(This is a series of letters back and forth between Eric Wallack, me, and Hyam Sosnow. Editing something like this so that it is readable and not repetitive can be difficult. In this case, I 've done sections in different ways, all explained below. Remarks in parentheses and italics were not part of the original correspondence but were things I felt were necessary/desirable to add.)
(One more thing: my putting this up on the site could seem somewhat self-congratulatory and I did not want to do so without at least saying a few words about Eric. Basically, if you haven't heard him, you're missing out one of the most talented musicians I've ever had the good fortune to come across, much less work with. For a moment, let's forget the fact that he's brilliant on a huge array of instruments. Let's just talk about acoustic guitar. I feel Eric has developed what amounts to his own language on it, his own vocabulary. It is a fully unique, intensely musical style, made from elements you might not expect, in combinations that surprise, enrich and astound. I think he has taken the range of what is commonly thought possible on the instrument and blown it to pieces. Guitarists trying to follow him into this new territory have got their work cut out for them, and most will fail, lacking his vision. He's that good.)
EW TO GS, 11/21/02:
I was talking with another musician friend about earliest musical inspiration - especially regarding instrument choice(s).
What was the first music you heard that made you say to yourself, ""this is IT - I MUST do this..."?
Who was the musician you were FIRST inspired by to play the drums? The guitar? Other?
In terms of your songwriting, what songwriter(s) were your FIRST influence - your then "high water mark"?
Who was the first improviser you were inspired by?
In my case, some of my answers to these questions are pretty funny (if not a bit embarrassing):
1. Music that first inspired me to be a musician: My dad's folk (Fahey) records
2. Musician who FIRST inspired me to play guitar: Ace Frehley (I told you...)
"" "" "" "" "" "" bass: Charles Mingus
"" "" "" "" "" trumpet: Don Cherry
"" "" "" "" "" piano: Keith Jarrett
3. FIRST Influential songwriter(s): The Beatles
4. FIRST improviser I was aware of and inspired by: Jimi Hendrix
It's probably good, now and again, to remind ourselves where we come from and how far we've come.
GS TO EW 11/21/03:
> What was the first music you heard that made you say to yourself, ""this is IT - I MUST do this..."?
Didn't quite work that way for me. I originally had no intention of being a musician. Didn't think I had any musical talent. It was extra-musical things that got me into music. However, I really loved music- a lot of different types before I started playing- and it was essential in my life. So I had a lot to pull from when I finally started.
> Who was the musician you were FIRST inspired by to play the drums? The guitar? Other?
Drums: probably Bruford.
guitar: probably Fripp
bass: probably Wetton
keys: Vincent Crane (never did get very far with this one, I'm a pretty wretched keyboardist)
vocals: Arthur Brown, John Wetton, Greg Lake
Because of the nature of my getting into music, most of these are either "probably"s or "immediately after-the-fact"s. As I was getting into it, I thought, "All right, I'm doing this, who can I draw inspiration from?" rather than saying "Wow, I love what they're doing, I have to make music so I can do that". (Although I did air-drum to Bruford before I really decided to take up an instrument. Ron Bushy too, for that matter, and much earlier.)
One of the things I've been meaning to do for my site is a list of people who influenced me, and how they influenced me. It will be a pretty long list.
> In terms of your songwriting, what songwriter(s) were your FIRST influence - your then "high water mark"?
Probably Beatles and Crimson (multiple writers).
> Who was the first improviser you were inspired by?
The first time I really understood what improvising was, my brother (M. Segal) pointed out to me that "Providence" on Red was being made up on the spot (we were listening to it at the time). I then asked him who else improvised on record and the list he gave astounded me, I hadn't really thought of them that way before even though I'd been listening to them for years. (Cream, Hendrix, etc.) Bear in mind I'd been going with him to jams for years too. I just never thought people put too much of that on record. Once I realized what was going on, I started going out of my way to look for it and study how it was done (by listening to records, of course). So there's a few ways I could answer this. The first improviser I was inspired by would have to be M. Segal. After that '73-'74 era Crimson, and then I went back and re-listened to things I'd been absorbing very heavily for years (especially Cream and Hendrix).
I found some of your answers surprising- never would have taken you for an Ace Frehley fan, for example (but we all start somewhere- I've hung on to most of that, myself). Very cool stuff.
(For this next section, I've merged my responses with the full text of Eric's letter, to avoid repeating the questions. For those unfamiliar with the convention, the text following the > symbol is Eric's [the text I'm replying to]. )
GS TO EW, 2/17/03:
> Questions about drummers:
GS: Some interesting questions. You should be an interviewer!
> I've always listened very carefully to drummers, and I know you have too -being a drummer yourself.
Yeah, definitely. I did even before I was a drummer, I love the instrument.
