Pete Cater Interview – by Travis Marc – 2011.
Pete Cater is without a doubt one of the leading Jazz drumming icons of recent times, he currently leads the ever popular ‘Pete Cater Big Band’, and continues to perform at drumming events throughout the United Kingdom. With so many accomplishments under his belt Pete manages to remain an absolute gentleman and easily reminds one of how us drummers should behave. This is what the drumming extraordinaire had to say in a recent interview that he did with us.
Hi Pete – thanks for taking the time to talk with us. For our readers who might not know your history, could you tell us how your interest in drumming began?
I’d say my interest in drumming began with two things. The first, with my late father who was a really good semi pro drummer, and the second would probably be be the first music I was exposed to as a baby, which was Joe Morello playing with the Dave Brubeck Quartet. That was really the start of everything. I grew up listening to a lot of Pop music, but would say that it was my dad’s music, and the type of stuff that he was playing (Dave Brubeck and Buddy Rich) that really inspired me to play the drums. In addition I think that being exposed to my dad’s musical environment from such an early age in regards to rehearsals and gigs gave me a very unusual perspective on music, especially for someone growing up in the 1970’s.
You’re originally from Birmingham. What made you relocate to London?
Yeah, near Birmingham, I was actually born in Lichfield, inStaffordshire. The music scene that I grew up around was indeed Birmingham and it’s surrounding towns like Coventry and Wolverhampton. By the time I was 14, I was active throughout all of those areas as there were a lot of places to play. Once I was old enough, I was playing at numerous venues over a vast amount of areas. You could really do that then though as music was everywhere. It kind of feels like every pub that now has SKY television used to have a live band. There’s been a huge cultural shift that I’ve witnessed over my musical career and a lot of the music has become marginalised, I guess one could say that it feels as though individuality seems less important nowadays.
I relocated to London because of the opportunities, it’s where the music industry is, and personally I believe it’s the music centre of the world. If you go to New York as a Jazz player, it’s because you want to perform as part of that type of scene, however in London it seems much more culturally diverse and accepting. The British jazz scene is a huge melting of different cultures and ethnicites. I think as far as diversity, variety and opportunity nothing can touch London. In addition English audiences are very accepting of people from various different countries and cultures.
The ‘Pete Cater Big Band’ made it’s original debut in 1995, and still seems to be going strong. What in your opinion keeps an ensemble together for such a long period of time?
Well the current edition of the group did, yes. The original band actually made our first performance in 1983. In regards to how we keep things together, I think one needs to keep things fresh. To say that the band has been going since 1995 is slightly misleading because obviously certain members have come and gone over the years but it’s all about keeping things fresh (repetition of ‘keeping fresh’, maybe express it differently?) with those members which have stayed for the long haul. The current band line up was very much born out of a band which I took to the Wigan Jazz Festival in 2006, a festival which we actually headlined this year. We still have a lot of fun and that’s very important.
Let’s talk a bit about practice. What are you currently working on within your own practice routine, and what advice could you perhaps offer young drummers on practicing?
I’m currently working on a system of techniques which utilise a whole integration of every part of the hand, wrist and forearm etc. I’m trying to integrate a method of very relaxed and effort free playing. I’m also working of various approaches to independence and co-dependence which I feel is extremely important and sometimes overlooked. I think where a lot of drummers go wrong, is that they stress how much time they spend practicing rather than what they practice. Practice is all about context and should be used to do things that are relevant and useful toward developing ones playing, and to satisfy musical requirements in regards to playing with other musicians. I think guys often put a lot of time into the wrong things rather than working on things that could actually be used within musical situations.
Up until recently you were one of the contributing educators for Drummer magazine. Tell us a bit about how you got involved with the magazine?
I think that the contributing articles came about largely through two things. My friendship with James Hester, who is both a great drummer and person and my ten year association with Drum Tech. Drummer magazine were looking for Drum Tech to sponsor a page in the magazine and through James and Samatha Slater (previous Drummer editor) everything kind of fell into place. It was really fun to write stuff on a monthly basis but also very challenging to keep things fresh and interesting by coming up with material that would be exciting for the readers.
In terms of drum education, what do you feel has been the most important thing you have learnt during your career?
I like to deal with positives so I guess having the opportunity to play this big band style that I’ve had the opportunity to play from a very early age, and having being exposed to the drumming greats like Louie Belson and Buddy Rich has just been fantastic. I feel a little sorry for the younger guys who never got to see some of the late greats in the flesh, because it really is something else seeing someone live over something like watching a YouTube clip. I remember going to a Gary Chaffee masterclass about twenty years ago and just being blown away by his approach to drumming, everything he spoke about was musically relevant regardless of how technical or sophisticated it came across. I think that half a day with Gary was a huge eye opener for me and perhaps made me realise that anything we learn can potentially be important as long as we always remember to use what you learn in a musical way.
If you could do it all again, what do you think you would’ve changed?
I think the onIy things that I would’ve done differently would’ve been that I would’ve come to London sooner ,and I would’ve trusted more of my own judgement rather than taking so much advice from other people. With that being said I can’t really complain I have arguably the greatest gig in the world, and it’s from my own creation. As much as I hesitate to say this, I sometimes think that I have more fun playing this repertoire than what Buddy Rich ever did. In addition I have a rock solid and very happy marriage, a lovely home and all the drum equipment that I could ever want. I still have so much left to do and accomplish on the instrument that I’m never bored, so I’m very happy.
In November of this year you’ll be playing alongside some great drummers as part of this years ‘Worlds Greatest Drummer’ event, have you got anything special planned for your performance?
This great event was the brain child of my friend Ian Palmer and as the years have gone by, I seem to have become more and more a part of it, which is extremely satisfying. My band performs the tunes and as a whole it’s always very exciting. Performance wise, I’m going to do what I usually do but I am hoping to have my Rogers 1970’s shells redone to play on. Also, because Joe Morello recently passed away a few of us that are performing are going to do a tribute to him and are hoping to have five drummers play along to a version of Dave Brubeck’s ”Take Five’ tune, which Joe originally played on.
In general what is your approach when performing at clinics/events?
It really depends on my mood. I have a couple things that I like to call upon, but it depends on the day and on how I feel. I like to sometimes talk a bit about the history of the Jazz and show how certain patterns developed, so sometimes I do that, or more recently I played a few clinics using some backtracks which is something I had never really done before. I think the golden rule when it comes to clinics is that people go away with more than what they came with. I’m not about putting on a sequenced track and showing how fast I can play certain things. I want to interact and share with people and provoke them into thinking about what they do and hopefully uncapping their potential.
Any last thoughts or words of advice?
I’d say always remember every day how fortunate you are to have the gifts and inclination to play this marvelous instrument. Also, if you do get lucky and the industry is kind to you, always remember your shelf life. We’re aren’t doing brain surgery here, we’re just playing the drums. So be careful and mindful of how you conduct yourself as a professional because there’ll always be someone looking over your shoulder ready to step into your position. Lastly I’d say that on the band stand with your fellow musicians, the paying public and the good people in the drum world that support us – always take a moment and remember how to behave.
For more information on Pete Cater or his Big Band please visit www.petecaterbigband.com