New York Drummer Cindy Blackman

New York Drummer Cindy Blackman

with Natasha Nargis
copyright © 2001 Natasha Nargis

New York drummer Cindy Blackman came to Taos, NM with her quartet for the last concert of promoter Maggie Consodine's spring 2001 Jazz Series at Bataan Hall. Blackman first started drumming when she was eight. When she was 15 she saw drummer Tony Williams, who she said was a great inspiration.

Blackman has performed all over the world with her own groups, as well as providing the beat for retro funk rocker Lenny Kravitz. She studied at Berklee College of Music for a year and a half. It was a great experience, Blackman said, but what she really needed to learn was offered to her on the streets and in the clubs of New York.

NN: Tell me about your arrival on the New York jazz scene.

CB: I really couldn't ask for more in terms of the people I've met, and the people I've been able to hang out with. I've been befriended by everybody -- from Art Blakey to Elvin Jones. Elvin is great. He's fantastic. He's an innovator. He's strong. He's got a beautiful spirit, and his music is incredible. Art Blakey was amazing. That's an experience I will never ever forget.

One of my friends introduced me to Art. At first he didn't remember my name, and he used to call me his "red head friend". Then it went from his red head friend to Cindy -- to calling me his daughter. He really was like a father to me. I learned a lot just watching him. I asked him a lot of questions about the drums and music -- and he answered all of them. He was fantastic.

The scene certainly wasn't the same after he passed away. He was such a beautiful, inspirational calling card for all musicians to come to New York. The young horn players and piano players wanted to come to New York and get in Art's band. That was the thing to do. It was a place where you could grow and you could learn -- and become a great musician under the tutelage of an innovator. Art's presence is definitely missed on the scene. I needed to go see Art Blakey. I needed to go to the clubs and hang out where Dexter Gordon was playing. I needed to go see Max Roach and Elvin [Jones] and Tony [Williams]. Max Roach was my first experience at playing odd meters. He was the first jazz drummer that I actually studied. Max is my hero. I love Max.

NN: Did you play with Pharoah Sanders?

CB: Yes. Pharoah's great -- beautiful sound -- and he's got a lot of energy. It's a very perpetual, compelling style, because he comes out of John Coltrane. That was a great experience. I really enjoyed my time with Pharoah.

NN: Have you always had your own groups, as well as playing with Lenny Kravitz?

CB: Yes. I was making records on my own before I met Lenny. I already started composing and recording and forming different groups here and there. Playing with Lenny is really a great thing because it opened up a lot of other areas for me in terms of the type of travel we do. When we're on tour we're very busy. But it also gives me a chance to express my feeling for playing that kind of music. I like that kind of music as well [as jazz]. I like rock. I like Jimi Hendrix. I grew up listening to him and to the Beatles, James Brown, Sly and The Family Stone, a lot of the same people that Lenny's influenced by. What he's doing is up my alley. I'm a jazz drummer -- I'm a creative drummer. But I'm also a professional musician, which affords me the opportunity to play in other genres than the one that I'm most familiar with. I've spent more time in my life studying jazz than I have anything else. To me that's the greatest form of music.

NN: Tell me about the group you're bringing to Taos Saturday.

CB: My group is a quartet. Carlton Holmes on piano and keyboards, J.D. Allen on tenor saxophone and George Mitchell on bass. The majority of what we play is original music. Most of the original selections are mine. There are also some beautiful originals by J.D. and Carlton. We have a little collective here of original music, and then we do some standards. But I took the standards and totally rearranged and reconstructed them -- I kept the melodies -- but I changed all the harmonies -- and I changed the form. We don't always play the whole song.

NN: Is there anything else you would like to say?

CB: We have just recorded a CD that was released April 10. It's called Some Day (High Note) and it features the same group that will be in Taos for the concert. We will be featuring music from that, and from the previous CD, which is called Works On Canvas (High Note). At the end of May I go to Europe for two weeks with another band that I have, which is an electric group. We will record again in the summer or the fall. I will probably do some more touring with Lenny in the fall. My group will play as well.

Natasha Nargis is a broadcaster and writer, based in New Mexico.

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