Danny Gottlieb

By Mike Brannon for All About Jazz
issued January 2001

If you don't know drummer Danny Gottlieb or you know him from only the earliest incarnations of the Pat Metheny Group, there's a lot you don't know about this talented, multi-faceted musician. Not complacent to rest on past laurels of any kind, Gottleib currently juggles percussion duties with more groups and ensembles than many work with in a lifetime, seeing it all optimistically, as a welcomed challenge. A rare attitude that pervades his work and beyond and which is carried to all who he comes into contact with professionally and personally. Being honestly excited about and intensely interested in what he does ultimately makes the listener the winner. And honesty and faithfulness to the spirit of the music allows for certain moments to happen that never would otherwise, as well as the trust of those who have the good fortune to work with him. This all serves as a testament and textbook on how to be a valued, successful, creative, open-minded musician, enjoying life for the long term.

Mike Brannon: Danny, can you talk more about that session with Neenah Freelon: who else was on it, what tunes, did you do any live stuff with Neenah or Herbie etc? where was it done?

Danny Gottlieb: My connection to Neenha was through the great New York based pianist and arranger, Mike Abene. Mike was a hero of mine, having played piano and arranged many big band charts, among them a bunch with Maynard Ferguson (Maynard '61, '62, Color Him Wild, Message from Newport, and a personal all time favorite, "The Blues Roar" with one of my mentors, Mel Lewis on drums). When I was living full time in New York, Mike would use me on some of his live gigs and recordings. I played some gigs with the GRP big band that Mike conducted and arranged, including a few with Dr. John and Diana Krall. Mike was hired to arrange Neenha's "Maiden Voyage" recording, and I was hired to play drums on 2/3rd's of it (I think I'm on the first 6 tunes, although other than my name, the credits of who plays on what are not listed). The other players included the great guitarist, Joe Beck, Avashi Cohen, bassist from Israel who plays with Chick Corea's Origin, and I actually can't remember whom else was on it. From what I remember, the music, with the exception of the tune "Maiden Voyage", was mostly treatments of compositions by prolific women composers.

I think there was something by Laura Nyro (one of my favorites), and another by Nina Simone. We recorded at Sound on Sound, a studio in Manhattan on 45th street, where I've recorded a bunch of recordings, including the recordings with pianist Sergio Salvatore that I did for GRP, and my own "Brooklyn Blues" solo record from 1991. Herbie came in one day during the sessions, as a special guest, and we played 3 versions of Maiden Voyage. Neenha had written words, and sang. I was pretty nervous, but once Herbie started playing, it was very easy and relaxed. Herbie was great, and what a thrill to play Maiden Voyage with him. Of course, it's hard to get the sounds of Tony Williams out of your head when you are playing that tune, but Avashi and I just enjoyed the moment, and I loved it and felt I played well. Herbie seemed to enjoy it, but I have no idea if he ever even listened to the recording, or remembers who played on it! I did see Herbie last year in Europe, at a gig that Beth (my wife) and I were doing with Bobby McFerrin, and he was very cordial, but all I remember, is that when it was over, Avashi and I looked at each other, and laughed- "We played Maiden Voyage with Herbie"! It was really a thrill!!

As far as live gigs, we did do a week with Neenha when the record was released at the New York club, "Iridium". From what I remember, her current bassist, Wayne Batchelor played, along with Mike and Joe Beck, and I remember it being a successful week. She has since put out another recording, and I recently heard her new group perform at the Jacksonville Jazz Festival this past November, where I was performing in the rhythm section at the piano competion. She and the group sounded fantastic.

Mike Brannon: Who were your strongest, most important, influences as you develped as a drummer? Do you still listen to other drummers?

