Stanton Moore is one of the most innovative and influential drummers around. He is always pushing boundaries and has steered jazz towards more distinctive expressions. His latest release is titled Groove Alchemy.
JAZZREVIEW: Tell us about your earliest experience as a musician and growing up in New Orleans. Who are or were your biggest musical influences?
STANTON MOORE: My mom started bringing me to the Mardi Gras parade when I was eight months old. She started dressing me up in lil’ clown outfits, so every year I was in the Mardi Gras parade with my mom. By the time I was four or five years old I started noticing the drums coming down the street. It was the marching band. I thought that was so amazing. I would go home and my dad would play all the Mardi Gras music on the stereo, Professor Long Hair, Dr. John, The Mirrors and the Wild Magnolias Indians. So during Mardi Gras time I would get it on both sides. I would hear the drum lines in the streets with my mom at the parade and then come home and hear drum set players on the stereo. I started digging it. I knew I wanted to play the drums.
I started playing the piano at eight or nine years old and when I was around ten I got a drum set. My influences were the Mardi Gras stuff. As a teenager, playing drums, I played rock and classic rock. I got into John Bonham and all the British drummers such as Mitch Mitchell, who played with Jimmy Hendricks, and Ian Paice of Deep Purple. In fact all those types of dudes.
But John Bonham was huge for me and by around the age of fifteen or seventeen I wanted to learn more about jazz. I started checking out Miles Davis and John Coltrane and also started rechecking out all The Meters stuff. Since I was about sixteen or seventeen my favorite drummers have been John Bonham for the heavy metal stuff, Elvin Jones for jazz, and Zigaboo Modeliste for the funk stuff. My playing is a combination of those three guys but with different variations.
JAZZREVIEW: That’s really a versatile combination.
STANTON MOORE: I like all that music. I’ve checked it out and I like playing all kinds of different types of music.
JAZZREVIEW: So you really started playing at four or five years old?
STANTON MOORE: Yes, on pots and pans (laughter) and I received a drum set when I was nine.
JAZZREVIEW: What came first- Your technical skills, or your vision of writing your songs?
STANTON MOORE: I started to develop rudimental drumming and all the while I was studying and making up beats, making up things and remembering them. To me the two go hand in hand. If you really want to develop your voice on the instrument this of course means studying the fundamentals and learning how to play. Developing your voice on the instrument is one thing but developing your voice as a creative musician is another. In my case this meant coming up with different grooves and also writing. I guess I have been doing that for a while as well. Again, to me, the two should go hand in hand.
JAZZREVIEW: You were one of the founding members of Galactic. How has the band grown since its inception?
STANTON MOORE: Well, when we first started out we were in love with 60’s funk, mostly The Meters and James Brown. We were really trying to absorb that and understand it. The first couple of records were mainly dealing with that and then we started to realize we wanted to make music that was more our own voice and which tied in with what was going on currently. We didn’t want to just sound like we were a band from the 60’s. You can’t ‘out Meter’ the Meters and you can’t ‘out James Brown’ James Brown, (laughter). By the third, fourth and fifth record we really started to be the best Galactic that we could be. With the current Galactic record it has a lot of the New Orleans musicians on it, Rebirth Brass Band, Les Day and Allen Toussaint. Some are new on the scene and have a different take on things, people like Big Freedia and the sissy rappers from the bounce and the hip hop scenes in New Orleans.
With the current Galactic record it’s really a tour of the New Orleans music scene as seen through our lens. It’s what’s going on that intrigues us. It’s everything from legends to things that are happening in back alley clubs that you may not know about, but all of it is something we’re interested in and intrigued by. We put it all together on the current record but, to get to that point, the record we made previously involved collaborating with a bunch of underground hip hop MCs.
For every record that we have made we’ve experimented with different things, so this current record is our take on what’s going on in New Orleans now. But I don’t think we could have made that record without what came before, without the Ruckus record or without the record we made with the MCs. We work so much on every record so this new one feels like a culmination of past experiences put together with all the New Orleans people that we dig. It really comes full circle.
