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Cindy Blackman At The 32nd Annual Atlanta Jazz Festival
A powerhouse drummer, she is extremely humble, very focused, sophisticated, soulful, and creative
By Michele Wilson-Morris
(more articles from this author)
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Cindy Blackman and I tried unsuccessfully several times to come together by phone for our interview, much to our chagrin. But, we finally overcame the pain of the ever dreaded "no network" and had a long, enjoyable conversation. Ms. Blackman manages to be both cool and animated at the same time. A powerhouse drummer, she is extremely humble, very focused, sophisticated, soulful, and creative. She's jammed with some of the biggest names on the planet, and yet continues to push herself musically.

Does being a female put any extra pressure on you, or has it in the past? Do you feel like you have had to prove yourself in the past more than your peers because you are female?

At this point, I don't really feel more pressure except in terms of what I put on myself just in following the footsteps of the drummers that I love like Art Blakey. That's where the pressure comes from -- me. Sometimes, depending upon who you're working with, the amount of pressure tends to vary and depending on the mentality of the people you're working with, there can be some issues. My pressure comes from trying to reach the level that I want to reach.

How and when did you hook up with Rave Electrique?

I'd wanted to do an electric thing for a while. I did some shorts on one of my albums in the past, and one of the pieces was called Rave Electrique; I liked that title and liked what I was going for at that moment in time, so that's what I chose to call the name of my band. We just toured Europe, which was great. The music is electric but definitely with a jazz sensibility. It's very intelligent, there's a lot of interplay, and it's a very connected level of playing and conception.

You've performed with many famous artists – James Brown, Jon-Paul Jones, Iggy Pop, Prince, and Mick Jagger, just to name a few. What was that like for you?

Those were incredible times, and I thank Lenny Kravitz for that or those things wouldn't have happened. Those were amazing moments. Jon-Paul Jones was the first artist that I played with, and when he played you could hear why he's so great. He's really understated. Mick Jagger was incredible because he's such a big star that I didn't expect him to be as friendly, outgoing and sweet as he was. He just started doing his thing immediately. When he turned on, he was just on. James Brown was amazing too because he's the funkiest man on the planet and when the on switch came on, he just turned on and there was no stopping him. If you had to stop, then he probably would have just kept going. Just to be able to see him and feel his groove was awesome. It's one thing to hear such artists on a record, and it's another thing to be part of the set and feel the energy.

What were the names of the songs that you performed at the Atlanta Heritage Jazz Festival?

All I Want, Curiosity, and then Steve Jenkins (the bass player) started an improvisation and we all joined in. We played The One, did another improvisation, went to Thought Police (also by Steve), and closed with Budynek's "Sleep Deprived."

One of the things I found to be very interesting was the fact that during the festival you stated that you had just gotten off of a plane after a European tour, came to the festival in Atlanta, and you lit it up as if you were totally fresh. There was no sign of exhaustion. How do you do that? Do you get energy from the audience, from the music, etc.?

It was really great that the audience was so enthusiastic; there was a lot of energy from the audience. It was amazing just seeing people in the rain with their umbrellas. When it's time to turn on, you turn on, and you just go. After seeing people/musicians who were in the upper age group do that, I just can't say that I'm tired. I turn on.

Your inspiration was Tony Williams, a pioneer for the fusion movement in jazz. I hear the poly rhythms and the metric modulation in your music, but it seems you are going in your own direction. Where are you headed?

Tony Williams is my hero. He doesn't get the credit for it that he deserves, but the name fusion is a watered down version of what he did which was jazz rock, and it was jazz and rock together. Miles Davis heard Tony's group and that was one of the contributing factors that made him decide to go electric. Tony was such an innovator on so many levels, and in every genre he played. His is the quintessential sound.

I'm always working on going somewhere, trying to take the things that I love from the people I've worked with, and the elements from their bands and sounds, what they play on the drums, the way they interact with the soloist(s) and the rest of the band and make them mine. By doing that, I'm just taking those things and placing them where I would place them to make it my own. With these new groups I have, some of those things are being forced.

Miles Davis said that Tony Williams was the center of the music group sound. It seems like when you play, the music surrounds you. Am I correct in assuming that?

Yes, because in my band, the core sound and the core thing is the drums. It is spread it out as much as I can, but that's the way it happens. Art Blakey was like that. There's so much that happens because of the rhythm and it really defines the band. I want to have a sound that has enough character and is strong enough to do that.

Your mentor was a master, and you went to New York to find a master. Do you, at this point, consider yourself to be one?

No, I don't. Not yet. My goal is to become a virtuoso. I've been playing professionally since I was thirteen. I listen to the drummers that I consider to be masters every day, and in myself I see the things that I'm going for and that I want to do. I see myself as a student who is still going for things that she wants to get under her belt and then do those new things.

You're obviously famous in both places, but which do you enjoy more – the American jazz scene or the European jazz scene?

In terms of the fans and the gigs, sometimes the European scene is much better, but in terms of the musicians, the American scene is better because the musicians have more of an edge and proficiency.

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