E.J. Strickland will be bringing his dynamic quintet to the Generations of the BEAT Festival for a set that is sure to bring the heat. We caught up with Strickland to discuss his unique development as a musician, his various methods of composition, and more. Be sure to catch the E.J. Strickland Quintet at 8pm on Day 1 of our drummer festival this Saturday 3/23/13.

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You had the unique advantage of having a fellow musician in your twin brother, Marcus Strickland. Do you think that affected your development as a drummer?

Oh definitely! We used to practice together all the time and I think that it really helped having somebody else to grow and develop with. It also helped to develop the main foundation of music, which is communication. Music is a language and learning how to communicate with another human being through music is what it’s all about. Having somebody there to do that with on a daily basis definitely influenced both of our growths and developments.

Do you think your style developed any differently considering that Marcus is a horn player as opposed to a pianist or bassist for instance?

Yeah, definitely. I feel a different energy depending on the timbre of the instrument that I’m accompanying. With a piano player I think I tend to get more percussive and more syncopated. I think when I play with saxophonists it’s more of a shape kind of thing. I here the shapes of all the phrases I’m playing underneath. With a trumpet player it’s a certain kind of intensity that you play with. Every instrument has its own timbre and as a drummer, I respond differently to each one.

Who will you be interacting with in your own group this weekend at the Generations of the BEAT Festival?

I’m really excited about who I’ve got playing this weekend. We’ve got Jaleel Shaw who I’ve played with for a long time amongst both my own and other groups. He’s a dear friend as well as a colleague. That makes a difference — the brotherhood is there. Then we’ve got Jimmy Greene on tenor and soprano saxophones. We’ve also worked alongside each other in other bands for many years. We’ll actually be playing one of his tunes as well. On piano we have a great young talent named David Bryant. I think we first worked together with Ravi [Coltrane]. Ravi needed to use somebody else on piano and got Dave one time and he sounded amazing. He made an impression on me and immediately after that I started calling him for gigs and recommending him to a lot of people. Then on bass we have a great player named Luques Curtis. I started playing with him two years ago and every time I play with him he’s always got my back and I always feel comfortable with him. He’s a great reader, very professional, and a great musician.

You write quite a few of the songs your group performs. What is your process as a drummer composing music?

I always try to find a different way to approach writing whenever I write a tune. I have of course started on the drums and started with the groove. I’ve also started at the piano either with a melody or some harmonies. One time I was really searching for inspiration, so I wrote a poem. I wanted a really lyrical song that sounds like words even if it was played instrumentally. So I wrote down a poem and I put music to the words. I allowed the music to totally surrender itself to the words. It actually came out really, really great. But in general I always try to find a different way.

EJ Strickland’s Top 5 Influential Drum Tracks:

Elvin Jones on “Your Lady” by John Coltrane

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For me this track is very intense in the way it starts. It begins with Jimmy Garrison laying down a bassline in four. It’s two different loops going against each other, but all the while connected. Elvin comes in with a nice waltz underneath and of course his waltz is very africanized and it’s going against the four. That’s really what stood out for me.

Art Blakey on “Ugetsu” with the Jazz Messengers

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I like Art Blakey on this track, and on the whole album, because he never takes a drum solo. It really floored me that his accompaniment was so perfect on it and he didn’t even need to take a solo to stand out. He didn’t need to stand in the forefront to be featured.

Philly Joe on “Temperance” by Wynton Kelly

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I’ve spent hours transcribing all of the solos that Philly took on that record. But the solo that he took on that one tune is just so articulate. For me, he’s one of the most articulate drum soloists who ever lived.

Marvin “Smitty” Smith “Initiation (part 3)” by Kevin Eubanks

This particular tune is very complex and very hard — there’s a lot of math involved. But the way that he plays on it and the groove that he’s laying both make a statement that no matter how complex it is, make it groove. That’s what he’s doing. When he’s soloing, it’s like nothing to him. You can tell he’s not counting while he’s playing.

Tony Williams on “Agitation” by Miles Davis

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I dare to say this is one of my favorite drum solos ever recorded. He starts the tune beginning with nothing and he turns it into something. It becomes this really lush and dense solo full of musicality and a lot of dynamics. He showcases his chops, but in a musical way. It’s the perfect solo. The way that Miles and the rest of the quintet come in after that is just so perfect as well.

Interview by Eric Sandler (@ericsandler)

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 Generations of the BEAT Festival — 3/23-3/24

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