Danny Gottlieb: I've listened to so many recordings of so many different drummers over the years, and still do today. I'm always finding something new and inspiring, and I do feel connected to the great, long lineage of jazz drummers. However, as far as personal strong influences, here's my path to the present;

I started being a fan of Buddy Rich's in the '60's, as most kids were. I played cello for 8 years, and then also started drums around the age of 14. My dad, when I expressed an interest in the drums, bought me a Max Roach record "The Drum Also Waltzes" (a classic!), and so Max became an early influence. I was then playing drums in the JR. high school band (1966-67), in New Jersey, and Mr. Geist, my first real influence at school (and still an influence and friend today) introduced us kids to jazz. I became an instant fan of every big band drummer, and also happened to buy Miles Davis' recording of "Round Midnight, and Philly Joe Jones became an influence. When I was in high school, there was an amazing jazz program on WRVR, featuring the DJ Ed Beach. He would highlight a different jazz musician every day, and the station would play it in the morning, and then again in the evening. I lived for that show, and always checked out the different drummers he mentioned. I still have some reel-to-reel tapes of his shows, floating around somewhere.

I then got an amazingly lucky break. I stumbled into a music store near my house in New Jersey, and found that a famous drummer, Joe Morello, was teaching at the store!!!! I didn't know he played on "Take 5", or had played with Brubeck for 12 years-but he was on the back of the Ludwig catalog, and "he must be good!", so- I started lessons with Joe in 1969. I still take a few lessons with him now when I can- so I've been around him for over 30 years! He is not only a great jazz drummer and soloist, but one of the greatest teachers in the history of the instrument. he studied with two legends- George Lawrence Stone ( who wrote the "Stick Control" book- voted by Modern Drummer as the greatest drum book ever written-whatever that means), and Billy Gladstone, reputed to be one of the greatest snare drummers in the history of the instrument. The great thing about studying with Joe, is that not only is he jsut an amazing musician, but as a teacher he has seen every possible way to hold a stick, and play the drum, and he has very specific ways of approaching the instrument. Following his instructions really allows you to have a wide range of dynamics at your fingertips- and I did get to use these dynamics quite a bit when the Metheny Group started.

As far as other drum influences, I used to sneak into the Village Vanguard while in high school, and hear the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra. he became one of my heros, and when I first approached him about lessons, he told me he as too busy. When I told Morello about this at a lesson, he said "I know Mel-get him on the phone!" So- I got Mel Lewis' number from the musician's Union, and Joe had me call him up. Joe told him " I've got this kid who is just nuts about your cymbal sound- would you please get together with him, and get him off my back!!" (laughingly of course). That started years of time spent with Mel. He let me copy many of his special, private tapes, took me to gigs, and even let me play cowbell on the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis track "A good time was had by all" for the recording "Suite for Pops". Whenever I'd come back from the University of Miami, he'd let me tag along to whatever he was do. I remember him taking me to a Lou Donadson session on my birthday, I think in '73. Bernard Purdie was playing and Mel went there to meet Thad, who was playing trumpet on the date. Bernard was so great and he became another influence.

I started playing with Metheny while at the University of Miami, in 1972, and he turned me on to many great drummers, from the recordings he liked: Bob Moses with Gary Burton, Bill Goodwin with Burton and Phil Woods, Paul Motion with Bill Evans, Elvin Jones, Jack DeJohnette. The others I would mention as influences include: Ed Soph (now teaches at North Texas State). I met him through one of my instructors,the pianist Dan Haerle, at the university of Miami. I took some valuable lessons with Ed right after college. He also let me tag along to some Woody Herman gigs that he was playing. He also took me to some Clarke Terry gigs, and later, led me sub for him with Clarke! Another influence, greatly, was the amazing drummer Harold Jones, who played for years with Basie, Sarah Vaugn, and Natalie Cole (he is on "Unforgetable"). I met Harold when I was 16, on vacation with my parents in Atlantic City, NJ, in the '60's, before they had gambling. I wandered onto "Steal Pier", by myself, on a Sunday afternoon, and low and behold, the Basie band was playing a matinee. Harold saw me staring at him, and pointed me over to the drums. He let me sit right by the kit, and it was such a moving experience! I later met him again while I was at The University of Miami, and later when he was touring with Sarah Vaughn. I was playing on the same festival as they were, in Rio with Gil Evans, in the '80's, and we renewed our friendship. And of all coincidences, my wife Beth played percussion with Natalie for a bunch of gigs, and she and Harold became good buddies. When we later realized we both new Harold, it was amazing. He's truly one of the world's great drummers!

