A World of
in His Hands
By N. Scott Robinson
from Modern Drummer 24, no. 4 (April 2000): 72-76,
78-80, 82, 84, 86.
Glen Velez, a gifted musician with a deep philosophy about
music and drumming, chose to play tambourines and frame
drums when his career as a first call New York City classical
percussionist had blossomed. As a classical percussionist,
Glen worked with the ETC Company of La Mama, Orchestra of
Our Time, Parnassus, Israel Philharmonia, Brooklyn Philharmonia,
Opera Orchestra of New York, Group for Contemporary Music,
New York City Ballet, Stuttgart Ballet Orchestra, Nancy
Laird Chance, Doris Hays, Orchestra of St. Luke's, Orpheus
Chamber Ensemble, Columbia Symphony Orchestra, and Steve
Reich. By the early 1980s, his interest in percussion shifted
dramatically to hand drumming and specifically to tambourines
and other frame drums. He studied traditional styles from
Egypt, Persia, India, Italy, Brazil, Morocco, and Ireland
and unified the various individual techniques into a composite
vocabulary for frame drums. Glen’s unified technique was
a more flexible style rhythmically that lead to his success
at using primarily frame drums in a recording career with
diverse jazz, pop, and world music artists such as ADC Band,
Manzanita, El Luis, Charlie Morrow, Paul Winter, Peter Griggs,
Trio Globo, Mokave, Rabih-Abou Khalil, New York’s Ensemble
for Early Music, Suzanne Vega, Pat Metheny, Trapezoid, Mike
Cain, Kimberly Bass, Malcolm Dalglish, Arthur Lipner, Richard
Stoltzman, Alhambra, Jonas Hellborg, David Lanz, Patty Larkin,
Suso Saiz, Benjamin Verdery, and Badal Roy. Glen Velez has
studied with Fred Hinger (classical percussion at the Manhattan
School of Music), Ramnad Raghavan (mridangam &
kanjira), Hanna Mirhige (riqq), Erasto
Vasconcelos (pandeiro), Zevulon Avshalomov (ghaval),
Trichy Sankaran (kanjira), Michel Merhej Baklouk
(riqq), Alessandra Belloni (tamburello),
Ed Harrison (joropo maracas), Natxo de Felipe (Basque
panderoa), Ephat Mujuru (mbira dza vadzimu),
and T. H. Subash Chandran (solkattu).
A Mexican-American from Texas, Glen’s roots
are in jazz drumset and if you’ve seen him play solo at
PASIC, Modern Drummer Festival Weekend, Perc Pan, or percussion
festivals in Canada, South Korea, Taiwan, or Europe, his
advanced drumset-like independence is evident. By the 1990s,
he expanded his approach to frame drumming with the hands
to incorporate sticks, brushes, polyrhythmic independence,
and a high-medium-low approach to instrument choices such
as shakers, maracas, caxixi, low frame drums, cymbals,
and high tambourines. This led to his own frame drum-drumset
and his performing more in music that had a stronger jazz
feel, which can be heard on his recordings with Mike Cain,
Mokave, and Trio Globo. With his performance on over 120
recordings, ten of which are of his own music, and ten video
releases, Glen Velez continues to develop his music and
drumming to new levels of virtuosity and creativity. As
I entered his tiny studio New York City apartment, frame
drums, shakers, and other exotica fill every space on the
walls and floor. An attempt to make room for me to sit only
led Glen to cheerfully opening some cases to show me drums
he just got from Spain, Italy, and Turkey. Taken in by his
quiet, unassuming personality, I asked him about his early
days with jazz drumming, Fred Hinger, and world music .
NSR: How much training or experience
did you have on drumset before you went to Manhattan School
My first teacher was a drumset player, my uncle. I was going
with him to gigs when I was eight. He played with big bands
and small combos. There was a pretty wide range of things
he did, you know, social music, and Mexican dances, that
kind of thing. Then there was jazz, Swing Era music. My
father was a musician, and he was really a big jazz fan.
He loved Louis Armstrong, and all the guys from the 1930s,
and the 1920s. I got to know a lot about the musical styles,
Sid Catlett, all the different drummers that were popular,
and their stylistic differences. I was getting hands-on
material about it by learning the drumset, and seeing what
it's like to imitate these guys and their styles. From the
time I was about seven or eight to the time I was eighteen,
I was doing a lot of that by listening to bebop stuff and
studying from the Jim Chapin [drumset] book, that
kind of independence material. I’d would do that kind of
thing, and play along with recordings. I was around it a
NSR: What prompted
you to get away from playing jazz drumset and get into studying
a good question. I'd have to really kind of meditate on
what was going on, exactly, when I was eighteen. There was
a track that I felt was the track that you get on if you
want to become a musician, a professional musician, and
that track went through music school. I looked at the choices
that I had like Oberlin, all the conservatories here in
New York; and then I looked at some of the schools out in
California. Number one, there was a real attraction to New
York and the environment, in terms of the other players,
and the people I would be around, would be the highest level.
Another thing was the legitimacy. I wasn't
so interested in just going out and playing and being in
bands, and just learning by doing. I really felt that I
wanted to get this training, and then I’d figure out where
it would lead me. So the track led through New York, and
it led through one of the conservatories here. So I went
to Manhattan School of Music and studied with Fred Hinger.
