I have been lucky

Forty years ago today, I got my first drum set. 

The first time I sat down to play, I knew immediately that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

The story goes like this:

When my mother wanted to move to another city, I decided to move in with my father, with whom I had had little contact until then. I was only fourteen, but I had already moved around a bit and changed schools, and I didn’t want to have to make new friends again. 

My father had a cheap corner bar, and when one of his regular customers couldn’t pay his beer debt and found out I wanted to play drums, he traded in his old drum kit. My mother had given me a pair of sticks a few months earlier because I had been dying to play drums ever since I heard Gene Krupa play “Sing Sing Sing” on the radio (Hooray for public radio!). 

When I got the drum set, the first thing I tried to do was play the hi-hat pattern I had heard so often from Jo Jones on the old Count Basie records. I thought I had it all figured out beforehand and couldn’t wait to finally try it out on a real drum set. Of course, it was much more difficult than I had imagined. A little later, the neighbor of the apartment above was standing in the doorway complaining. So I moved the drums to the storage room in the basement under the pub. It wasn’t soundproof either, but the prostitutes who had their apartments in the building were friendly and only turned off the lights in the basement when they had customers. Then I knew I had to take a fifteen-minute break.

A few weeks later I met Rudi Mahall at a concert. He had been taking clarinet lessons for a year and his father had a jazz record collection. So we were ready to go and met almost every afternoon after school in the basement to play music together (or at least do our best to make it sound like music).

The photo is from my first public concert at my school, where I filled in for a band of high school graduates because they didn’t have a drummer for their graduation night. After a short rehearsal in the afternoon, we played Satin Doll and Tea for Two that evening. That was just a few months after I started playing drums, and I still look forward to every concert since then.