Another influence was the great studio master, and teacher, Gary Chester. I met and studied with Gary through Dave Weckl, in the early '80s. Dave was playing with a local NY based band, French Toast, and was doing all these amazing independence ideas with his hands and feet. I asked him where he worked on it, and he suggested I study with Gary. He was taking lessons, and loved them. So- I went to Gary. He was just an incredible teacher as well. It was wild to be studying from Morello and Gary at the same time. Gary had you work on all sorts of rhythmic patterns and ideas- you play the same thing with three limbs, and sightread rhythms with the fourth. Then you switch it around. You also sing different parts of the rhythms as you practice. It was amazing stuff, and I work on it to this day. For those readers who don't know his playing, he's on a thousand (or more) hit records as a studio player-Rocky Mountain High, Bad Leroy Brown, Downtown, Up on the roof, Under the Boardwalk, Do you Know the way to San Jose, etc.

Mike Brannon: Was Gene Krupa an influence at all for you?

Danny Gottlieb: A bit, as he was an influence on pretty much all drummers. I heard him live for a second, once, in the '60's, when I stuck my head into the Metropole club in NY (I was underage) My teacher, Joe Morello, used to talk about him all the time. They used to get together before Gene passed away, and Joe would tell me about it. I still listen to his recordings, and always play "Sing Sing Sing" with some big band every year somewhere. I played it just last week here in Fl., on a big band gig with Clem De Rosa, and old friend of Mel Lewis' who now leads a big band. He did a tribute to Benny Goodman, and of course you think of Gene when you attempt to play that classic music.

Mike Brannon: What are your thoughts on current players like Vinnie, Weckl, Bruford, Wackerman?

Danny Gottlieb: They are all fantastic players, and certainly have something unique drumwise to listen to and learn from. I listen mostly, though, to the older generation of drummers.

Mike Brannon: How was the experience of working Sting? Did you meet?

Danny Gottlieb: It was really fun. We played one big concert that was televised and recorded in Italy, in 1987. He also sat in on a few gigs with the Gil Evans Orch, at the Sweet Basil club, in New York.I also recorded with him on two tracks for the cd "Nothing Like the SUn", playing percussion (Kenwood Denard played drums on that one), but the percussion and the rest of the Gil Evans Orchestra were not used on the final tracks. We met during rehearsal, and recording- he was very nice, and the only thing I remember him telling me was not to play like Stewart Copeland. Mark Egan and I had shedded the Police tunes, and I had learned some of Stewarts licks- Sting heard that, and said-"No-play your own stuff". It was fun!

Mike Brannon: Did you ever get to meet or work w/ Will Lee at UM or after?

Danny Gottlieb: After UM, in New York. I've done some sessions and live gigs with him. (we even did a Neil Sedaka record together!) He is one of the greatest musicians, and one of the greatest human beings I know! His father was the dean at UM when I went there, and he's a wonderful person as well.

Mike Brannon: Yeah, Bill was even head of the music department here at UTSA a few years back and Will would come down a few times a year and do concerts with the school's jazz ensembles. You mentioned IAJE. Are you much involved with Jazz education?

Danny Gottlieb: A bit. I am an adjunct insructor at Rollins College, in Winter Park, Florida, and an artist in residence at USF, in Tampa. USF has a bigger jazz school, but Rollins has some nice jazz ensembles as well. I also do maybe 10-15 clinics a year, for Zildjian Cymbals and Premier Drums, either at stores, schools, or festivals. It's not always jazz, but because that is my background, that is usually the topic of discussion. Beth and I also do many children's workshops, in the Orlando area, playing percussion duets. The performances are sponsored by Rollins College, and the kids just go crazy for it. I also teach on occasion, at the New School, New york City, ad have recently done workshops at North Texas State, and MI and LAMA in Los Angeles.

Mike Brannon: Did you spend some time at Miami?