Growing up, I was always reading Down Beat, and material
about the music business and stuff, and it just seemed like
that was the most highly skilled training that you could
go for. So that's the way I went. I was very interested
in new music; I was reading about John Cage and that was
part of the attraction because I knew that New York City
was where I would find out more about that. I wouldn't find
out about that in California. So I think that was a big
attraction, and Paul Price was teaching at Manhattan. He
was someone that was very closely associated with percussion
music and how it's used in new music. That was for me a
very far-out kind of fringe thing to find out about, how
percussion was used. I had seen some articles about some
pieces by John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen, I was very
fascinated by that, and I wanted to find out more about
that stuff. So that's why I went in that direction. I'd
never even thought, "Well, exactly what am I going to learn
at these schools?" I didn't really think through that it's
going to be mostly orchestral music, I had no idea about
that, but it worked out okay; I was glad that I did it.
NSR: Did you abandon
Yeah, as soon as I came up here! I was going to some clubs
when I first came to New York, and one of the first things
that I kind of realized internally was that there were so
many great drumset players. To be a drumset player would
be me among thousands of very talented people, especially
here. And it just didn't seem like I wanted to be swimming
with a whole bunch of people doing the same thing. That's
been a theme, my natural inclination is whatever the majority
of people are doing, I incline to do something else. That’s
part of the process for me. I just kind of go off to the
side and find something that not a lot of people are fooling
with. It helps me be creative in that I don't have so many
people doing the same thing around me, and then I can just
do my own thing more clearly. I don't get confused by seeing
so many other people who make brilliant choices and do great
things, and then get very influenced by that, and not know
really what I wanted, what my choices are. So when I go
off and do these kind of fringe things, it’s because of
that, then there’s an open field, and the choices I make,
I don't have models to follow, and I can just kind of do
what I want. That was all part of it but definitely moving
away from drumset happened as soon as I came up here. Then
I started to focus on new music and mallets.
NSR: And that was
in the 1960s?
Yeah, I came up here in 1967-1968, that period. Now, it
only lasted four months; I was only here for one semester.
It was kind of a culture shock, and plus the fact, which
I look back on and realize, is that I'm not really a school
person. The school format, it just was very hard for me
to get into. I was going to school, but not really wanting
to go, and I kept cutting down how many days I would go.
And after a while I realized, "Look, there's no point in
me doing this," because I wasn’t really going to the school.
I'm was going to my lessons, spending time practicing, and
all that, but every time I had to go to a classroom, I was
trying to figure out how to get out of it. So I went back
to Dallas in January, and then just practiced and hung out
for a couple of months, and then I went into the Army Band
for two and a half years. Which was a very good period for
me also, because I got a chance, again, to be very isolated,
in that there was nobody influencing any choices I was making,
and I was just looking at this material that Fred Hinger
had showed me, and trying to understand it, just by practicing
it, and seeing what would happen if I followed the ideas
that he was talking about. That was a very, very good sequence
of events for me.
NSR: What were some
of the ideas Hinger showed you?
motion; Fred Hinger was a very, very deep thinker about
percussion, and he was able to kind of distill certain ideas
in a very practical way; the idea that all the strokes are
basically circular, and that if you follow that form of
circles, when you're playing, then there's an efficiency,
and a potential for a lot of expressivity that you're not
going to get from this idea of "up and down," which is superficially
what you think percussion is about. You raise a stick up,
and bash that thing, but his idea was all about circular
motion, and it was more of an Eastern idea about how you
would approach movement. I really just liked the concept,
and so I just worked a lot on trying to figure out, how
this really worked, or how does it relate, and does it work,
and is it a satisfying way to play? Hinger was also influenced
by George Hamilton Green, the xylophone player in ideas
about squeezing the stick: instead of making a big wrist
motion. You squeeze the stick, and that produces a curve
in the stick. So just by these squeezing motions, you would
be able to do this circular thing, and wouldn't be doing
a lot of up and down movement but you'd get from point A
to point B in a way that would be potentially very musical,
and have a lot of practical use. So those kinds of ideas
were the things that were influencing me. Hinger really
was the first one to point out the idea that the words you
use to describe your action are very insightful, in terms
of what you're trying to do, and if you want to change what
you're doing, you can change the words. And you'll start
to get a whole other perspective. Instead of using the word
"hit," he used the word "touch." So the word "touch," and
the implications of that…you're touching the instrument,
you know, on every stroke. You're not hitting the instrument
on every stroke. And so the connection between what that
does in your whole image of what is happening, physically
and in all other ways, then that puts it in another sphere,
you know, of sound making. And so those kinds of ideas about
where the surface is. Where exactly is the surface? If you're
thinking "hit," then you're giving yourself the illusion,
or the kind of preconception that the surface is in exactly
one spot, and you're going to strike it, and then the stick
is going to bounce back up, and that's going to be the action
that takes place. But if you think of the word "touch,"
you're thinking of what is really happening, and I think
much closer to reality, is the fact that drums and percussion
have malleable surfaces. The stick is malleable and the
surface is malleable. So that the contact time is very much
your choice; how long you want to leave the stick there.
That issue, of how long the contact is, is a very, very
big one in terms of how many variables you can get, in terms
One of the things I've never really talked
about that much, and people haven't asked me about it, and
I haven't even articulated that often, was these things
about Hinger and the influence that he had on me. I guess
because a lot of people don't even know that I have that
background. I get this all the time [in a surprised tone
of voice]: "Oh, you read music!" Or, [surprised]:
"Oh, you speak English" [chuckles], that kind of
thing because I have much more notoriety as a world music
musician than I had playing in ensembles and stuff with
classical music. The thing is that a lot of people don't
even know I did that. They don't really know that I have
that Western background before I had this.
