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Jeff Queen

Interview by Sean Mitchell // January 13 2015
Jeff Queen

Take the time and be honest with yourself about what you’re not good at and work at that. Especially a lot of younger players, they’re not good at something they’re not good at because it’s not a lot of fun. So there is that hump to get over and say, "Okay, I’m going to work on this because it’s going to be a lot more fun when I can play that."

Jeff Queen is as humble as he is talented, and the DC native has a calander that would make Kenny Aronoff blush. Jeff is literally touring the world sharing the gospel of drumline and imparting his incredible knowledge and insight on some very lucky drummers. Add to his growing list a self-published book and DVD, Jeff shows no signs of slowing down. We caught up the Indiana-based uber drummer recently on some very rare downtime. Enjoy. 

 

Jeff, you’re primarily known as a drum corps player, but I assume you play kit as well.

Yes, I’ve got a master’s degree in performance so I did at one point have the chops to play a little bit of everything (laughs). My act today is for sure snare drum and I play a little frame drum and percussion as well—but I can survive behind a kit or behind a marimba and all that kind of stuff as well.

What do you think initially drew you to drumming? Do you remember when that happened?

Absolutely. I’ve always loved music. I grew up in the DC area. I remember my parents every now and then letting me stay up late to watch a show called Friday Night Videos. That was happening in the mid-'80s before cable was normal and TV was accessible to everybody.

I’d see drummers and I always thought drums were cool. My favorite band at the time was Journey and I remember seeing videos of Steve Smith playing and I was like “Man, that’s amazing—I want to do that!" I found two mismatched dowel rods lying around my house—they were no bigger than pencils, but about drum stick length—and just started air-drumming to what I would see and had some fun in my room. Finally my parents were like, “Maybe we should get him drum lessons." That’s kind of the point it started. I was about 10 years old in fifth grade or so.

It makes sense actually when you mention Steve Smith. Steve is, as much feel and as much virtuosity as Steve has, he’s a very technical drummer. Do you think there was part of Steve’s playing that drew you then into the drum corps world?

You know it’s interesting, I never wanted to be in marching band when I first started playing because band wasn’t cool and I didn’t want to do that. I was taking lessons at a local music store when my parents got divorced around seventh or eighth grade and we ended up moving into an apartment. I went to try out for the marching band because a friend of mine convinced me to help him try out. His sister was captain of the drill team and his parents were making him do something with his sister, so he’s like, “Dude, I need some help. I need somebody who knows something about drumming 'cause I know nothing. Will you just come kind of for moral support?” I said, "Yeah, but I’m not going to do it." Then after that, I absolutely fell in love with it. I was actually fortunate enough to have a guy named Scott Johnson, who teaches out of the Concord Blue Devils, teaching at my band camp. He was the guest clinician for a couple of weeks during my freshman year there. I saw Scott play and it was like, "That’s cool, I want to do that."

I really shifted focus at that point. I had dreams of becoming a rock 'n' roll drummer at the time, and coupled with moving into a smaller space where I couldn’t practise drum set as much anymore, it made for me to focus more on that. I loved it. I loved the people. I loved the social aspect of the marching band. So it just kind of went from there.

You hear some drummers say that with marching you don’t use your feet. You actually do use your feet quite a bit.

Absolutely, I mean you have to keep your feet in time in order to obviously march through the formations and do all that kind of stuff. It’s not so much like four-way independence that you would do on drum set, but you’re feet are absolutely involved. You can’t do marching percussion without using your feet.

You have a book, you have a DVD out, you’ve got lots of stuff on the go—you’re an incredibly busy guy! We’ve tried to connect for a month but you were in New Zealand, then PASIC. Let’s talk a little bit about some of your educational stuff (your books and your DVDs). What’s current for you right now?

