Brian Ripp Pays Tribute to Mike Friedman

47 Years Later Brian Ripp (1976) Pays 65th Birthday Tribute to Mike Friedman (1976) … and a couple of others …

It was great talking, with one of my best friends from high school & college, drummer & producer Mike Friedman. It was the highlight of my week.

Damn! It’s nearly 50 years ago!
In high school, Mike taught me to really listen to how drummer’s use the various instruments comprising their drum sets. He instilled in me that drums are not just something you hit (or hit hard), but rather that they are sensitive musical instruments. Each part has its own tone, and that the drums are tunable. Mike got me to listen more critically to drummers, both on records and during live performances, and not just for their technique or creativity, but for the sound, the tone, of their drums. He got me listening to cymbals the same way and showed me that each one is incredibly individual and unique. He demonstrated to me how all cymbals are not created equal, some will never sound good, but that others are glorious. After that, when I attended live music performances, I paid close attention to the cymbal set-ups; like if the drummer had cymbals with rivets, had a piece cut out, or if any were highly unusual, like a flat-top ride. I accompanied Mike several times while he was shopping for cymbals for his kit, at Frank’s Drum Shop, which was in Chicago’s Loop located on an upper floor of an old office building at 226 S. Wabash.

Mike also taught me that the best drummers don’t produce sound with a downward strike, instead showing me how the best drummers sort of pull the sound out of the drums with an upward motion. I don’t remember exactly when he demonstrated this technique, but it really stuck with me. I’ve listened, and seen, as drummers do this. Jack DeJohnette readily comes to mind (speaking of flat-top rides!).

Mike ‘hipped’ me to the fact that in any genre, drummers are critical to the character of their band. I now can draw my own conclusions about music and drummers, (e.g., No band is better than its drummer). I remember during our college years as Mike pointed out that some of the great drummers really didn’t have incredible technique, but had fantastic feel, and purpose: Witness, for example, Sam Woodyard, who played with the Duke Ellington Orchestra for years.

All this became extremely helpful during my mid-to-late 20s, when I played ‘stick-and-hand’ drums, and other percussion, as a two-year member of the West African drum ensemble led by Ron Dewar. This was more than just a fun group to play with. After this experience (including simultaneously singing background vocals in the West African Ewe dialect), everything during my musical performances became much easier. For instance, I was always a decent sight-reader, but after playing ensemble drums, my sight-reading’s accuracy got much better, not to mention the intensity I played with.

But reminiscing back to those first small group gigs in high school, by senior year we had a quartet with Mike on drums and Don Robin (1975) on the Rhodes Electric Piano. Don was a great player who was a huge fan of jazz pianist Bill Evans. I think we sometimes expanded to a quintet with the very talented Marc Kupferberg on trumpet and Andy Leonard on Bass. Mike successfully got us booked on several (non-union!) gigs playing bar mitzvahs within the North Suburbs of Chicago. I don’t recall much about them, other than they were fun, and I believe we got paid $40-50 each, very welcome money back then. This helped me to realize that if I was going to be playing the baritone saxophone (which on some of these early gigs was New Trier West’s horn, (I only owned a clarinet at that point), that my sound had better improve, PDQ! I even booked us a gig playing rock tunes at the Avoca / Marie Murphy Junior High prom toward the end of my senior year, which I recall as a very fun gig. I think gym teacher Dick Berardi helped me book it. But one of the most memorable of these early small group gigs was our first one.

I’d been at a jam session at Mike’s parents’ house in west Wilmette (Illinois). We must have been loud enough for our playing to be heard by neighbors, because when we had packed up, and were walking to our cars, this guy walked up to us and asked us if we would play a back yard gig for his family. He said he’d pay us. It was just Mike, me on Bari sax & Don Robin on electric piano. I don’t think we had a bass player. We (or I) didn’t know a lot of tunes at that time and repeated most of the tunes we’d just played at our jam session, Cantaloupe Island, Cold Duck Time, Maiden Voyage. I clearly recall this guy, and his family, sipping drinks on lawn chairs in his back yard while we were performing at dusk on a suburban Saturday. I don’t even remember if he’d told us what he was paying, but after the set, he paid each of us personally. I think he paid me $17. I went home, went up to my bedroom, in my parents’ split level in east Glenview (Ilinois), and couldn’t stop thinking about it. I had just been paid to play for people. Wow! Did this make me a professional?!  What will I spend the money on? Typically scattered teenage thinking. It was my very first ‘professional’ gig, the first time I’d been paid to play. But not the last. And Mike was all a part of it!

See also:  Brian Ripp’s Autobiographical Sketch

Brian Ripp