Bill Bruford takes on creativity behind the drums

Former Yes, Genesis drummer presents lecture in support of new book


From Bill Bruford’s perspective, the drums are everything.

Whether it is touring as a member of Yes, Genesis and King Crimson, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee has drummed around the world over a 40-year career.

More recently, Bruford has tested the waters of academia.

Bruford appeared at Baird Hall on Monday afternoon to give a lecture in support of his new book, “Uncharted: Creativity and the Expert Drummer.”

Bruford spoke about what creativity is and the technical aspects of creating music

“Is creativity perhaps in the product or perhaps the thing itself?” Bruford asked the audience. “Isthis prize-winning art instillation somehow more creative than that prize-winning art instillation over there?”

After receiving a doctorate from the University of Surrey in 2016, Bruford examined a discourse of drumming and explored the creative aspect of several prominent drummers.

Bruford performed case studies of four drummers and outlined his findings through three sections: creativity, music performance and putting the four case studies in context.

His case study examined the place of drums in the creative outlet of group performance, a place he is no stranger to himself. He said drumming often becomes marred with unimportance, often being pushed to the back rather than reigning supreme at the front.

“What I’m interested in is the people in the lower picture,” Bruford said. “The intersection of my creativity and yours to make something the two of us didn’t know we were going to get–– often a surprise.”

Bruford emphasized the importance of group performance above all else as the quintessential source of creativity. He spoke towards the psychological mindset behind drummers, adding that drummers are often thought of as uncreative and merely a background member of the collective.

Jon Nelson, a music professor and the director of the UB concert band, said he felt Bruford’s music and experiences are important to both students and the department.

“I was telling Bill that a lot of the music we played with the students are a part of the curriculum,” Nelson said. “To have someone who was so instrumental in creating that music is really a fantastic thing for our students and our curriculum.”

Bruford discussed his findings from the four case studies, adding specific labels to drummers Paul Bonney, Blair Sinta, Asaf Sirkis and Max Roach. Each drummer represents an aspect of drumming both individually and collectively, as well as the appeal of each drummer’s individual style.

Bruford used each case study to examine specific areas of creative efforts, with each drawing from different genres like jazz or contemporary rock music. More prolificdrummers like Max Roach, Bruford argued, have a “hard compositional” approach, which begins a conversation of musical exchange within a group.

Bruford stressed Roach’s need to “find solution to problems” within a group. Roach came from a jazz background and uses it to take the music in a new direction.

In contrast, Bruford said drummers like Paul Bonney lack a specific component of creativity in covering music. Bonney looks to play the notes to the exact specifications of the original recording, Bruford said, as opposed to bringing a new element to the composition.

“If you insisted that I had to tell you what I think creative performers do, I would say that I think they affectand communicate significant difference,” Bruford said. “Some of these ideas have been expanded in a wonderful book ‘Uncharted.’”

The lecture ended with the UB concert band performing a set of works of Bruford’s own compositions, playing tracks taken from his time with Yes and King Crimson.

brian.evans@ubspectrum.comand @BrianEvansSpec