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Jayson Brinkworth

Interview by Sean Mitchell // September 02 2007
Jayson Brinkworth

The lessons for me continue daily, but hearing Jeff Porcaro for the first time really stands out. He will always be the king for me. The technical lessons I have had and the exercises I still work on are great, but my headspace is about being as musical as I can in any given moment.

Jayson Brinkworth can undeniably be coined one of the industry’s busiest players. He is clearly a man of many talents; educator, performer, writer, clinician, vocalist, father and sought after session player. More recently Jayson signed on to be a writer for yours truly and inspire the masses with his experience and knowledge of drumming and the music world in general. His unique brand of humor and ability to turn even the most taxing of situations into an entertaining life lesson make for great reading and even better road stories, I am sure. What “Will” he tackle next? Read on.

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Tell me about your Music In The House program.

Music In The House is a music school that myself and two other partners (Ray Bell, guitar; and Shamma Sabir, violin and fiddle) started in 2002. We started out with the 3 of us teaching a total of 80 students and have grown into 15 teachers teaching approximately 375 students. The concept is an inspiring, fun, relaxed and educational atmosphere, all in the confines of a very naturally lit character home in the heart of Regina’s downtown. We are very lucky to have quality teachers, as well as great students and parents.

You, yourself, have taken lessons from the likes of Peter Erskine, John Blackwell and Mark Kelso. What makes a great drummer a great teacher?

Communication, patience and planning. It is one thing to have great ideas and concepts but to communicate these ideas to others, either verbally or otherwise, is the secret. Great teachers can make a student feel like they can accomplish anything. Dom Famularo is an amazing example of this, as are the gentlemen mentioned above. Teaching is also about giving a lot of yourself to benefit others, as is playing in a band. Some artists have a hard time balancing the give (teaching/educating others) and the take (teaching/educating themselves). I have met some amazing players who are the first to admit that teaching isn’t there thing, and I respect this, big time. Though some of these people aren’t formal educators, there is still a lot to be learned through their skills, abilities and experience.

You obviously see a large amount of students in one day. How do you keep each lesson fresh and exciting?

I teach from a lot of different sources, all the standard books, as well as my own concepts that I have developed over the years. Attitude is a big thing in the lesson time. My students all know that they need to tell me one thing that is new since our last lesson and to let me know how school is going. I start this communication right away and our musical communication for the rest of the lesson has a flow. Balance is also key. We work on a wide variety of songs, and all of my students have one month of hand drum lessons, I feel this is mandatory as it is the history of our instrument and really develops their sense of touch and tone. There are other things such as scaling the kit down to snare, bass, hats, changing the cymbal setup, using no cymbals, etc. Anything to get them thinking musically and a little left of centre.

Between playing live, recording, teaching and being a parent, how do you deal with stress?

Sometimes it gets pretty busy and I thank my family for being very patient and supportive, I couldn’t do this without them. All of these things seem to balance each other out. Balance is a very big part of this for me, without it, we lose touch with ourselves. When things get busy in the winter, I get to shut off the music occasionally and go watch my kids play hockey. If teaching is getting hectic, I may have a gig where I can head off for a couple days and chill with good friends playing music. It is funny mentioning Peter Erskine before. I remember seeing him do a clinic here years ago, and he made a comment about getting older and playing better, and also about playing better after you have children. I was young and thought, What is he talking about, that’s absurd! But years later I totally got it. When I was in Toronto a couple of years ago, I got to study with Mark Kelso and Rick Gratton, two great drummers and amazing human beings. One night when I was there, Jimmy Cobb was playing with a trio in town (he is well known for his recordings with Miles Davis). His playing that night was a lesson in drumming history, but it really inspired me as a musician to embrace aging and the experience it brings. I thanked him for this as he shook every persons hand when they left the club that night.

Where do you draw your material from for your clinics and how do you prepare for one?

My clinic material is constantly changing. I am getting a package together to start working with Dom Famularo on becoming a Sabian clinician in this part of Canada. My clinics are not based on chops, speed, or really technical aspects; there are plenty of people much more qualified for that. I sometimes bring in other players to exemplify sharing musical ideas. It makes a stronger point this way, I believe. I have covered playing with a click/playing in the studio, creative practicing, some Moeller technique, allowing ourselves to be creative with our drum parts, etc. The list goes on and will continue to grow as I do as a musician. I have a clinic coming up for the Western Canadian Music Awards in October. It will be exciting as I will be working with another drummer, Vince Ditrich from the band Spirit of The West. He is a great musician, and I look forward to sharing conceptual ideas with him in this setting. As for preparing, I make sure I have any tracks I am playing with in order. I also make sure any handouts/exercises are copied and prepared properly. I love talking in front of people, so that side of things is never a problem. Being organized, mentally prepared and having my gear in tip top shape is always my main concern.