Even Hinger doesn't see the relationship!
[chuckles]. He thought what I was doing was nuts!
I didn't hear that from him directly but several people
told me that. Russ Hartenberger and John Wyre of Nexus,
they keep in contact with Hinger and me. Russ was saying,
"Fred was saying, 'What is Glen doing? He was really good
playing the mallets, and all this stuff. He threw it all
away, just to play the tambourine!'" From where he's coming
from, this is nutty. Why would anybody waste their time
doing this? You can only study orchestral tambourine a certain
amount of time, and then you move on with it. I don't think
he really ever got it. It's not easy to see the relationship
between the classical stuff that I did and what I'm doing
NSR: You’re not just
copying the traditional elements that you've studied; isn’t
there a point to be made about foundation?
I would think it'd be very hard if right from the beginning
you say, "Here are these thousand choices that I have;"
you could study African drumming, and then you've got all
this, you can go from one to another without getting really
deeply into any one of them. I think that could really be
a problem. Because you can wind up just with a superficial
knowledge about a lot of different things. I think whatever
you're doing, as far as getting early training, is do one
thing really, really intensely. Even if you're doing a lot
of things, but there's has to be one thing that you really
spend a lot of time to get deep into, and figure out really
what's going on with it. Whether it's snare drum playing,
or whether it's South Italian tamburello. I can
see that it could be easy to just skim over everything because
there are so many things, and if you really started out
with the idea, "I want to be a world music percussionist,"
it'd be a lot of stuff.
NSR: What happened
that attracted you to hand drumming, to get away from the
think it was twofold, and it's only in hindsight, looking
back on it, that I'd created the picture of what I thought
happened. One was, I was really missing improvising. On
the drumset, improvising is such a big part of what you
do; the material is not written out, and you're using models
that you've heard other players play, but then you kind
of do it your own way, and part of it is adding your own
taste, your touch, to it. So I'd grown up doing a lot of
that, and I enjoyed that a lot. In the classical realm,
even with Steve Reich, there was zero improvising. Most
of the stuff I was doing was reading.
So that was one thing that there was starting
to be a frustration about. Another thing that, only in hindsight
did I realize, was how much I wanted to be in contact with
the drum, with the instruments, by not having a stick in
my hand. Of course, I didn't know that because I hadn't
tried to play any hand drums before. But as soon as I started
to do that, I realized how much more satisfying that was
for me, personally. Looking back, those two things probably
were the biggest issues. And the first one, improvising,
is connected with the reading. Because I was reading so
much, instead of improvising. The balance there was off
for me. The other thing was that I was playing everything
with sticks! I discovered gradually that it was much more
satisfying for me to play with my hands. All the tactile
association that comes from that was much more fulfilling
for me than doing things with sticks.
NSR: Did you discover
tambourines right away or did you start on congas?
No, the first thing was mridangam. Even when I was
a kid, I liked Indian music. I had Ravi Shankar records,
other Indian records, and I would just really get off on
listening to those. There was no way for to find out more
about it, besides just listening. But when I came up here,
I knew that Wesleyan University [CT] was going big
guns at that time, in the 1960s, with performance in their
world music program; it was one of the most pioneering world
music programs in the United States. They had Sharda Sahai,
Ramnad Raghavan, Balinese musicians, and Abraham Adzenyah
from West Africa. Later, when I was with Steve Reich, and
playing with Russ Hartenberger and Bob Becker, great percussionists
that play in Nexus, I knew that they were studying at Wesleyan.
Russ and Bob were going to school there. When I started
playing with Steve Reich, I came in contact with them, and
was hearing stories about their studies, and what they were
doing, and I knew that Russ had studied South Indian music,
and I wanted find out what that was about. Ramnad Raghavan
was living in New York, so I just called him up and started
to take lessons from him on mridangam, the big classical
drum of southern India. And then he saw my orchestral tambourine
on the wall, and he said, "Oh, we play that," you know,
kanjira [South India’s classical tambourine]
style. And he started to play that, . . . I immediately
thought, "You know, that's great, it's amazing! You're doing
all that on tambourine!" I said, "Let's study that, I want
to find out more about kanjira," and that's how the
whole thing started. I started to study the kanjira,
the vocalizations, and I was still doing mridangam.
Within six months, I started to think about
the Middle Eastern tambourine, the riqq. I knew that
people were into it in the Middle East, and so I started
to go around and look for Middle Eastern concerts. I finally
saw Hanna Mirhige play, and studied with him. When I was
doing kanjira and the riqq, there was really,
an unconscious awareness: "Okay, these are the same style
drums; they're kind of different versions of the tambourine,
. . . how many more of these are around?" I started to look
around more for other ways of playing the tambourine. It
quickly became apparent that there are all these individual
players, in the different communities here that were playing
great, in different styles. But they had no contact with
each other. It was very isolated, and the whole thing of
frame drum as a category didn't exist. The German ethnomusicologist,
Curt Sachs, thought of the name "frame drum" [rallentrommel].
So those were the only people that knew what that was, at
that time. But once the awareness of different styles started,
then it became a different kind of study, it became all
NSR: What is it that
led you to combine these styles to make a unified technique?
Did your teachers support this?