JAZZREVIEW: So each record was like an inspiration for the next one?
STANTON MOORE: Exactly, we learned a lot and now, by using all these skills, we feel like we have come to our own with this current Galactic record.
JAZZREVIEW: How has your impact as a drummer influenced other drummers?
STANTON MOORE: Well from what I hear(laughter), from what they tell me, I guess being that I’m from New Orleans and having my own take on the New Orleans stuff, it seems a lot of people dig the grooves that I come up with. They dig the feel that I have and the sound that I’ve developed. I’ve written two books and the second of them is just coming out. But I have people calling me all the time, telling me on Facebook, or coming to a forum and saying, "Hey man I’ve been working through your book and I’m learning a lot". So I guess it’s some of the grooves I’ve come up with and how those grooves feel. I suppose that’s what influenced people. I don’t know, that’s a hard question. I guess you have to ask people individually, it’s hard to say how someone else is feeling.
JAZZREVIEW: I know you’ve just returned from a tour to Australia. What do you enjoy more, live touring or recording in a studio?
STANTON MOORE: That’s a really good question. Again, I think the two have to go hand in hand. At least that’s how it is with me because if I was in the studio all the time I’d be itching to go out on the road and if I was out on the road all the time I’d get tired of playing the same songs. I would want to create new material. So I think the two really inform each other and reciprocate each other.
For me anyway, you need both. I’ve learned so much by playing live. I take that creative energy and use it in the studio to come up with new stuff. I create a lot while playing live. I’ll come up with things by improvising something that is cool and remember it the next night. Before you know it you’ve developed a new groove within a song and you can use that for another song. For me, I create while I’m playing live and I can take that back into a studio to create new stuff. It’s both sides of the process.
I also enjoy pop a lot. What I enjoy about it is the discovery. I guess you call it learning. But I’m starting to refine my thoughts on that and realize that what I’ve enjoyed since I was a kid was this notion of discovery. It’s like you are on your bike with your buddies and you run around your neighborhood ten thousand times but then one day you find the empty lot that has been mowed a different way. Or you’re on the trail and you find this pile of sand in the middle of this empty lot that you didn’t know was there. That was exciting. Stuff like that; the notion of discovery.
That has intrigued me since I was a kid, not just in music, but in life. It’s like seeing a new restaurant that’s been around the corner from your house but you never knew was there. Then, all of a sudden, you say "Oh Wow!" So I enjoy that on an instrument, the act of discovery. Sometimes I will study something that different cats have been doing and say "Oh great!" I may have heard it a million times but never really sat down to figure out what the guy was doing. Like on the plane from Australia, just for kicks I transcribed the breaks in one of Miles Davis great tunes, so I could discover what he was doing.
For some you could call it practicing or learning but for me it’s discovery on the instrument. I don’t know if they told you or you read the press release but I’m doing a book and a DVD, putting the entire thing together. It was a huge undertaking of discovery. Of course I listened to a lot of James Brown stuff, and Beatles, and put my own take on it but to get that into a book, to convey that to people, that was quite something. You have to be really specific with it and really make it work.
JAZZREVIEW: In your release Groove Alchemy there are three facets to the project, where you examine the work of pioneers like Jabo Starks, Clyde Stubblefield and Zigaboo Modeliste. What were your intentions in developing the album?
STANTON MOORE: What I did with the last book and DVD, I wanted the music to be really authentic and happening. It’s one of the most conceptualized things in that it ties in entirely with the DVD and book. The concept was to examine and re-examine the playing of those masters, namely Clyde, Jabo and Zig, and to develop my own grooves based on that. I wanted to demonstrate those creative processes in the book and the DVD. Then put those grooves into the record. So it probably had the most preparation. I have been working on the book for 5years and I am pleased on the outcome.
JAZZREVIEW: Groove Alchemy is just awesome, its funk, and it’s almost mystical. How do you put all those sounds together? From the beginning to the end it’s a different sound for each one of the twelve tracks.
