Dave Hassell - One of the UK's finest: Drummer/Latin Percussionist and Educators
AW – How and when did you first enter the music business, did you always aspire to become a drummer?
I was a late starter coming to drumming; leaving school at 15 years of age I got a job working for Manchester City Cleansing Department doing wages! Just by chance walking to work I past Barrett's Music shop on Oxford road, seeing a drum kit in the window (an Olympic) I decided that it might be fun playing drums! Returning home I informed my mother that I was going to buy a drum kit, to which she replied, ‘You can buy what you want as long as you pay for it!’ I didn’t come from a family that had money! That was the beginning! Up to that stage of my life the only thing that I had a passion for was football. It wasn’t long before I started taking drum lessons with Geoff Riley at Mamilok's Music Shop, Geoff was incredibly helpful and supportive, encouraging me to check out live music, Manchester at that time had a wonderful nightlife with musicians playing in many of the venues, within just under 3 years I had turned professional! Just before my 18th birthday (1965) and have never been out of work since, 53 years ago, I must have been doing something right.
AW – As well as many other drum teachers you had lessons with Max Abrams, what did you learn from Max also the late great Jim Blackley author of Syncopated Rolls what important lessons did you acquire from Jim?
Yes I did have several lessons with Max because I believed he was the ‘go to teacher’ how wrong can you be on reflection! Quite an intimidating person incredibly opinionated ‘but aren’t we all!’ fortunately that sort of stuff doesn’t bother me! The eureka moment for me was being introduced to Jim Blackley in New York he was everything that Max wasn’t! Inspiring, warm and inviting with amazing both playing and teaching skills, he became not only my mentor but a life-long friend, he even dedicated one of his books to me. What did I take from him? Musicality – Sound – Control, wonderful understanding of the hands, how to approach creativity and develop your own identity on the instrument but above all Humility and Patience. I should also say what great direction and teaching I received from Geoff Riley, he was the one that got me out gigging at the very beginning.
AW – Looking at the impressive list of artistes you have worked with, at what stage in your career did you decide to enter education, teaching and becoming an author of four very successful books? Talking of books how did the concept evolve and were you surprised by the enormous reaction from the drumming community?
I always had an interest in education/ teaching from the very beginning, returning from my studies with Jim Blackley I was asked to give lessons by quite a few drummers, it seemed the natural thing to do, I was also encouraged by a super piano player ‘Dennis Kelly’ he thought I had a natural leaning towards education; I worked with Dennis with many artist, he was a deep thinking person and I respected anything he said!
With regard to the writing of the books, I was approached by the associated aboard to present some material for their new grade system, Kevin Hathway had formed a new publishing company and he was prepared to finance the project, the rest is history, Graded Course For Drum Kit went on to sell tens of thousands of copes world wide and it’s still out there! I didn’t try to write a technique book I just wanted to put some everyday practical material out there focused around many different musical styles, written in such a way it represented the sort of parts I was coming in contact with on a daily bases, at the time I was also incredibly busy working in the studios recording every day. Strangely enough it was never taken up by the Associated Board, we couldn’t agree on how they were going to examine the material (long story) however, it was picked up by the Guildhall and inserted into their examinations, also Trinity started using some of the pieces, what we must realize at the time there were very few practical play along packages out there and the books were appreciated by many teachers and professionals. Latin Grooves was written a couple of years later, this also proved to be very successful, it was even used at Berkeley Music College Boston! (Coals to Newcastle)
I have always enjoyed committing my musical thoughts to paper and still have notes dating back to the mid-sixties! The last publication I produced was ‘Thoughts- Concepts – routines- Exercise’ which is a collection of many of my personal teaching notes, there are no page numbers, so you can just open it up anywhere and get involved, it’s not a book that you ever complete! I still have many more notes and exercises on the shelves ‘it’s a lifetime pursuit’
Answering the last part of your question ,’was I surprised by the enormous reaction from the drumming community?’
I try to teach in a practical useful way, offering simplistic answers, transparency and clarity, everything based around the needs of the individual and the music, rather than being sucked into the parallel world of just hitting drums with no regard to the music and the complexity that many people present in drum magazines and clinics
‘it’s all based on sound and communication’
AW – In your teachings do you specialize in any particular genre, do you mention the importance of notation and rudiments?
Teaching! What we must realize is that we need some degree of ‘playing skills’ we must be able express our thoughts and have the necessary facility to perform them ‘ artistry is not built on chance!’ acquiring these skills take a lifetime! With regard to style/genre this is something we acquire through the experiences of performance -style is not something we practice it something that acquire if we mix with the right people! Repertoire ‘song and rhythmic’ is something that is missed by many drummers, they generally don’t give it enough thought!
Notation, I think you mean; should we be able to read, my answer to that is an emphatic yes in this day and age if you want to be employable, however I think it’s more important to be able to interpret
the charts rather than just reading it exactly as written, but remember it’s more important to bring focused swinging time the proceedings, musicians will forgive reading errors, however, they will be less forgiving of bad time!
