Art Bernstein has been playing, recording, teaching and writing about drumming for over 30 years. As a contributing writer to “Drumhead Magazine”, a teacher with The Empire State Youth Orchestra, and performer on over 40 albums, Art is a master at his craft, whose teachings, publications and performances have undoubtedly enriched the lives of so many drummers.
To top it off, Art is a terrific guy; very down to earth and humble. I am proud to call him my friend, and a terrific drummer. His work with jazz guitar virtuoso Chuck D’Aloia is exceptional in every way. Art has written several lesson books, including “Kangarudiments”, which is one of the best lesson books that I’ve ever read. Art is a true gem in the world of percussion. So please welcome, my friend, Art Bernstein!
RRX: Hey man. Let’s start out with the basics; How old were you when you started playing?
AB: I started playing in sixth grade as I remember. I started on snare, and quickly moved to snare drum and drum set. In seventh grade I played in the concert band and jazz ensemble. In eighth grade I started playing in both the middle school and high school jazz band. My eighth grade year was very busy, doing both jazz bands, concert band, as well as some drum set work on upop” tunes at the time. The jazz ensemble material was almost always focused on swing, jazz/funk and fusion; really all over the map, and this really helped me grow as a drummer. I am so thankful for the time I had with all that material. In the summer of 1984, I was full time at the Eastern US Music Camp at Cortland State University, playing in multiple ensembles all day every day, and studying privately with Tom Brown. In high school I studied with Kathleen Lowry, who is Tom Brown’s daughter! I am so happy to have had the opportunity to study with those gifted players, as well as my private instructor at the time, David Bitner. I am so thankful for having these wonderful teachers while growing up.
RRX: It sounds greatl Who inspired you early on in your drumming life?
AB: Too many to list! I was a very young drummer, but would cite Neil Peart, Stewart Copeland, John Bonham, Mitch Mitchell, Chad Smith, Steve Gadd, Dave Weckl, David Garibaldi, Chick Webb, Gene Krupa, Philly Joe Jones, Louis Benson, Buddy Rich, Tony Williams…the list goes on.
RRX: A long list! Tell me about your “dream kit”.
AB: As an Ayotte guy I have to say pretty much what I am playing right now. Custom Ayotte four or five piece. I would love to add a 20″ x 14″ kick that could be tuned like a 22″ or 24″ kick if needed. A separate vintage wish list would include a vintage Ludwig Black Beauty, Supraphonic, and anything Gretsch Round Badge!
RRX: Nice! You’ve been teaching, writing, and playing your tail off for years; is there anything that you prefer to do?
AB: I truly love it all.
RRX: It shows! I like to ask jazz players about rock and roll drummers like Charlie (Watts) and Ginger (Baker) who preferred to be known as jazz players. So, having played several different styles of drumming, in your opinion, what is it about jazz that seems to attract even the most “rock and roll” type drummers?
AB: I could go on for hours but let me boil it down and try to be succinct. First, I think that this is our history, as drummers. I think that we are drawn naturally to find out where we came from. If it were not for jazz, would there be rock? Second, to know as much as you can about where you came from historically with your craft, will assist you in so many ways, to help you figure out where you’re going. Third, outside of straight rock playing all 8th and 16th notes completely straight and playing triplets in strict orchestral fashion, everything swings to a varying degree. From totally swung to a James Brown funk feel, or a New Orleans jazz feel, and all things in between, they’re all related, and there is no right or wrong in my eyes, As Duke Ellington once said, “If it sounds good, it is good!” Fourth, in my mind, music is language, music is communication, most importantly as drummers, as we are listening, reacting to what we’re hearing, and subsequently being a supportive player with what we choose to play/say. No matter what we are doing stylistically we are always listening and communicating as we play. In all music, but particularly in jazz, we are supporting the other players, often through “comping” (which means to compliment) the other players. It makes a lot of sense to me that drummers are so drawn to this kind of improvised musical communication. I don’t mean to imply that jazz is the only musical style where this occurs, but it does seem to provide more opportunities for this type of playing. Finally, jazz drumming welcomes playing that incorporates four way independence and can span many genres within one tune when applied in a jazz fusion setting. That, combined with all my previous points creates a super fun, musically expanding and rewarding experience,
RRX: So true. Ok; worst gig ever?
AB: OMG too many to mention! I won’t name names though. Even the worst gig has its rewards. It’s all about the music.
RRX: Do you polish your cymbals?
AB: I absolutely understand why some drummers do, but I don’t. Something about the sound of an aged cymbal that is fairly well cared for seems to work for me.
RRX: Tell me your feelings on roto-toms.
AB: Wow! Roto-toms! I have not played them since the mid 80’s. I did own a set though. Benefits in my eyes include, easy to tune, simply swivel the head, three toms to one stand, and cost effective to add three toms to a kit! Drawbacks? Well, it’s a distinct sound, but probably has a place. Maybe there will be a roto-tom revival! That might be quite cool and fun!
RRX: t am waiting for the roto-tom Revival. That’s a good name for a band. Is there one drummer in history that you would like to sit down with and interview?
AB: Again, too many to narrow down to one.
RRX: Ok Professor, as a teacher, performer, author etc., what is your favorite warm-up before playing?
AB: A cup of java and mixing things up with something different every day. Always rudiments, followed by a specific style, rotating every day. One day, Afro Cuban, the next day Brazilian, the next day swing/jazz, next day New Orleans, and then slow blues, funk, the next day…
RRX: Art Bernstein is not only a tremendous player, author, and teacher, but also a wonderful guy. Check out his work at “Drumhead Magazine”, or any of his recordings, especially the ABCD albums, or at his website, artbernstein.com. You will not be disappointed!
Originally published in The Xperience Monthly