I wasn't interactive with them, in the sense of asking permission
to do that. Ramnad Raghavan was coming here and giving me
South Indian drumming lessons. And we didn't talk about,
"Well, what are you going to do with this? Are you going
to play with my South Indian friends?" What, in a practical
sense, would I do with this material besides just play it
over and over again? We didn't really discuss that. With
the Arabic, there was not really much discussion about that
except that I would go to the belly dance classes and play
along with Hanna when he would play. He would ask me to
go sometimes and hang out with him. But it never got to
the point where I was really seriously thinking about immersing
myself in that scene. From the instrument’s standpoint,
I was interested in that instrument, and what you could
do with it, sonically. And, in a sense, taking it out of
the context of what it traditionally was played in; the
kanjira, riqq, pandeiro, tamburello,
bodhrán, and all those drums. At first, they were
isolated. I was playing kanjira, and I didn't think
about playing a kanjira thing on the riqq,
I wouldn't have even thought of that. Because the riqq
you play a certain way, and a kanjira you play a
certain way. The key component of changing that was starting
to play with improvisers, in the area. And these were people
[chuckles], who had no formal thing of, "We're doing
New York style improvising." This was through Charlie Morrow,
he was strategically very important in the stage of all
this for me because we were playing together [in the
Horizontal Vertical Band], and we just became friends.
We would start to improvise, and he had set up little communities
of improvisers. That was a very good situation for me. Because
there was no judgments going on. No one was saying, "Hey
isn't that kanjira, and you're playing South Indian
style but you're doing it on a North African tar
drum, that's not right!" Those kind of judgements. In that
context, you have the riqq, or whatever, and somebody's
making certain kinds of sounds, and "Oh, that would go good
with the jingles," or "Well, what if I do my hand like this?"
So there was just a lot of freedom, you have all this information--all
this technical information about the way to play these drums--and
here's a situation where you can use any of that body of
information in any way that you want to. It's all about
your own creativity. And that's a unique thing. It's a discovery
thing, always, that situation was all about discovery.
NSR: Did you have
any influences from other percussionists?
No, because I didn’t really hear them. I wasn't the type
of person that goes out and listens to a lot of recordings.
For me, makes it more complicated to find my own voice.
I've only heard a couple of recordings of Collin Walcott.
I went to hear him one time with Oregon in the late 1970s.
He was playing tabla and triangle, and doing various
things. And the other concert that I went to, Naná Vasconcelos
was playing at. I'm sure both of those things influenced
me, to some extent, to see those guys play live. It was
before I was really playing out, I had just been studying
this stuff, but I wasn’t playing with many people. I was
just playing with Charlie Morrow. So I saw a few things
like that. But recording-wise, I didn't hear much. It was
much more a thing of just finding my path, of combining
these things. I was looking for things that would inspire
or stimulate me to create material. That material was coming
from traditional studies of frame drums. When I was studying
South Indian and Arabic, all this material that could be
used, for your own creative purposes, in different contexts.
It was all material that gave you insight into the nature
of a specific drum. How to handle it, and what was possible
NSR: Your work has
brought you into contact with lots of different cultures,
kinds of music, instruments, and drummers; has that had
an impact on you to continue adopting material from various
Oh, yeah, a big impact! Doing these "world drum" festivals
that have been set up by John Wyre, I'm around Abraham Adzenyah,
Trichy Sankaran, these various musicians that are amazing
players! Ninety-nine percent of what they're doing is their
traditional stuff. So to be around it, feel the power of
it, and to feel the energy that it generates, that's continuing
inspiration. And it doesn't even mean that I'm going to
try to duplicate that. It just means that, "Well, there's
some amazing ideas in the construction of what he was just
doing, and how can I incorporate that into my daily playing
that I’m doing?" Just being around great musicians, whatever
they're doing, and getting influenced in that way. You absorb
the qualities that you really admire that you want to emulate,
in that way you get inspiration. I like it because it gives
me more stimuli to create new things.
NSR: Why do you suppose
that it’s so common now for Western percussionists to approach
I think it's the nature of who we are; we're a patchwork.
We chose to be born in a place that is not ours. The USA,
this place that we're from, we all have roots from somewhere
else . . . just about everybody except for the native people
that are from here. Most native people are still very closely
connected with their traditional materials. But we don't
have that. And I think that that really creates a situation
where we reinvent ourselves, that's what we do. You know,
we reinvent who we are, and we patchwork all these things
together, to create something that that has an integrity
If I had grown up in South India, and I
had lived there all my childhood, and had been immersed
in that music, it'd be a totally different thing. I'd probably
be so enamored and so steeped in the beauty of playing music
that way that I wouldn't really stray that far away from
it. Because a lot of these things are so powerful; Brazilian,
South Indian, Ghanaian . . . all of these traditions, they’re
so powerful, if you just get a taste of it as a child it
probably lasts your whole life! You don't need to be looking
to create this patchwork thing that we have to.
NSR: What led you
to develop your current style that uses shakers and advanced
independence, brushes, and drumset-like set ups of frame
drums on recordings by groups like Mokave and Trio Globo?
