October 31, 2005

Zildjian Day Manila 2005: Simon Phillips drum clinic

It was a rainy Thursday. Coming from a gig the night before & getting to sleep very late, I woke up at around 130pm. I wanted to sleep some more, but when I saw the clock, I suddenly got up. “Oh sh**!” I quickly got up and prepared myself. I plan to arrive early for this year’s Zildjian Day Manila drum clinic, featuring the great Simon Phillips.

JB Music, the local distributor of Zildjian cymbals sponsored the drum event, and it was held at the Henry Lee Irwin Theater inside the Ateneo De Manila campus. It’s a good thing that despite the rain, there was no heavy traffic at the Katipunan area. Thanks to that, I still had enough time to have a Chickenjoy meal at Jollibee, just across the school.

Arriving early did not matter because the show was delayed anyway (as always, drum clinics in Manila always get delayed). I arrived in Ateneo at 4pm. The drum clinic was scheduled to start at 5pm. There was already a long line of drummers waiting to get in. It was okay because while waiting, I’m able to chat with my drummer friends, mostly from Pinoydrums (a Yahoogroup community of Pinoy drummers).

I was on the guest list (thanks to a very good friend), so we were allowed to come into the theater earlier. It was a special privilege not only because of the great seats, but because we were able to catch Simon Phillips still doing his warm-up and soundcheck! He was running back and forth from his drum kit to the mixing board. He’s an accomplished producer, so he’s really meticulous with his sound. We wanted to block him so that we can have some autograph and photos & get to chat with him even for a while, but of course we don’t want to disturb the man at work.

Simon Phillips, in case you’re not familiar with him, is one of the best drummers in the world. A Modern Drummer Hall Of Famer, he has played with numerous important artists such as The Who, Jeff Beck, Judas Priest, Mick Jagger, & currently with Toto. He is famous for his innovations in double bass drumming, his left-hand lead & his creative yet musical approach. Simon is one of my favorite drummers. I consider him a major influence in my playing, and he’s a drummer whom I want to emulate. He’s more of a rock drummer, but he can play several styles of music.

Going back to the soundcheck, it was a thrill to hear Simon play live on his trademark double bass setup. It was not his personal Tama Starclassic kit, but the brand new Tama Superstar kit provided by Audiophile (Tama’s local distributor) sounded impressive as well. I wish there were also some Octobans (deep-sized small-diameter drums) & a gong bass drum provided, which are integral to Simon’s massive set-up & style. I was hoping to hear some incredible Starclassic Maple drums because those are my dream drums. But the Superstar kit did not disappoint anyway.

On the right side of Simon’s huge kit sits a smaller drumkit loaded with plenty of cymbals. This belongs to Vic Mercado of Bamboo. Vic is the newest Pinoy endorser of Zildjian cymbals. He’s a great drummer with plenty of licks to show, and I believe that he’s deserving of the Zildjian endorsement. He clowned around during his short soundcheck, playing some awkward novice grooves, but later on exploded with monster chops out of his smaller drum set-up.

The drum clinic was very delayed. The show started at 7pm! I even heard that Simon thought that the clinic was at 9pm! Anyway, the staff of JB Music graciously apologized for the delay, telling us about Simon’s delayed flight, the rush to their hotel & some infamous Metro Manila traffic.

Show finally starts! The clinic kicks off with Vic Mercado & his successful rock band Bamboo. They only played 2 songs because of the late start, so sayang bitin. The band didn’t even have a soundcheck due to time constraints. But these guys are professionals & great artists, so they were able to pull it off. They played their hits Hallelujah and As The Music Plays The Band. Halfway through the second song, Vic performed his drum solo. He was interrupted by some technical problems (I think his kick pedal’s clamp got loose), but he was light-hearted about it. Nathan Azarcon (Bamboo bassist) was even throwing some jokes. Vic had this upright snare drum played with a foot pedal located at the left side of his hi-hat pedal. I was intrigued on what he was planning to play with that. However, again due to limited time, according to sources he wasn’t able to play his piece that would utilize that second snare drum. Anyway, Vic of course received a well-deserved applause from the crowd.

Vic is a funny guy. He’s humble when he acknowledged the crowd & his sponsors. Vic was cool; he simply did his thing & had fun despite the short set & a few technical difficulties. I never had the chance to meet him yet, but he seems to be a kind and sincere person.

And for the most awaited event, it’s time for Simon Phillips’ drum clinic! Pinoy drummers greeted Simon enthusiastically as he enters the stage and into his double bass kit. He started with an instrumental track from one of his solo albums, and then immediately followed it with an improvised yet structured drum solo, which was about 20 minutes long. Simon’s drum solo was a display of his impeccable taste, creative flair & sense of musicality. He’s a very dynamic player, and his familiar combination of power & finesse is evident. Highlights of his drum solo are his multi-tom rhythms, his double bass patterns & his super-cool drum fills and licks. Simon shows great command of his huge drumkit. In particular, his trademark left-hand lead on a right-handed set-up is impressive, though he can play with both left-hand and right-hand leads.

After the drum solo, Simon went up front & began talking and entertaining questions. Being a professional musician for over 30 years & an experienced clinician, Simon seems to be comfortable with a large crowd. He seems to enjoy talking and sharing stories with colleagues, and he has a good sense of humor. I also like how he explained some of his ideas and concepts. Simon wasn’t so technical with his terms. The way he explained it is easily understandable regardless of the audience's playing level and background. Simon entertained plenty of questions, in particular about his career, the bands and artists that he’s worked with, his drumming technique, warm-up and exercise ideas (which he further demonstrated), recording techniques, and advices for aspiring drummers who want to make it in the music business. He even shared stories about other famous drummers and was even requested to play some jazz drumming – which he did, playing along to a jazz track from his jazz group project Vantage Point. An excited drummer and fan even asked for Simon’s Zildjian t-shirt after he’s done with the clinic, which Simon graciously gave away later on.

Simon closed his clinic with another drum solo, which is shorter than the first solo & this time featured more melodic applications on multiple toms. After that, he played-along to another exciting instrumental track from his solo album, which proved to be the icing on the cake, with a battery of explosive licks and hits as the tune progresses to its climax. The crowd was clearly awed with this spectacle, and then gave Simon a huge applause & standing ovation.

Zildjian merchandise was raffled after the clinic. But I didn’t care to bother with it as me and my companions went out of the theater immediately and lined up outside for the autograph session. I’m a sucker for memorabilia and collectibles. I brought along my Old Faithful Tama Starclassic snare drum, my pair of Zildjian hi-hats, some anniversary-issue Modern Drummer magazines and a used drumhead for him to sign. My friends and I were among the first in line, and Simon graciously signed all the stuff that I brought. Of course I shook his hand – I never want to leave a big drum clinic without shaking hands with a well-respected world-class drummer haha!

Though it was raining all day and night, it was a beautiful and memorable day. As a drum artist, this year’s Zildjian Day Manila got me fired up, thanks to the inspiration from Simon Phillips, Vic Mercado, and the hundreds of fellow drummers and musicians that I had the privilege of sharing that special drumming occasion with.