“Drumming is a beautiful art,” says Steve White. “It’s a passion, it’s a religion, it’s fun. It’s all of those things and more and I’m delighted to have been part of such a wonderful celebration of the art of the drummer.”
The celebration in question is The Art Of Drumming, a series of four one-hour documentaries narrated by White and directed by Chris Wilson, which is currently airing on Fridays at 9pm on Sky Arts in the UK.
Wilson is no stranger to music filmmaking, with past works including Hotel California: LA From The Byrds To The Eagles and Do It Yourself: The Story of Rough Trade Records, but he faced a unique challenge in making a series about drumming – what do you leave out?
“We made a couple of decisions to try to make it manageable,” says Wilson. “One of which was we decided to do a series about what I call rock ’n’ roll drumming and not to get too far into jazz other than when it specifically informed the rock ’n’ roll story. There’s a brilliant series to be made about jazz drummers but we just didn’t have the time to go into it.”
The team assembled an amazing cast of more than 30 drummers to share their insights including Ginger Baker, Steve Gadd, Thomas Lang, Dave Lombardo, Hal Blaine, Bernard Purdie and Dave Weckl, plus the final interview ever with the late Jabo Starks.
Alongside established stars, the series includes younger players like Savages’ Fay Milton, Soulwax and MIA drummer Victoria Smith, and YouTube star Sina because, as White says, “We didn’t want it to all be about middle-aged guys. We wanted to have some fantastic drummers from different genres and as many different voices as possible.”
Each film has a particular focus. The Beat Goes On looks at the grooves – the backbeat, the clave, and the transition from swing to straight time and back again. The Music Of The Drums puts the spotlight on the players who treat the drum set like an orchestra, with Bill Ward explaining his unique approach with Black Sabbath.
What Kind Of Drummer Are You? – ‘loud’ is Chad Smith’s answer – looks at the legendary showmen as well as the great unsung session legends. And, finally, the series concludes with 20 Drummers’ Drummers, profiling the players that have been picked out by the contributors as some of the most inspiring and influential in the business.
“I wanted to make a series that dug into, ‘What do you actually do?’” says Wilson. “‘Why does it affect me the way that it does? What is it that you actually do that makes the music that I listen to so powerful?’ All the people we spoke to and demanded time of were incredibly generous, incredibly knowledgeable and incredibly articulate...”
“And passionate,” adds White. “That’s the thing that came through with everybody, passion for the instrument.”
The Art of Drumming is currently airing on Sky Arts in the UK.