Danny Gottlieb: I was there 4 years; 1971 through 1975. I got a music degree, a BM in jazz performance in 1975. I met Pat in '72, and we played alot of duo gigs, and had a faculty/student group called Kaleidescope, led by Dan Haerle. I also met Mark Egan, Cliff Carter, Steve Morse, Ross Traut, Hiram Bullock, Rod Morganstern, Gil Goldstein, all at school. It was a great time to be there!

Mike Brannon: I know. Seems like every school has those amazing periods. When I was at Berklee in the early to mid 80's was one of those. Stern, Sco, Pat, Frisell, Goodrick, Abercrombie, Brecker and Vinnie (among others) were playing Boston a lot and giving clinics. Plus, people like Terri-Lynn, Tain, Vic Bailey and Branford were all students at the time. Did you have any involvement with Jaco?

Danny Gottlieb: A bit. He played and taught some at the University, and Mark took some lessons with him. I played a few show gigs with him- he was SO strong. I was always a bit intimidated by him, but he was always a good guy, and very supportive. I did a few gigs later in Boston, with he and Pat.

Mike Brannon: As far as the gigs in Boston w/ Pat and Jaco...what were the tunes? BSL stuff? And are there any tapes?

Danny Gottlieb: The gigs with Pat and Jaco usually had a variety of players. I remember one with two drummers and two bassists - myself, Gary Chafee, Barry Smith - and I do have a tape somewhere. The BSL stuff usually had Jaco and Bob Moses playing. I did do many trio gigs with Pat and another bassist, but not too many with Jaco.

Danny Gottlieb: As far as tunes, they were standards, and classic Pat compositions, either finished, or in the development stages.

Mike Brannon: Does Elements (you and Mark) get hired as a rhythm section a lot?

Danny Gottlieb: Quite a bit. We just recorded with George Gruntz (Swiss arranger. pianist, and he wanted Mark and I) last week. We not only get alot of recording work together, but we also get alot of jingles and commercial music work as a rhythm section team as well. We are on alot of CNN news themes, for example, and are on the theme to NPR's "Morning Edition" together.

Mike Brannon: Do you do any of your own work on your drums (beveling, refinishing etc)?

Danny Gottlieb: No, although, I do drill cymbals and install rivits quite often. The drums, though, are standard issue, (Premier, and older Ludwig), except from some very special handmade Eames srumshells, which I cherish.

Mike Brannon: Our bassist (with Synergy) works as a manager at the new Mars here in town and might be able to get you a clinic if you were at all interested.

Danny Gottlieb: Sure! I've been doing quite a few clinics for Premier and Zildjian, if the store is interested. Many times clinics have to go through corporate control, and there can be alot of politics involved, but, I'd certainly be interested!

Mike Brannon: Whats the status of that live Haru record with Stern and the Nennah thing with Herbie?

Danny Gottlieb: I'll ask Haru. Looks like I'll be going to Japan with him in March. The Neenha cd I don't have, but it should be available on Concord Records...The new Jeff Berlin will be out in the spring, I gather- Jeff says Stern sounds great, although I haven't heard it in it's final stages.

Mike Brannon: What's the current status with Elements...any touring or recordings scheduled?

Danny Gottlieb: Elements has existed since 1982., being led by Mark and I. We have 9 cd's available, including 3 live cd's available from Mark through his "Mark Egan" website. He is completing a solo recording at the moment, scheduled for early 2001 release. Next up after that will be a new Elements recording. Over the years we have done some touring, but lately it's been difficult. Bill Evans has been busy with his own band, (and has a great new record, by the way, "Soul Insider" with the great Steve Jordan on drums)

Mark and Pat and I meet at UM, and played quite a bit, although Mark played in a different circle of musicians. Mark was in a band led by sax great Mark Colby (now Chicago based), and then moved to New York playing with the late, great Phylis Hyman. Mark was playing in David Sanborn's band (the recording "Promise me the Moon", from the late '70's is very interesting). I went on the road after college with Bobby Rydell, and then moved to NY. Pat got me the gig with Gary Burton in 1976 (one recording-Passengers-my first recording), then I played on Watercolors with Pat (first recording with Pat and Lyle), then we left Burton, and Pat started the group. And Pat thought Mark would be perfect.

