Anatoly Makurov: “I always try to generate ideas on the drum kit”

CD: Anatoly, you’ve been teaching for over 30 years. Tell us, what kind of students interests you?

Anatoly: First of all, he must be a thinker and a great music lover. It is necessary that he desires to learn playing drums and acknowledges that a drummer is a very tough profession, which requires a lot of hard and exhausting work, but which eventually brings great satisfaction and pleasure. He must be a true fanatic of drums.

CD: How did you become a drummer?

Anatoly: When I was a little boy, I was charmed by melodies like “Riorita”, “The sun valley serenade”, “Silver guitar” and I unconsciously drummed out the rhythms with my fingers…In 1960 I attended the drums section in the House of Pioneers, and then joined the district brass band. In a year I applied to a musical school, where fate brought me together with a great teacher – Anatoly Knorre. With his tremendous help I became a member of the RCAC (Railway men’s Central Arts Centre) Grand Symphony Orchestra, which mainly consisted of mature students of the Gnesinikh school and institute, and conservatory students…and I was only 11 at that time! We played a lot of fantastic music – Beethoven, Dvorjak, Smetana, Tchaikovsky, Strauss. These were ones of the happiest years! When I turned 14 I attended the symphony orchestra, which consisted of The Grand Theatre retirees. My repertoire expanded with pieces like “Bolero” by Ravel, Shostakovich’s 7th symphony, Tchaikovsky’s 4th symphony and many others. In another year I got into a jazz orchestra, where, for the first time in my life, I sat behind a real drum kit. This turned my life over completely and determined my future destiny. Jazz music attracted me completely. I dropped out of all symphony orchestras and started preparing for the entrance exams to the music school, which I successfully joined in 1966.

CD: Who was your first drum teacher?

Anatoly: Actually, I never had a “first teacher”, however, I had a drumming idol – Vladimir Vasilkov. I met him on my first year in the music school. He was 6 years older and he played in café “Youth” and was a famous jazz musician. He never had time to teach me and I never asked. I just followed him around wherever he went and listened and watched him play. Vladimir played with incredible drive and radiated a lot of powerful energy. He always shared a lot of information with me. I listened to everything he listened to. I learned a lot from him, adopted his ideas and stole his knowledge, for which I’m very thankful. In 2007 I organized Vladimir’s clinic for students of Moscow music schools and colleges. Vladimir played fantastically, shared a lot and we filmed this great event. I would also like to note, that Vladimir is not just a great drummer, but he is also an incredible piano player. In 1968 he was a part of a trio with Valeri Bulanov on drums, Yuri Markin on bass and Vladimir on piano. People crowded to see them play. Vladimir Vasilkov is a remarkable example of how piano playing and the understanding of jazz harmony tremendously helps a drummer.

CD: Tell us about café “Youth”.

Anatoly: Café “Youth” was the jazz Mecca in Moscow. It was impossible to get inside, so I usually sneaked in through the staff’s entrance. It was in café “Youth” where I heard Valeri Ponomarev (before he left to USA and had great success with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers), pianist Valeri Sakun, bass player Andrey Yegorov, saxophone players Igor Visotski, Anatoly Gerasimov, Alexey Kozlov, Eduard Uteshev, Vladimir Sarmakashev, and, of course, the great drummers – Valentin Bagiryan and Valeri Bulanov. In other words, the entire jazz world was there. I was very inspired by their performances, I practiced a lot on the drum kit and every single night I listened to the music broadcasts of “Voice of America”. At times I had the opportunity to get tapes, records and books. It was back then when I first got Jim Chapin’s book. When Dom Famularo visited Moscow with his clinics sometime ago, I kindly asked him to bring this very book, completely worn out because of long hours of practice, back to Jim signed by me with words of gratitude.

CD: Was jazz music your exclusive interest?

Anatoly: From age 16 to 20 jazz was the only music I listened to. I loved the records of jazz pianists and musicians that played with them. I was very interested in Thelonious Monk and his drummer Roy Haynes, pianist Wynton Kelly and his drummer Jimmy Cobb, pianist Oscar Peterson and his drummer Ed Thigpen, pianist Phines Newborn and his drummer Philly Joe Jones. A also listened to Dave Brubeck and Joe Morello, pianist Duke Pearson and many others. I also liked Cannonball Adderley, Lee Morgan, Wes Montgomery and other great players.