>In comparing your guitar playing with Hyam in Jugalbandi and your brother in Paper Bag, I've noticed a couple of things (realizing, of course, that they are both VERY different types of drummers):
> 1. With your brother there is a sense that you are either trying to stay out of each other's way or you're trying to intentionally GET in each other's way -there seems to be a calculated (and artistically important) tension between you both within the band.
Mark and I have a complementary sense of rhythm. I first learned rhythm by playing off of him, long before I played any actual instrument. He would keep a beat and then have me put something around it, by clapping or tapping on a table or something, and then we would switch roles. So my rhythmic concept, especially working with him, is to work around him. And usually he does the same with me. The clashing you hear was us trying and occassionally succeeding to do brash unison punches. Of course when you're doing it unrehearsed, they aren't always going to be tight. But usually, however it worked out it was a pretty exciting sound. Sometimes we were trying to do a call and response kind of thing, like a dialogue. Mark's playing has a dramatic quality to it, it's almost like the rising and falling dynamics and punctuation of a Gospel preacher or Hitler baiting a crowd or something. That quality is almost never absent from his playing, particularly when he's improvising. And I enjoy those qualities too, I definitely share that sensibility as part of what I do, but I think I do it a little less. Sometimes we were both trying to push the frantic energy of a piece simultaneously. There was a forcefulness about the way we played together, an edge, that I've never had with anyone else.
> Plus, Mark and George are a most unconventional rhythm section! I'm reminded of how Fripp was nearly independent of Bruford and Wetton onstage -physically and musically - part of the late 70's Crimso brilliance.
That's interesting. I think, as in Fripp's case, this was often out of necessity because the other guys weren't listening, had a hard time hearing, or were just struggling to follow- as we all were. We set ourselves a pretty big task and what you hear is the net result of how everyone tried to meet that.
>What was the reason for not using his full name on projects - always "M. Segal"?
He thought there were too many Mark Segals out there and didn't want to get confused with any of them. There was even a guy in his high school with the same exact first, last and middle name. So he thought just using his initial would make him stand out. He's always gone by M. Segal professionally, pretty much as far as I can remember. (I try to honor this and other than rare occasions like this, I refer to him in public with his stage name.)
> Question: What is your take on working with Mark - both in the "guitarist-to-drummer" sense and the "brother-to-brother" musical sense?
Well as I say, musically we had a real edge, which was wonderful when it worked. Which was a pretty high percent of the time. (It occassionally didn't, but...we were improvising.) The guitarist/drummer dynamic has always been the most important thing to me, not just as a player but usually as a listener too. An example: for me, the Who revolved around Townshend and Moon's dynamics- Entwistle and Daltrey filled in the gaps and did the icing (beautifully of course). It's why, when I would try to assemble a band, I always auditioned the drummer first. The feel of the band, the power of the band, hinges on that interplay.
As far as working with Mark in the brother-to-brother sense, the brotherly connection provides a similarity which gives our work together a very organic (albeit intense) feel.
> 2. With Hyam there seems to be a more clearly defined rhythmic hookup -likely due to the spare instrumentation.
You haven't heard Cold Sky (at time of writing- GS) or Dog Neutral yet. It's there as well, it was there from the first time we played together (15 years this month). We started out as a two piece, played that way for a while before getting George, and...well, the connection always been there. It is very different from how I connect rhythmically with Mark, though. Their approaches, especially the way they accent- how intense or where they actually do it- are so different that sometimes Hyam still throws me. But Mark used to throw me sometimes too. Hyam has always said it was the most natural fit with a player he's ever had. I felt I had to work at it a little (mostly at the beginning) but that's true of most people I've played with. We connect in a way that was always part of my way of hearing music but which Mark never played- mainly, a more flowing jazz feel. When Mark plays jazz it usually still has an angular feel. Hyam's playing is never anywhere near as angular as Mark's. Hyam's whole approach is based much more on smoothness, whereas Mark's is all about angles and contrasts. I understand both and what's nice is that I've had the opportunity to work with both, and learn from them. Both guys are very capable of working in opposite territory, but even when they do it's obvious where their roots are. At least to me.
>To my ears you're a more "grooving" player with Hyam (even in the more abstract Jugalbandi moments).
Probably has to do with that "smooth" thing. The situation does allow me to access more of the drummer's part of my brain because I'm not worrying so much about connecting with another melodic player. This also means I have to help fill things out, and make sure I leave open places where he can take the lead- that's part of what we do. So it goes back to your observation about the spareness of the instrumention. But I do think the basic connection- how we groove together, if not the extent- has remained the same, with or without other people.
> Question: As a drummer-turned-guitarist, what's it like playing with Hyam?
