Joe Farnsworth is already regarded as one of the top jazz drummers in the world.
But as far as he is concerned, he is just getting started. He is dedicated to the great tradition of jazz drumming as conceived by men like Max Roach, Roy Haynes, Elvin Jones, Billy Higgins and Arthur Taylor.
You're considered one of the world's best jazz drummers; how does that praise sit with you?
Well, I never knew I was considered one of the worlds best drummers! It's nice to know that I have a few people around the world that appreciate my style of drumming. I am very grateful to be playing jazz drums.
To be a part of the drum family; people like Papa Jo Jones, Sonny Payne, Max Roach, Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones, Roy Haynes, Billy Higgins, my teachers Art Taylor and Alan Dawson. Those guys are great. All I want to do is to be able to play well enough to pass on to younger players what those giants gave to me. Those guys are great. I'm still trying.
Was there a moment, event when you were a child that you knew a life behind drum kits was going to be your career?
When I was young, I played along to many records. Buddy Rich. Count Basie (with Sonny Payne). Maynard Ferguson. Then Miles Davis with Tony Williams. That changed my drumming life. I never, ever thought about a career in music. And I never thought about a life without music.
Playing jazz is a party for me. Happy, joyous and free. There is no better feeling than swinging and in a club full of people.
You're headed to Australia for several live shows as well as a couple of drum workshops… what can people expect?
I have been doing more workshops in the last few years. And I have developed a little concept that involves three parts. A. Jazz language. Learning tunes. Art Taylor told me to learn Bud Powell's music. That's jazz language. Phrasing: How to swing on the drums like Bud and Charlie Parker. B. Time. How to play the ride cymbal. How to play good solid time. Everything is meaningless if you have bad time. Slow. Medium fast. It don't mean a thing! C. Rudiments. Hands. Sound. To have the ability to execute what you are hearing. Everybody wants to see what kind of hands you got.
Your Quartet played an east-coast tour of Australia last year; how was that experience?
Incredible. Amazing. And I'm not just saying that. Every single gig was more crowded than we thought. The reaction to the group was way more enthusiastic than any other place I have even been. Everything was beyond what we thought it would be. Brendan (Clarke, JMI Live teacher/ bassist) and I thought we were living a dream. It was one of the most exciting tours ever.
You're playing more shows this time; can we expect you to become a regular visitor of Australia?
I love Australia. And I love the people there. Especially the musicians. I love Brendan. I love my Chicago friend John Harkins. And I love Dale Barlow. I want to be like him one day. I would love to be here every year. Twice a year, so I can bring my family also. They want to see kangaroos and the outback.
For those folks unacquainted with jazz or only have stale stereotypes as an understanding of the genre, why is jazz music still relevant in the 21st Century?
Jazz is relevant today because of the artists who play jazz at a high level are making sure it stays relevant. This is soul music. This is spiritual music. This is very, very intelligent music.
Jazz is a gift from above that was given to us musicians to pass along to the audience. To make you feel good. To make you tap your foot, put a smile on your face. To dance. To wash away the dust of everyday life. There is nothing stale about Miles Davis. Louis Armstrong. Count Basie. McCoy Tyner. Ahmad Jamal. Jimmy Cobb. Louis Hayes. The level has been set at a extremely high level. What's more fun than to go out and see if the musicians are reaching for that.
Who are a couple of contemporary jazz artists that you admire?
I admire many, many people. Eric Alexander. Abraham Burton. Gerald Cannon. John Webber. Nat Reeves. Wynton Marsalis. Jeremy Pelt. And of course, Kenny Washington who I admire a tremendous amount. Lewis Nash. Jeff Watts. Andrew Dickinson. And of course, Dale Barlow. Brendan Clarke and John Harkins.
Can you tell us a story or two from your days at NYC jazz club Augie's?
Wow. So many stories about Augie's. Because I started playing there every weekend, one of the first things I did was hire the great Jr. Cook. He made the gig instantly credible. He made the bandstand a real bandstand. He put a focus on the music that was often surrounded by the chaos of club. Because of him other greats started to stop by. Art Taylor, Donald Byrd, Joe Harris.
One New Year's Eve, I made the most of the gig and stayed up until 10am. This was Friday night at Auguries. Well I wasn't feeling so well for Saturday night's gig, but felt that everybody else was partied out and nobody would be there. As I am walking into the gig with a giant headache, who is sitting in the front row with a suite and tie on, ready to hear some music, but MAX ROACH. My heart sunk. I said to myself 'well you always wanted to be a jazz musician. Here it is! Welcome to NYC.'
The great memory was playing there for two years with Jr Cook and Cecil Payne. Jr never made the first set, so we would play quartet with Cecil and he would play only Bird and Tadd Dameron tunes. I loved those first sets. Then Jr would walk in with every horn imaginable (I don't know why as he only played tenor on the gig) and say he was going to call the fire dept as the club was packed. And we would proceed onto the second set with no break.
That second set with Jr was incredible. That first set with Cecil was a life lesson.
You have recorded with a who's who of jazz greats; is there a recording or collaboration that stands out?
A few records. One I made with Pharaoh Sanders in Japan. Wynton Marsalis 'House Of Tribe. Eric Alexander's 'Second impression'. It was Bob Cranshaw's last date. My record I did with Cedar Walton called 'Beautiful Friendship. Me and him on the cover. How great is that? Harold Mabern Trio with Dwayne Burno. Two of my favourite people. And of course the one for all guys and Dave Hazeltine Trio. Also Mike Ledonne Trio with Ron Carter. Very special.
What's your advice for anyone who wants to pick up the sticks and become a drummer?
Listen to all the greats. Practice your rudiments. Use your feet! And always swing hard. Get your own gigs and always dress nice. Nothing worse then going to see a jazz group and they are wearing jeans and look like the bartender. That's stale!
Joe Farnsworth Shows5-6 May - Foundry 616
Sun 7 May - The Street Theatre (Canberra)
Tue 9 May - Sydney Conservatorium Of Music (drum clinic)
11-13 May - Bird's Basement (Melbourne)
Tue 16 May - The Grand Hotel (Newcastle)
Wed 17 May - JMI Live (Brisbane, drum clinic)
Thu 18 May - JMI Live (Brisbane)
Sat 20 May - Mullumbimby Ex-Services Club
Sun 21 May - The Tatts Hotel (Lismore)