Mike Brannon: I'd have to agree. Is there anything about being a (jazz) musician that has surprised you? Did you have any expectations about it that were not met?

Danny Gottlieb: Well-it's been 25 plus years of touring, averaging 200 days on the road per year, every year, and I didn't get married until 1997, when I was 45! I can't say it was just touring that led to that life style, but it sure didn't help. Also, meeting the right girl helped. She plays better rudimental snare drum than I ever will! Ha! I guess my approach was to just keep growing musically, have confidence, keep taking lessons and playing all styles of music. As a freelance jazz musician, I sometimes look back and wonder if it might have been better to have focused on one group after Metheny, and tried to make it a success- but on the other hand, I've gotten to play with SO many different groups- Gil Evans, John Mclaughlin, Michael Franks, Airto and Flora, Stan Getz, Gerry Mullgan, Eddie Gomez, Bobby McFerrin, the Transfer, Ahmad Jamal, the Blues Brothers, Booker T and the MGs's-it's pretty amazing, and certainly has added to my ablity as a player. No regrets at all! I'm just happy to be a part of the jazz music world, and happy to be making a living doing it!

Mike Brannon: I can't imagine a better attitude to have about anything. What are the specifics of the sessions with Soloff and Mike Stern?

Danny Gottlieb: The Soloff recording was basically his touring band recorded in the studio, playing the tunes we perfromed live. It featured Lew, Joe Beck on guitar, Lou Marini from the Blues Brothers on sax, Mark Egan and myself. There is also one track that has some other special guests, all playing to a drum loop. It's interesting. Mike Stern overdubbed his solos on Jeff Berlin's recording, and I haven't heard them yet, but Jeff says they sound great. Mike and I are also on a live recording, from the 55 BAR in NY. The great guitar player Haru released it in Japan, and had myself, Mike Stern, and his wife Leni, Hiram Bullock, and bassist Harvey Swartz playing on it.

Mike Brannon: All great guitar players. Hiram's a character. How did the Manhattan Transfer gig originally come about?

Danny Gottlieb: I originally played in the Transfer band in 1995. The pianist and conductor/ arranger is a New York based musician, Yaron Gershovsky. Originally from Israel, Yaron and I became friends in NY, and when the Transfer needed a drummer, he recommended me. Cliff Almond, one of the world's great drummers, and one of my personal favorites,(used to play with Michel Camillo) took over the drum chair when I left, and now myself and Tommy Brechtlein are his subs. I played Israel with the Transfer a few months ago, at the Red Sea Jazz Festival, and am now doing their current Christmas Orchestral tour.

Mike Brannon: Can you discuss your approach to:

a) teaching...

  1. What does the student want to accomplish?
  2. Find methods, based on experience, to help the student acheive their goals.
  3. Talk about personal exeriences and musical situations that would be helpful.
  4. Work on technique, time, grooves, drum fundamentals, sudying the masters.

b) session work...

  1. Being flexible, and having many musical options.
  2. Using as many or as few sounds, colors and dymnamics, as needed, depending on the situation.
  3. Making as many friends in the industry as possibe.
  4. practice with a metronome, work on feels, groove, reading.
  5. Know as much about many styles of music as possible

c) sideman work...

  1. Make many friends.
  2. Surround yourself with the musicians you want to play with.
  3. Study the masters, and musicians who have played the gig before you.
  4. Enjoy many styles of music.
  5. Be an asset to every situation, both musically, and personally.
  6. 6. Develop confidence in your own ability

d) writing?

I usually write little melodies and have my friends (Mark Egan, Gil Goldstein, etc) help me with the harmonic concept. But always write melodies down, or sing them into a tape recorder.

Mike Brannon: How the Metheny gig came about for you and anything you'd like to mention about those incredible years. How did that affect your perspective on music?

Danny Gottlieb: The friendship and musical affiliation with Pat was a great learning experience.