Definitely those ideas are from drumset. I think a big part
of it was looking at frame drums as tools. Sometimes you
have a wrench and it's not the right size for what you're
trying to turn. Sometimes the frame drum is not exactly
the right tool if you're playing it in the traditional style
with the hand. It took me a long time to get that idea,
the notion that it didn't work a hundred percent of the
time. I was so identified, so attached to them, and so immersed
in the style, that I had the blinders on in terms of, "Well,
is this really the best drum for this situation?" I started
to expand that and let go a little bit, I realized, "Well,
I need to expand my notion of, how I can use these." And
one expansion was using the brushes. And that was kind of
an intermediate thing, because it wasn't sticks. It wasn't
like going all the way back to sticks, and touching them
with sticks. It was just kind of an intermediate thing,
and it also fit because I was doing brushing sounds already
with the fingernails. I like the brushes a lot; I like that
quality that they have, of not being so pointed in their
sound. They upped the ante in terms of volume that you can
get. I started to think about frame drums in terms of the
drumset that I used to have. And another thing was playing
in situations that were obviously jazz oriented, like Mike
Cain, Mokave, and Trio Globo. When you're playing with players
that are so immersed in jazz styles then their style brings
up the instrumental responses that you've been hearing all
your life. Glen Moore has that playing bass, Larry Karush
has that on piano. Howard Levy is the same way. It was getting
more and more a thing of needing a sound there if I needed
it. I added a cymbal, which was a huge thing for me! [chuckles].
I couldn't even stand the sound of cymbals for a long time.
The ride cymbal, for me, what that meant was that you couldn't
hear anything I was doing. If I was playing with a drummer,
and they were real into riding their cymbal, forget about
any of the hand drumming. You couldn't hear it, you know?
So I didn't want to hear anything about a cymbal going on
while I was playing. But I started to realize that to have
small cymbals would be nice. Then just taking the idea of
the frame drum, which is three sounds: low, high, and a
slap, and using three drums. I'll have a high one, a medium,
and a low one. That sonic material was enough to simulate
the feel and kind of the atmosphere of a jazz drumset. It
was going back to all that early stuff that I did when I
was a kid, because I did it a lot. I really enjoyed doing
it, and it was a lot of fun. I developed a certain amount
of expertise on it and it was a natural progression because
I allowed myself to open up to additional sonic possibilities
of the frame drums. Another offshoot of that were the shakers.
It gradually dawned on me for recording that, "If I did
a frame drum track and then a shaker track, that's a great
combination. It'll always work; it'll always fit." And the
shakers are in such a different sonic realm, they allow
for very nice layering, and everything can be heard, regardless
of how complex because there's enough textural difference.
I really started to get into that from studying the Venezuelan
joropo maracas and started to apply that to some
drumset ideas, like limb independence.
NSR: How do you approach
composition, and how do you approach improvisation?
I think that for most people they're very close together.
I never thought of myself as a composer. I started to realize
that these improvisations that I was doing had a form that
was naturally emerging out of doing them repeatedly. I started
to think of them as compositions, this happens to me a lot,
that I do something, understand it later. I don't tend to
understand something, and then do it. It doesn't work that
way for me. I do it by instinct, and then later on I look
back and say, "Oh, this is what I was doing, and I put that
together like that." And then I'll start to play with it
based on that insight into what was initially going on in
my instinct. And that's what happened with composition,
I started to play with it more, and started to get more
serious about the elements that I'm putting together when
I do these improvisations? What are the issues, and what
are the questions? How do I start playing with them, and
what happens when I turn it upside down, or start fast,
instead of starting slow? Also getting structural ideas
from the traditional material because in Arabic and Indian
styles of playing, there are so many ideas about structure
inherent in their way of teaching and in the compositions
that you have all these lessons that you can get out of
that. I was inspired by South Indian ways of density, how
do you play with space and density? Those things are very
key issues in whatever style of music you were dealing with.
I wanted to construct structures that would facilitate and
inspire improvisation, not only for me but when there's
a melodic player involved, something that would spur them
to be creative, and to have fun improvising. I took the
idea of cues from African drumming. There was a master drummer
cueing things, and everybody else would change.
NSR: Do the different
traditional materials that you combine come together to
give you a broader vocabulary for improvising?
Oh, yeah! Yeah . . . oh, huge. I mean, that's really the
basis for what I'm doing. If I didn't have the source material,
and the source inspiration, of South Indian drumming, of
Arabic drumming, of the Central Asian drumming, or the South
Italian, . . . if you took that away from my repertoire
of material, I don't know what I'd be left with! You know,
maybe there would be very little there. I don't know! [chuckles].
NSR: Maybe you could
say you'd be left empty-handed?
Yeah, you could! [chuckles]. Those are the threads
that constitute the things that I'm weaving together from
just the standpoint of where do those techniques come from?
You know, just the idea that there's doum, tak, and a slap--I
didn't invent that. TA-ka-ta-ka DOUM na-ka TA-ki-ta-ta
KA-doum . . . I didn’t invent those things. You know,
[taps foot for three steady beats while enunciating syllables
in a rhythm of four against three]: DOUM, ta-TA
doum TA-doum; the idea of three against four, all these
things, they've been around, and they've been used in an
extensive way in these cultural materials.
NSR: Why do you suppose
it’s so common for percussionists involved in Western creative
music to develop the "global" approach to percussion with
diverse set-ups of instruments?
Well, I think there's two things; the urban environment,
in the sense of me being in New York, and I've always said
this: I don't think I could've done what I'm doing anyplace
else. I think that the fact that I was able to hook into
all these different communities, and find five or six very
proficient frame drummers, specifically, in one place .
. . back in 1977 or 1978, I don't know that there was anyplace
else you could've done that. Maybe you could've done it
in Paris or London . . . I don't know, but I doubt it .