What is the best way for you to develop new parts in a studio setting?

The best way is to think musically and let the song (rhythm, melody, lyrics) dictate how the drums will fit in. It varies from session to session. I am lucky to have worked some very creative and open-minded producers who develop a very musical setting in the studio and let the musicians “create” (which isn’t always the case). My take on this was best put into words by Chad Cromwell (Mark Knoffler, Neil Young, and many others). He stated that he doesn’t play drums on songs; he plays songs on the drums.

You are quite a busy guy. How did you come up through the ranks and pay your dues? 

Just like everyone else, playing with a lot of different people, playing with honesty and passion and trying to do the best job I can. Dependability is also a very important trait to have. There is a percentage of luck or being in the right place at the right time, but as my fellow Sabian artist Daniel Adair says, “The harder you work, the luckier you get." Some musicians forget that we are in the music business and as such, there is a business element to what we do. We have to be organized, keep up on our contacts and read about the music industry to keep up on new trends and events going on. It takes skills outside of playing to maintain longevity in this industry.  

What drew you to the teaching end of drumming?

I think I would be a school teacher if I had to choose another career. I love sharing information, and the process of learning intrigues me. I have learned a lot from some great drum instructors, as well as teachers that myself and my children have had in school. I actually started teaching when I was in Grade 12 and learned very quickly about lesson planning and communication with parents and students. I was still a kid myself, but it was a very valuable experience. It taught me a lot about myself as a player and a person. Ray Bell, one of my best friends and partners in MITH (Music In The House) is an amazing teacher and player and is my biggest influence as a teacher. He is a gifted player and communicator and understands the process of learning very well. His insight has been priceless.

What would you say have been the most prolific lessons you have had behind the kit?

Play with honesty and passion, be respectful of the music and other players and get used to being asked, “Can you play quieter?” The lessons for me continue daily, but hearing Jeff Porcaro for the first time really stands out. He will always be the king for me. The technical lessons I have had and the exercises I still work on are great, but my headspace is about being as musical as I can in any given moment. The list of players that influence my playing is too long to list, but listening to Jim Keltner, Billy Ward, Steve Jordan, Jeff Porcaro, and Vinnie Colaiuta has taught me some very prolific lessons.

A lot of your work is in the country music genre. What is it that drew you to that specific scene?

I honestly like the music. There is something about a great melody and a great story that compels me. This isn’t just in country music by any means, but growing up in Saskatchewan had something to do with it. No one in my family played any musical instruments, but they listened to these great songs by Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and Ray Price. The music just touched me in a certain way, I guess. It was almost like it chose me as opposed to the other way around, just like playing the drums did. It is kind of funny because the drums were barely audible in a lot of that music. It was definitely the songs that drew me in.

You are also an accomplished percussionist in African and Latin styles. How has this shaped your playing behind the kit?

I am a drummer first, percussionist second. I love working on the hand drumming side of things. It has influenced my kit playing a lot. My touch and tone is much better, I hear the drums differently for sure, and my time is more acute as the space is more prominent in a lot of the hand patterns. I really enjoy the African style with a group of people playing djembes and the patterns weaving in and out of one another. It is a big rhythm party to me! Also, the teamwork and co-operation that goes into this teaches us a great lesson in everyday life, which I work on in the team building sessions I do.

More recently you have taken on yet another position as a writer for none other than The Black Page. Where do you draw the material for the articles you write?

First off, I want to thank you for the opportunity to get my work out there. The articles that I write are based on my experiences as a musician. When I read an article about something I am interested in, I like to be informed as well as entertained. Some musicians take playing so seriously all of the time. Don’t get me wrong, I am as serious as the next guy about how I play and perform, but sometimes we have to step back, relax, laugh, and enjoy the process of playing drums. I want people to laugh and be inspired to try something new on the kit.  Most importantly I hope that reading these articles will remind people why they first started playing and to remember what a gift music is.

How do you utilize your gift for writing in other areas of your life?