What I’m working on right now is a solo book to accompany my instructional book. My instructional book is called The Next Level and I actually publish it myself. It’s based on a philosophy that if you learn a full stroke, a tap stroke, a down stroke and an up stroke—and how to basically play up to four notes on a hand—you can start to combine those four basic strokes and those note groupings into pretty much anything. I go through all types of breakdowns for all the rudiments and really go through everything you want to know about timing and flam control, diddle control, buzz control and then hybrid rudiments and all that kind of stuff.

My DVD is a partner that I actually publish through Hudson Music. I’m always writing shows for drumlines and marching bands around, and every now and then when I have a spare moment I’m trying to work on some actual percussion ensemble music, my solo book and that kind of stuff too.

You do a lot of clinics; a lot of your calendar is clinics and drum camps. Let’s talk a little bit about those. What are they designed for and how do you pattern them?

The clinics are usually an hour to an hour-and-a half or two hours for the session, then there’s a day of percussion, something like that where you’ll have like a mini PASIC. There’ll be a keyboard artist, a drum-set guy, a marching guy; I do kind of a circuit as one of the marching guys that gets to go and do those sorts of things. Depending on the environment, I’m always very cognitive of who I’m in front of, so if it’s a younger audience I’ll certainly gear it towards some more basic things that can help them. There’s always a bit of flash 'cause everybody likes to see that, so I’ll play solos and play fast and do the tricks. But there’s always a good amount of educational material in the clinic aspect, hopefully something that people can walk away from and make them better instantly, whether it’s a way to think about a rudiment or a hand pattern or a technique or a way to get faster, something of that nature.

The camps and things that I do, I do a thing here in Indy with Bill Bachman, who’s a quad drummer as well at Russell, just a fantastic percussionist as a whole. We do a thing at one of the universities that I teach at here, Butt University. It’s a snare and tenor camp. Basically it’s a weekend camp that’s designed for kids who want to get into a drum corps but aren’t really sure what to do and maybe what they need to do about getting their hands in shape for that. So we pattern it just like a drum corps camp is, so it’s Friday night, Saturday and Sunday. We put them kind of through the rigors; we make sure that each of the kids walks away with a plan of attack for what they need to do for their specific time. There’s lots of hands-on time with both Bill and I. We both also present a clinic and do a lot of playing along the way but mostly try to give them exercises, give them tips and methods and a plan basically to truly get better so they can walk away from that weekend with, “Alright, I need to work on this, this, this and this,” and have four or five things within each of those categories to work on.

The fact that you travel so much you would be aware of this. The DCI, the Drum Corps the genre, would you say it’s more prevalent in the US or do you see it across the globe becoming more popular—or is it already popular?

I would say yes to all of those, mostly to the “becoming more popular elsewhere."Certainly that style of drumming originated in the States with half-time shows and the military bands. Lots of other countries do have military bands as well but to the level of which the States have, you’re starting to see a lot of other countries evolve into that. I was just fortunate enough to go to New Zealand and there’s about 10 or 15 people over there that are really into the drumline scene, so they just started a drumline. They’ve actually brought me over a couple of times to work with them. I just did my second trip with them in early December. There’s lots of guys that I know that do travel all over the world. I’ve been to Thailand; a lot of people I know go to Japan and teach marching bands and drumlines. It’s definitely something that is growing in popularity across the world and certainly with the advent of social media, there’s people that are sharing videos and people that are able to learn by just watching videos now, or YouTubing. I do lots of Skype lessons. I teach a guy in Argentina, another in Hong Kong. There’s a guy I went to school with down in Texas who is down in Brazil (I believe he’s from there) and started a drumline down there. They’re springing up everywhere and it’s really, really cool to see that culture sort of infect everybody, and everybody’s having a good time doing it.

You have your own signature stick with Vic Firth.  What goes into designing a stick for a guy like Jeff Queen?

First, when I got the phone call ... Neil Larrivee who’s the director of education for Vic, he gave me a shout one day and just said, “Hey, we’ve been thinking about this and we’d like for you to design a stick." I remember I was in a Wendy’s or someplace like that and I couldn’t erupt with the, “Oh my gosh are you kidding?" the excitement that I actually had about that. What an honor! It was incredibly humbling to be able to do that.

