Adam Nussbaum talks to 60Minuten.net
Interview: Bernd Eilts
Photos: Zoltan Acs
A while ago, on a tuesday evening in april 2016, I visited one of my favorite Jazz Clubs in Groningen/The Netherlands, De Smederij, more or less by accident. A trio played there, with Ed Verhoeff on guitar, Paul Berner on double bass and Adam Nussbaum on drums, actually one of my favorite drummer legends in Jazz music. Just 24 hours later I had one of my most inspiring talks with drum legend Adam Nussbaum, who kindly offered to talk to 60Minuten.net. In this second part (of three) we talked at the Prins Claus Conservatorium in Groningen/The Netherlands, where he teaches twice the year. He told me about his years he played with Michael Brecker, also his experiences about playing with John Scofield with a lot of incredible background information. Further we talked about his favorite drum kit, his favorite cymbal brand and just very simple, how it is for him, to be a drummer.
Please enjoy this second part!
Bernd: It’s just a personal question, this next one. Because I am a huge fan of ECM Records and I saw, for example, you recorded with John Abercrombie a lot for ECM. What was your experience to record for ECM and to work with Manfred Eicher?
Adam: He is a man, that really has a vision and a point of view. And I have to give him a lot of credits for maintaining a high aestethic standard.
Bernd: What was the magic for you to play with Michael Brecker?
Adam: Oh, you know, when you play with somebody, we are all in this together. I mean, I admire his musicianship, of course. He was somebody, who was very deligant, worked very hard, was very very committed to working, practising and consistently improving. The other thing is, when you get on the bandstand with somebody, we are all in a sacred place. You can’t really play with someone, if you are in awe of them. We all have to be respectful to each other. And it’s hard to play with somebody, if you are just putting him on a pedestal. We have to be all working together. It’s like, when you are in a band, of course, there is a bandleader, but once the tune starts, you are part of a team. Like a great sport-team, a great football team, it’s not one person, that makes a band work. It becomes a family. In my experience, you get to know all these people. There are those, who say, „Oh, he was a magical person“, or „He is an icon“. At the end of the day, everybody is a person, everybody is a human being. Everybody is dealing with the realities of the human condition. Good, bad, whatever. We are all just trying to do the best, we can. We become aware of people as people. We are all part of the human race. Hopefully do the best, we can. As far as playing with Michael, it was fantastic for me, because I first heard him with Horace Silver. When he was about seventeen or eighteen. And I heard the band „DREAMS“, then I saw Michael in New York and I had the opportunity to play with him a few times. He was just a very sweet person, a good person. I miss him. Yeah. He left too early. A bunch of cats left too early unfortunately. Once again, I am just very grateful, I got the chance to play with him. That was one of those situations where, people often identified me as being just a jazz drummer. But we would get up there and also rock out too! And that was all part of my history. So I give Michael a lot of credit for allowing another part of my ability to come out for people to hear. Once again, I’m just grateful to be in these situations. I’m very thankful for all. We made some good music, had some fun times!
Bernd: Fantastic music!
Adam: Yeah! It was exciting too, because it was really his own band. He waited a while. He was no kid, when he put this first band together. He did the Brecker Brothers with Randy, then he was part of Steps Ahead. I remember seeing Mike right after he did the first record. I knew, he did a record together with Pat Metheny, Kenny Kirkland, Jack DeJohnette and Charlie Haden. I saw him playing with Steps Ahead one time in New York, I remember seeing Mike and I said: „Hey Mike, I heard you did a record, that’s great“, and he said: „Finally I did my own record!“ And I told him: „If you want to put a band together, I’m there.“ I told him, I let him know. I love to play. Then, when I heard, he was putting a band together, I know, he was checking out a bunch of different drummers. So, I was one of those people, he called, to check out. He also checked out some very good drummers, but I guess, I gave it to him, the way, he liked it. So, I’m grateful for that experience. I’ve been very very fortunate that I have been able to play with so many great musicians. Each situation is an opportunity for me to learn. I’m really thankful for all the people who were patient with me, when I was young…. they are still patient with me now! (Laughing). Because, when you are young, you don’t have much experience. So, you have to be grateful, that the older musicians hear something, that you have, and encourage you, and give you a chance to develop. I mean, I mentioned today, that some of the students, when somebody gives me a list, and I look at all the people I played with, I think: Wow! I mean, I should have been paying them for giving me a chance to learn. Instead, they were paying me! How lucky was I! (Laughing out loud!) How great is that! Experience is more valuable then money. Because money comes and goes, but experience is forever. You can’t learn experience. You can’t really buy experience. It’s like wisdom, you can’t learn it, it has to come from life. So, I’m just very grateful.
Bernd: The same situation, at least, was for you with playing with John Scofield, at least for 5 years long.
Adam: Well, he was only a few years older than me. We were all involved in the learning process. When I first really started playing with John, it was a tour before the record „Rough House“ (Enja Records). It was great for me, Hal Galper was playing piano, and Hal was almost twenty years older than me. I think, he was born 1938/1939. So, he had really a lot of experience. For me, I was the kid there on that record. Even Stafford James (double-bass) was older than me. John and I were the kids. It was a great experience, it was a good tour, I learned something every night. And actually, that’s a record, that still sounds good.
Bernd: Exactly. It is still very powerful.
