Adriano Santos Interview

Adriano Santos Interview – by Travis Marc – 2010.

Brazilian drumming extraordinaire and Drummers Collective tutor Adriano Santos recently took some time out of his schedule to talk to us. We spoke about everything from his self named quintet to his disciplined practice routines. For more keep reading…

Hi Adriano, thank you for taking the time out to talk with us. Your new album “Adriano Santos Quintet in Session” is a magnificent piece of work, well done. Let’s talk briefly about the recording process. Where did you record the album and who did you work with throughout the recording process?

Thank you for the opportunity, I’m happy to share some of my life experiences as a professional musician with you all. I am proud to say that this is my first record, I had to make sure that everything that I learned as a side-man and as a music lover would be registered on this record. I tried to stay as close as possible to my Brazilian roots and having such great jazz musicians on it gave it a special edge and unique sound to the band.

The recording happened in New Jersey at Twinz Records Studios, managed by my good friend Manfred Knoop, he is also the engineer on the record. The choice for the studio played an important part on the project as I was familiar with the room’s sound from a previous recording session, I knew that the large room for the drums would provide and capture a big sound for the instrument. Through out the mixing and mastering process I tried to keep the authentic acoustic sound of the room, and only added a few little effects here and there to give some finesse to the sound. The result was amazing, with a very organic acoustic sound.

Besides the location, the choice of musicians also played an important roll on the final result. This was a tribute record to my favorite Brazilian composers such as Moacir Santos, Toninho Horta, Raul Mascarenhas, J.T. Meirelles, Dory Caymmi, Victor Assis Brasil, Milton Nascimento and drummers such as Airto Moreira, Milton Banana, Robertinho Silva and Edson machado. I picked tunes that were not well known to the Brazilian music lovers.In order to have a strong Brazilian foundation I invited my old friends Hélio Alves on piano and Dendê on percussion.

Both musicians are from Brazil and we have been playing together for a long time. To complete the band I had David Ambrosio on acoustic bass and David Binney on alto and soprano saxophones. Ambrosio is a first call musician for Latin and straight ahead jazz in New York and a very good batá player as well. David Binney’s presence was a key element for the new sound that I was trying to achieve. Binney is considered by the critics as one of the top modern jazz musician of our times, and with his producing skills and virtuosity as a player it was possible to bring a genuine New York attitude, with excellent creative solos and solid melody and interpretation.

Some of the albums tracks have a real “free form” to them, do you have a set form through the material on the album or do you take it as it comes in regards to feeling off of each other while performing the music?

The repertoire is a mix of Brazilian jazz and song-writer tunes from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Some of the tunes were approached as jazz standards and others with a certain liberty, which was established before hand. The magic happened during the studio session where we let things happen naturally, with spontaneous playing, especially on tunes like “Xibaba”, “From the Lonely Afternoons” and “Ninho da Vespa” where Alves and Binney really brought the melodies to life with their great interpretations and absolute control and soloist skills. I had to let the songs transform to something different than previews recordings. We tried to give our own view of the music and I think we were able to conquer that.

In addition to your band the Adriano Santos Quintet you are also one of the head instructors at the Drummers Collective. Tell us a bit about how you originally became involved at the institution as well as what an average day as a tutor at the Drummers Collective looks like?

I feel blessed that I have been able to teach at the Drummer Collective for the past ten years. My first opportunity was granted by the great drummer Duduka Da Fonseca, who was retiring after fifteen years as the Brazilian drum specialist. Now I am responsible for the Brazilian curriculum, teaching drum set and percussion. The Collective has a great two years program that exposes the students to a variety of styles such as Contemporary Jazz, traditional and modern Afro-Cuban, R&B, Funk, Caribbean, West African, Rock, drum & bass and more.The Brazilian course starts hand on with percussion, learning different styles such as baião, xaxado, samba and maracatu, After that the student continues the course on the drum set. This way, they realize where the drum set vocabulary comes from.

To complement that, the course will also offer ensemble lessons with top Brazilian players that live in New York. With these ensemble classes I try to expose them to as many different styles as possible within the Brazilian repertoire. All of this is supported by a one hour private lesson every week with me, where we work on many technical and musical aspects that are required to master the style. The Collective is a special drum school with a great professional faculty, located in the heart of the music scene of Manhattan, with a core of students from all over the world, which share one thing in common – the want to learn the drums and become top level professionals.

I’ve often heard drummers who tutor say how sometimes teaching an instrument has taken their own love and passion for it away, how do you manage to maintain your motivation towards the drums and music in general?

First of all, I believe that you have got to love what you do, secondly I feel that I have a responsibility as a musician to share my knowledge about my culture with others. Believe it or not but I still learn a lot by teaching! I always have to be informed of what is new and who is pushing the envelope, living in New York, you have a perfect view in what direction music is going. I usually say that in New York you have very healthy competition and you find yourself having to keep moving forward in order to keep up with the pace of the new generation of musicians that arrive in the city every year, who are usually much younger than you and playing their butts off. Now that I have my own band where I am not the sideman anymore. I have to be responsible for a lot of other things, one of these things is to create new music, something that I have been working hard on in order to make it become reality. This requires a lot of
dedication and discipline. I think I still have a student spirit inside of me, and I still feel like I need to move forward!