I think it helps me understand what he's trying to do, which may be one of the reasons we click so well. As a drummer, I'm somewhere in between Mark and Hyam on the "angular/smooth" scale. And he of course is a huge guitar fan. What's funny is to watch us both listening to a piece of music together- he'll be playing air guitar and I'll be playing air drums. So he definitely listens to what I do, he plays off it. I think he listens better than anyone I've ever worked with (live, that is!). A very polished sense of dynamics too. Considering the way I use my volume pedal, this works out really well.
> Question: What do you think Mark and Hyam would each say about working with you as a guitarist (both knowing that you're an accomplished drummer too)?
I don't honestly know what Mark would say, beyond what he said in his piece on the Bag website. (His "Reflections in a Bag of Glass" piece.) That was wonderfully complimentary (to an extent which surprised me), but it's not very specific about style, or how we work together as players, so it might not tell you what you want to know.
Hyam has told me (and others, in my presence) that I have the best sense of dynamics of anyone he's ever worked with and that we sometimes seem to be like a single instrument when we play, or like we can read each other's minds. Again, very, very nice things to say (all of which I can turn around and say about him with a completely clear conscience). Beyond that- don't know.
>Maybe the question could actually be posed to one or the other - or both?
I would feel very strange doing so. It would have to be handled pretty much independently of me. I would be interested in knowing specifics (approach/technique), to see if they could describe what I do in a way that sheds some light on it, for others or even for me- sometimes we learn a lot through how others see us.
> Maybe this is a subject to be handled in your "Writings" section?
Maybe with some editing, yeah. I do feel like the drummer/guitarist connection is important in a way that others might benefit from an understanding of it. (I'm not sure this piece accomplishes that- I might like to take a crack at it in more detailed terms. Meanwhile I think it works on a few different levels and was really worth sharing, regardless of whether or not it fully met that particular goal.)
> I have great regard for both Mark and Hyam as musicians! (Ditto, my friend. Don't forget yourself in there.) Mark's cymbal work is particularly virtuosic and compelling on "MTT", and Hyam's synthesis of Elvin Jones (maybe by way of Ginger Baker) and Billy Cobham is a real treat! Only interested out of curiosity and for love of the rhythm section.
Glad you enjoy their work, and I'll have to pass on these compliments to them, I'm sure they'll appreciate it.
I appreciate you wanting to know about things like this. Nice to get my brain working in these areas- I learned things, or at least brought them into focus in a new way, by responding. Thanks!
EW TO GS, 2/18/03:
Thanks so much for your thoughtful and interesting responses to my questions about your important musical and personal relationships with drummers. I'm REALLY interested in this kind of stuff, and your response was a great read! I think it's important every now and again to think about (and even write about) what we do and why we do it.
Please forward my compliments to M. and Hyam! If they're up to it, I'll pose the questions:
"Greg and I have been discussing the important musical releationships he's had with drummers. From your perspective, what was/is it like playing drums with Greg as a guitarist? How is working with Greg different from working with other guitarists you've played with? Does his drumming background make any difference in the way you work(ed) with him?"
to them. I'll ask your permission for their email addresses, and of course allow them to decline a response if they prefer.
Talk to yo soon;
(I gave Eric the appropriate email addresses. A short while later, this appeared in my inbox:)
HS TO EW/GS, 2/19/03
Here are my responses to Eric's questions. You may want to edit this together with your answers as they relate to Jugalbandi and put them on the Jug site. Just a thought.
(In this case I've allowed the repeated segments of questions to stay in, so as to get the full rhythm of the response and not interrupt Wordy as he goes to town.)
From: Hyam Sosnow
Sent: Wednesday, February 19, 2003 12:44 PM
Subject: Your questions about working with Greg Segal
First of all, thank you for your compliments on my playing. Being mentioned in the same sentence with Ginger Baker and Billy Cobham (both of whom have been tremendous influences on my playing) is gratifying. Greg wrote me and said you had some questions about working with guitarists, and with him in particular. I would be happy to answer them for you.
>From your perspective, what was/is it like playing drums with Greg as a guitarist? How is working with Greg different from working with other guitarists you've played with?
I've grouped these questions together because they're really two sides of the same thing. Greg and I established a musical bond even before we ever played a note together. We found each other via musician's contact ads, and when we spoke on the phone for the very first time we discovered we had a tremendous kinship based on our musical influences and outlooks. The first time we played together (which was just guitar and drums, sort of a primordial 'Jugalbandi', although at that time we only had intentions of forming a more conventionally-instrumented band) this kinship immediately bore musical fruit.
Working with Greg in Jugalbandi is a very liberating experience. When we sit down to play I always feel that anything could happen. Jugalbandi's music is extremely challenging, because you have to be at the top of your both your technical (chops) and conceptual (ideas) game to make it happen. You need chops to be able to express your ideas, and you need ideas to give your chops meaning. And those two aspects are inextricably intertwined: what you are able to play always influences what you conceive, and what you can conceive influences how you execute. Greg (and myself, I'd like to think) is able to perfectly balance technique and concept within the framework of Jugalbandi. Nothing is played "just to play it", but we both are technically adroit enough that our musical concepts don't wind up being stillborn.
