Kofi Baker: The Forgotten FootReview by Felice Kinnear // February 01 2012
Kofi Baker, only son of polyrhythm pioneer Ginger Baker, has released his first book, The Forgotten Foot. A lucid delve into Kofiʼs laser rhythmic intellect, his book provides a rare and full drumming education. Ginger, well known for his cogent drum solos and igniting controversy, taught his son how to play from a very early age. Kofi has since become inspired to share his knowledge to empower other drummers by writing a complete instructional book.
Ginger Baker, original drummer for Cream, was taught by English Jazz legend, Phil Seaman. He conceived a compelling style that has strongly influenced many of the musical elite. Ginger opened a significant door for double bass drumming to evolve in genres outside of jazz. This core technique is the jugular for developing complex playing. Kofi's book endeavors to introduce this concept early, ensuring both feet are never forgotten.
Ginger, indifferent to challenge, asserts himself as a jazz musician rather than the rock and roll drumming legend he's been deemed. Although his Cream playing is what he’s most famous for, Ginger is admired by the musical aristocrats for the way he fused jazz and African polyrhythms into his own style.
The Rolling Stone's Charlie Watts, who is also drawn to jazz, emulated Ginger and wanted him to join his 32 piece jazz band in 1987. He told Bill Beuttler in a previous interview: "He's the only guy I've ever seen get any sound out of his tom-toms." Kofi explains this as Ginger "playing flat so when he hits his tom-toms, he strikes the head and rim at the same time producing a full sound making the whole drum resonate." -Bill Beuttler 1http://willybrauch.de/In_Their_Own_Words/charliewatts.htm
Discovering an early affinity for innovation, Ginger taught himself how to read music when he was a teenager. He also made his own kit out of Perspex, bending the plastic shell over a gas stove. Unfortunately, the extraordinary set suffered an early death when Jack Bruce, bassist from Cream, destroyed it in a violent outburst on stage. Ironically, Bruce later admitted the homemade set was one of the best he'd ever heard.
Perhaps the plights Ginger faced inspired him to educate Kofi from the earliest age possible. Taking his teaching role seriously, he implemented the art of tough love in both drumming and life. Kofi's most vivid encounter was his 25th birthday. He asked his father for contact information of his famous friends as a gift to generate more business. Ginger, who was once close with Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton, replied to his requests with distinct clarity. A full page of Disney characters' phone numbers such as "Mickey Mouse: 1234- 5678” was the only birthday gift Kofi received from his father that year.
Kofi was three years old when his father introduced him to playing drums which set his career in motion. Ginger ingrained the importance of using both feet simultaneously early in Kofi's playing. This was to build a solid foundation for accomplishing intricate jazz drumming later.
Kofi recalls, "One time he told me to practice and not to stop until he came back. He forgot about me…several hours later I remember still playing and crying. He would hit me if I didn't play perfectly. My father was a ruthless teacher but I learned the value of getting into good habits early to pave the way for elaborate, independent playing. If you watch my hands now, each one is playing a separate time signature."
At age fourteen, Kofi and his family were evicted from their home in London. Fortunately, he had enough drumming experience by then to survive and often stayed over at the venues he played. On several occasions, Kofi slept on the street, tying his drums to his body--the only insurance he had they would still be there when he woke up. Remarkably, Kofi reflects fondly on those days as "some of the best of my life" and spun the grim circumstances into gold, making many of his own prominent connections. He performed with Randy California (Spirit), Steve Marriott (Humble Pie), and John Ethridge (Soft Machine) among other notable musicians. Mac Falk, the event booker for the Belly Up in Solana Beach, CA, was so enthralled by Kofi's profound musical ability that he sponsored Kofi's move to Los Angeles where he has lived and performed ever since.
Currently playing in OHM, an exceptional jazz-fusion band led by Chris Poland, Kofi is well established in L.A.'s most prestigious underground music scene. The band appears regularly at Hollywood's The Baked Potato, a venue renowned for featuring vast musical talents. Occasional audience members include Slash, Billy Corban, Dweezil Zappa and players from The Manhattan Transfer. Kofi also stars in his own superb, Pressed Rat and Warthog, a spectacular tribute to Cream.
In between performances, Kofi runs his own drum school in Orange, CA, which is how he discovered a gap in music instructional books available in the States. "I have seen so many books out there that don't cover everything," says Kofi. "My book takes you from beginning to end. It starts by teaching you how to read music with the CD, which provides the right tools to learn double bass playing properly. It has a jazz, Latin, and shuffle section—many lessons in one book. I wanted the whole thing to be easily understood and not just show off like a lot of other drummers do when theyʼre meant to be teaching."
A monumental source of knowledge, The Forgotten Foot is a rich collection of world-class lessons handed down from Phil Seaman and Ginger Baker to be artfully distilled by Kofi. As the author puts it, "It's the only one like it in the world." Kofi has inherited his father's appetite for innovation but by refining a progressive and positive teaching style, the apple has outgrown the tree.
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About the Author
Felice Kinnear is a freelance writer, photographer and drumming enthusiast from California, USA. Visit her online at www.felicekinnear.com.