. . certainly the only place in the United States that you
could've done that then. The urban environment, in that
sense New York City, definitely contributed to what I'm
doing. It made it possible for me to be in one place, and
to find these source materials. It's an interesting question
about how the setup of all these different percussionists
are quite different. The second thing, I think, is that
it's because the range of percussion is so huge, that individuals
who really seek their own voice in percussion are going
to find some unique combinations. I mean, you're not talking
about one instrument, like piano or violin; you have a range
of things that still is probably limitless. People will
invent things. It's just like that, we're a "world."
There is this kind of feeling, with percussionists, that
you're dealing with the whole world, sonically, in terms
of your source material. Because these instruments are all
over the world; found in all the cultures, and in such a
wide array, and in such fantastic, ridiculous technical
possibilities of all these different things. I mean, you
can just get into maracas, you know, and spend the next
ten years just studying that! Or güiro, or something
like scrapers. And it's just outlandish for us, because
we're not steeped in a culture that reveres percussion.
But I don't think it's so outlandish, if you grow up around
it. But for us it's an expansive idea. But I just think
that the range of instruments is so wide that individuals
who are creative, and seek their own voice in it, their
choices are so broad that they . . . if you have a million
choices, then ten people are going to come up with very
different things because the choices are so big.
NSR: How important
do you feel it is to study a traditional music, today, if
the goal is to develop your own kind of global style? Is
there enough crossover material now, for teaching and study,
that negates the need to seek study of traditional materials?
No, I think that direct study of traditional music is really
crucial because of the lineage and the accumulated wisdom
that you get from being around someone who's very, very
immersed in a traditional way of doing things. Those things,
in particular, are important for Westerners, especially
Americans, because there's so much information floating
around, and there are so many choices. It's important to
have the experience of focusing very closely on choices
that have been made from the accumulation of wisdom from
the past, from each particular tradition, and being a part
of that, and absorbing that, and understanding that, maybe
you don't get the wisdom, and the beauty of it, at first,
but with immersion, and with a deep absorption of it, then
you start to understand the whole way of looking at a particular
set of musical values and choices. And that's very, very
valuable. It's one of the most valuable things that you
can get, in terms of studying. With world drumming, you
have these different styles that are very deeply rooted
in long traditions. To benefit from that knowledge means
that you need to be close to someone who is immersed in
it, and who has a mastery of it. There's no other way around
that, so I think it's a very, very important aspect of things.
And I don't think that it's a full way of doing it, by just
absorbing the various composite things that are going on.
NSR: How do you deal
with amplifying your instruments when you are performing
and recording? Do you have special mics or placements that
I'm very low-tech as far as all the recording equipment
goes. Basically, my main concerns are positional. If I have
the drums as close as possible to the microphone, without
hitting them, that's one thing that I'll tend to do from
the front. The type of microphone that's used, I know that
there's some nice AKGs that are good for percussion but
beyond that I think it's so much dependent upon the ear
of the person that's controlling things. You could have
a great microphone that could sound bad; you could have
a lousy microphone, and it could sound good. So it's really
those issues; there are probably very good strategies that
I don't use, like haul your own equipment. Have your own
sound system; your own sound man. Then you really do control
those issues. But I don't like to carry too much so I don't
want to get into that.
NSR: You leave it
up to the soundman to deal with?
Definitely, I'm at their mercy, in that sense. I think part
of it is, if you produce a really fascinating sound, then
chances are somebody's going to try to reproduce it. They're
going to feel an obligation to.
NSR: How has tuning
been a problem with the pitch of the frame drum when you
do session work?
is an important issue, because the lower frame drums tend
to ring a little bit more, and if there are any other bass
instruments, you get interference and cross tension. Because
the frame drum is just one pitch. You can get around that;
one way to get around that is, if you're using a drum that
has a changeable pitch, like a tabla or a talking
drum for pitch bending. Because once you do the pitch bending,
then the ear stops interpreting it in the same way. Then
it's just a sound that's moving around, and you don't hear
a pitch center. So that's one way to get around it. There
are new generations of drums now that are tunable. That's
a big, big step forward for frame drums, because then you
can retune them. You can find pitches that are compatible
to the overall tonality.
NSR: And these are
your new Signature Series drums?
We have a tunable bodhrán, tar, a riqq,
and various drums. So it's like an upgrade in terms of the
versatility of the drums. It’s a more important issue as
to the lowness of the drum opposed to the highness of the
drum. So if you're using a higher pitched frame drum, like
a riq, then chances are you're going to have much more flexibility,
and that won't be such a big pitch issue.
NSR: Is there a process
that you use for choosing instruments when you do sessions?
How do you balance expectations, or suggestions, from an
artist, with your creative freedom, for session work?
When I'm going into the studio, and doing things with artists
that I'm not really familiar with their music, involves
taking a range of frame drums. I'm dealing with a very specific
area. I take a range, in terms of the different qualities
of the drums, for instance, the pitch, some low, high, and
middle ranges, so that there's a big range to choose from,
depending on what's going to happen in the session. And
also articulation range so that there are some that ring,
and there are also some that can be dampened. I think those
are two big issues for the frame drum because number one,
the pitch is very strong on a lot of frame drums, so it's
important to get a pitch that will work with the music.
And, number two, the ringing quality of the drums, frame
drums have a particular amount of ring to them. So, addressing
that issue of articulation, and how long an appropriate
ring will be, in terms of whatever the music is, that's
another thing, I try to have a variety of choices, so that
I'm not limited in terms of what my choices are. So I bring
an array of things that cover these issues. I always have
shakers that complement the frame drums that I'm taking.