I had been daydreaming about being able to do that possibly at some point, so there were two or three sticks that I liked, that I wanted to incorporate: one was a Cooperman, think it was called the Nothung. There were two different sticks for Cooperman that I really did like that were concert sticks that I liked to play with. Ralph Hardiman has a great stick, so I think that’s a great starting point for anybody who’s going to create a stick. You know it’s a great stick, and he did a good job with that.

When I marched I would take the back of my sticks up a little bit because I found that it increased the rebound a little bit, made it move a little bit faster. That was one of the things that I wanted to do with my sticks. So there’s a reverse taper; it actually expands, gets a little bit thicker in the back, ever so slightly. I wanted it to move quickly, so that was one of the main things. They had approached me about a sort of a niche kind of stick, like a solo stick, so that’s actually what’s on my thing—so its was designed to play fast. The bead is round so if you’re doing all sorts of tricky stuff you don’t notice the sound change as much as you would for like an acorn tip – the sound would change a little bit more if you were, like, too elevated off the drum. The back end as well is sort of rounded to sound a little bit more like the bead, so when I’m doing back-sticking and stuff like that it just sounds a little bit more true to the same sound.

We went through about four prototypes, each one I was waiting with bated breath as it came in the mail and it was cool to see it evolve.

If you could give an aspiring player advice—what it would take to get to the level that you’re at— what does the practice regime look like?

I think the first thing is understanding that it’s going to take time and you need to be patient about getting there. You need to be dedicated about doing something every day. Determination, stick-to-it and patience are the biggest traits that you need. Also to realize too that you need to make it fun for yourself. It’s fun to be good and it takes awhile to get good, so to know that there’s going to be a kind of a crescendo in terms of your enjoyment of it. You’re going to need to put some work in before you really understand concepts and things like that. That’s starting from the ground up and moving. In terms of the actual time to put in, I would say for myself, I started playing in fifth grade but when I really got serious was probably my sophomore year in high school. I was in the marching band and I decided to audition for a drum corps and then I started to really look at what I wanted to accomplish and what it was going to take.

Me personally, from the time I was 14 till about 22 I averaged about six hours a day of practice. That’s with drum corps and things like that. Drum corps days can be up to 12 hours, so that’s taking that into account for sure. Marching band and things like that, you’re three hours a day, sometimes three, four, five days a week depending on where you are in the season. I did always try to find about an hour or so on my own to work on the things that I needed to. There was a lot of time spent playing but then also time to work on my own skills. There’s no one answer that’s going to work for everybody with that question, but it’s really, take the time and be honest with yourself about what you’re not good at and work at that. Especially a lot of younger players, they’re not good at something they’re not good at because it’s not a lot of fun. So there is that hump to get over and go, “Okay, I’m going to work on this because it’s going to be a lot more fun when I can play that."

Of course from there you progress and understand the industry; you understand the concepts. "Tribute" is a world-renowned solo composition of yours. For you, what goes into composing a piece like that— is there an idea it’s born out of, or a concept that you want to expand on? How does that work for you, Jeff?

For "Tribute" I had a couple of thematic ideas that I wanted to expand on: the era that I was in, in drum corps; the solo material. Not that it wasn’t there, it just wasn’t prevalent. You would see technical feats that were unbelievable, like amazing chops; amazing chops, then a rim shot, then a buzz roll transition; then there’d be more amazing chops. There wasn’t a lot of delving into thematic material, linking phrases and things. There were guys that did that but it just wasn’t the norm.

That was something that I wanted to try to do differently when I wrote that solo. The original solo actually, I took a lessonI was fortunate enough to go to University of North Texas on a drumline scholarship but I wasn’t a music major. I was a public relations major at that time but I was playing in the drumline, so I tried to take advantage of some teachers that were there to take lessons with. There was a guy named Derrick Logozzo that studied with Jim Chapin a lot, so I really worked with him on Moeller technique and tried to get inside of that as much as I could. Long story short, when you take a lesson at a music school you have to play at a jury, so you have to play a prepared piece, so that’s what started me to write "Tribute."