Another aspect that I enjoy about working with Greg in Jugalbandi is that we both bring a vast array of influences (both musical and non-musical) to the table. Greg and I both have extremely eclectic taste in music, and you can hear that in Jugalbandi. Many guitarists listen only to the type of music they play, and it shows in their playing. One listen to Greg's playing will tell you that he's always got something different going into his ears. This also influences Greg's choice to use lots of "effects" in his playing. I put that word in quotes because to me they're not effects -- they're an integral part of Greg's instrument, and the reason he uses them is because he's looking beyond the conventional limits of what the electric guitar is supposed to sound like. He's taken all the different types of music he's familiar with and allowed them to become part of his concept for playing his instrument. This forces me to not stagnate in my approach to the drumset. Because I choose to play an acoustic instrument, my ability to change its native sound is much more limited than Greg's. Therefore, if I want to remain fresh I have to be willing to change my musical approach so that it will have meaning no matter what sort of sound Greg is using. A good example of this is in "Approaching Readiness", on The Cram And Stuff Method. When Greg began the piece with that tight, bubbling sound, I knew I needed touse the drumset in a very unconventional way, and after a brief "prelude", I settled-into playing something very un-drumset like, what I can only describe as "lead drums" over Greg's sounds. Most drummers limit their approach to the instrument to one of being a supporting player, supplying a groove and maintaining the feel of the music (a concept for drumset playing that I've never thought much of). My playing in "Approaching Readiness" is the antithesis of this. There's no groove, no conventional drum part in the entire piece. Unusual, but it's what I needed to play to add meaning to what Greg played.
The single most important thing for me about working with Greg (and the biggest difference between working with him and working with other guitarists) is his complete openness to anything. Unlike most musicians, Greg doesn't pre-censor himself before he plays. He and I both try to approach Jugalbandi with as few preconceived ideas as possible. This allows us to more directly connect with what we're playing as individuals, with what each other is playing, and with what's going on inside ourselves when we play. This isn't to say that we don't have any musical ideas we want to try when we sit down to play (we always do), but we're both able to hear what's happening at the time and react to it musically. This duality is the essence of improvisation: on the one hand being able to play the music that's inside your head and heart, and on the other hand being able to listen to what's actually being played at that moment (which isn't always what you intended to play) and react to it in a musically meaningful way. Most musicians are able to play what's on their minds (to some degree), but few are open enough and able enough to react "in the moment" and have that reaction further fuel what they're playing. Too many players stick too closely to a preconceived agenda when they play -- you can hear that even in some highly-regarded fusion music these days (Liquid Tension Experiment comes to mind) -- and adhering tightly to an agenda stagnates their improvisations. Greg and I are never afraid to make a complete 180-degree turn in our playing when it suits the moment, and this is what makes playing in Jugalbandi so exciting and challenging for me. Greg and myself are keen listeners -- when we set up we always want to face each other and ensure that we're able to hear each other well -- and this as much as anything sets Greg apart from other guitarists. When I play with Greg in Jugalbandi I never get the feeling that he's in his own world. He's always reacting to what I'm playing; always nudging (sometimes pulling) the music in a different direction. The best moments are those in which the interplay between us is perfectly balanced with our own internal musical dialogs. At those times it feels both like we're in our own musical world and at the same time part of this larger music. "Approaching Readiness" is one example of this; another is "The View Is Better From The Top Of The Food Chain". In "View", we locked-into each other immediately at the first note and took the piece through many changes together. In a way that piece felt like it was playing us -- it was one of those transcendent musical experiences where you feel like you're being taken on a journey where you're only partially in control.
>Does his [Greg's] drumming background make any difference in the way you work(ed) with him?"
I can't say that it has had any direct influence on my playing with Greg. I know that it gives Greg a deeper understanding of what I'm doing, but you'll have to ask him how much of an influence it's had on how he approaches his guitar playing. Although much of my drumming is musically dense (I've liked dense, difficult music ever since I was a young kid) I try not to intentionally play things that will be technically impressive to other drummers, since that rarely serves the music. I will say that it feels great when we're listening-back to a piece and Greg truly understands something I've done from a drumming standpoint, but this is after-the-fact. It really isn't a factor while we play together.
I hope that this gives you a little more insight into how Greg and I work together. I do enjoy talking about drumming and music (which should be obvious from my lengthy replies to your questions). After reading this I'd be interested to know if it has any influence on how you react to Jugalbandi's music. Feel free to write me.
Hyam R. Sosnow