: That’s funny! So, to worth up, what would you say to somebody who wants to make it in the drumming world?
A: First thing you do, overhear to the philharmonic you like, and never underestimate your ear. And remember, jolt is anything that percusses, (is that a word?) so don’t stop at drums, experiment with everything, including keyboards! So to answer your question, I would inform play the harmony you love. Mere you have to then say, ‘okay, where do I want to go among this? What do I want to do?’ So, for example, do you want to become a jingle session player? Consequently you better brush up on chart reading. Do you dearth to be a pit drummer on a Broadway or West End show; again, it’s a union concerning eavesdrop ear, and sight-reading. I would recommend listening to your big band guys, a drummer like, Gene Krupa, ‘Sing, Sing, Sing,’ Max Roach, John Bonham from Led Zeppelin, listen to his snare drum, bass reiterate and his hi-hat variations, people fitting copy that and customary it in their reel tracks, hip hop, rap ampersand the rest of it. You know where those really cool rhythms came from? John Bonham! And of course John Bonham uses African rhythms. Q: Lovely, though you haven’t mentioned Charlie Watts.A: Charlie Watts is pretty cool. He always gives you the feeling that he’s always one hairline out, but he’s not. He gives you that sluggish riff, with illusory notes in his grooves, and that’s what subconsciously gets the listener. So he’s brilliant.
Q: And you’re writing a book out about your life?
A: Yeah, a very unique setting. My mother was in PR so she knew a lot of people, guys as Woody Allen, Roy Ayres, the Jazz instrumentalist, (who recently appeared at the Roundhouse in London), and various others. Mom was off the wall, but a lot of fun! I had to stimulus to be heard. In the end, I wanted to walk my own path. So, residual I ornate school, I took double suitcases including came over to England, I had a lot of determination. As soon as the wheels hit the pavement at Heathrow, – remember I had nowhere to go, nowhere to stay – I said, ‘I’m going to make this work.