Originally it started off with a Tony Cirone tune, Portraits and Rhythm solo number three. I played about half of that on a concert drum and then evolved over into the marching drums. I still have some thematic material from that Cirone piece that I borrowed a bit of the rhythms and altered slightly, but that was one of my main themes in "Tribute." Then I started to pick three or four one-measure ideas and figure out how I could spiral down from therewhat can I do to embellish this, put a little bit different outfit on that guy; flam this; roll that; do some different things to create some more material? Just like a movie, you want to have peaks and valleys and downtime and exciting time and all that. Once I had my thematic material I wanted to showcase my strengths, and for me in that particular solo was fast rolls, a couple of back-sticking things, a couple of tricks, and some really fast paradiddles that I knew I wanted to end with. I started playing with the pieces and did draft after draft with it. I would brainstorm and record myself on a tape recorder back in the day. I would transcribe the parts that I liked and discard the stuff I didn’t, and just like I would formulate an essay, I just made drafts and got to where I liked what I did.

I played it for as many people as I could too. Even as I was working on it I would get my friends’ advice, my peers, and my teachers and see how they reacted. If they thought something was cool, odds are pretty good that somebody who doesn’t know a lot about what this is going to think it’s cool, or if a really good player thought it was cool then odds are that most people are going think it’s pretty cool. I really relied on a lot of friends’ input and teachers’ input for it as well.

I really took the process of just trying to link ideas together rhythmically, like I said, put slightly different embellishments, so even after awhile it’s twisted and turned into something completely different but it’s recognizable because of the path that I took to get to that next idea.

You bring up a really good point when you talk about recording yourself and then listening back. How important is that editing process where you get to step back from the performer and watch yourself?

I think it’s huge. I remember going home for Christmas one year when I was in college in the mid-'90s and using my parents' video recorder to video myself at my old high school and, oh man, to just see and hear what I looked and sounded like! Even just the audio side is huge. Especially younger playersalthough anyone can do thisbut they are so involved in what they are playing that sometimes they are not necessarily listening to what they’re playing; they’re thinking so much about the technical aspects of what they’re doing that they slightly remove their ears. The editing process absolutely gives you the opportunity to not worry about what you’re doing and strictly be an evaluator of yourself.

I think it’s a huge tool to keep people honest. If they look back at it and they are listening to the metronome as they’re playing and they’re listening to the metronome on the recordings too, that’s very helpful. I think it’s one of the most valuable tools that you can ever use these days to get better. A metronome, a mirror and now on a phone everybody’s got a video camera of some sort, so what amazing technology and tools we have these days to help get better.

To directly answer that question, I think it’s an invaluable tool and everybody should use it probably more often than people do (laughs).

What do you have coming up, Jeff, in the next few weeks or months? Where can people see you, visit you?

I’m going to be down in St. Petersburg, Florida, towards the end of February. I am going to be doing an event for a rudimental convention in New York in April.

My website is www.jeffqueen.com – it’s horribly out of date but this is going to get me off my butt to put my new schedule on it (laughs).

I teach locally with a high school and I’m adjunct at the university here. I live in Indianapolis; I do lessons on Skype. I have two camps coming up this summer: one is a total percussion camp that we do here in Butler where I teach, and then the snare camp with Bill and I in latter part of June. Then there’s March; I have my state championship for the drumlines that I teach down here.

Things roll in every now and then. I’m usually pretty busy in the summer. I will be doing some judging out in northern California at the end of March, and beginning of April I have a couple of clinics out in the Bay area. WGI percussion is April 10th and 11th. I’ll be out there in the Vic Firth booth and the Yamaha booth. I’m doing a Connecticut event on the 17th and 18th which is a rudimental convention, then I’ll be in Brownsburg, Texas, on the 24th and 25th of April.

People can find me on Facebook and Twitter. There’s not a lot of Jeff Queens out there that I’ve found, so I’m pretty easy to get a hold of.

 

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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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