“It would have been a dream come true in duet with MAX ROACH”
Recently we caught up with one of the best drummers of the modern jazz era, Tomas Fujiwaraa man who, along with a few precious others, brings the heart and soul of thunderous jazz drumming to life in the hallowed image of greats like Max Gardon, Elvin Jonesand Jimmy Cobb.
Among others, Thomas and contributor, Andrew Dalyto land Tomas’s introduction to the drums, his early career on the jazz scene, the formation of the Triple Double Sextetthe group’s new music in the form of a new single, “Pack your bags, I’m coming for you” and a new album, “March,” Tomas’s lasting love for the game of Max GardonAnd much more.
If you want to know more about Tomas Fujiwaraand his many musical pursuits, be sure to check out his webpage and social media to follow his latest whereabouts.
Tomas, as a young musician, what first attracted you to drums?
Growing up in the Cambridge (Massachusetts) public school system – please support public school arts programs! — I had the chance to hear the great drummer and teacher, Keith Gibson, performing a snare drum demonstration at a school assembly during my sophomore year. I was immediately captivated and curious about the sounds it produced and wanted to learn how to do just that. Also, around the same time in my life, while leafing through a crate of my mother’s records, I came across “Rich vs. Roach” with its superb cover photo of Max Gardon and rich buddy seated at their drums in playful dueling poses. I put the record on and was hypnotized by At Max Roach playing, especially his solo hi-hat breaks.
What were some of your first gigs where you cut your teeth, so to speak?
I had the good fortune to be part of the Cambridge Ring and Latin High School Jazz Ensemble under the direction of Robert Ponte at a time when a number of other students in the group were very serious about music. Bob was very proactive in finding performance opportunities for us, even taking us to the UK for a tour, and so we were able to learn a lot about bandstand, through performance, trial and error , etc Moving to New York at the age of seventeen, I was immediately able to experience a number of performance opportunities, with peers and elders, which greatly accelerated my learning process. Getting to listen, learn and play with a number of the great musical heroes and innovators that I love so much, and being inspired by them has been an invaluable experience.
Explain to us the formation of the Triple Double Sextet.
I had done a few gigs and a recording with a new trio of mine with Ralph Alessi and Brandon Seabrook and I wanted to continue that, while expanding the set to accommodate some of the new music that I was writing. I knew I wanted to include Taylor Ho Bynum and Marie Halvorson— the two musicians I’ve worked with the most over the past twenty years – in my new band. I always loved Gerald Cleaver play and I had been thinking for a while about a situation where we could play together. Triple Double was born more from a desire to work with these great artists and friends, and less from a preconceived idea of double trio, triple duo, etc.
Let’s talk about recent events. Tell us about your new single, “Pack Up, Coming For You”.
“Pack your bags, pick you up” is the first song of The triple doubles second album, “March,” which will be published on March 4, 2022. In some ways, this is the clearest representation of one of the concepts I use when writing for the band, which is two distinct brass/guitar/drums trios mirroring each other at times l each other and joining at other times in a double trio.
From a songwriting perspective, how have you evolved so far? What has changed since your youth?
When you’re there every day, it’s hard to see and notice specific changes about yourself. It all happens pretty gradually, as you learn more, experience more, but it can be hard for me to name specific differences about myself, my writing, my playing, etc. from one period to another. One thing I will say, which may be a common thing for a lot of people, is that I’m much more comfortable with a less is more approach to writing, and with allowing and doing trust the musicians I play with to interpret my compositions and put their own personal point of view on things now than maybe I was in the past. When you’re younger, you often feel like you want to prove that you know how to compose, that making sure everything happens a certain way shows that you know what you’re doing, especially as a drummer. , for drummers are, in general, the most despised instrumentalists in matters of composition. But over time, I care less and less and I feel less and less the need to control the process, and I trust that what I’m writing is good enough, and I trust that the musicians with whom I choose to play will do great things with my compositions.
Did you self-produce “March” or did you call on outside voices?
In a way, although it may seem a bit contradictory, both. I make the final decisions on how things go with the album, but I also feel like it’s very collaborative in a lot of ways. I want the five other musicians to be creatively free to play as they wish, to interpret the compositions and above all to improvise without restriction. Nick Lloydrunning Files of fire station 12, also engineered, mixed and mastered the album, and I feel like in many ways he was the seventh member of the band, adding a lot of detail and clarity to the music. We communicated a lot throughout the process, and I feel like his connection and involvement with the music is really part of what this album is about.
Family, friends, conversation, humor, other people’s music, books, movies, dance, food, travel, basketball, fashion, photography. I’m sure it all influences my music, but it’s mostly in subtle ways that I probably can’t even get my bearings. I like to dedicate songs to important people in my life, whether I know them, know them, don’t know them, or never knew them personally, and I’m also a pretty visual songwriter in the sense that I’ll often think of write a soundtrack loosely based on personal experience.
What type of equipment do you use in the studio versus live?
Most of the studios I record at have nice drums, so I usually use something they have there. On tour I have a drummer that the venue hopefully follows or at least references in order to get something decent that I feel comfortable playing. For the most part there are no real problems, although once in a while you have something nasty to play, so I do my best and try to use it as a creative challenge. I usually record and travel with my own cymbals, and change them up a bit depending on the music I’m playing. I often tell my students that one of the skills that is important to develop as a drummer is a certain ability/comfort level playing different instruments and setups.
If you could have a drum battle with any artist, past or present, who would it be and why?
It’s a very long list, but I know it’s a backhanded answer. My two biggest drumming influences are my teacher and my mentor, Alan Dawsonand my first drum hero/inspiration, Max Gardon. I had the chance to study with Alain for eight years, during which time we played as a duo (him on vibraphone, me on drums) at the end of most classes. In addition, we played together on practice pads, for example, his “Rudimentary Ritual” or sight-read percussion duets. It would have been a dream come true to do a duet with Max Gardon.
The last. What’s next on your record? What are you most looking forward to in the post-COVID world?
My favorite thing to do as a musician is to play live, in front of an audience. I hope to have more and more opportunities to do so, and I look forward to whatever lies ahead. I have a four night residency at Stone in Manhattan from From March 2 to 5, including a CD release concert with Triple Double March fourth. We will also be traveling to Geneva, Switzerland later this month for a concert at AMR-Festival. The collective trio, wing screws (with Mary Halvorson and Michael Formanek), celebrates its tenth anniversary in 2022 with a fall release (our seventh), performances and tours in North America and Europe. I also write new music for my Trio of 7 poets (with Patricia Brenan and Tomeka Reid), and an order for a new set of mine. Also, I work with ensembles led by Mary Halvorson, Tomeka Reid, Matana Roberts, Amir El Saffar, Adam O’Farrilland other great people/artists.