ASHLAND — If you’re a famous drummer, how do you turn drumming into an art form that people can buy, collect and hang on their wall?
Ashlander Steve Smith, who was the drummer with the famed '70s-'80s rock group Journey (and still does the occasional tour with them), creates “art” by drumming for 10 or 20 seconds with lighted drumsticks, recording it with time-lapse photography, making an impression of the resulting image on canvas and signing it for fans and collectors.
This novel art form is sold with a lavish coffee table book on his work, which includes a write-up about the concept, style and feeling portrayed in each photo, with a vinyl LP of what’s being played.
Smith will present a workshop-concert with aspiring musicians Feb. 10 at Ashland Middle School and Ashland High School. At 4 p.m. on Feb. 11, he will give a live demonstration of his “Fabric of Rhythm” process and sign canvasses at Artists Dreams, a new gallery at 60 East Main St. in Ashland.
One of his canvasses, called “Improvisations, Endless Variations” represents what Smith describes as a “vocabulary I developed on drum sets each time I play, and I use that vocabulary to improvise something new and unique."
Studying time-lapse photos also helps him refine his technique, he says.
Smith started drum lessons at age 9 and, as a teenager in the Boston area, he drew inspiration from big bands and marching bands and had access to jazz greats of the time, including Count Basie, Stan Kenton, Buddy Rich, Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis. He says his passions were especially freed by live jazz workshops put on for kids.
“It’s a big part of my path as a musician, the training I went through to become a professional. Not that I advocate they become professionals, but it’s good to have an instrument in your life — and to have it be part of your life. I got so much out of drum clinics and workshops, to hear from professional musicians and play for them. It was a transformative experience.”
Smith, a recent inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, is a widely noted jazz fusion percussionist, named No. 36 on the Rolling Stone magazine list of Top 100 Drummers of All Time.
The magazine says, “From 1978 to 1985, Steve Smith's superhuman chops held down arena rockers Journey during their peak years — arcade game and all. His part for the inspirational classic ‘Don't Stop Believin’ is an intricate open-handed pattern in which he plays the hi-hat with his left hand while his right moves around the kit.”
Modern Drummer Magazine readers are much more informed about the instrument, he says, and they voted him No. 1 All-Around Drummer five years in a row and a member of the Top 25 Drummers of All Time.
Smith and his wife, Diane, live both in Ashland and New York City, where he regularly performs and gives workshops. They located in Ashland in 2004, he says, for the lifestyle, climate and access to healthy food.
— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at email@example.com.