I played with him 1972-1983, 11 years. Again, we met in school, played together, and then he got me on the Gary Burton gig, and the with the original group. I admire his musicianship, beautiful melodies, dedication, work ethic, and his high sandards of acheivement. I feel that I have been bringing many of these high ideals to my own musical career, in my own way. I'm sorry that the original group didn't get to continue, but one great thing that came out of it, was and is, my longterm friendship and musical connection to Mark Egan. We have been best friends and musical partners now for almost 30 years!

Mike Brannon: What have been some of the other most influential gigs you've done or musicians you've worked with?

Danny Gottlieb: The Gil Evans Orchestra is my all-time favorite (I'm on the Grammy winning recordings "Bud and Bird", "Farewell", and also Last Session, with Sting; The Honey Man; and Tribute).

John Mclaughlin and Mahavishnu was great (1984-86- one recording, "Adventures in Radioland" on Verve); the Nando Luria recordings were special.

Others include: Al Di Meola ("Soaring through a dream"), the Vanguard Orchestra, the Carneigie Hall Jazz Orchestra, George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band, Eddie Gomez Group, Michael Franks Group, Stan Getz, Flora and Airto Group; Joe Farrell quintet, Lew Soloff Group, the 12 years off and on with the Blues Brothers Band (3 recordings- live Video in Montreux, at the House of Blues in Chicago with Dan Ackroyd), the live Booker T and the MG's video concert from Midem, France; Gerry Mulligan at Avery Fisher Hall; many more...

Mike Brannon: What are your current equip. and endorsement situations?

Danny Gottlieb: Currently endorsing: Zildjian Cymbals, Premier Drums, Hot Sticks, Remo Drum Heads, Rhythm Tech percussion, HQ "Realfeal" drum pads, Eames Drum Shells, Shure microphones, Grover percussion, Wright handrums, Regal brushes, Vic Firth mallets and accessories.

I currently use a small kit- 1 or 2 rack toms, 20" bass, 14" floor tom, Genista and Signature Marqui series from Premier, and many cymbals, depending on the situation. Currently, I use some (all Zildjian) 22" flat-ride prototypes, some 18" flat-ride prototypes, 22" and 20" K Custom Dark Dry ride, 20" Constantinople Medium Ride,18" Oriental Crash, 16" Vintage Crash, 10" Extra Thin Splash, 14" New Beat Hi Hats.

Mike Brannon: Are there any specific things you do other than music itself that you feel add to your ability to play and create better?

Danny Gottlieb: Exercise! It's the best! My wife is a serious runner, and she's getting me to do at least something everyday! I just ran my first 15k, 10k and 5 k races recently. A half Marathon is next! Listen a lot, practice, enjoy life, have a positive attitude, help others. It all adds up and comes out in the music.

Mike Brannon: All great things to have incorporated in your life, regardless of what you do. Whats coming up for you in the near future?

Danny Gottlieb: Pretty busy!!! The rest of 2000: I finish the Transfer gig; play another week at the Christmas show at Epoct in Orlando with my wife (50 pce. Orchestra); record in NY with the George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band; play a big band gig with an old friend and friend of Mel Lewis, Clem DeRosa; finish a record with sax player Jack Wilkins; return to NY and be best man at my best friend Ken's wedding, and then reurn to Fla. for a New Year's gig with trumpeter Glen Zatola, and one of my favorite bassists, Mark Neuenshwander. In 2001, I play at IAJE in New York in January with Chuck Owen's Orchestra, again with tenor sax player Jim Rupert (Lew Soloff appearance there has been cancelled), record with percussionist/arranger Mike Whalen (with Michael Brecker, Mark Egan, Tony Levin, among others), then play at NAMM show in Anaheim with Jeff Berlin, and at Muriel Anderson's guitar night. Also scheduled; some kids concerts in the Orlando area, a March trip to Japan with guitarist Haru and Harvey Swartz, and an April trip to Europe with the Soloff Quintet. And then: a new Elements record, a new Danny solo record, and a percussion record with my wife, Beth.

Further information on Elements can be found at Mark Egan's website: Mark Egan and Wavetone Records

Reprinted with permission.
Copyright © 2006 by All About Jazz and Mike Brannon

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