Brian interviews veteran Kevin Frazee on what it takes for guitar and drums to get magical together.
In this issue of Guitar Notes, with the help of one of my favorite drummers, we’ll look at guitarists from the perspective of a drummer. The chemistry between the guitar and drums can be explosive. Jimmy Page with John Bonham, Pete Townshend with Keith Moon, Eddie and Alex Van Halen, James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich, Dimebag and Vinnie Paul—just to name a few.
Drummer Kevin Frazee is best known for working with Hammond B3 organ players. Photo courtesy of The Popperazzi.
In jazz there is a whole contingent of drummers who play mostly with guitarists. Bill Stewart’s work with John Scofield and Pat Metheny, Dennis Chambers with Carlos Santana, John McLaughlin and Mike Stern are examples of drummers who thrive in a guitar context.
In trying to get a handle on what drummers look for for in guitarists, I picked the brain of my good friend and bandmate Kevin Frazee. I didn’t just choose Kevin because I play with him; I chose Kevin because of his experience in so many musical environments that include guitar, and because I’m a fan of his groove-oriented approach to the drums.
Kevin is a professional drummer in the Kansas City area and we work together in an organ trio called OJT at The Green Lady Lounge. Although primarily a jazz drummer, Kevin has played in many blues bands as well as other projects. He has worked with every jazz guitarist in Kansas City that I can think of. In our wide-ranging conversation, we talked about time, phrasing, volume, communication, and personality issues.
Brian Baggett (guitarist) and Kevin Frazee (drummer) getting along fine at the Blue Room at the American Jazz Museum.
BB: How old were you when you starting drumming?
KF: Age 12
BB: Who or what inspired you to play the drums?
KF: I knew I wanted to play music and I got a drum set for Christmas.
BB: Tell me about your first band and was there a guitar player in it?
KF: It was the organist Everette DeVan’s group. The guitarist was Ervin Brown.
BB: How old were you?
BB: How long have a been a professional drummer?
KF: Wow! About 22 years.
BB: Who is your favorite rock drummer?
KF: John Bonham
BB: Do you remember the first time you felt real chemistry between yourself and a guitarist? Or became aware of the guitar and drums connection?
KF: Yes, a guitarist named Brian Baggett. I know I'm biased, but you were the first guy I played with that could play so many styles. In particular it was the funk tunes in OJT that I noticed the connection.
BB: Because so much pressure is put on drummers to lock in with the bass player. Don't you think it's possible that you weren't ready to look at the guitars relationship to the drums until we met?
KF: No. I played with guys who are sort of playing whatever they play. With you the part you would play would fit in with what's happening in the moment. For example a tune like "Blackout" by John Scofield. Your funk feel is so heavy that I could really lock up with it or your shuffle rhythm on "Soup Bone" by Rodney Jones. Most jazz guys just sort of float over that. You get a good solid shuffle going. Again another opportunity to lock up. Those kind of things are important. It's like a lot of guys who just play "Jazz Drums" and the usual complaint is the have no backbeat. That's not always the case, but just an example of importance of style.
BB: Working with the B3 requires you to be more than just a "jazz" drummer doesn’t it?
KF: Absolutely depending on the B3 group, but for the most part you have to be able to do swing, shuffle, funky/R&B, and Latin. The key is being flexible. You may have an idea of what a mambo feels like, but you have to listen to the organist and play something that complements what they are doing. It always comes back to being sensitive to what's happening around you instead expecting them to just listen to you. I think that’s why if a guitarist gets a chance to play with a good organ group...jump on it. It will expand your versatility!
BB: As a blues drummer, what are you looking for out of the rhythm guitar player in the band?
KF: Deep in the pocket, knowledge of styles, plus dynamics and balance with the band.
BB: What are you looking for out of the lead guitar player?
KF: Pretty much the same. Be a team player, and all that comes with that.
BB: Tell me about the relationship between a jazz drummer and a comping jazz guitarist.
KF: Well, the guitar is very percussive. It's natural to feel what a jazz guitarist is doing, and play with, and around that.
BB: Do you approach playing behind a jazz guitarist in a similar way that you would playing behind a saxophone player?
KF: Two very different instruments. Each one has unique qualities, and you have to be sensitive to that. That being said, you're always listening for where the soloist is starting and listening for the development of the solo.
Check out the video below and listen closely to how the drums interact with the guitar in both rhythm and lead playing.
Kevin Frazee and Brian Baggett locking in as an organ trio. Note how the drums interact with the guitar on both its rhythm and leads.
BB: Drummers tend to have a very sophisticated understanding of rhythm. What advice would you offer a guitarist on rhythm? Could you offer practical exercise for guitarist to improve their rhythmic awareness?
KF: Drummers work on coordination—you know how two or more rhythms work together. For a guitarist, work on rhythms with the metronome either on quarters, 2 & 4 (half notes), and think about how your rhythm lines up with the metronome rhythm.
BB: Tell me a couple of your favorite guitarist/drummer duos.
KF: Grant Green with either Elvin Jones or Idris Muhammad, Wes Montgomery and Grady Tate. Pat Metheny and Roy Haynes.
BB: Are guitarist generally too loud or too quiet, volume-wise?
KF: Depends on who you're working with, and their preferences. Some guys like to sit out front a bit more volume-wise, and can get a touch loud. As a whole, the guys I play with are pretty balanced.
BB: As we both know, working in bands involves more than music, you also have the personalities of the people involved. Wouldn’t you say that guitar players seem to be the easiest musicians to get along with?
KF: (Laughs) Most are, but there's always exceptions. Most come as a team player, and help make for a great gig.
BB: Lastly, I’ve got to ask—what is your favorite brand of guitar and why?
BB: As a guitar player, I’ve always felt a really strong connection with the drummer in the band.
Having a good drummer on the gig makes a huge difference. The great drummers that I’ve played with tend to have a constant pulse that’s implied even if it’s not being played. I always enjoy locking in with a good drummer. It’s been great working with Kevin Frazee over the last decade. I hope you got a lot our of our interview and at the very least, become more aware of the connection you have as a guitarist with the drummer in YOUR band. Kevin Frazee’s advice is solid for all musicians: Be a team player, listen and groove! Until next time, keep playing!
Special thanks to Kevin Frazee of OJT. You can catch Brian Baggett and Kevin Frazee at the Green Lady Lounge in Kansas City every Wednesday and Saturday night. OJT’s latest release is available at kenlovern.com. Kevin Frazee plays Zildjian Kerope cymbals and Pro Mark drumsticks.
OJT’s latest LP release, New Standards For The Green Lady.
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Brian Baggett is Video Presenter for Musician’s Friend Private Reserve Guitars. He curates the Private Reserve guitar collection on video, visits guitar factories and works closely with luthiers and signature artists to gain insight into the greatest guitars being built today. He is also a professional guitarist playing every Wednesday and Saturday night at The Green Lady Lounge in Kansas City. A former jazz guitar professor, Brian continues to teach guitar lessons and has a book and DVD titled Keys To Unlocking the Fretboard. Find Brian on Facebook and twitter.