At this time my writing is channeled mainly towards the music side of my life. I have a collection of writings I have done for sometime now, some conceptual, a lot of exercises, and some things that are very left field. They are mainly pieces that I have been assembling simply for my own work and creative outlet. I really enjoy the process of writing. It is another extension of my love for educating and some of it is just to amuse myself. You never know, other areas of my life may stream in to my writing leading me in to a new artistic direction in the future.

What can one expect from your upcoming book, Thinking Outside the Books, and where will it be available?

This book has been in the works for quite some time now and is made up of the writings I spoke of earlier. It is a book made up of conceptual readings, some exercises (the left field ones I mentioned earlier) and some different takes on traditional drum book exercises. The idea is to take one unit/section of the book, read and absorb it (they are not long), close the book and take your interpretation to the kit. It is a hard concept to explain, but this idea has worked for myself for some time now. It is not geared at beginners per se, but it is all left up to interpretation´╗┐—which music is all the time anyway, right? It boils down to being a different way to learn and discover our own voice on the kit. I am still putting it all together and then have to get publishing and all of the other business details sorted out. As the project moves forward I will have updates on my website. That will most likely be the first place it will be available for purchase.

How often do you practice and what do you work on?

Ah, the P-word. I, as most musicians wish they had more physical practice time. Most of my practice is rooted in the mental/visualization side of things. Things like keeping my emotions level and focus sharp on a gig, not overplaying, not playing into the drums too much. I also try and concentrate on my breathing, as it affects so much when you are involved in a physical and mental activity such as drumming. I still do sit down and work on stuff though. I will normally go through The New Breed, Extreme Interdependence, or any book that I have to put forth a substantial amount of mental energy and focus, like I would on a gig. Practicing is a funny thing. Billy Ward posed a great question once. He wondered if some musicians practice so much that they become better practicers than players.

What is the process for you in learning cover tunes for a gig?

I like learning cover songs because it lets me get inside many different players’ styles. We all grew up doing this and it can be a great lesson in style analysis. I love teaching this to students so they become aware of music history and understand where the music they listen to originated. The majority of my work is done with artists who have written and recorded their own material. I love and respect this because someone is trusting me with their music. This a responsibility I don’t take for granted. As for learning the parts, after playing for a lot of years and teaching so many different styles, a high percentage of the parts I need to learn are understood. Most of the time it is a matter of keeping all of the songs straight in my head and charts organized when I have a lot of work with several different artists (which is quite often).

What do you have on the go in the months ahead?

Well, it has been a crazy summer so far since wrapping up teaching at the end of June. I have had gigs in Chicago, Calgary, Edmonton, The Craven Jamboree, Medicine Hat, Saskatoon, Grande Prairie (yes, the “new luggage” gig) and others. I had a session today for a couple of radio jingles, a daytime gig in town Wednesday, a club gig from Thursday to Saturday in town and an evening show with two artists Saturday evening. Next week is a hand drum workshop on Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons, as well as another club gig in town (all of the gigs listed are with different artists). As well, we are rehearsing a new project called Sound Decision. The pencils are getting a workout. I am off to Ontario with my family for a relaxing two weeks after that. Upon returning, I travel to Saskatoon and Swift Current for some shows. And back to Regina for more local gigs including club dates, special events and teaching (which will resume the first week of September).

My calendar is quite full in to 2008 with gigs, sessions, etc., as well as teaching at Music In The House and the work I do in the Regina School board with a program called Learning Through the Arts.

The Canadian Country Music Awards are in Regina this September, and that will amount to lots of work with quite a few artists, I am sure. This year, singles and albums I have played on are up for several awards, as well as myself being nominated in the top ten for Drummer of the Year.

Wow, that is a crazy schedule!

It is a crazy schedule, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. My family is amazingly supportive and I wouldn’t be able to do this without them. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for the drum lessons and always encouraging me to do my best. Thanks to my kids, Tyson and Jayla, for being patient with my schedule and for always doing your best at whatever you do. And to my girlfriend and fellow musician, Laura, you will never know what your love and support has taught me.

Visit Jayson online: http://www.jaysonbrinkworth.com/




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About the Author
Sean Mitchell

Sean Mitchell has been an active participant in the drumming industry for over 20 years. He has studied under Crash Test Dummies drummer Mitch Dorge and Drumming's Global Ambassador Dom Famularo. Sean is also a songwriter and regularly performs with his wife (and singer) Jill Mitchell. Sean proudly endorses Aquarian Drumheads.



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