We recently caught up with UK session drummer and educator Justin Scott. With an impressive education background and having held seats with some of the most challenging contemporary artists out there, we wanted to find out what it was that made the man tick and what he thinks about the art of drumming today. Please welcome, JUSTIN SCOTT.
PAISTE UK: What got you into drumming and when did you realize it was what you wanted to build your life around?
JS: Like most kids I suppose, I had toy drum sets from the age of about three but I started taking lessons at age of eleven.
I come from a small town which didn’t have much of a music scene so the idea of becoming a professional musician didn’t seem feasible until later on, when I started making a ten hour round trip to London every two weeks for private lessons at Drumtech. I did that for almost three years before heading off to Nottingham University to study mechanical engineering. Sometime in my first year there I had an epiphany. So, encouraged by my parents I left Nottingham, spent another year practicing and playing in an extremely busy covers band before heading off to Boston to study music.
P UK: You've had some fantastic experiences playing with a diverse range of musicians. Are there any that you've particularly enjoyed or specific shows or events that have stayed with you?
JS: Just being the type of person that I am, I've always tried to align myself with musicians whose motives I respect and whose music I enjoy listening to. The problem is, my tastes can be a little oblique so most of them have cult followings at best. I’m sure it hasn’t always proved to be the most profitable policy but it has lead to my involvement in some extremely interesting music. One artist whose music I got a lot from is Chris Ramsing, an Australian composer whose sound has frequently been compared to The Mothers Of Invention and Captain Beefheart. His music features some creative use of odd meters and polyrhythms, so at the time it was the perfect vehicle for applying a lot of the Rhythm & Meter stuff that I worked on with Gary [Chaffee]. I have some fond memories of playing festivals in Germany with that band.
My work with Amit Chatterjee has been, and continues to be, a wonderful experience. Amit’s a master musician who, amongst others, played with Joe Zawinul for over a decade. He’s also played alongside some of the most well known drummers in the world and has a very deep understanding of how drums should function in the music.
P UK: You've studied intensively at some great institutions and education is clearly a great passion of yours. Who has been an influence on your theoretical out look and playing?
JS: Instinctively, I've always been a very enthusiastic learner. Also, I've quite been lucky too, in the sense that I've had some amazing learning opportunities, which I've always tried my best to take full advantage of. Of course, we can hopefully all learn something from any experience or encounter, whether musical or non-musical, but in terms of formal study there are a few experiences that I regard as being particularly influential in helping shape my outlook on music.
Berklee was a great experience because what I found there was a scene or community in which the standard of musicianship was extremely high but at the same time there was an almost universal willingness to share information and support one another. I don't know whether this is a typical experience but it was certainly my experience at the time, so not only did I learn so much from great teachers such as John Ramsey and Ed Kaspik but also from my peers. And somehow this really inspired me to go on and learn as much as I could about African American music.
Studying privately with Gary Chaffee and later, Pete Zeldman also had a very profound effect on my playing too.
At the end of the day though, I always bear in mind that ultimately, what we do - the art of modern American drumset - came from the street. So consequently, some of the most influential and instructive experiences can come from the most unlikely places. Whenever they do, I always try to submit to them with reverence and an open mind.
P UK: How important is it for aspiring drummers to embrace the theory of the kit?
JS: In one sense, what we're doing when we play is turning our musical ideas, the sounds that we have in our heads and which no one else can hear, into actual sounds that can be heard by an audience. Technique is one of the main factors in determining the fidelity with which these ideas are reproduced so in my view, it is an essential aspect of anyone's development on any instrument.
However, I think it's important to get away from the pervasive view that has emerged in recent years, that technique is a synonym for chops. Of course, speed, endurance and mobility may all be facets of a well developed technique but to me, as I listen to and study many of the masters of our instrument, the universal characteristic of great technique is consistency.
The other important thing to understand, is that a high level of technique does not necessarily produce a high level of self-expression. So in addition to developing our technical control over the instrument, we should spend at least as much time nurturing the creative side of our musical personalities.
P UK: What do you enjoy doing outside of drumming?
JS: Frank Zappa was once asked by an interviewer whether there were any parts of his life that he felt he'd neglected by being too absorbed in his music. He responded with incredulity at the idea that he would regret not having bungie jumped or learnt to water ski. "If you're absorbed with something, what's to miss?" was his retort.
I'm quite comforted by this sentiment because for me, music and drumming has, for the last twenty years, had a bit of a monopoly on my attention so I really haven't felt any desire to take time away from them to devote to other pursuits. Like many drummers, I’m finding myself increasingly involved in the production side of things so that’s something I’m planning to develop, but certainly not at the expense of my playing.
Other than that, I have an amazing wife and two beautiful children so anytime that I'm not working, all I really want to do is hang out with my ‘team’!
P UK: Have you got any future plans or project on the cards that you can let us in on?
JS: A couple of years ago I set up a project studio for tracking drums remotely and filming video lessons. Since then, I’ve worked on developing my engineering and production skills and gradually a slow but steady stream of work has built up. My plan for this year is to continue developing my production skills, invest in more equipment and build up the volume of work that I do through studio.
As someone who has had to fund a lot of their own education privately, I feel quite strongly that in this day and age, at least a basic amount of high quality information should be available to anyone with nothing more than an internet connection and an interest in developing their abilities. So, a while back I set up a free tuition website www.justindrums.com which proved to be a labour of love that I was just too busy to maintain. Consequently, it has been sitting in cyber space for the last year or so, familiar only to those who happen to stumble upon it. I’ve recently found someone willing to help me develop and manage the site, so we’re finally planning an official launch in the Spring. I’m very excited about that.
As well as continuing to maintain my existing musical alliances (and hopefully build some new ones), I’d like to explore the idea of doing some more clinics. I haven’t done one in five years but they’re a very natural extension of the teaching that I do on a weekly basis and I’ve always found them very enjoyable.