Adam: Yes, it’s a good record, and there is also this energy, that comes, when something is new to you. There is still that discovery. I felt so fortunate to be able to play with these guys. John was more like a buddy. But Stafford James had played with Dexter Gordan, Woody Shaw. Hal Galper had been playing with Cannonball Adderly, Sonny Rollins, Chet Baker, Sam Rivers. And he had a great quintet with Mike and Randy Brecker. This again was another situation, where I was fortunate to be with people, who did it way better than me and that was, how I was learning. John and I were also at the time, of this quartet, members of Dave Liebman’s Quintet. That was also great. ‚Cause playing with Dave was a great education too and he was nine years older. Lieb played with all my heroes: Elvin Jones, Miles Davis, Chick Corea, this was the real deal. Nothing like playing with those people man. I mean, I was getting my ass kicked all the time. And as it was happened to kick their ass too. These cats liked it, I could kick their ass, they just didn’t want me knock them down. You know, there is a fine line there. (Laughing)!
Bernd: Now I have a question about your drum set. I saw, you play a SONOR drum set.
Adam: Yes, I am.
Bernd: I read an article, that is visible on your website, and there it says, that Sonor made a drum set-line for you, is this true? It is the Sonor pro lite set?
Adam: Originally, they had a set of drums, let me just go back-up a little in the chronology. Nussbaum means walnut. Now, I remember, I got hooked up with SONOR in 1987. I’ve known the drums, I knew the company, they are a very highl quality instrument. I remember playing a gig with Mike Brecker’s band opposite Jack De Johnette’s group at the Berklee Performance Center in Boston. Jack had this beautiful set of drums. And Jack said: „Hey man, play my drums, I want to hear how they sound in this hall.“ So, I played these drums and they sounded so wonderful. At that time I was still using my old Gretsch drums, which were very good drums. But I was also in a sonic situation with Mike, where it was not an acoustic band, it was more electric. I wanted a drum set, that gave me a little bit more projection. So, I played Jack’s drums and they sounded great. And I told Jack: „Wow, these drums sound great!“ He asked me: „Are you with any company?“ I told him: „No.“ He was gracious and said: „If you like these, I will call SONOR for you!“ So, he called them, and then they called me and I was able to buy a drumkit from them for a very good price. They didn’t give it to me, I bought it. I think, that was smart. Because they knew by me buying them that I was serious about their instrument. So, I got this drum-kit and it was really cool. Then I was saying to myself: wow, I would like to get a drum kit, with shorter traditional depth toms. But they didn’t have the shorter drums, or shall I say, the traditional size drums at that time. After Michael’s gig I really wanted more traditional size drums again. So, I saw the catalogue, one of these german catalogues, and they had a beautiful concert bass drum in a walnut finish. And it said „Nussbaum“. So, I said: This is, what I want! (Laughing). So I asked: „Can you guys make me a kit with traditional sizes in NUSSBAUM finish?“ And they said: „Good idea!“ So, that’s how it started. They made a set of drums called Hi Lite Nussbaum series. They’re traditional size drums made from maple wood, with a walnut finish. I don’t know, if they make drums out of walnut by the way. Most drums are made of maple, birch, beech and maybe oak. Or composites of plies of wood. So, they made a set of drums for me, then they put it in the catalogue and I said: „Don’t put my name on it.“ I mean, you could call it like they want, because my humility stood in my way. I should have said: Put my name on it and give me some money every time you sell the drums!! I should have done that, but I didn’t do it! (Laughing Out Loud!) So, they now have a set with a walnut finish and it’s called Nussbaum. But I don’t think, they are making the Nussbaum series anymore. Listen: It’s only because my name is named walnut. If it didn’t mean walnut, then it wouldn’t be anything. (Laughing).
Bernd: Do you think, it’s a big difference, if a drum-kit is made in Germany or from any other country?
Adam: There’s always been a sense of precision when a product come out of Germany. There is always a very high standard for the craft, a lot of care, a lot of diligence. You know, when you see something ‚Made in Germany‘, you know the quality is very high. And they have been very high. They are made with extreme care and precision. Now, with what’s going on in the whole world, everybody can get the right machines, they are making more things in China, offshore, and if everybody gets the same tools, you can make the same thing. It’s usually the question of who is controlling it, the sense of quality control. Because now, mostly any company can make a round drum, but I do love the sound of the SONOR drum. It’s a character of a sound, that I like and I’m thrilled, that I have been involved with this company. What’s nice is, that I have been able to have a relationship with them. I know one of the people, who is in the hierarchy of SONOR since 1980, before I ever got with the company. They also saw, that I was kind of on the scene. You know, you see a lot of people, they use a product and they come in a band and then disappear. Or it’s like they shift from one company to another company. I have only played the SONOR drums, I never switched from that time. It’s not just a product, it is a relationship with these people and I value and appreciate that friendship.
Bernd: Kind of the same relationship that exists between you and Zildjian cymbals.
Adam: Yes, I got with Zildjian in 1983 and I always played Zildjian. Even as a kid, I remember when I bought my first Zildjan cymbal. It’s the same thing like with musicians, getting to hear my heroes and know my heroes and become friends with them, that’s so great!
Bernd: Now you became a hero yourself!