STANTON MOORE: As I was saying before, I like a lot of different types of music. It’s about putting music together that I enjoy, music I’m drawn to, music I love. It’s about approaching everything on a song to song basis. Each song is its own little entity and its own project.
I love so many different types of music, studying it and discovering it as much as I can. It’s the same when I approach a song which we intend to do as a trio (we’ve been playing together for a while now). It’s our third record so I’ve got to know these guys. When Robert brings in a song or Will brings in a song, or we work on a song together, or we decide to cover a song, we work at each song as its own entity. We decide how, as a trio, we can make this the best possible version of the song.
We put the body of work together, 12 songs, and then each one will have its own personality. But you want to have some continuity as well. The continuity is the same three guys. The continuity is basically the organ, drums and the guitar. For example if you are listening to a piano trio, those guys may be playing anything from a New Orleans tune to a song from Duke Ellington, Thelonius Monk or John Coltrane. The tune might even be an original. But the continuity is that it’s a piano trio.
You get the courage and confidence that it’s going to adhere together because we’re the same three guys and have played together a lot. You know the record is going to adhere together. Even though we’re doing all these different tunes, you have to have confidence that it’s going to come together and work.
JAZZREVIEW: Since Katrina was such a catastrophe I understand you and your wife have developed a scholarship fund called the Staletta fund for aspiring students to attend a jazz camp. Can you elaborate on this?
STANTON MOORE: Yes, for our wedding we basically threw a benefit. We got married privately in Mexico and later had a ceremony for our family. For the benefit a lot of great bands came to play for us. It was a top notch lineup and featured Preservation Hall, Rebirth Brass Band, George Porter, Big Sam&&&s Funky Nation and the Morning 40 Federation. The silent auction had lots of great items. A substantial amount of money was raised and the Staletta Scholarship fund was set up to benefit young New Orleans musicians.
To back track, it started with me going to Deborah Vidacovich, who is the wife of my mentor Johnny Vidacovich, and telling her we needed to start a workshop for kids. When I was in high school I attended a young people jazz forum workshop every Sunday.
The program began with the kids attending the workshops, doing great and learning a lot. They were accepted to jazz camps and auditioned across the country but couldn’t afford to fly there. That’s where the idea came from to help these kids and it went further than that. One of the girls got accepted to Loyola with a scholarship but then needed some money to finish school. We not only helped her with the jazz camp but helped her to get into school. It was incredible. We are now waiting for our next student. We have different camps around the country. Some of the camps are of different musical genres. The kids learn and they develop. Of course we have criteria for selection. We have twelve to fifteen kids in the camps. The Staletta fund will cover the costs for these young music students to realize their music talents and to further their education.
JAZZREVIEW: What advice can you give an upcoming drummer entering the music industry?
STANTON MOORE: I think it’s important to get out and hang around music and sit in. Many people in music schools may be practicing in the practice room, and that is important. But that’s only one angle of it, you have to get out, you have to play with people, you have to play gigs, you have to meet people and sit in and hear people playing. You really have to immerse yourself in it and live it. Playing music is the art of affecting people emotionally through an instrument. That can be a million different things. You can play free jazz or in a funk band and be moving people emotionally. They may even want to get up and dance.
The only way to learn how to move people emotionally is to get out and be with people. Learning an instrument in the practice room is one side of it but you really need to get out there and be a part of the community of live music. You have to go out and hear music, play music and live it. You need to do that. As a high school student, I used to go out with my parents and sit in with these great musicians. Wherever you are in the country it’s important for young people to get out there, meet the musicians and maybe get a lesson.
JAZZREVIEW: What else can we expect from Stanton Moore?
STANTON MOORE: I have had a kind of crazy year, getting the Galactic record out and the Groove album and book out. It came out on April 13. Now I’m going to start concentrating on touring. I’m going to start touring these things. It’s great that I have finished the book because I’ve already starting practicing others. For a while that’s all I could think about and work on. What’s next is getting out and playing, touring and learning other aspects of my craft.