I found your drumming to be extremely expressive and tasteful, but how would you personally describe the way you approach the instrument. Also, what advice would you offer on expressing yourself dynamically as a drummer?

Thank you again for the kind words. I believe that my function as a drummer is to be consistent and supportive in terms of laying down a solid groove. Establishing a strong time keeping provides a comfortable groove for the musicians in the band. On this project where we explore Brazilian rhythms, I try to maintain the vocabulary as close as possible to the percussion language and simply add a more modern and loose approach when the music allows. Another way of approaching the music is to imagine that each piece of the drum set represents a different color which I can choose from. For instance I would think of cymbals as being bright colors and bass drum and tons could be more dark and neutral. This way you can create different texture on different sections of the tune. The dynamics are really important for the creation of contrast between the sections and help to expose an important part of the melody, where you have the main theme being played. You can use it to create a big crescendo when you are supporting a soloist, with the beginning of solo starting soft with the increasing of volume as the solo develops. These are only few concepts about dynamics, but there is no doubt that it should be part of your vocabulary. I would suggest practicing at various dynamics and speeds, so that you can gain control of your mechanics and be able to deliver the actual rhythm at any situation without loosing the intensity.

Who or what are your current influences?

For the past couple of years I have been listening to top Brazilian drummers such as Edu Ribeiro, Alex Buck, Rafael Barata, Kiko Freitas, Celso de Almeida, Erivelton Silva and Márcio Bahia. I also enjoy international drummers such as Antonio Sanches, Brian Blade, Bill Stewart, Billy Kilson, Jeff ”Tain” Watts and Dan Weiss.On my Ipod I have been spinning some great artist as well, such as, Dave Holland, Chris Potter, Donny McCaslin, David Binney, Edward Simon, Miguel Zenón, Sergio Santos, the Brazilian Samba Jazz groups from the 60’s and the Brazilian percussion groups from different regions.

Some of the “chops” played on your album are absolutely amazing. You have obviously put in some serious practise time over the years. Do you still practise, and if so what does your general practise routine consist of?

Yes, I have practiced a lot over the years but today I wish I had done it more. It is never enough! I see amazing young players with great technique and musicality on the instrument all the time. Besides the talent, the students are exposed to a great amount of information and materials offered in a variety of different formats, all in pro of their formation. It is really hard to maintain a practice routine during the week. Every time I have I try to squeeze in a few hours of practice. The material can vary depending of what I feel I have been lacking on or could be a preparation for some future gig that has difficult rhythms. I have been working a lot on hand and feet linear phrasing, applying flams and different sticking orchestration around the drum set. I find that to be a great way to warm up and develop mobility on the instrument. Also, I have been working on odd meter rhythms and trying to apply them to solo situations.I still continue to work on rudiments because they are extremely important for our vocabulary on the drum set.

What’s next for the Adriano Santos Quintet ? And besides the Adriano Santos Quintet what other projects are you currently involved with?

I am working really hard to promote the new CD and get the band on the road. It is my next goal to start traveling with the band around the world and bring the music of Brazil to other cultures. I am already working on new material for the next album, which will have a lot of original compositions, and a lot of percussion oriented pieces. Besides the quintet, I am working with an organ trio so I have more possibilities and more opportunities to work when the budget is not attractive for the quintet. Currently I have been working with Hendrik Meurkens Samba Jazz Quartet, Matt Geraghty Project, Vinicius Cantuária Group and the Cape Verde singer Fantcha. Between these projects I am lucky enough to be working with many different local groups.

You have some fantastic brands behind you, including Vic Firth, Istanbul, Odery and Remo, what advice would you offer young up and coming drummers on trying to approach and receive endorsements?

That comes with a lot of work and dedication not only as a performer but as an educator as well. Getting yourself involved on your local community can help you a great deal to land an endorsement. In my case I had been offered these opportunities because of my involvement with the Drummers Collective, which is a world-renowned drum school. In the case of the Brazilian drum company Odery and Istanbul Agop cymbals, I went to visit them and took my portfolio with, I explained why I was interested in their products and how I could expose their brand into the music industry. There are many ways of approaching a company, but it is essential to have good material in hand so that you can convince them that they should add you to their artist roster. Remember that a pitch sale is very important for you to be able to sell something for that there are many publications that can help you understand the strategy behind a product, in this case yourself. Check this book “Music Success in Nine Weeks” by Ariel Hyatt.

Do you have any sort of warm up routine that you do before shows etc, if so could you please share it with us?

I always have a practice pad with me so that I can warm up before gigs in order to avoid injuries. Basically, I do some standard rudiments such as, singles, doubles, paradiddles, double paradiddles, drags, flam combinations, Swiss triplets, five, seven and nine stroke rolls and so on.

Any final thoughts or words?

Remember to follow your dreams and visualize where you want to be no matter what your profession. You can set short and long goals and that will be enough to keep you moving forward. To be a musician is something that you have to love it with no space for doubts. Your dedication and perseverance is key for success. Share your knowledge with others, it will be rewarding personally and professionally.

For further information on Adriano or his quintet please visit his website the album mentioned in his interview is available for purchase via