Wednesday, September 03, 2008

On Tony Williams

For years, I’ve been a drummer. Possibly, you remain a drummer for a lifetime. Possibly, no matter how poor your drumming abilities are, how shaky your time-keeping (sic), how haphazardly your four extremities hit the small invisible, inaudible quantitised measures that infinitely split up a bar, not ending at 16th or 32nd notes—if you ever have approached time that way, your life time and your perception of it follow this pattern.

This holds true for all musicians, probably, and it may simply be an extension of everybody’s time perception; which, coming full circle, might indicate that we all are musicians, banging the big drums of time. Gosh, is that Cindy Lauper? No, it’s the drum beating out of time in her song, which also is a nice metaphor if you take it literally.

As I type, an only 18-year old Tony Williams, long dead now, in 1964, hits a hissing, nervous, openly-tuned drum set, overdrives the cymbals, partly by sheer speed and partly by the ferociousness with which he crushes them. This is so-called Jazz, and the Time is no longer kept. It is not kept by the drummer, and neither by any other band member, Hancock, Carter. It has evaporated, somewhere in the space that Williams together with his co-geniuses has created.

As a listener, you float along, and it takes your willingness to accept that here, on this record, in this moment, time has become an arrow, a stream, floating, roaring downhill, or forward, if you like. The space on that stage on Febuary 12, 1964, is transformed by Miles Davis and his colleagues into pure tension, tensors that shoot from one point to another, thus (if you think about it) only creating, emitting Time, and evaporating our concepts of it in the same instant.

This is done in a breathtaking, almost arrogant perfection and sovereignty. As a skilled listener, you can attempt to hook up with the 2s and 4s of the beat, get into the groove, but like in a museum, you ultimately remain outside of it, you have to watch these masters as they playfully stretch, and sheer, and convolute Time. Williams, nevertheless, appears to be the centre of gravity, the source of a big bang that just started the big space–time clock ticking.

Tony Williams, in a sense, has taken away my measures and words to describe the sensations he is able to elicit in me. It gives me great comfort to know that Williams, while still in his Earthly vehicle and behind an Earthly drum set, had overcome the quanitisied measures and limits of Time; he is truly banging out of time.

Dieser Beitrag ist auf Englisch, doch einiges an der Zeitmauer gibt es auch in der hervorragenden Kultur- und Verwaltungssprache Deutsch zu lesen.


  1. Postscriptum: Only when reading this piece in its published format, I realise that Tony Williams, of course, was later to lead a band named Tony WIlliams’ Lifetime. Harrowing.

  2. Mir welcher Drumstick-Größe spielt es sich am besten auf den 'drums of time'? Genügt 7,5?

  3. «I switched to playing the Tony Williams Signature stick made by Zildjian—although it is thicker like a 2B, the taper on it makes the stick quick. I never thought I would really like to play a stick this big, but it feels good! Something about the thicker diameter just eases some tension in my hands, and I feel that I can generate a lot more power with less effort.»


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