when you have a couple of spare days, browse through Vinnie
Colaiuta's discography. You're bound to ask, "When does this guy
sleep?" (And contrary to the dictum that says extensive touring kills a
recording career, not long after finishing his roadwork with Sting, Vinnie
could barely find time between sessions for a few MD Hot Trax questions.)
Perhaps more impressive than the length of Vinnie's credits is
their quality and breadth. From his groundbreaking days with Frank Zappa and
progressive projects with Allan Holdsworth, Chick Corea, Bunny Brunel, and Los
Lobotomies, to the mid-regions of avant garde jazz-with many forays into
intelligent pop a la Joni Mitchell, Gino Vannelli, Julia Fordham, and Sting
along the way-it seems there's no one Vinnie hasn't worked with.
So what happens when someone who's played with virtually
everyone gets a chance to compose, arrange, perform, and produce the music
that's in his own mind and heart? A deeply personal album, with an
appropriately personal title -Vinnie Colaiuta- whose eclectic styles are unified
by the technique and touch of one of the most gifted drummers of our time.
RW: Out of all the tunes on the album, you almost
instantly chose "Slink" to be on the Hot Trax disk. Why?
VC: Probably because it's more direct playing rather than production, with
small group instrumentation, which I thought would be more appropriate in this
RW: Your album covers a number of styles, but with the exception of the ballad
"Darlene's Song," much of it leans toward a funk-jazz or rock sensibility.
Especially since all of the compositions are yours, can we assume that this
kind of drumming is closer to your heart than, say, trad or free improvisation?
VC: Yes and no, as the album is a partial representation of my influences, and
where I was then.
RW: Are there any musical contexts or styles that you feel you don't have a
handle on, or that still challenge you?
VC: Yes. I don't have a functional working knowledge of ethnic styles,
such as Afro-Cuban, ctc., which have increased in popularity. I don't really
have a handle on the vernacular, so to speak; I just sort of feel it-fake it,
really. But I suppose that being able to hear, feel, and integrate the
substance of that music is the bottom line anyway, as opposed to just having a
bunch of theoretical knowledge of it. However, it certainly would help a bit, I
RW: Tell me a little about Vinnie in the studio. How did your approach - for
example the number of takes on the drums - on Slink differ from all the
recordings you've been on when you weren't the producer?
VC: I generally didn't do a lot of takes. In fact the acoustic drums were among
the last elements in the recording chain.
RW: Are you one of those guys who believes that, with high-caliber musicians,
the first take is almost always the best? Or do you tend to want to refine and
refine and refine, with multiple takes?
VC: Yes and no, again. It depends on the situation. However, I do feel that
with too many takes there is a point of diminishing returns.
RW: At least in its instrumentation¬stereo Rhodes and muted trumpet-and
production, "Slink" sounds like it might have been a subtle homage to '70s-era
Tony Williams. Were you thinking of him when you wrote or produced that tune?
VC: Yes. I would say that it's more obvious than subtle. It is me paying
humble homage to Tony.
RW: Did you conceive of the melody and drum part on the head as alternate bars
of seven and nine, or as four with the second half "displaced"?
VC: Off the top of my head, there's one or two 2/4 bars in there, but basically
it's in 4/4. It's the way that it is phrased that probably makes it sound
RW: The pattern you play at the top "turns around" every other bar, which is a
device I've heard you use on other tunes. Do you like the idea of "tricking" or
unsettling the listener-and if not, what is it about this device that appeals
VC: I don't normally think of "tricking" or unsettling the listener,
particularly with an attitude of mischief. The tune "turns around" because it
sounded good. I wrote it that way, and that's how it came out, that's all.
RW: You integrate your double pedal work into your playing with a lot of
technical and musical fluidity - for example in the fourth phrase of your solo.
How did you develop the flow and balance between your upper and lower body?
VC: Just by doing it, and experimenting with feeling comfortable and balanced
until it worked for me and what I wanted to express.
RW: Almost all of the tunes on your album sound more compositional than
"drumistic." Do you write primarily to provide a vehicle for the kind of tunes
you want to drum to, or do the melody and harmony have a life of their own that
supersedes the drumming?
VC: I conceived of the tunes as having a life of their own, I would say. I
exactly preferred having the record be more compositional than "drumistic" from
a compositional standpoint. Even more than that, I wanted a good balance of the
writing and playing.
RW: Which of your past projects have had the greatest influence on your
drumming? Can you point out anything in "Slink"?
VC: Quite a few, but nothing I can think of that relates directly to "Slink,"
other than an homage to Tony.
RW: I've heard that you don't really appreciate when drummers try to emulate
your style. Why not?
VC: Well, I appreciate that imitation is presumably the sincerest form of
flattery, but I think it's more important to know why you're imitating someone
in the first place - and then move on. Also, it could be because maybe there are
aspects about my own playing that I don't even like. So, there are elements of
subjectivity there, and I think that it's important for the "emulator" to
RW: Among drummers you are perceived to be pretty much omnipotent. But are
there any performances, and especially any recordings, when you surprised
yourself at how well you played?
VC: Perhaps, but I can't think of any.
RW: Okay, flip side of that - it will do us mortals good to hear if, other than
the odd "bad night," you had a gig where you felt like you really stepped on
RW: What made it a bad gig?
VC: Maybe not being "in the moment", or thinking too much, or projecting too
much, or just not being prepared. I don't know, maybe I ate something bad,