Stunning Performances Shake Hundreds Back to Reality
A month in Europe playing with his band NERVE and doing clinics is what kept Jojo Mayer busy through the month of March. Though it took his #1 hit DVD Secret Weapons for the Modern Drummer to make him a household name (well, at least in the homes of drummers), Jojo – who originates from Switzerland – had a nice career happening and was a drum hero around Europe before moving to New York City twenty years ago.
This story picks up with Jojo joining us on Saturday at the Frankfurt Musikmesse (‘Musikmesse’ means ‘Music Fair’), that huge NAMM-like trade show that happens annually in southern Germany. Tired from being on the road for weeks and suffering from a seriously bad cough, he proved to a full-house audience in the Messe’s Agora Tent that the only thing sick about him is his drumming. WOW! His playing – concepts, techniques, and execution – is sensational. Then he participated in a massive autograph signing alongside the likes of Rammstein’s Christoph Schneider, Ralph Salmins, Dom Famularo… then he headed north to Dortmund for a gig… then he came back south to join us for three clinic dates… then he headed home to New York City. Jojo is one busy boy! By the way, in Germany the word ‘clinic’ means ‘hospital’, so they’re called ‘workshop’ or ‘masterclass’. Say either with a German accent and you’ve got it sorted.
On Sunday Christian Koch and I spend time with Jojo, checking out cymbal ideas. Jojo has a new sound in mind and some prototypes have been in the works. His Vault Fierce models are mainstays in his setup, but this is something quite different… something to add to his current sound. You’ll be hearing more about this in the coming months. Dinner at a local restaurant that night is Italian, which will be the fare of choice every night of the tour.
Tour Day One sees us driving a couple hours to Fellbach, where we drop Jojo off at a drumming school. Here he will record an interview before rejoining us at the clinic venue. Jojo speaks German, so language is no barrier. Meanwhile, we do a quick visit with host music store Soundland before heading to the venue at a local theatre complex. Everything has been expertly staged by the lads from the store, so we set up the kit and when Jojo arrives he gets straight into soundcheck, warming up with some furious licks and grooves, reminding us all of exactly why tickets for all three tour dates sold out like hot cakes.
With the evening sky darkening and the room now filled with fans and the curious, Christian opens up with a welcoming intro. Jojo, in-ear monitors in place and a Mac delivering the tunes, kicks into a pumping pulse, dropping into the groove with side-stick and solid kick. He moves fearlessly through several tunes before locking into a shuffle on the floor tom that morphs into triplet feels before opening out into a ripping solo. There are more ideas packed into this burning solo than most drummers would cover in a lifetime. Sure, there’s a lot of technique, but this is creative musical drumming. And it’s stunning. With the exception of some smilers and foot tappers who obviously ‘get’ what is happening onstage, the audience stares, stunned by the performance. Little did they know that one could do ‘all this’ on a set of drums.
After a blistering set, Jojo takes a breather and changes his T-shirt while Christian describes his cymbals to the audience. This format would happen every night, with Jojo starting his second set by taking questions from the audience. Though only some require playing demonstrations, those demos are real eye openers. Like note displacement, metric modulation, kick pedal and hand proficiency, grooving at slow tempos, and brush work. Surprisingly it was the brush work portion of the Q&A that proved the most revealing, with traditional patterns interspersed with flourishes including a tasty move where he strikes the rim of the snare with the handle of the brush and the wires vibrate and create a one-handed roll on the head. In another move he placed the brush flat across the snare head and rolled in rhythm for one or two beats before lifting it and using the brush end again. Very cool! And a great demo of why every drummer should learn brushes.
Jojo’s playing is influenced by all those things he gravitates to in life: design, architecture, philosophy, travel, the human condition… His interests shape his playing, so anything that can be done with the flick of his wrists or spring of his feet merely serves as a brush stroke for the percussive work of art he creates when behind a kit.
Day Two sees us descending a steep road into the beautiful mountain valley village of Shramberg, where we would over night in a sensational old stone villa that is more mansion than maison (though this time of year, not expensive). It even has its own concert ‘bowl’ out back, where jazz bands play in the summer. The gig at nearby Mister Music was sold out, with Frank Koch and his team making everything happen with ease. It was another fiery night, with Jojo burning on every tune. Once again the audience stared in disbelief, applauding loudly before getting in line for an autograph. As it typical in Germany, in addition to cola, this event sold beer.
Tired, and with Jojo feeling the effects of that persistent cough, we finished the day with a quiet meal in a great Italian restaurant where the servers are also the chefs. Their offer of grappa as a thank you could not be refused, and Jojo autographed posters before we stepped out into the rainy darkness.
Day Three and we’re up and off by 10 AM, passing through Strasbourg, France before getting back into scenic southern Germany and reaching Sulzbach/Saar and 6 + 4 Music Music. Here the clinic host, Thomas Graumann, was happy to let Jojo check out gear at the store while his kit was being set up at a nearby venue. Foot pedals interest him, as his own is a hybrid constructed from various models. If you’ve heard Jojo’s high-speed, single-pedal playing, you’ll understand why pedals are so important.
At the venue, an old dance hall/community centre, the seats filled quickly. Soon the place is absolutely packed, with those unable to get a chair sitting on the floor or filling every standing space. After an intro from Christian, Jojo sits down and delivers the goods. Spontaneous applause in some numbers is the first to ever happen at an event here (some of the great names in drumming have played this venue). And then there is an encore! Wow, another first. For this, Jojo pulls out his brushes and takes the dynamics down a few notches, but is impressive as always. An autograph session follows before we hit the road for a lengthy drive up the autobahn, with Jojo getting off at Frankfurt Airport for his early morning flight home to New York City.
Though he’d been on the road gigging and doing solo performances for a month, suffering from a nasty cough and the need for some serious rest, Jojo – onstage and off – was nothing less than a ball of creative energy, chatting about everything from music and the business, to tossing ideas around and telling us tales of his adventures around the world. Every performance was ferocious and his Q&A sessions were fun and informative, with a lot of laughs reminding everyone that while the drumming is very serious, it is also a lot of fun. If you’ve read this far, you’re likely very interested in Jojo. And for good reason. Because if there is a drummer to see for awe-inspiring ability and sheer inspiration, Jojo Mayer is the man.
Many thanks to Jojo, our hosts and crew at the music stores, and everyone who attended the events.
– Wayne Blanchard –
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