Adam: Well, I don’t think about that. I just know, when I got to meet Armand Zildjian, he was an iconic figure. Something abstract became a real person. he was a great guy and a wonderful person. Getting to know him, was wonderful. The relationship with the Zildjian family goes back to 1983. It’s great, because I am able to work with them and bring some ideas, that I have, with them. They have somone there, Paul Francis, who is an incredible cymbal maker. They also have a man there, Leon Chiappini, who has been testing cymbals for over fifty years. So, you have the wisdom of experience and somebody, who knows, how to hear, somebody, who knows, how to make them and that’s been fantastic for me. That’s a relationship, I really cherish and I’m glad to have.
Bernd: They also created your own Zildjian cymbal line?
Adam: I helped them come up with a cymbal. They don’t put anybody’s name on a cymbal. They don’t do that and I like that. But there have been cymbals, that Peter Erskine, Vinnie Colaiutu, Zach Danziger, Bill Stewart and others helped to develop. We came up with a cymbal in the late 80s, early 90s, called the „Pre-Aged“. We recently developed „The Renaissance“. The great thing is, they are located in Massachusetts, just four hours from my house. Cymbals are an incredible instrument. It’s a piece of metal. But everything that happens in the process, effects the sound. But at the end of the day, you gotta learn how to play it, not just hit it. It’s a whole orchestra. You got to figure out how you touch it to make it sound.
Bernd: What is the life of a drummer? You have to deal with time, with micro time, with fun, with movement, with power and softness also, with colors, your ears of course.
Adam: What? What?? (Laughing) I couldn’t help it!
Bernd: And senses and your intuition. How is this all working for you?
Adam: When I sit down, to play, like the other night, when we played at De Smederij in Groningen/The Netherlands, with Ed Verhoeff and Paul Berner, that was the first time, we ever played together as a group. I never played with Ed before. I played with Paul Berner a few times over the years. So, when I sit down to play, what am I bringing to the table, am bringing my whole life up to the moment to that moment. So, a guy calls a tune and the first thing I have to try to do is, hopefully know the song, because it’s very important, that you understand repertoire which is the subject matter. We are playing jazz, he calls a standard, I know the song. I know the melody, I know, how it goes. I listen, to how they play, and I try to react and respond accordingly and listen, to what they’re doing. And everything has to do with the sound of, first of all, the sound of what everybody is doing and how I can get my sound into that sound. As I’m getting older I try to learn to come up into the sound, not come down in to it. Every situation is gonna be different. As a drummer, I am a primary sonic orchestrator of the enviroment of sound for the band. At the end of the day, the quickest way to change the sound of a group is change the drummer. The drummer creates the sonic enviroment. I decide what to play: brushes, sticks, play this cymbal, or that one, that I play this feel or that one, what choices do I make. So at this point, like I said, I sit down to play, I’m bringing my experience. I’m sixty years old. I still find this challenging, and I find it captivating. Because, what I love to do is, have the situation be the best it can be for what it is. I don’t go into the situation with this person, thinking I’m gonna play the same way I did with that person. I wasn’t gonna play with Ed the same way I did with who ever, I didn’t even know Ed! So, the first thing I have to do is: Gain the trust of the other people on the bandstand. That’s the first thing I have to do. Because we are having a relationship. That’s the same thing with people. If you are able to get down with somebody, you have to trust them. Same thing on a bandstand. I don’t get up and try to empty all my pockets. It’s like, if I’m gonna run a marathon, I’m not gonna start sprinting on the first 100 meters. What’s gonna happen around the end of the run, right? So, when I first get on a bandstand with people, I must gain their trust. I have to figure out, how I can get into the sound. Electric guitar and bass is different than acoustic piano. It’s different, when it’s a clarinet, or a stack with Marshall Amps and a Hammond organ. It’s different, if it’s a singer and a guitar. Everything is different. So, Imy job is to get in there. That’s what I do, I want to get in there. Whether it’s a loud scene or a soft scene, there has to be that level of commitment and intention. We have to be focused. I believe I’ve gotten to the point now, where I’m mentally focussed. Yet very relaxed physically. I’ve also learned to trust my intuition. I believe in what I do. I mean, we all have those moments of questioning our decisions. But more often, I have a certain degree of confidence now that comes from my experience, and my willingness and my desire, to try to play for my fellow man. I want to play well with others. That’s why I work. People don’t care if I can really play the drums, they care that I can help them sound good. Playing with others, that’s it! Like when you are a little kid in school. They ask: „How are you doing today in school?“ The teachers used to say: „Adam plays well with others.“ (We both laugh!) It’s the same thing on the bandstand. You have to know how to play well with others. That’s why people are going hire me. I’m trying my best.
Bernd: And you do!
Adam: I consider myself a working progress. The higher you get up the mountain, the more is there to see. Like this, I just have more and more questions.
Bernd: I just saw recently a video of Elvin Jones, from his early years, on that beautiful channel we were talking about earlier this afternoon already. He said, the function of the hi-hat is kind of the heartbeat of the whole drum-set. Do you agree with that?
