Todd Bishop Jazz Society of Oregon feature – September 2010
Interview by Rita Rega
Early Years/Education: Grew up in Eugene, Oregon and went to South Eugene High School. Trumpeter Gregg Hall was the band director at that time, it was a great program. My older brother, John, is also a professional drummer. He must have inspired me. My Dad was a jazz fan, so we had a bunch of 78’s around the house. His collection included a lot of boogie-woogie, Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond, Benny Goodman, etc. My Mom was a musical theater person. I’d say from 1971 to 1988, there was a full-time drummer practicing in the house — first my brother and then me. After high school I attended the University of Oregon and studied classical percussion with Charles Dowd. From there I went to the University of Southern California on a scholarship and studied jazz drumming with Gregg Field (Count Basie’s drummer). I was also pursuing art at that time and got into painting and photography. I eventually dropped out of USC to play music. I was in Los Angeles in 1993 when they had the riots, and I decided it wasn’t for me. I moved to Portland in ’94 with a tenor friend of mine, Ricky Sweum.
My brother John Bishop started Origin Records (based out of Seattle). He moved there from Eugene. I probably should have moved there too. There were always a lot more people who wanted to play with me up there. Origin does the Ballard Jazz Festival twice a year. I still do photography professionally. I photograph musicians. My strategy is to try and get as close as possible. I usually work without a flash.
“Pop Art 4”: I was looking for a project and got familiar with the music of Serge Gainsbourg (French songwriter-pop icon) through my roommate in LA who was a Belgium saxophonist. The music is kind of ultra poppy in a way, not standard jazz material at all. The challenge was to make it into something that jazz musicians can do, and actually do what we know how to do on it. We take a little bit of a leap with it, to get it to work. We went into the studio with my arrangements, but it developed in the studio, and engineer Bob Stark helped warm it up. Another influence in choosing this music was I thought it would be something Europeans would be interested in, so we could have a European tour, which we did in November 2009. We did several shows in Belgium, Paris and Germany. The Germans especially liked it. It was encouraging because things worked like they were supposed to. You publicize a show and people show up for it, they tell other people about it and they show up at the next show, etc. The recording Pop Art 4 group includes Rich Cole on saxes, Steve Moore keyboards, Geoff Harper on bass and myself on drums. The regular band here in Portland that went on the tour includes Willie Matheis on sax, Dan Duval on guitar. (By the way, the French just came out with a feature film about Serge Gainsbourg in January.) To find out more: www.popart4.com.
Other groups I’m in at the moment include a casual swing group called “The Notables” and guitarist Dan Duval’s sextet.
Teaching: Apart from routine matters (how to hold the sticks, coordination, conditioning, reading music, learning styles and forms), I try to help each student to learn to think like an improviser. The core of this seems to lie in (a) having melodic ideas and being able to do simple manipulations of them; (b) knowing how to convert them to the language of the drums; and (c) being able to put all of this into a musical environment. I teach privately in my home, and at Ft. Vancouver High (on hiatus now due to budget problems), Heritage High (Vancouver), Belmont Middle School (Portland). The teaching website is www.pdxdrummer.com.
Musical Influences: Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Jack De Johnette, Roy Haynes, Billy Higgins, Frankie Dunlap, Ben Riley, Jon Christensen, Paul Motion, Ed Blackwell, Zigaboo Modeliste, Joey Baron, and Dannie Richmond.
Most Satisfying Experience: Most gigs are not that satisfying when you’re actually doing them, it seems you try too hard in a performance. A lot of sessions are good, you have a little more freedom. A totally unique performance situation was in Germany in November with Pop Art 4 … the audience was incredible, silent the whole time, they were very focused. Something really satisfying happened years ago when we got to open for Herbie Hancock’s group Headhunters at the Crystal Ballroom with the trio, Flatland.
Favorite/influential recordings (no particular order): Thelonious Monk, “Trio”; Ornette Coleman, “Art of the Improvisers”; John Coltrane, “Coltrane”; Miles Davis, “Filles de Kilimanjaro”; McCoy Tyner, “Reaching Fourth”; Old & New Dreams, “Old & New Dreams” (ECM); Paul Motian, “Dance”; Bill Frisell, “Where in the World”; Pat Metheny, “Rejoicing”; Keith Jarrett, “Belonging”; Albert Ayler, “Spiritual Unity”; The Meters, “Funkify Your Life”; Bill Evans, “Everybody Digs”; and Nonesuch compilation, “East Africa: Witchcraft & Ritual Music.”
Discography: “69 Annee Erotique: Music of Serge Gainsbourg” Pop Art 4, Origin; “Origin of Species” Flatland, Origin; “The Satellite” Flatland, Origin; and ”Mayday Session” Lower Monumental, Origin.
Future Plans: I’d like to take the Pop Art group back to Europe in the Fall for another tour. We’d like to do another recording, we’re adding more Gainsbourg material to the live show. We also plan on being in Seattle at the Ballard Jazz Festival. Some other things in development include Lalo Schifrin’s “Dirty Harry” soundtrack and the music of Akira Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo.”
Other Comments: The club scene in Portland is difficult right now but the scene in Seattle is worse. There are not a lot of paying shows up there right now … I hear nothing but complaints from the local players.