Since the inception of the music over 100 years ago, how to resolve the issue of striking a balance between exhibiting drum technique and playing the drums as a part of the music has always been a challenge for Jazz drummers. The former is in the service of Ego while the latter is in the service of Jazz.
Every so often a drummer comes along with exceptional facility on the instrument who subordinates it to become a more integral part of the music.
Steve Fidyk is just such a drummer as I found out much to my delight when I listened to his previously released CDs Heads Up! [Posi-tone Label PR 8119] and Allied Forces. [Posi-tone Label PR 8157]
He technique is all here – precision, blistering speed, power – but you hear this through drums that emphasize bouncing bebop beats, New Orleans street beats, boogie beats, rock beats, straight-ahead jazz beats, organ-tenor-guitar beats, and the like – not just the drums. He has chops to spare but Steve is all about the music.
The drums, as sensitively played by Steve, take on a controlled creativity that compliments and complements his performances and his recordings.
I suppose one of the biggest accolades you could offer about his recordings is that you would never know that the band on them is headed-up by a drummer. The drums don’t dominate the music. They are a part of it.
Battle Lines provides another opportunity to revel in Steve’s skills and talents and to appreciate him for what he is – a positive force for Jazz in so many ways – as a musician, a bandleader, a composer and an educator.
His entire musical evolution is characterized by achievements of the highest order: as a student, as a teacher and as a performer. And if,
as Louis Armstrong [affectionately known in the Jazz World as “Pops.”] once declared – “Jazz is what you are” – then the music on Battle Lines is a reflection of all the musical settings Steve has participated in his career: from a 21 year stint as the drummer and featured soloist with the Army Blues Big Band based in Washington, D.C., to the small groups led by tenor saxophonist Walt Weiskopf and guitarist Jack Wilkins, respectively, and, more recently, the Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia led by trumpeter Terell Stafford.
The current version of Steve’s group is made up of Joe Magnarelli, trumpet, Xavier Perez, tenor sax, Peter Zak, piano, and Michael Karn, bass, all of whom feature brilliantly on this recording. The media release for Battle Lines noted: “Each member is an active participant that pushes Fidyk’s hard-hitting rhythmic and melodic message direct to the theater of operations.”
Academically, Steve is on the Jazz faculty at Temple University, the Philadelphia University of the Arts and serves as an educational consultant for the Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Essentially Ellington Program. [You can view his complete curriculum vitae on his website].
Given Steve’s many talents as a musician, bandleader and academician, it’s easy to overlook his accomplishments as a composer of tunes that are interesting to listen to and fun to play on. In his original compositions, his knowledge of theory and harmony is on display and help makes them melodically interesting vehicles on which to improvise.
Steve has provided these artist notes to help you better understand what’s going on with the music on Battle Lines.
Ignominy – A composition by the great tenor saxophonist and composer Eddie Harris. My friend Joseph Henson, who was featured on alto on my last recording, introduced me to this piece several years ago. It’s a simple tune with two themes — the first toggles between two chord changes and is 16-measures long, and the second is a 4- measure phrase that caps the melody with plenty of impact. Like many Eddie Harris compositions, it is funky, rooted in the blues tradition and fun to improvise over. The meaning of the term ignominy is “public shame or disgrace.” This 20-measure song features solos by Xavier Perez, Joe Magnarelli and Peter Zak.
Battle Lines – This original is a burning up-tempo piece with an (A-B) melody, coupled with a 32-measure solo section. Each (A) melody section is 12-bars long and the (B) section is 8-measures. The piece opens with a 6-measure 5:2 polyrhythm introduction and closes in the same manner. The solo section features Peter Zak, Xavier Perez and one chorus of drums before returning to a recapitulation of the melody.
Loopholes – I set out to write a “groove tune” for this project; something that felt good and had a dance sensibility to it. I came up with the title idea as an extension from previous compositions I wrote for other solo recordings: The Flip Flopper (from Heads Up!) and Gaffe (from Allied Forces). Loopholes follows suit and was conceived with a similar approach. I’ve lived and worked in the Washington DC area for over 25 years, and recently retired from the U.S. Army Band, “Pershing’s Own.” During my tenure as drummer for the U.S. Army Blues Jazz Ensemble, I performed in many unique environments to include concerts at the White House and Vice Presidents Quarters. In my 25+ years as a band member, I’ve witnessed my share of politicians and many loopholes. As we approach another election, I’m certain we will encounter even more from our present and future elected officials… This tune features a funky swing feel with a 16-bar
(A) and (B) section with solos by Joe Magnarelli, Xavier Perez and Peter Zak.
Thank You (Dziekuje) – A Chopin inspired piece entitled Dziekuje, meaning thank you — an expression of gratitude for the fans of Brubeck during his 1958 visit to Poland. A trio version was featured on the recording Jazz Impressions of Eurasia, a studio album recorded following that 1958 State Department tour, where the Quartet played 80 concerts in 14 countries throughout Europe and Asia. A more varied treatment at a medium tempo is featured on the live recording Bennett/Brubeck, The White House Sessions, Live 1962. When I first heard this piece, I was attracted to the beautifully haunting melody. I was also intrigued by the flexibility of both arrangements that are prominently displayed on both the studio and live versions.