Adam: In certain styles in music, yes. But he is a perfect case and point where it’s not the only component. I mean, the whole point is, although the hi-hat is one component, and it is generally knowledged in the traditional form of playing two and four, at the end of the day, sometimes you hear him play, you’re not even be aware of the hi-hat. The thing that people are going to hear is the overall feeling you create. Tony Williams was playing quarter notes on the hi-hat. Some players don’t ever play the hi-hat. Other drummers use the hi-hat as another comping element. When you hear a drummer, you are not aware of the individual components, you have to be aware of the overall sound, and the feeling, that it creates. I’d say one of my primary influences, is watching a wave in the ocean. There is a flow to a wave. It doesn’t start and stop. It’s a continuous moving thing, like your breath. You don’t breathe out….In…..Out. It’s flowing. What I’m aware of, when I’m playing, is the flow of what’s going on. That’s the main thing. I want to always feel flowing. A flowing feel and the feeling of flowing. That is, what I am aiming for.
Bernd: It’s funny, you’re talking about this, many thanks for your answer Adam. Funny, because I saw a short video of a Masterclass you were teaching, somewhere in the States, and you explained this with these three words: Feel, Flow and Fill. And next to this you also said: Time is King.
Adam: Yes. The Time is the King. A lot of drummers, they separate the aspects, when they’re playing Time, and then when they’re playing Fills. But everything you do has got to flow and feel right, whether it’s the Time, the Fills, everything has to flow. It’s all got to keep moving. And in Jazz music, Time is the primary element. If it’s not swinging and it’s not flowing, where is it going?
Bernd: There is also another thing you told, if I may say this, and I really love that, you said: As a drummer, you have to orchestrate the music.
Bernd: And it is like speaking towards people. And you demonstrated that, through switching from a hard volume speaking to a very low voice speaking, almost whistling, within all the moments in between. And I have to say, I really loved that exercise a lot!
Adam: Like I said, the quickest way to change the sound of a band is change the drummer. That’s why I mentioned Orchestration, I am the Orchestrator. You know, what sonic choices do I make to support the melody, the A-section, what’s different on the B-section, what’s different on the saxophone solo, what’s different on the trumpet solo, what sonic choices do I make, the different ways you do it. And having the appropriate kind of belief in what you are doing. I want to play it. No play at it. I don’t want get on it, I want to get in it. You want to get in it, you want to get inside the music. When I’m able to listen and be around master musicians, I go back to this again, because I was saying this all the week to these students: Commitment. Intention. Many musicians, when they play soft, it looses its intensity. But you know, how intense it is, when somebody gets right next to your face and they talk really quiet? That’s almost more intense than when somebody shouts at you: „Hey man, I gotta talk to you!“ And they are talking hard and don’t look right into your eyes. Where’s the intention? But if somebody looks you right into your eyes and says something, real soft……. WOW!!
Bernd: Just like ‚Slow Elvin‘, the piece on „Rough House“.
Bernd: It’s a nice example. There is so much power, even the song is almost quiet and slow.
Adam: Yes. One of my very favorite musicians is the singer and piano player Shirley Horn. I mean, she is so intense. And so quiet. And the way, she can play the space. It gives such an impact, to what she does, because what she does is so soft. And while I get older, I just love her more and more. Miles was another great one at playing the space. Everyone is talking about the sound, but what gives sound its value? The space around it. It’s like, fire needs to have air. Without air there does not exist any fire. So, balance is the big thing for me. And as I’m getting older I become more aware of it. Because it’s just part of the process. And it keeps going.
Bernd: What do you think, when we say, that music is freedom. You think, it’s true?
Adam: Well, music is freedom. I mean, there is freedom within the program, that I brought to you. I mean, constraints open up possibilities. When we are playing songs that have structures, we have to find the freedom within those structures. Just like within situations, that have a lot of freedom, you have to find the structures within the freedom. It’s the Yin and the Yang. Free means, there has to be some discipline. Discipline means, you have to be able to get in there to be free within those realities. Something I always thought of is that great art is built on the balance of the opposite characteristics. Like, we are talking about fire and air, sound and space and finding that balance. It keeps going.
Bernd: Could you desribe your own style? I think, you answered this question already, right?
Adam: Well, I think, I’m a combination of all the people, that I’ve heard. The good, the bad and the ugly. Everybody I’ve heard effected how I play. I’m attracted to the legato sound, I’m trying to do that. I want to create a wave of sound in a nice flowing manner. I also have to balance that out with ideas that are more staccato in order to have a balanced approach. I just want to get in there. Hopefully I’m not thinking about anything. I want to be in the NOW. I’m not changing anything much in the history of drums tradition, I don’t think I’m really an innovator, I’m just maybe a good soldier, who has stolen from the best! And over the process of my life it’s kind of assimilating a point of view over the years. Now people know how I sound. It always feels satisfying, when somebody says, they heard a recording, and they say: „Oh, I can tell it was you.“ So, that means, I’ve got some kind of voice on my instrument. Some people develop their personality and their voice at earlier points in their life, I’m still trying to figure it out. So, it keeps going. I’m a work in progress. I don’t think, anybody decided one day: Oh, I’m gonna be an innovator. It’s an evolutionary process. When I think about a lot of great musicians that I love, some people are wonderful visionaries, others are great soldiers and craftsmen. Some people have signature identities, and others are great conglomerates. I think, I’m kind of a conglomerate. I have all my heroes, I have personal favorites. I take from everybody, a little of this, a little of that, it comes through me. The stuff that influences and moves me stays, and the stuff I do not like, doesn’t. (Laughing).
