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Composed by Laurence Cottle, performed by Darren Williams.

The original drum performance in this video was recorded on an acoustic kit. The drum audio was then converted to MIDI using the ‘Tracker’ feature in Superior Drummer 3. All drum sounds heard in this mix are from the Decades SDX by Al Schmitt.

Name: Darren Williams
Location: London, UK


You have been playing the drums since age twelve. What was it that first sparked your interest for the instrument?
Like a lot of kids, I just wanted to get out of lessons! So, myself and a friend thought that learning the drums would be a good way of doing this! Luckily for me I fell in love with it.

After school, you held the drum chair for four years with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra. What was that like and how did it develop you as a drummer?
Being involved with NYJO was a real honor for me. It gave you the opportunity to connect with other like-minded musicians most of whom I now have professional relationships with 20 years later. We toured the UK along with stints at Ronnie Scott’s and performed at major jazz festivals in Europe. It really helped develop my sight-reading and time-feel along with giving me the confidence to seek other opportunities as a professional drummer.

To you, what defines a great drummer? Name a few that you think stand out in today’s scene (regardless of genre) and some that helped shape you as a drummer growing up and learning the instrument.
For me it’s all about touch, sound, time and feel. One of my biggest influences was Ed Thigpen, who was the drummer in Oscar Peterson’s trio for many years. Everything he played was beautiful. His sense of touch, time and feel was impeccable. Everything he played was for a reason – pure artistry!

According to you as a drummer, what’s the greatest thing about playing jazz?
For me, it’s the ability to be creative and express yourself. In my brief experience of more commercial environments, image seems to be more of an important consideration. Obviously you need to be competent on your instrument, but this often is secondary to one’s ‘image.’

You’re not “only” a jazz drummer – you’ve performed and recorded with the likes Kylie Minogue, Jessie J, BBC Big Band, Top of the Pops and much, much more. Is the session work outside of the jazz field something you’ll continue to pursue?
I just love playing great music with great musicians, irrespective of genre. If you focus on the fundamentals of touch, time, sound and feel, you’ll be able to work in a variety of musical situations.

You’re also teaching drums. What’s the first thing you teach a new drummer?
To feel pulse. I generally put on “Billy Jean” by Micheal Jackson and ask them two questions: Firstly, can they clap the pulse? And secondly, how does it make them feel? If they are able to clap in time and connect with the music then anything is possible!

If you weren’t playing, recording and performing – what would you do for a career, you think?
Ha, that’s a great question and one many of my students and their parents often ask me. For me, it wasn’t a question of doing anything else, this holds true for a lot of my musical colleagues. That being said, there are many examples of great musicians who also have alternative careers. But if I weren’t a musician I would love to have been a pilot!

What drum kit do you use for live shows and the studio? Walk us through your “standard” setup!
I’m privileged to be supported by Mapex drums, so generally I use their Design Lab Series drums with a 20×14” or 22×14” kick and 10, 12 and 14” toms. Cymbal-wise I endorse Paiste and generally opt for their Dark Masters series for jazz and more acoustic music and then their 602 Modern Essentials for music that requires a brighter sound.

The video of your drum performance is from a session with a full big band setup. We used the original audio, ran it through ’Tracker’ in Superior Drummer 3 to generate the MIDI that we then had the sounds from the Decades SDX by Al Schmitt play back. Listening to the mix, what are your thoughts?
When Damian first contacted me, I couldn’t believe it could be done. I was blown away!! After meeting Damian and discussing what I thought could be improved upon, we worked on a few nuances that I thought might be of benefit such as the ghosting on the snares and the dynamics of the cymbals. But overall I was really really impressed with how well my playing was replicated with the samples, to the point where my colleagues where asking if that was ‘real’?!

You attended a Mix with the Masters session with Al Schmitt and have since stayed in touch with him. What was your relation to his work prior? Any favorite albums of his?
Meeting Al and his assistant Steve Genewick was a life-changing experience. I’d been a huge fan of Al’s for a long time as he made beautiful-sounding records which I was desperate to replicate. His approach is all about the musicians, the music and capturing it in the most natural way possible. There’s a few albums i’d recommend for further listening: Ray Charles and Betty Carter, Natalie Cole “Unforgettable” along with “Peg” by Steely Dan and obviously “Breezing” by George Benson. His work with Diana Krall is also definitely essential listening.

Finally, what is your relationship to electronic drum kits and drum software like Superior Drummer 3 and EZdrummer 2?
I have a set of Roland TD20s that I often use when recording singer songwriters, just to get a vibe quickly, which I use to trigger EZdrummer 2. It enables me to get great sounds straight off the bat which often end up on the finished record! The Superior Drummer 3 library is literally mind-blowing! Often, I will use it to sound-replace baldly recorded drums or to supplement a kit sound that’s already been recorded but needs perhaps a blend of the original snare and a sample. This works really well and is commonplace on most pop recordings I hear.


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