Little by little my interst came to funk music, rhythm-and-blues, jazz-rock, and some rock musicians. I became interested in music of Horace Silver and drummers that played with him: Roy Brooks, Roger Humphries and Louis Hayes. In the beginning of 1970s I heard psychedelic music, performed by the Oliver Nelson band (compositions like “Why am I treated so bad”, “Chicken” and others) with Bernard Purdie on drums. Later on I heard him with James Brown and Aretha Franklin. I was completely carried away with his playing. I’ve never heard a better funk drummer! I really liked Janusz Stefanski, a famous polish drummer. His powerful and rich playing in 8/8 fascinated me so much, that I made transcriptions of a few pieces, where he accompanied Peter Figiel on Hammond organ. It was also then when I got the records of Black Soul, where I heard Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, B.B. King and I completely immersed in to rhythm-and-blues. A bit later, I was really interested in “Blood, Sweat and Tears” with Bobby Colombo on drums. My idol rock drummer was Don Brewer from the hard-rock band “Grand Funk Railroad”. I had chills running down my spine when I heard their performance and especially Don Brewer’s strong and energetic playing. It was a great pleasure for me to play along with Brewer’s records, trying to imitate his style. I listened to a great deal of other bands too. There was a lot of interesting music back then.

CD: You’ve named a lot of great drummers. But who was the one you specially loved?

Anatoly: Through 60-70s I listened to practically all records with Max Roach, transcribed his solos and accompaniment. Of course, I loved Art Blakey and his famous records “The Freedom Rider”, “Caravan”, “A Night in Tunisia”, “Moanin’”. I’ve already mentioned that I liked Louis Hayes, Philly Jo Jones, Jimmy Cobb, Tony Williams, Jack DeJohnette. Back then, I transcribed a lot off the tapes I listened to, learnt by heart and tried to play with identical fragmentation, which gave the correct sounding. It was a real challenge, since there were no videos and it was impossible to check with which fragmentation the drummer played. I still have a lot of transcribed solo records left from those times.

CD: What did you do after you graduated?

Anatoly: I graduated in 1970. I did apply to college, as there were no jazz faculties or sections back then. Before that, in the end of the third course, I got a job at MMEA (Moscow Musical Ensembles Association) and my first band was Alexander Gorokhovsky’s band. The musicians in this band were very mature and they played very nice arrangements. There was a lot to learn. Later, Vladimir Prokhorov, a pianist and arranger invited me to join his dixieland. There was a lot of rehearsing, a lot of performances in different jazz clubs. When I graduated in 1970 I was called up for military service. I served in the USSR Naval Orchestra and during these very difficult, but unforgettable years I practically wrote my first books – three editions of “Technique and coordination development on the drum set”. These works contained the basis for my other book entitled “Four-way coordination development on the drum set”, and I also started working on “Four triplet figure formation on the drum set”, and “Melody arrangement on the drum set”.

CD: How many books have you got published in total?

Anatoly: In 1987 I published my first methodical workout “Etudes in jazz-rock style for the drum set” for music schools and colleges and three editions of “Technique and coordination development on the drum set” were published a year after. Both works were recommended by the USSR Ministry of Arts Headquarters of educational and scientific institutions. Last year I started publishing my work “Melody arrangement on the drum set” in the Music Box magazine. My other work, “Four-way coordination development on the drum set”, is being published in the Community Drum magazine since December 2007.


CD: What did you do after army?

