The ‘Most Dangerous Drummer Alive’
When a top jazz drummer rolls into town, usually what happens is that a small group of fans gets very excited, and the rest of the music world goes about its business undisturbed. When it comes to Chris “Daddy” Dave, though, things are a little different.
Dave has managed to cross genres, from hip hop to jazz to pop and back again, and in the process, he’s carved out one of the most enviable CVs in music. On the unforgiving jazz front, he’s held it down behind the kit with the likes of Kenny Garrett, Wynton Marsalis, Pat Metheny, and Jill Scott, and last year he played on former housemate Robert Glasper’s crossover album Black Radio , which won a Grammy for best R&B record. He’s equally in demand on the rollercoaster circuit of pop and hip hop: among the artists he’s called boss are Adele, Beyoncé, Toni Braxton, Erykah Badu, Lupe Fiasco and A Tribe Called Quest. It’s little wonder then that Questlove, drummer with The Roots, calls Dave “the most dangerous drummer alive. He is totally reinventing just what you can do with drums.”
This month, he took his Drumhedz to Dublin, a Harlem Globetrotters-style outfit with a rotating roster of astonishing players (the starting line-up featured sax player Kebbi Williams, Pino Palladino on bass, and Isaiah Sharkey on guitar). The band’s website features a stylish, sprawling mixtape that’s intended as a primer for their imminent album. “There’s a combination of styles and sounds just to get you familiar with where we’re coming from,” says Dave. “[It’s mostly] interpretations of other songs, like Fly Girl , which is really a Stevie Wonder song from The Secret Life of Planets that we put a little beat to. So I’m playing the beat, and the guys are playing Stevie Wonder. It’s kind of intellectual for people who like to search through it.”
This idea of musicians and DJs sifting through songs, looking for samples and hooks that they can latch on to, and knowing references to music that has gone before, appeals to Dave. When he started out he was “from the hip hop side; a lot of our friends weren’t musicians per se but they loved music. So playing samples back – that’s a task and an art as well. It’s like transcribing a beat. But the samples first came from live musicians. So we’re thinking, we don’t have anything going from live music that you might want to sample 10 years from now – that aggressive feel-good music. The craft of it is in sharing on both sides.”
He warms to the theme of developing music across genres. Typically, elite musicians communicate freely with each other within their chosen niche, be it blues, jazz, rock or hip hop. Now, though, he reckons music as a whole is opening up. “To play the jazz is a whole lifestyle in itself: transcribing, learning the the art of your instrument. Then you have your hip hop culture, your pop culture, your country, your rock, and it’s all influencing each other. Ten years ago people couldn’t perceive that one record might do that. You couldn’t go from [John Coltrane’s] A Love Supreme all the way to some Jimi Hendrix to Björk to Fela Kuti. Now I think people are understanding that all of that interaction, it’s just music. That’s where we try to get to when we play live.”