I think, it’s an overall process and it takes time. Some people seem to find their personality and identity at a very young age, and other people just keep going on. It’s interesting, when you look at the history of music, how some people came on the scene pretty formed and other people needed years to find their own sound. Some people are like a burst of a comet, it comes very quick and it goes away. I still feel just, I’m on a long journey. I’m still looking for it. People ask me: „What’s your favorite recording?“ And I say: „I hope, it’s the next one.“ I mean, there are a few good ones along the way, that I feel good about. I’m never looking back, I try to look ahead. Tomorrow is another opportunity. I also had some great time with some of the young students here. There are some very talented young people here.
End of part two
Part three: A while ago, on a tuesday evening in april 2016, I visited one of my favorite Jazz Clubs in Groningen/The Netherlands, De Smederij, more or less by accident. A trio played there, with Ed Verhoeff on guitar, Paul Berner on double bass and Adam Nussbaum on drums, actually one of my favorite drummer legends in Jazz music. Just 24 hours later I had one of my most inspiring talks with drum legend Adam Nussbaum, who kindly offered to talk to 60Minuten.net. In this second part (of three) we talked at the Prins Claus Conservatorium in Groningen/The Netherlands, where he teaches twice the year. We talked about teaching jazz and music, also about his opinion what jazz is, about the inside moments, while playing the drums, and of course: the future! Please enjoy this third and last part!
Bernd: I want to talk with you now about teaching. I noticed, you teach at the Berklee School of Music.
Adam: Well, I gave some workshops there, but I’m not at the faculty.
Bernd: Also at the NYU.
Adam: I used to be an adjunct there, but not right now. Or any of those places.
Bernd: But you are a guest teacher here, at the Prins Claus Conservatorium in Groningen/The Netherlands.
Adam: I do guest things, this is my fourth time here. I came twice last year, I come in the fall and in the spring semester. So, I came october/november last year and also in april. And I don’t know, if I’m coming next year.
Bernd: You are giving Master Classes here?
Adam: I’m basically working here with different groups of students. Am working with ensembles, where we are speaking about the process of improvising. Dealing with the aspects of playing with other people. Working with the rythm section. A lot of things. Now there are less clubs, less concerts, there is less of that and because of that, there is more of this. People are staying home and not going out. When I was young, any little bar or restaurant you went to, there was a band. You could watch, you could listen, you could learn, you could play. Now, you go to a restaurant or bar or wedding or whatever, they don’t have a band, they have a DJ. So, there are fewer opportunities. So, now what’s happening is, the schools are becoming more prevelent. So, I’m trying to let these students become more aware of the realities of what has to be through my experience. That is all I can do.
Bernd: How did it happen, you came here?
Adam: I knew of Joris Teepe in New York. He’s the bassist who leads the program at the Prins Claus Conservatorium in Groningen. I met him at a workshop in Novo Mesto in Slovenia. I told him, if at some point he would like to have me, I would be very interested to come. People helped me, so you got to pay forward. I’m so grateful for all these experiences I’ve already had. I just try to pass on some of my knowledge to young people. I mean, I don’t like giving them answers, there are no answers. My job is, to make them more hungry, to have more questions. (Laughing).
Bernd: Like me. I saw a small moment, where Kenny Barron, the piano player said: „Jazz today is intellectual. It’s coming from the head. Not from the heart.“ And he said this while looking at the students today. What do you think? Is this true?
Adam: To an certain extent, yes. Because now the whole process of learning Jazz has become a codified pedagogical experience, it has become more scientific, and more mentally oriented. I mean, you think of our heroes. Louis Armstrong didn’t learn how to play in a school, also Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie. They didn’t learn playing in schools, they learned by doing it with people, who did it better than themselves. Now it’s in a school environment where the information is getting organized and codified. So, of course, it becomes more intellectual. That’s part of it. But the balance in a great musician is the combination of bringing forward the scientific information they have, through their own feelings and philosophies. I think, Lester Young said, a musician is a scientist and a philosopher. You use your science of music to bring out your feelings. So, of course, you need to learn musical & instrumental skills. Here on the blackboard there are some chord changes. What Kenny says, you can’t still lose sight of this, is that you’ll hear a lot of young musicians that have a lot of that science and the methods, but still something is missing. Whenever you hear great music, for me, I feel, in any idiom of music, I can feel the blues. When you feel something coming from the soul of an individual. Whether you’re hearing Marvin Gaye or Kenny Barron play a blues, or hearing Jascha Heifetz playing a Bach partita, if you hear Maria Callas singing, you are feeling some blues there baby. If somebody gets you, they get you. Forever…. . I don’t care, what style of music it is. When I hear Pablo Casals play the Bach Cello Suite, he gets me. I hear Arthur Rubinstein playing Chopin Nocturnes, he gets me. I hear Billie Holiday, she gets me. I hear Shirley Horn, she gets me. Joao Gilberto, Jimi Hendrix, they get me. So, it has really nothing to do with what style is of the music. Now times are different, a lot of this process with the younger musicians is occurring within an academic enviroment. They have to codify and put everything in books and papers. Students are getting graded. So, there is more science taking place now. When somebody gets to your soul, they’re gonna get to. If you got a lot of methods and science and you still can make me laugh or cry… hip hip hooray!! I also like, when somebody knows nothing about methods and science and gets to my heart. At the end of the day, it is the RESULT, that matters. That’s a big word too. I’ve been saying to the students: When you step on the stage, one thing matters – RESULTS, that’s it. I heard „Philly“ Joe Jones, the great drummer, give a clinic one time. He talked about it. He said: „At the end of the day nobody cares about anything except the RESULTS“. And that’s true!