Anatoly: I continued working in MMEA. It was very comfortable for me to work in Moscow and to have the opportunity to keep practicing drums. I tried to play only in the best bands: Grigory Katz’s band, Alexander Yamovsky’s variety band, I also played with a well-known violin player Rafik Akopyan, with a jazz tenor saxophone player Viacheslav Preobrazhenski. Then it was the Mikhail Oleinikov variety band in the “Intourist” hotel – the best at that time. There I performed with trumpet players Anatoly Vasin and Vladimir Cherepanov, a trombone player Boris Rokengluze, bass player Andrey Reshetsov, guitarist Boris Emelianov and pianists Grigory Shambrov and Mikhail Semenov. I worked with this band for over two years until Mikhail Oleinikov left to USA and we were disbanded. Since 1979 I worked in the “Cosmos” hotel. In the years 1983-1988 I studied and worked in the institute and in 1988 I was invited to join the Viacheslav Kadirsky big-band, one of the best in Moscow. I had the opportunity to work with very interesting musicians: bassist Adik Satanovsky, guitarist Vitaly Tulyakov, pianist Vladimir Danilin and with fantastic brass section players. For the last 19 years I’ve been working in the “Prague” restaurant with my big friend, guitarist and singer Leonid Molchanov and a keyboard player Veniamin Viderman. I would also like to say a few words about a famous jazz trumpet player Konstantinl Nosov. I heard him for the first time in 1969, but we got to know each other only in the middle of the 70s. This man influenced me a lot as a musician and a philosopher. It is owing to him that I came across great trumpet players like Don Cherry, Freddie Hubbard, Art Farmer, Miles Davis and many others.

CD: Tells us about how you came to teaching

Anatoly: I’ve been collecting books, records, notation for the snare drum and drums since I was 15. Now after 43 years I have a very huge library – I’ve collected all “music minus one” records and books by James Aebersold, which are of a great help in studying the jazz standards, hundreds of famous jazz musicians’ records, a lot of videos. I have around 2000 jazz videos, all editions of the “Modern Drummer” magazine, tons of other printed information…I still keep on updating my library. Dom Famularo was amazed when he saw my catalogue! In 1977 I was invited to teach at the October Revolution music college (now – Shnitke College), but I refused. I started teaching only in two years after that. I really wanted to have my own studio, where I could share knowledge I had and information I collected and wrote myself with the students. I remember that I was shocked by the education plans, where 80% of the time was dedicated to vibraphone. Moreover, vibraphone etudes and pieces were the basis for the entrance exams. The path to schools and colleges was closed to many talented students willing to study drums. There were many reasons for this. The first mistake was made in 1976 when Russian music institutions started opening jazz departments: the classes in these schools were not called “the drum set class”, like it was done in the entire world, but they were called “the percussion instruments class”, where students had to study the vibraphone and the drum set. Why was this decision made? I have no idea. Secondly, the education agendas were made up in a way that students had to dedicate most of their time to the vibraphone. Many teachers were against this situation and tried to fight it by dedicating as much time to the drum set as possible. However, other teachers were absolutely convenient with the situation. Lacking the knowledge and opportunity to teach drums, these teachers overloaded students with vibraphone programs that even included improvisations, which, actually, were learnt by heart to the last note and brought forward to the exams. I personally think that a jazz vibraphone player is an independent profession, which requires the ability to play on the piano, improvise freely and know jazz harmony. 10 years (1979-1989) were spent in fighting with this system and bringing the vibraphone out of the drum set class. I brought forward different arguments, I referred to the Berklee Music School programs, where drummers had the drum set as the one and only speciality. In 1989 I thought I finally won. The institute council finally enacted the decision to split the vibraphone and drum set classes. Unfortunately, this decision failed to be realized because of the “perestroika” and there was no one to take care of this matter. The Ministry of Arts now had other problems to solve. I left the institute in 1992 and for 5 years I haven’t taught in my studio. My resignation was a protest against those that prevented the classes from being separated. In 1997 I returned, but now it was the drum set class.

CD: Do you conduct clinics or master classes?

Anatoly: In 1987 I was invited to lecture in Tallinn, Estonia. The organized event gathered many teachers, students and amateurs from all around the near Baltic region. I brought along a lot of educational materials and records to share and copy. I’ve been lecturing for 10 hours every single day without going off stage, shared my knowledge and illustrated many ideas on the drum kit. There were many interesting questions and debates…However, I was extremely disappointed with the low level of students and a clear incompetency of many teachers. They knew very little about the process of teaching, they were not aware of much of the educational drumming literature, and, of course, they were not working out anything of their own.

