I attended a lecture/workshop for drummers several years ago. The speaker was Liberty DeVito, best known for performing and recording with superstar Billy Joel for 30 years+. The audience – which ranged from beginner to full-time professional drummers – was spellbound as Liberty, who has a reputation for his explosive and aggressive style, played along with a few of Billy Joel’s popular studio tracks. Following his performance, Liberty asked, “Who knows the drum part to Joel’s mega hit ‘Just The Way You Are?’” Half of the drummers enthusiastically raised their hands.
The first drummer sat behind Liberty’s kit and the track started. Liberty stopped him 20 seconds into the song. “Nope, not it,” he said. “Next.” The second drummer took a shot. Same result. “Next.” Following a few more attempts, Liberty stood in front of the confused drummers and asked, “Why did you say you knew the part?” The drummers were on the edge of their seats…you could hear a pin drop.
“I’m going to play you the part,” Liberty said. He began to play along with the track, and it became very obvious the drummers who attempted to play the part were not even close. It was also a reminder what an innovative drum part Producer Phil Ramone & Liberty had created.
Again, Liberty stood in front of the stunned drummers. “It’s easy to jump to a conclusion when we think we know something and, in fact, we don’t. It was clear you didn’t know the part and you were making it up. Remember, I asked you to play the part on the record, not make up your own versions of what you thought it was. And you want to be a professional? Really?”
In this lesson, Liberty is saying a lot about the creative process. We need to know what reality really is. As these drummers illustrated, they thought they knew the part, but didn’t. They were guessing and filling in the blanks.
When you’re creating, the truth is vital. It’s like building your foundation on solid ground. It can be easy to assume we know what’s going on, even when we don’t in today’s fast-paced world. We, like the drummers, just make up stuff and fill in the blanks instead of checking out and confirming our assumptions.
Liberty reminded us there are many levels to being a professional and we need to continue to improve our skills and listen to what’s going on. As artists, we never arrive – there’s always another level.
Recently, Denzel Washington said, “In today’s media, it’s about who gets the story out first. It doesn’t matter if the story is true.”
I encourage all of us to slow down. It’s okay not to know the answers. Take your time and do your research before you raise your hand. Because someone says they know the truth, you might want to check it out before you decide to believe it. They just might be making it up.
And listen to the drum part to “Just The Way You Are.” It’s a real treat.