Modern Drummer Hall of Famer Steve Smith is one of the most versatile drummers on the scene today, with solid roots in rock, jazz, and fusion. Steve began to explore his jazz dimension with a series of bands while still attending the Berklee College of Music. Teaming up Jean-Luc Ponty for Enigmatic Ocean immersed Steve in the fusion style. But it was during a rockin' tour with Ronnie Montrose that Steve hooked up with the band Journey; Smith remained with Journey during what was one of their most successful periods.
In 1985, Steve Smith left Journey to return to his original love: jazz. Through numerous associations with innovative bands such as Michael Mainieri's Steps Ahead and decades of A-List session work, Steve Smith emerged as the leader of two bands – the fusion/funk laced Vital Information and the expanded jazz set of Steve Smith's Jazz Legacy. You can read a full Steve Smith bio at his website
Busy as Steve is, he kindly made time to chat with us about his music, his career, and his Korg Wavedrum.
KORG: Hi Steve. How has the Vital Information tour been going?
SS: We had an excellent East Coast tour during February 2010, with packed houses and excited audiences everywhere we went. In May, we travel to Europe for more shows. You can watch a recent video clip on YouTube.
KORG: How would you compare and contrast your different projects?
SS: My bands have a similarity in that, as the bandleader, I am featured a lot. With Vital Information, the direction is more funk/rock, plus the influence of the rhythms from India. My other band, Jazz Legacy, is a group that celebrates the great jazz drummer band leaders like Art Blakey, Tony Williams, Elvin Jones and Buddy Rich. We play music from those artists plus our own music that is more in the straight-ahead jazz mode. Occasionally I blend the two bands as “Vital Legacy” and we play the music of both groups -- that’s the best of both worlds.
KORG: So in addition to Vital Information and Jazz Legacy; what else has been keeping you busy?
SS: I played a gig in the Sultanate of Oman recently with a cast of international players. That was an amazing experience. I put together a “behind the scenes” video of my days there.
SS: I have a new recording that will be released on Abstract Logix in June 2010. It’s a project with saxophonist George Brooks and guitarist Prasanna. We call the album Raga Bop Trio. The music of the Raga Bop Trio is an organic blend of jazz, rock, funk, afro-Caribbean, and Indian classical music.
KORG: That sounds like an interesting blend of styles.
SS: In this music there is the strong influence of western harmony and melody as well as U.S. style grooves and Euro-jazz atmospheric feels. From the Indian side, George Brooks brings his expertise in the north Indian Hindustani style and Prasanna - being from Chennai, India - is an expert in the south Indian Carnatic style. I grew up with the U.S. jazz/groove concept and starting in 2002 I’ve incorporated north and south Indian rhythms into my playing. For me, the distinctive quality of the Raga Bop Trio is that the writing and playing employ a seamless amalgamation of all the individual components. Of course I’ll be using the Korg Wavedrum with this group when we tour in 2010 and 2011.
KORG: You just mentioned the Wavedrum. Can we talk about that? What drew you to it?
SS: When I was at the 2010 NAMM show in Anaheim I saw the Wavedrum being demonstrated at the Korg booth and I was blown away! I decided on the spot that I needed to start playing the Korg Wavedrum.
KORG: Do you have any favorite Wavedrum features so far?
SS: I love the tabla sound. I use it with all of my bands both as a solo instrument and as an accompaniment instrument. I can tune the tabla sound and the sitar “drone” sound to match the key of the song.
KORG: How are you using the Wavedrum; as a solo instrument, or as part of your kit?
SS: I have the Wavedrum on a drum stand to my left. When I want to play it, I pick it up and place it on top of my left snare drum and mainly play it with my hands. I find that the Wavedrum has so much nuance and sensitivity that I get a lot of subtleties when I use my hands instead of sticks. Another detail of my approach is that I keep my feet on my pedals so I can add bass drum and hi-hat to support what I play on the Wavedrum. To take it a step further, I also use my voice and use the art form of konnakol – vocal percussion from south India – and integrate my voice into the use of the Wavedrum.
KORG: What else would you like to tell our readers about the Korg Wavedrum?
SS: The Korg Wavedrum is an exciting new instrument that gives drummers a creative voice to express themselves in ways not possible with the acoustic drumset. I find the instrument to be an inspiring addition to my sonic pallet and I’ve only begun to explore the potential of the Wavedrum.
Wow. Thanks, Steve. That pretty much says it all.