Bernd: I noticed, that your students here in Groningen, really love you.
Adam: You did? Why, did you ask some of them?
Bernd: I saw it.
Adam: You saw it? Well, that’s nice to know.
Bernd: At the end of the day, I saw it. Even it was in the middle of the night. Can you tell me a bit more about your relationship with the students here?
Adam: I’m grateful for their energy. And I hope, they are grateful for mine. I love being around people, who are still curious and hungry to learn. I’m still curious. When I was that age, I remember this very well, being around my heroes. I went to the Village Vanguard in New York. I could sit right next to the drummer. And I went there one, two nights. Me, as a drummer, can tell always, when other drummers are watching me. And other drummers could tell, when I was watching them. They could also see my fascination and wanderlust. You know, like the little poppy dog, who is excited. They could see my excitement and my enthusiasm. When they finished playing I told them it was so great. To thank them. They felt my enthusiasm. My young passion for the music. I loved it. And they saw that. Now what I remember as I get older? They were all nice to me. And this is, what I thought of: When they saw me, they remembered, when they were a little kid, like me. When they were sitting by the man, who was the inspiration for them. We’re all part of the big chain, the big family. Many of my heroes, I got to know them. They became my mentors, my friends. They were all very supportive. I’m so grateful for that. What blows my mind is that many have passed on, yet they’re still so alive to me. Now I want to do the same for these young people, like those mentors did for me. Like I said: You’ve got to pay forward. You got to try and inspire people. Put out a good energy. GRATITUDE. Don’t have a bad attitude. I see a lot of people, who have a bad attitude, but I don’t need that shit. I feel so blessed, to have this experience. I may not be rich in my wallet, but I am in my heart. It’s nice to see people, who have that hunger and enthusiasm. It’s tough for these students. They have to deal with all the methods and all the science and you have to practice. Because when you sit down to play, you have to have your abilities together. It’s a different reality now, as they are getting graded on what they do. Nobody’s given me grades. I mean, I went to school for a while and they gave me grades, of course, but I do not get a grade after the gig! If I didn’t do well I’d get fired and that was part of the learning experience. It’s changed, it’s different stress on them now, it’s a different time. We have to live here now. We have to accept, what it is.
Bernd: And you are there to inspire, and you do.
Adam: I try my best. I just try to give back, what was given to me.
Bernd: You just mentioned, there are already some very good students here. You think, they will have a good future? Feeling wise?
Adam: I can only hope. People, that have a deep passion for it, and have a deep commitment for doing this, are going do it. I can say, that I remember, over the years being involved in a lot of these schools or workshops, maybe there is a handful of people, that I remember from then, that are now somewhere and doing really well. I remember, when I heard them, they already had something happening. You could feel it. It’s also not easy, if you are a prodigy. Because, if you are really young and everything is coming very quick and very easy to you, that’s not an easy thing either.
Bernd: But you teach them, to understand and create music.
Adam: I can only give them ideas on what to listen for. Things to be aware of. There is no magic rule. It’s like a kid comes to me who is a very good rock drummer. He comes to me, hearing me playing jazz and he says: „I want to learn how to play the cymbal like you.“ And I say: „Okay. You got forty years?“ Many think, they can come to me, pay me the money and I’m going to give them the „answer“. But there is no times are different answer. I heard a great acronym of a dear friend who passed away some years ago. „The word TIME – This I Must Earn“. That’s a good one. It takes time. You got to be patient. Practise. You need to practice slowly. Repetition. Now, everyone wants all right away. So many are playing with that god dammed phone! There was no Google, when I was a kid, there was none of that. When you liked a record, you took the record and listened to it. Moving back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, playing the record over and over again! Now you can use a device like ‚amazing slow-downer‘ and do it like that. It’s different now. I grew up with records, film, slides, tapes. When you listen slowly, like this, you get more in it and the information stays. Now people say: „Oh, I checked it out!“ When they only heard something once or twice. If you really want to get something and understand it, you have to get it inside of you. You need to get it in there. Like I said, when I’m playing, I want to get in it. The problem is now, there is so much here available, so quick, so fast and so much. People don’t know, what is the truth and what’s not. There is a lot of nonsense here. There is a lot of truth too. But that’s why you still need a tour-guide, a teacher. You need the time, to let it settle in. Now everybody is in such a hurry. It goes to the next thing, the next thing, the next thing! So it’s like: I know a whole lot of not enough. What I am hearing now, I hear too much of not enough. The hardest thing to do, is to play simple. Put the right note in the right spot. Make it feel good. Make it sound good. That’s not easy to do. You have to be committed to it. It’s getting more difficult. Technology is a great tool, but at the same point it’s almost become a curse. Look at how we became so deeply dependent to these devices. Twenty years ago, when did mobile phones start? Twenty years ago, I didn’t had a mobile phone. Who cared? I mean, a Fax was really a big deal. We did it fine without it. There was a depth of understanding. I think, what’s happening, is that the technology is moving faster, than the human can digest and absorb what’s happening. We have to figure out, how to work with it. Certain things just do take time. This process of playing music requires your mind, body, ears, your soul. This takes just time. It doesn’t happen over night. You can’t learn experience. You can’t buy wisdom. Of course, you can see some people, who buy college degrees. „Oh, I got my bachelor degree from this university, I got my Masters from that conservatorium, and my PHD from there…… .