Steve Gadd plays drums with his Neck

I have enjoyed Steve Gadd’s drumming for years, but recently listened again to Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” where Gadd created a classic, universally admired beat for the song.   If you have not heard it before, you can below in a live performance. .

So many with much more knowledge than I have commented on this beat, but one thing that strikes me is how well Gadd   gives the song a massaging of the shoulders feel, like being out on a slightly choppy lake in a small sailboat where your body can pleasantly roll from side to side.  He avoids giving the beat too heavy a feel by only lightly accenting beat 4 at the end of the two measure phrase on the low tom-tom.  Most drummers (myself included)  would drag the song down unnecessarily by doing precisely what Gadd avoids and give a big “thud” at the end of the phrase.  Gadd keeps it light.

While watching Gadd perform the beat by himself, a friend noted how Gadd’s neck moves while he plays:

So, no, he does not actually play with his neck, but the way he moves it reflects the tremendous feel he gives the song.  From a purely technical standpoint, playing the beat is not very difficult.  But as the following shows, how one plays the beat makes a tremendous difference.

Perhaps the instructor needs to bob his neck more.

Gadd’s abilities start not with his wrists/fingers but somewhere inside him.  Some might call it Gadd’s “Zen” approach, but I hate that word because it implies disengagement.  I don’t think Gadd is disengaged at all, rather he engages in a different way than most drummers.  He’s after overall feel, not technique.  He stands inside, not outside the pattern.  In the following clip, Dave Weckl and Vinnie Colaiuta outclass him technically, but which of the three’s playing most impresses?   Look for Gadd’s neck to start doing its thing at the 3:27 mark, and yours may join him!

Our culture talks a lot about innovation, creativity, and the like, and we rightly recognize the importance of such things.  Unfortunately much of our approach to education will not produce it.  It will give us the same kind of result that we saw in the drum “lesson” on Gadd’s beat above, which robs all the life from Gadd’s creation.  Our standardized, rote-fact approach to education will never allow us to get inside History, Science, Math, etc. in the way that Gadd gets inside the beat in Simon’s song.  Creativity will not come from outward mastery of exteriors, but from cultivating a love and engagement with the subject from the inside out.

The master, one more time, giving his neck a wonderful workout. . .