Steve Smith – Drum legacy: standing on the shoulders of giants




Steve Smith - Drum legacy Mini - Putrum Putrum


Following the footsteps of his previous DVD, Steve Smith explains the origins of jazz and swing in the best way possible: helped by another authority (John Riley), they discuss techniques, resources, and style of the great jazz drummers from the 20th century. Based on a Smith’s band Jazz Legacy concert, they analyze each song in sincere tribute to the great names of the genre.



By now, the great Steve Smith needs no introduction. He is not only one of the best and most respected drummers in active, but he is also one of the most concerned about making further spread of the tradition of our instrument for young and future generations.

His clinic tours and masterclasses are well known and remembered by those who attend to them, and his appearances in lots of events and festivals have been registered and released in various media, having earned him a reputation of an anti-star, a closer character who gets the audience to learn. Instead of showing off, he prefers to make us understand that he is only the custodian of an ancient legacy that must be passed with a basis to be learned and applied, so that the tradition can be renewed and modernized once again.

Aware that television and media are important, he tried his hand in the 80’s by releasing two popular instructional videos: Steve Smith Part 1 and Part 2, which gave us some clues of his belief that the key is to establish a good foundation of knowledge and careful practice.

A few years ago he had given up that stardom achieved as a member of the American band Journey, with a very successful career in the USA, Canada and other countries. In 1985, he decided to resume his passion for jazz, continuing his career as a prestigious studio sessionist. His curriculum vitae over the years is impressive, and has also held in two formations: Vital Information, a delicious fusion supergroup with great musicians, and Jazz Legacy, more focused on the tradition of jazz bands of the period when they were led by a star drummer, offering respectful but updated versions of several classic songs in their repertoire, thus honoring the masters of the genre.

In 2003, Steve Smith recorded again an educational video, Drumset Tecnique & History of the U.S. Beat in double DVD format, which achieved great sales and established him as one of the most prestigious music educators of his time. There are very few videos as educational as that one.

And so we come to 2008 and this last DVD, also in double format, which has a unique structure that makes it very attractive. It is based on the one-hour performance of his Jazz Legacy band at the Modern Drummer Festival 2006, in which they played a tribute to some legendary drummers from the 20th century. Steve and his friend John Riley discuss each song and its parts, discussing the stylistic approach of Smith and his musical decisions when playing them. Besides this, they enlighten us with their knowledge of these heroes and their time.

Steve Smith - Drum legacy 2 - DrumsCult

John Riley is the perfect companion and partner for Steve Smith on this DVD. With another brilliant career behind, he is not as well known as Smith or many other drummers who have achieved fame and fortune in rock bands or more commercial music, but his CV is a who-is-who in the world of contemporary jazz. He also has two advanced degrees as a music teacher, and has served as such for years, currently in the Netherlands. He is also the author of three popular books, The Art of Bop Drumming, Beyond Bop Drumming and The Jazz Drummer’s Workshop. And, of course, he is an authority on the matter.

Here John Riley acts as an interlocutor for Smith, sitting comfortably in a chair. It’s a shame not to see him playing at any time, since Steve -who sits behind his Sonor kit in front of Riley- is the undisputed star of the show. However, Riley is neither a steward or a waiter. His function is not to be an interviewer whose previously agreed questions may be perceived as the equivalent of a massage for Smith. Obviously there are some guidelines and an agreed order in the topics covered, but the long conversation seems pretty spontaneous and little rehearsed. It is amusing to see how they have slightly different ways of approaching any subject matter, and how John Riley “overwhelms” Smith, who sometimes looks a little hard-set when repeating some parts or licks at a slower speed, or when they both discuss their particular views on every approach, sometimes differing somewhat from each other. Not a duel or anything like so, but through a very cordial mood there you can see not one, but two teachers who know a lot of what they say, and they do have things to say.

I think this DVD has the immense virtue of presenting in a very pleasant way something truly difficult to summarize and assimilate: where we came from musicwise, who did what first and how it occurred to him, why this guy played like that, who they listened to and who were they looking at, how technology evolved and how the innovations came, what changed in each generation, which are the schools and trends… and obviously, anyone with minimal interest in jazz cannot miss this summary of several periods and styles.

Steve Smith - Drum legacy 5 - Putrum Putrum

© Andrew Lepley


Quality is the constant in each one of Steve Smith’s videos. And he has taken advantage of the DVD format: on the second disc, there is a .pdf file which details the biographies of all the involved, both Steve Smith and John Riley as well as the legends they speak of. Also in this file we can find music sheet -with indications such as which sticking we should use- with the examples that are addressed throughout the video: rhythms, riffs and licks. It is impossible to be more enlightening and pedagogical.

As a complement, the entire performance from the Modern Drummer Festival 2006 is offered uninterrupted, along with a masterclass in Australia with some very interesting comments from Smith, a solo version of Max Roach’s solo “The Drum Also Waltzes” by Steve Smith, and finally some part of another exhibition in New York. Of course, being this a Steve Smith product, he has not forgotten the basics of his teachings, such as the grips, the Möeller technique and other topics such as odd time signatures (five’s, seven’s, etc..). There is also a third disc, an audio CD with a live performance by Jazz Legacy.

As stated in the introductory text .pdf file, the authors want to emphasize that “one must assimilate before he can innovate.” And, in this sense, it is stated that one should study the giants in his field to understand how they got their achievements, and explore the links in the chain that make up their tradition over time. Thus, we can make informed decisions when learning and practicing. Those are the benchmarks of current stars, and this is how it should be to keep alive the legacy and evolution.

There is nothing to complain about in this DVD, given the presentation framework that was chosen. It is highly recommended, specially if you are willing to pay attention and even go back and learn well. It’s nice to see the good feeling, the complicity and the wisdom of maintaining such level of conversation from beginning to end. It shows many practical examples, but it is not a compendium of exercises. It comes with a good explanation about the origins of these examples and all their little historical logic. It also contains key information about the drums and their tradition, with no cheap nor exhibitionism star pose. It’s all about transmitting the Legacy, and Steve Smith wanted everyone to sit on the shoulders of his giants, so that the trees do not prevent us from seeing the vast and varied forest and its many paths.

This post is also available in Versión en Español.

Carles Goodvalley (200 Posts)

My name is Carles and I am from Barcelona. I play drums since I was 14 but no continuosly or as a professional. For several years, I have been trying to acquire knowledge not only about "how to play" but in various aspects of the drumming world such as materials, techniques, styles, influences, characters and important records, drummers that have left their mark and all kinds of data regarding our instrument. I've played with differents bands and styles, mainly Pop/Rock and Progressive Metal.


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