“ But they don’t have any experience in doing the actual process. They can talk to talk, but never walked the walk. So, there are these things happening. I am so thankful for the experiences I’ve had. You get working by doing. I have been working to work and now I’m trying to talk to talk, you can hear me talking and I don’t stop (laughing), but I just think, that right now, it’s going be hard for many of these students. Where are they going to? Will they go teach music somewhere? Maybe a few might get in a band, maybe that band will be popular for a while, maybe it won’t be, then what happens? I consider myself a journey man. I’m in this for a long haul. This is my life, it’s what I do. At this point, I can do nothing else. I’m starting to understand, NOW. I’m so lucky! I was playing with James Moody (1925 – 2010) while he was 81 years old. And he was still hungry at that age! He still had that sense of wonder! The thing is, maintaining the curiosity. And that’s the great thing about music, because it’s always changing, things are always growing. I saw Roy Haynes a few weeks ago, he is now 91 years old. He got up to play…… he is sharp like a knife! Incredible! Anything that he hears, he knows. I have a little bit of experience, but I don’t have anything compared to what he did! He played with Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Lester Young, Monk, John Coltrane, Pat Metheny, just everyone. He played with the whole history of music! And when you see him, the whole audience, when we were there, everybody was in awe. Looking at in wonder, everybody smiling! What a force! Jimmy Heath will be 90 years old, he’s still so together, so funny. I saw him a few weeks ago, we played together, he was so incredible. These people are inspirations. The body might be getting old, but the music keeps these cats sharp too!
Bernd: Of course, all your life, when you play, you have to be sharp. To know, to remember, to improvise.
Adam: You may not have your physical tools as when you were young. You see some old guy walking down the street, don’t be fooled. Never mess with the old cats man. I say: „Listen man: That old man probably forgot more than you ever know. Okay. So, let’s not take anything for granted.“ It’s so inspiring. These men inspired me when I was a kid, and they were the age that I am now, they are old tigers now and are even more inspiring! They kept it going. These musicians, who are able to keep it going are an inspiration. That’s a fact and that’s just incredible.
Bernd: This energy, you have, you own, you know, this universal energy, that makes you create and play and do, what you do. Do you think, you are a spiritual man?
Adam: Well, I wouldn’t say, that I’m somebody, who spends every day in Meditation, or goes to pray every day, getting down on my knees, but I would say, there is a bigger higher force out here in the universe. There is something out there. There is a God, there is an energy, something bigger than all of us out here. There is a God, there is an energy, something bigger than all of us. There is energy out here in the world. And there is also energy, that has been brought here by people, those ones, who come along to our lives, to our journey, people I mentioned earlier, that are really special. You want to call them angels, saints, shaman, you can call them what you want. But there are people, that come along the way, that have a certain presence. There are those, that come along and I remember those people with that energy, maybe I am able to get a bit of it, I don’t know. But there is really something out there, some people get something, other people don’t have.
Bernd: In the middle when you play, how do you feel then? Do you feel like, maybe, in Love?
Adam: Well, I’m loving what’s happening in the moment, most of the time. When everything is feeling good, I’m free. I’m not thinking and I don’t want to think about anything. Like I mentioned before, I want be in the moment, in the Now. Every second, time seems to get slow. I know, when you are on the bandstand and something gets really strange or weird, every second can seem like eternity. But I know, when everything is feeling good, there have been those moments in my life, and I say moments, where I’m not aware of anything that’s happening. Where I really feel as though some energy is coming through me and playing me. It’s only happens for moments. It hasn’t happened often. While I’m playing with somebody, and I get that feeling in my body, it’s like I get a chill. And it’s like really special, a transcendent feeling. That can compare to whatever your best moments in life were. Maybe with love, maybe sex, maybe with spiritual, where you just are feeling something profound within your being. I can’t even really express what it is. You just know, you felt something with a vibe and energy that was very heavy. I’ve had it a few times while hearing music, when I heard something on occasion, when something gets me, I’m sitting there and the next moment I’m just crying. That happened a few times. Not too often. Also, another response where I’m just sitting there and I’m laughing my ass off. (Laughing). So, that can happen too!
Bernd: What kind of person are you in your private life? Do you have a private life?
Adam: My wife will tell you, that she’s one of the most patient woman in the world. I’d have to agree with her. (Laughing). It’s funny. I get a little crazy and neurotic about some things…, but it doesn’t happen on the bandstand. (Laughing). That’s where I’m really able to focus on being in the moment. It’s the place, where everything else can go away. All the nonsense of day-to-day life, all the realities we have to deal with, as functioning human beings. That all goes away, when you’re on the bandstand. That’s a sacred area. I wish, I could find that kind of tranquility in my life all the time. I’m very thankful, I have been married to the same woman since 1984, I’m still madly in love with her. She’s been able to put up with this life, which is not easy, I’m away a lot, the work, to play. My kids are grown now. I have a twenty-seven year old and a twenty-four year old. They’re out of house, we’re back to BC, you know? „Before Children :-)“. Now we are trying to figure out what’s next. We’ll move from where we live, maybe come over here. But in the next few years we’ll be making some changes. My wife helps keep me focused, which is good. She helps balance me out. I think any good relationship is about balance of people who are able to work together as a team, like a good band too, is a good team. A good marriage is about a team. She’s let me be me. And it’s hard enough for me to be me. And she’s let me!!! AMEN!