Rudiments! Dangerous subject, I could upset a lot of people! Yes, they are part of what we do, but it’s not just about playing them it’s how and where we play them!
‘Just a thought’ The African, Indian and Latin American continents don’t use ‘the standard 40 rudiments in their music’ yet they are arguably far rhythmically superior!
They are incredibly important if you are in a drum corps but if it’s kit you are playing we could say that coordination/ independence are the kit rudiments! 90% of drummers time issues are in the feet.
AW – It seems you are quite a legend in the teaching profession how do you think this came about, what do you think makes your teachings different from other teachers?
Never thought of myself as a legend! Ha Ha
I’ve had amazing success of the years, the list of former students, professionals and teacher is long!
All I have tried to do is get them to take responsibility for their own destiny! And play in a sensitive manner always supporting the music and not letting their ego get in the way of the performance.
You have to be serious about what you are doing, having said that I have students who have no desire to be a professional player and get an amazing amount of satisfaction from the lessons.
It’s been well documented in the past that I don’t tolerate fools lightly, if you are going to study with me it doesn’t matter whether you have amazing playing skills or whether you struggle with the certain things I just ask for commitment and you go away and work on your playing (Don’t come back and practice what you should have been working on during the week in your next lesson!!!!)
I’m very honest with the students we have to be able to address the good with the bad, ‘I’ll call it as I see and hear it’
Also we must be able to laugh at our-self and have a sense of humour ‘it’s only drumming’
AW – Whilst lecturing at college it seems a lot of emphasis is based around grades be it Rockschool, LCM etc; what are your thoughts on this?
Don’t use them and will never use them! They are for the establishment, in all my years as a teacher I have never taught the grades, been asked to assess too many students with GRADE 8 and they still don’t know why they are sat behind the instrument!!!!!!! Yes I think they are all flawed ‘ that should ruffle a few feathers!
Some people point to me that my books have been used in the ‘Grade’ system’ I never asked them to use them! That was their choice.
AW – As well as one of the UK’s top teacher’s you are also known for your teaching and playing of Latin, how did you first become interested in this genre?
A passion for the music, it’s as simple as that! It was never about learning Latin American drum beats! I find it a real problem among the drumming community, so many students just collect beats as if they are collecting ‘Top Trumps cards’ They know very little about how and where to use them within the music or even from where the originated from! You must listen and identify with the music!
AW – Who are some of the name drummers you have had the pleasure to teach?
Too many to name, without the fear of leaving some out! Lets just say they are all out there in the Film and Recording world, Touring network, West End, Commercial world, World music, Jazz and Teaching
I’ve had students coming from far and wide not just the UK – Europe, North America, Canada, Mexico South America Far East to name a few.
AW – At the Royal Northern College of Music you designed a course as part of the Popular Music Practice (Session Musician) Foundation Degree, how did this come about?
I didn’t design the course, other people were responsible for that in-particular Andy Stott I was just invited to teach on it, as I have been in the past and also presently at the Royal Academy Music London, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, I have also been associated with all the establishments with ‘Royal’ in their title plus numerous Universities.
AW – Who were the drummer’s and teachers you draw inspiration from any particular favourites?
There are so many:
Jazz Players: Jo Jone, Gene Krupa, Shelly Manne, Mel Lewis, Elvin Jones, Tony Williams,
Paul Motion, Roy Haynes, Jake Hanna - Brian Blade it’s endless
Rock - Groove – Funk
Sandy Nelson – Hal Blaine - Earl Palmer – Levon Helm – Herlin Riley – Idris Muhammad
Jim Black - Fred Below - Steve Gadd
Airto – Tito Puente – Manola Badrena – Chanquito – Paulinho Da Costa –
Tony Allen – Brice Wassey – Paco Sery
Billy Gladestone – Buster Bailey - Murray Spivak – Sanford Moeller
Geoff Riley – Jim Blackley – Tony Oxley - Manikrao Popatkar
AW – Finally what words of wisdom would you wish to pass on to the next generation of drummers?
Passion - Spirit – Dedication
Pursue your dreams, respect other human beings, commitment without expectation!
Engage in the musical community, get out and listen as much as possible.
Jo Jones quote ‘if you learn to listen you’ll have the best seat in the house’
Finally just to conclude, many people think I just teach, I would like to make it clear to them that I’m still very active on the playing/performance scene I’m out several time a week gigging and recording, working in many diverse musical situations such as Stevie Williams and the Most Wanted Band, Tom Dib, Lauren Housley and Mark Lewis, Andy Scott Duo, Munch Manship Quartet, Apitos, Hydra, DH Brazilian Project , dh Latin Project, Nick Svarc, Bob Gill Quartet plus many more. I believe my teaching benefits greatly from performance and being involved with much younger musicians than myself, I work with some fine players, too many to start naming, I’m also currently teaching at the RNCM, RAM and RCS and privately ‘I have a superb studio built by Chris Wharton at my home”
I love what I do and hope to continue with the energy, spirit and passion that was given to me for many more years to come.
‘Anything is possible you just have to have the will, trust and passion and be optimistic about the future and try to fulfil your dreams.’