And then how that relates to the creative expression, I
think that it's a great discipline of attitude to surrender
to the music, and surrender to someone else's vision. Out
of that can come a lot of creative freedom. This is a process
of letting go of your own desires, if you can let go of
those, and get input about what is possible on the drums,
that you wouldn't get from yourself. So it's a question
of opening up to other influences from outside ourselves.
That relates to being in a studio, and somebody saying,
"Well, I want this to happen." And then being open enough
to surrender to that concept, of whatever they want. Then
seeing how close you can come to it. I think that's an important
process. Definitely, it's not the only process because you
want to, in your own playing, cultivate your own unique
style, and your own unique voice. But just doing that all
the time is not enough, either. You have to have both situations,
where you're flexible enough to surrender to somebody else's
vision, but also, you can, if you need to, bring out your
own voice, and your own particular vision.
NSR: Do you have
any thoughts on what the attraction is, for many percussionists
today, to a multicultural approach?
I think one of the things is that drumming is a real crossover
kind of thing. All drummers are dealing with similar issues,
about time, space, flow, and about density. These are issues
in whatever kind of drumming you're involved in, in all
kinds of different ways. But they're the same issues, really,
that are going on from one culture to another. I think that,
for any drummer, there's a real strong attraction to seeing
all the other flavors of these same issues. There's many,
many different ways to approach them. Each culture has dramatically,
different ways to approach the same issues. So this is a
very, very powerful learning thing, to see other angles
of the same issues that you've been dealing with, time,
flow, swing, groove, and all that. So it's a very natural
process, I think, for drummers from one culture to be attracted
to others, and say, "Oh, there's another way of looking
at this, something I've been working on all my life, and
let's see if it's complementary. Let's see if it increases
my own awareness in the area that I'm in." These traditions,
especially with the hand drumming, are very old traditions.
So there's a lot of accumulated wisdom that's there that
we can benefit from. So I think that the crossover, and
that attraction to the same issues that are going on in
all kinds of drumming, and seeing the different flavors
of it, is really why drummers are so multicultural.
NSR: What led you
to develop a whole body approach to frame drumming with
the use of walking, and vocals, while you're playing?
It was definitely teaching, and, in the teaching process,
trying to understand more of what I'm doing when I'm playing.
Just from intuition, and having good guidance about ways
to do things, I was able to develop a certain flow of energy,
and a certain approach that really worked well for me, and
was a good match with what I needed to express. When people
would ask me in lessons, "Well, how do you do this? How
do you do that?" I had to backtrack and decide what were
some of the elements that I think were at the basis of the
kinds of things I'm doing that help me to play in a way
that is effective for me, and for the people that are listening.
In doing that I really came upon the ideas that using the
lower body, in this walking kind of way to experience pulse
flow; and using the body memory for these big movements
really seemed to be a thing that I was doing. Also using
inner vocalizations my breath to align with what I was playing,
and to create a feeling of singing, and bigger shapes to
the phrases. Because the breath naturally wants to have
these shapes, just like when you're singing. I think those
two factors were out of that, and out of my experience with
the various traditional ways of playing . . . ones where
they did a lot of vocalizations and seeing how that affected
what you play, and how effective that was as a means to
generate all kinds of unique articulations, and things that
are very particular to your own sound. All of that combined
to start to codify in a way that I felt would be simple
for people as a doorway to get into drumming, and to find
out what drumming is about.
NSR: Do you have
any extra-musical influences?
One is meditation. The different ways of meditating are
very important in finding out about the way the mind works,
and to get more insight into the way thought flows, and
to help with self-understanding. If you're very, very troubled
with your thoughts, then it's hard to play, to really use
your energy to focus on music, and focus on playing. I think
meditation is a really powerful way to face all the things
that are going on inside of you. Also yoga has been a big
influence on me, in terms of increasing body awareness and
getting the energy flow throughout the body. Drumming is
about energy flow, and the more aware and sensitive you
are to the way that the energy is flowing through your body,
the more powerful your drumming will be.
Glen Velez Selected Bibliography
Velez, Glen. "The
Tambourine in Ancient Western Asia." Ear Magazine
East 5, no. 5 (1980): 3.
________. "A Monograph
on the Frame Drum, Ancestor of Our Modern Tambourine." Ear
Magazine East 7, no. 3/4 (1982): 8-9.
________. Handance Duets
for Frame Drums. New York: Framedrum Music, 2001.
Method with Cueing and Performance Guide: An Introduction
to Frame Drumming. New York: Framedrum Music,
________. Bodhran Manual.
New York: Framedrum Music, 2004.
________. Tar Drum Manual.
New York: Framedrum Music, 2004.
________. Shakers Manual.
New York: Framedrum Music, 2004.