Bernd: That’s wonderful.
Adam: Oh yeah! I’m a lucky guy!
Bernd, talking to Zoltan, the photographer: Take a picture now please!! (We are all laughing).
Bernd: How do you stay fit?
Adam: Well, when I’m home, I have one of these recumbent exercise bikes. It’s nice, I can watch the news for half an hour and do my training at the same time. I do some stretching, I try to watch my food. As I got a little older, I find I feel better eating less. I love to swim in the summer. I generally try to keep a good balance in what I do. I appreciate some good wine, also some good vodka once in a while. I’m eastern european, so vodka is the drink of my people. (Laughing). My roots are Austrian, Lithunian, Polish and Russian. That’s my history. I heard a lot: „Ah, Nussbaum, das ist ein deutscher Name!“ But I’m not german.
Bernd: What about your future plans?
Adam: Oh, these are variety of things. I’m involved in a band, very interesting, called „The Impossible Gentlemen“, with three very fine British musicians: Gwilym Simcock on piano, who is playing now with Pat Metheny, guitarist Mike Walker, Iain Dixon on saxes and keyboards, Steve Rodby on bass (replaced the very busy Steve Swallow) and myself. We just released a third CD. Then have a tour coming up in July, August and then in October. We will be in Europe. Then I have all kind of different projects. I have some gigs coming up with John Abercrombie, some gigs coming up in the Fall with David Liebman, Adam Niewood and Gene Perla. What’s interesting is that band, its playing a lot of music, that Gene and Dave used to play with Elvin Jones from that Lighthouse period (Recorded in 1972 at the Lighthouse Cafe‘ in California, released on Blue Note). That for me is far out to play, because I used to go see that band when I was young. I’m very honored they asked me to do this, because I’m one of Elvin’s descendants. He is one of my inspirations and one of my mentors. Playing that music’s been a lot of fun. I have another group called We3, with Dave Liebman and Steve Swallow, we have a tour planned. I’ll do a project end of this year, in with Dave Liebman, Richie Beirach and Mike Gibbs, with the NDR Big Band. That will be fun. I first played with Richie and Dave forty years ago, when I sat in with their group, Lookout Farm. Richie was another one of those, like Dave, who were really very helpful to me. I used to hang out a lot with Richie, he’s a brilliant musician. They took time with me, I played in Dave’s quintet which was a big chance for me to learn. I’m always doing different things. I have musician friends from Scandinavia, some friends in Hungary. I did a project with the Modern Art Orchestra. I played with them in Budapest a few months ago, led by very good trumpet player, composer and arranger Kornel Fekete-Kovacs. They’re a very good band. For me, every chance I have to play is a chance for me to learn some and where I can get a chance to bring, whatever I can, to that situation. I’ll go to Switzerland to do another project, do some workshops and play with a Big Band playing some older arrangements by Marty Paich, who did the arrangements for Art Pepper + Eleven, Mel Torme and so many folks. I like to do a variety of things and the thing that is fun for me is to do the best that I can do. I mean, I am not perfect. I just try to do each situation the best way I can. Try to make the band feel good, make them happy. When they sound good, I sound good. It’s not about me, it’s about WE. There is another trio, that I’m involved with, with another great guitar player called Vic Juris and bassist Jay Anderson.
Bernd: I know him from his period with Barry Miles, what is a long time ago of course. The album is called „Fusion Is“.
Adam: Yeah, that’s forty years ago! He is a great guitar player. We have a tour coming up next year. I’m also in an interesting project called „The Music of Lead Belly“. With two guitar players, Nate Radley and Steve Cardenas, and saxophonist Ohad Talmor, a very gifted musician. We’ve been doing a few little gigs, that was my idea, because these Lead Belly (1888 – 1949, was an american folk and blues musician with strong vocals, virtuosity on the twelve-string guitar and the standards, he introduced) records were some of the very first records I heard, when I was a kid. I love those old Blues records. So, we have been playing some of that music. It is simple & clear. It gives us a chance to play. What we do with it, is up to us. Simple is not easy… . Truth be told, when you have good musicians, who know how to listen, react and respond, you don’t need to give them a lot of complex material. So, these all different things are going on. It’s nice to play with new people and it’s still nice to have associations with my old friends. You know when you see somebody that you know for a long time, it’s not: „How are you doing?“ It’s: „How are you feeling?“ We already have gone beyond, how you doing. I’m sure, you got tons of stuff here man, you are good?
Bernd: It’s good enough for a book! Thank you very very much Adam!
Adam: My pleasure, Thank YOU!!!
Zoltan: Let’s take some pictures here next to the piano.
Adam: Me sitting next to the piano? So, I can look like I’m an intellectual? Sitting at the piano? (And we had a ten more minutes after talk with some secret informations during the photo session).