In 1989 the Ministry of Arts decided to organize extension courses for drum teachers from music schools and colleges that had jazz departments. I was offered to organize these courses. For 28 days I’ve been reading lectures, conducted seminars and organized clinics with many famous Russian drummers: Victor Epaneshnikov, Vladimir Vasilkov, Alexander Simonovsky, Alexey Gagarin, Mikhail Kudriashov and many others. Teachers came from all across Russia. However, the general picture was very sad: some of them played the instrument pretty well, but could not teach efficiently, most of them knew very little about drums. I was shocked to know that in some provincial schools the absence of a drum teacher was solved by prescribing a trumpet player to teach drums. There were very few competent teachers. There was Boris Grunsky – a teacher from Rostov, who knew jazz very well; Yuri Bobrushkin from Ekaterinburg – a great technique specialist; Kitaev from Ufa – a great rock specialist. I was very pleased to have met these people. I learnt a lot from them and I’m very thankful. Any drum teacher must remember that sole performance skills are not enough to be able to teach. Reading tons of literature, selecting the best and most useful books, developing your own concepts, specializing in various techniques, music styles and other things that a performer usually doesn’t even think about is vitally necessary.

CD: Anatoly, do professional mature drummers come to you for help?

Anatoly: Yes they do. They usually come for advice. I try to help whenever I can. Some of the professional musicians that come to my studio stay for 2, 3 and sometimes 4 years. This is incredibly pleasing and interesting. Most of them are my friends, we exchange information, experience, we discuss various drum topics and I learn from them.

CD: Do you teach children?

Anatoly: For a very long time I did not teach students younger than 15 years old, but for the past 11 years I’m teaching in a very good children’s music school “Kamerton” at the Moscow Economic School. For over 11 exciting years of teaching I had dozens of students, among which the youngest ones were fifth graders. With one of my students, a very talented and gifted drummer Andrey Lukin, we took part in an international children’s music contest hosted in Hague, Holland. He won the first place leaving behind more than 50 drummers from over the entire world. I also like to remember Mike Gregg’s children’s jazz big band, which came for a visit in 1989. They’ve been in Moscow for about a week and I practiced a lot with his students. In the end he invited me to teach for 6 months at his school in Michigan. Although, with incredible effort of my “well-wishers” that created irresistible formal problems my exit from the country had been blocked.

CD: Were there any more invitations from abroad?

Anatoly: In 1993 I received an invitation from France to take part in the “Forum International des Percussions en Auvergne”. It was sent to me by the director of the forum, Professor Claude Giot. He asked me to lecture and present my books and concepts to members of the Forum. My good friend, Dobri Paliev, professor of the Sophia conservatory, told me that my books have been quite popular in some European countries. But, unfortunately, I didn’t attend, had a lot of other business in Moscow.

CD: Do you organize clinics with famous drummers?

Anatoly: Yes, it is so. So far I have organized 12 clinics with different drummers. Students have met Walfredo Reyes Jr. and Dom Famularo who have conducted two master classes each. I’ve organized clinics with Vladimir Zhurkin, Petr Talalay, Sergey Grigoryan, Victor Epaneshnikov, Pavel Timofeev, Igor Stotland, Igor Javad-Zade, Dennis Vasilevsky, Vladimir Vasilkov, Aleksey Kravtsov. All master classes were filmed. We are also planning clinics with Leonid Khaykin, Eduard Zizak, Peter Ivshin and many others. This October we are organizing two more clinics with Dom Famularo.

CD: Last question, Anatoly. What would you like to wish to young drummers?

Anatoly: First thing – learn! Learn to listen to music, learn playing the piano, it will help you grasp the connection between rhythm, melody and harmony, and eventually, understand your fellow musicians better. It is extremely important to organize your studies. Nowadays, thanks to the Internet, we can download a lot of notation, music and videos. Although, sometimes it is difficult to select something you really need, so that’s why I advise to find yourself a teacher. Self education and studying alone is not the best path. Too much time will be devoted to discovering something that is already well-known or wide-spread and an experienced mentor can really help out with guidance. And one more note of advice: always be friends with drumming notation and never believe those who tell you that it is enough just to sit behind the kit and everything will start “rolling” itself. Such words spoil young minds, don’t believe them. With all the responsibility I can declare – nothing will “roll”. The great Tony Williams, who always strived for perfection, once stated: “Learning has always been exciting for me. Drummers spend a long time not feeling good on their instruments because of the things they don’t want to do. Everyone has prejudices and fears. But anyone with experience knows that if you take a couple of years to study something, several years later you will be very glad that you spent that amount of time improving yourself. Sometimes you don’t realize how much good something has done you until years later”.

Text: Community DRUM
Photo: courtesy of A. Makurov