Tambourines: An Introduction. New York: Framedrum Music,
Glen Velez Selected
Nafas CD 1988 ECM 1359 835 781-2
ADC Band with
Week End (Funky Friday) 12" LP 1980 Sue International
Strange Omen CD 1991 Candid CCD 79505
Gitano Soul CD 1981 Sony Music Media SMM 498902
ETC Company of
La Mama & Ben Johnson
Carmilla: A Vampire Tale LP 1972 Vanguard VSD-79322
Song of Rivers CD 1997 New England Town Media NECD-3102
with Glen Velez
Ars Moriende CD 1994 Day Eight Music DEM 034
Band (Charlie Morrow & Glen Velez)
Spontaneous Music 45 1980 Other Media 80-7-1
Direct to Disc LP 1981 Other Media 5681
Running Angels CD 1993 High Street 72902 10318-2
Portraits in World Jazz CD 1998 Jazzheads 9508
Talco y Bronce CD 1981 Columbia 494262 2
La Quiero a Morir LP 1985 CBS S 26716
Echando Sentencias LP 1986 RCA PL 35603
Imaginary Day CD 1997 Warner Bros. 9 46791-2
Mokave volume 1 CD 1991 Audioquest AQ-CD 1006
Mokave volume 2 CD 1992 Audioquest AQ-CD 1007
Afriqúe CD 1994 Audioquest AQ-CD 1024
Four Saints in Three Acts CD 1982 Nonesuch 9 79035-2
St. Luke's/ Gregg Smith Singers/ Robert Craft
Igor Stravinsky The Composer, v. 2 CD 1992 Music
Ensemble/ Gregg Smith Singers/ Columbia Symphony Orchestra/
Les Noces/ Symphony of Wind Instruments/ Chant Du Rossignol
LP 1974 Columbia M 33201
Ura CD 2000 Elkar KD-556
Parnassus Plays Works by Stefan Wolpe, Mario Davidovsky,
Charles Wuorinen, Erik Lundborg, and David Olan LP
1980 New World NW 306
Temura CD 1994 Act 9227-2
Drumming/ Six Pianos/ Music For Mallet Instruments,
Voices, and Organ CD 1974 Deutsche Grammophone 427
New York Counterpoint CD 1987 RCA 5944-2-RC
Trio Globo CD 1994 Silverwave SD 806
Carnival of Souls CD 1995 Silverwave SD 904
Days of Open Hand CD 1990 A&M 7502-15293-2
Handance CD 1983 Nomad NMD 50301
Internal Combustion LP 1985 CMP LC 6055 (differs
Internal Combustion CD 1985 CMP CD 23
Seven Heaven CD 1987 CMP CD 30
Assyrian Rose CD 1989 CMP CD 42
Doctrine of Signatures CD 1991 CMP CD 54
Ramana CD 1991 Nomad NMD 50309
Border States CD 1993 Interworld Music CD-21907
Pan Eros CD 1993 CMP CD 63
Rhythmcolor Exotica CD 1996 Ellipsis Arts CD 4140
Rhythms of the Chakras CD 1998 Sounds True M006D
Breathing Rhythms CD 2000 Sounds True MM00120D
Elephant Hotel CD 2003 Daftof GVLC03
Rhythms of Awakening CD 1995 & 2005 Sounds
External Combustion (remixes) MP3 2005 Schematic
Rhythms of the Chakras Volume 2 CD 2008 Sounds
Canyon CD 1985 Living Music LD 0006
Noah and the Ark CD 1991 Rabbit Ears RCE 74041-70515-2
Spanish Angel CD 1993 Living Music LD 0027
Hymnody of Earth (revised) 1993 KET
Drumbeats 1989 REMO HD-7514-DB
The Fantastic World of Frame Drums 1990 Interworld
Handance Method 1 1996 Interworld Music/Warner
Handance Method 2 1996 Interworld Music/Warner
Modern Drummer Festival Weekend 1998 (Sunday) 1999
Canyon Consort 1985 A&M/Windham Hill Video
Frame Drums of Glen
- Square frame drum from Spain.
Bendir - Moroccan buzzing
frame drum by Cooperman.
Bodhrán - Originally
a stick-beaten Irish frame drum but Glen plays a large synthetic
version with his hands, or a brush and hand technique, by
Doira/Ghaval - Central
Asian tambourine with rings on the inside of the frame from
Kanjira - Tambourine of
Mazhar - Large Arabic tambourine
Native American Frame Drum
- Generic hexagonal frame drums from USA.
Pandeiro - Tambourine from
Pandero - Large frame drum
Pandereta - Frame drum
from Puerto Rico.
Panderoa - Tambourine
from Basque Country in Spain.
Riqq/Deff - Arabic tambourine
by Kevork from Lebanon.
Tamborim - Small stick beaten frame drum
Tambourine - Red plastic Yamaha generic
tambourine with a clear mylar head tuned very low, used
for Mediterr-Asian styles.
Tamburello - South Italian tambourine.
Tar - North African frame drum by Cooperman.
Thon-Rammana - Thon is a goblet
drum of clay and rammana is a wooden frame drum,
both often played simultaneously by a single player, from
- Also called devil chasers, from the Philippine Islands.
Caxixi - Brazilian shakers
made by Peppe Consolmagno from Italy.
Foot Bells - Ghungroo
Jingle Ring - Like a tambourine
but without a skin, by Yamaha.
Maracas - Joropo
maracas for hands or feet made by Maximo B. Teppa, from
Mbira - Generic gourd resonated
lamellophones and a Shona mbira dza vadzimu from
Singing Bowl - Quartz crystal
bowl rubbed for drones while doing Tuvan overtone singing.
Steel Pan - Pentatonic
version made by ECS
Wood Drum - One piece,
all vermillion wood (frame and skin) frame drum made by
[Glen also regularly uses a variety of
generic shakers, brushes, and Paiste cymbals].
[For more on Glen Velez, see: http://www.glenvelez.com].
©1999 - N. Scott Robinson. All rights