Lefty Lateano the One-Armed Bandit

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Me and Vince at the Monterey Jazz Summer Camp, June 22, 2016


Vince Lateano came over to my studio a few days ago. Vince is “the man” on the San Francisco jazz scene. He’s played big band, small band, with Cal Tjader, and many, many more.

He’s a great friends with Mike Clark, and Mike hooked us up for an interview for my book Give The Drummers Some! Mike credits Vince as a major influence, and since I moved out here to California Vince and I have become great friends.

When he was at my studio he told me a story about what happened when his right arm stopped working several years ago, some kind of nerve problem. Too much playing? They never actually found the cause. It did eventually get better after 6 months, but meanwhile, what was he going to do?

A friend suggested he play with one hand. What? At first he thought that was a pretty crazy idea, but then, what else was he going to do? Sit around the house?

So he tried it, using only his left hand, (and both feet, of course). He boiled it down to playing only the most essential things on the drum set, depending on the music - ride cymbal with left hand for jazz, bass drum and snare drum for 8th note grooves, etc.

This got me thinking and I decided to try it. Very interesting. I constructed solo phrases with my right hand, hi-hat and bass drum only. I found that it really slowed down the entire process. Since it was totally new I had to think first before I played. I had to think - What am I going to do?, and then try to execute it.

This process of thinking first and executing afterwards is exactly what I want to do when I’m playing with two hands, but lots of times I just speed on and rely on chops to make some kind of statement which usually gets messed up in the execution because:

1) I’m not taking time to think what I’m going to play a split second before I play it,

2) I let my chops run away with me. Okay, this is fast so I guess it’ll sound cool, even though I really don’t know what it’s going to sound like.

3) I don’t leave any space. Space? No, you’ve got to fill that up. That’s what drummers do, right? Hey, they don’t give us much space anyway.

NO. That’s not how you make music.

You make music by thinking of a solo phrase, or at least the beginning of a 2 or 4 bar phrase and then executing it. You can then vary it or put it through some permutations to extend it, which is relatively easy once you get the first idea. And that idea can come from anywhere, even from a mistake. Just some simple melody. Then work with it. Melody is the key word, not just a bunch of 32nd notes on the snare.

And the more I relax and let it happen, the more original ideas come up. I just sit there and watch and nudge it here and there and I really feel my solos are on another level.

Thanks to Lefty Lateano the One-Armed Bandit.