I wanted to include a Brubeck composition for many reasons. The first being that he, in my opinion, is often overlooked as a composer and pianist—one of the finest of his generation and in 2020, we celebrate the centennial of his birth. Secondly, I wanted to acknowledge and thank my drum teacher, Joe Morello, a seminal member of the Dave Brubeck Quartet, who helped me a great deal musically and professionally.
I first met Joe when I was an 18-year-old student at Wilkes College. The college jazz ensemble was performing at the Mansfield State Jazz Festival in Mansfield, PA the fall of my freshman year. The jazz band director Tom Heinze knew Joe Morello well and suggested I contact him for lessons. Morello did a clinic at the festival and afterwards, I sheepishly asked if he would have time in his schedule to teach me. He gave me his number and said to call his wife, Jean to schedule. It took six months for me to have the courage to call and schedule, and I’m so thankful I did. This was back in 1987, long before the distractions of cell phones, computers and iPhones. I would take a two-hour lesson every two weeks with Joe throughout my college years. After joining the military and being stationed in DC, I would drive up to see him for periodic “checkups” to make sure my form, technique and coordination were on track. Joe is responsible for developing my sound and reflex for music. My teaching at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA is based in part on his teaching and his style of presenting information. The arrangement of the tune as featured on Battle Lines is in 3/4 time and features Xavier Perez and Peter Zak.
Bebop Operations – is based on a 32-measure (A-A-B-A) bebop melody, with an 8-measure drum solo introduction. The melody has a playful-like bridge, with A sections featuring some tricky syncopations. The solo section follows the same form, and showcases Joe Magnarelli, Xavier Perez and Peter Zak.
Bootlickers Blues – A strange blues with a strange title. A “bootlicker” is a person who tries to gain influence or favor through a servile, obsequious or brown-nosing manner. The tune features a standard 12-measure blues form with a few measures of “3/4 time” mixed in to keep things interesting. The first chorus of piano and tenor follow the form of the melody, before breaking into a hard driving swing feel in 4/4 time over the blues form. The drum solo that follows the tenor is two choruses, accompanied by the bass and piano, over the form of the melody.
Lullaby for Lori and John – is a ballad composed for my parents. I lost my mom this past year from congestive heart failure, and my dad in July 2017 from the same condition. After my father passed, my mom moved in with my family and wife and kids were incredible with keeping her as comfortable as possible. My folks had a traditional, “old school” relationship for 60 years. My father worked 40+ hour weeks as a machinist at TOPPS Chewing Gum Factory, and my mom stayed home, raising myself and three siblings. She cooked, cleaned, read to us, shopped for clothes, groceries, paid bills and kept the family unit together with love and respect– never complaining once. They both selflessly wanted their children to do better in life then they did. When I was young, my father would also play gigs with his trio (6 nights a week) on tenor saxophone. On occasion, he would take me out with him on a Saturday night to hear his group play, and the drummer would let me sit in on a tune or two as the night came to a close.
Lullaby for Lori and John was recorded in one take and I was in tears by the end of it. It features the incredible fluegelhorn sound of Joe Magnarelli.
Churn – An up-tempo original in 6/8 that features an (A-B-A) melody with solos by Xavier Perez and Peter Zak. Following the piano solo is an accompanied drum solo over the introduction vamp played by Michael Karn on bass, before a recapitulation of the theme.
Steeplechase – Charlie Parker!!! He helped invent the be-bop vernacular, and we pay homage to his contributions with this spirited rendition. He changed the way jazz musicians conceive and approach improvisational music and in 2020, we celebrate the centennial of his birth. Almost every alto saxophonist since has been influenced by his sound developments and contributions.
#Social Loafing – A piece dedicated to those who spend an excessive amount of time on social media. The melody and solo form are A-A-B- C and based on (2) themes. #Social Loafing is a medium swinger with a progression that’s fun to solo over. It features Xavier Perez, Joe Magnarelli, Peter Zak and a 1/2 chorus of drums on the first two (A) sections of the out-melody.
Sir John – A composition composed and recorded by trumpet legend Blue Mitchell on his 1960 LP Blue’s Moods. The original recording features Wynton Kelly on piano, Sam Jones on bass and Roy Brooks on drums. Sir John is a cool blues with a bounce that fits like a glove with this combination of musicians. It’s the sole selection that showcases solos by each member, and oddly enough, runs approximately the same length of time as the original Blue Mitchell version done 60 years ago.
Jazz for Steve Fidyk is a “do” word – a verb, and he continues to do his part to play an active role in keeping the music alive; full of the energy and spontaneity for which it is acclaimed.
For skilled musicianship that generates power, pulse and propulsion in the finest traditions of Jazz drumming, you can’t do better than “The Fidyk Force.”
The music on this recording is the first on Steve’s newly organized Blue Canteen label. For more information, please visit www.bluecanteeenmusic.com. Hopefully, there will be more to follow and soon.
– Steven A. Cerra www.jazzprofiles.blogspot.com