Stanton Moore: Keeping Time and Making Time

December 13, 2016

stanton-mooreThe much-acclaimed New Orleans jazz-funk drummer juggles an astounding array of musical collaborations – yet somehow finds time and energy to be an instructor and mentor to aspiring beatmakers.

By Katherine Raymond

It’s an understatement to say that jazz-funk drummer Stanton Moore has a lot of musical projects going on. Like, a serious understatement.

The New Orleans–based artist, often honored as “drummer of the year” by various magazines and orgnizations, is well known as a member of eclectic funk ensemble Galactic, whose 2015 album, Into the Deep, was also the recipient of many “best of” accolades. Lately he’s been showing fans a new facet of his style with his Stanton Moore Trio, whose sound is deeply rooted in New Orleans jazz. The lineup of musicians has shifted: While 2008’s Emphasis! (Parenthesis) featured Will Bernard on guitar and Robert Walter on organ, 2014’s Conversations features David Torkanowsky playing piano and James Singleton on bass. The latter pair of musicians cut their musical teeth together with Moore in the Crescent City club scene, and had previously worked with him on “Soul Queen of New Orleans” Irma Thomas’ 2006 album After the Rain, helping her earn her first-ever Grammy Award.

Moore has also released several solo albums, beginning with 1998’s All Kooked Out! His ongoing side projects include playing with instrumental jazz-rock ensemble Garage a Trois (which also began as a trio, but evolved into a quartet), and the supergroup Dragon Smoke, born out of the New Orleans Jazz Fest and named for the Dragon’s Den venue. And he continues to tour and perform regular shows in New Orleans with Galactic and his trio.

Sounds like a busy schedule already, no? But along with his core set of ensembles, Moore moonlights playing with other artists – his broad repertoire of collabs ranges from an album with heavy metal band Corrosion of Conformity (2005’s In the Arms of God) to stints sitting in with “Late Night With Seth Meyers’ “ 8G Band, most recently in October. He has performed with a dizzying array of musicians, from fellow staples of the New Orleans scene like the Preservation Hall Jazz Band to artists like Joss Stone and Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello. It’s clear that improvising, experimenting with different styles, and connecting creatively with a wide range of artists fuels Moore’s passion for music. (The title of Conversations is a nod to the interplay between musicians.)

stanton-2And, oh yeah, Moore crafts musical instruments as well. He has designed a signature snare drum with Gretsch, released a signature line of Sabian Crescent cymbals (he co-founded the Crescent brand in 2012), and launched a signature line of drumsticks and a signature pandeiro.

So with everything he’s got going on, you wouldn’t think he’d even be able to make time to pass on his musical knowledge to others.

Yet Moore manages to instruct and inspire thousands of drumming students across the globe, via his YouTube tutorials, webinars, and his new site stantonmooredrumacademy.com. He has published books and released DVDs on the art of drumming. And he also travels around the world to deliver a wide range of lessons, master classes, and clinics in real time, with face time. This past August and September, he toured the country promoting his cymbals with a string of clinics and master classes. In December, he’ll host his fourth annual Spirit of New Orleans drum camp at NOLA’s Old U.S. Mint, featuring intensive, specialized instruction for a small group of students.

Plus, he instructs children in the art of drumming, as part of his larger participation with nonprofits encouraging music education for kids in Louisiana who might not otherwise receive that crucial artistic counterbalance to their academic studies. While his own body of work encompasses a broad mix (and, often, mash-up) of genres, it’s clear that the New Orleans sound and sensibility run through his veins – in fact, maybe growing up in the city known for its gumbo fostered his enjoyment of cooking up musical stews. It’s obvious that his loyalty and deep commitment to his hometown scene and hometown sensibility inform everything he does as a performer, instructor, and mentor. 

When I caught up with Moore on the phone to discuss his current endeavors and his approach to jazz instruction, his entire family was nearby, busily packing into the car for a vacation road trip – but you’d never have guessed that from his relaxed, reflective responses to my questions. If the man didn’t already have enough projects going on, he could easily write a self-help book on multitasking. Actually, he’d probably find it a cakewalk to fit that onto his plate. 

To hear longtime performer Moore tell it, broadening his horizons to encompass jazz drumming instruction wasn’t an intentional career choice, but rather an organic evolution. “I don’t think that I started having a desire to teach until people started coming to me and wanting to know things that I had learned, wanting to take lessons from me, approaching me. And then what really got it kick-started was when DRUM! Magazine reached out to me to write a regular column about New Orleans drumming.” he says. “So I started doing that, writing the column, and then it came to the attention of a publisher. They liked what I’d been doing; they said each column looked like a chapter outline, and we could turn it into a book, and then they said, well, we could turn it into a DVD.” The resulting product ended up being the 2010 multimedia project Groove Alchemy, which indeed included a book and a DVD, along with an album.

“Once I started doing all that stuff, I started getting more clinics and drum festivals,” Moore explains. “I realized a lot of people wanted to know about New Orleans stuff and what I was doing, so I really started to enjoy presenting that, and then I really started enjoying making a difference in drummers’ musical lives. Enhancing their musicality and their drumming. So I’ve really gotten to enjoy that back-and-forth.”

stantopn-3Premeditated or not, it’s clear that his path to drumming instruction is one Moore has happily followed. Like all good teachers, he has a respect and appreciation for the fact that the learning process is a two-way street. “Absolutely, I learn a lot from my students in a lot of different ways,” he says. “In the way that teaching, itself, makes you have to learn what you are presenting on such a deep level. Sometimes when people ask you a question, they make you think of, or present, what you’ve already been doing, in a different way. So you just learn what it is that you’ve been doing for a while on such a deeper level.”

Another way Moore learns from his students is by gaining exposure to new acts and influences that excite and inspire him in turn. “They may be into something or show me something that I hadn’t checked out before – whether it’s a record or a new drummer or a new band or a new artist that they’re checking out, or if it’s a beat that they picked up from a West African thing. There are just always little things that I pick up from my students – which is great, because I love learning, I love practicing, I love continuing to develop. So it is a symbiotic thing. And that’s one of the things I really dig about it.”

He encourages students of jazz drumming to be avid participants in their local music scene, to gain just that sort of exposure. “Just practicing is great, and that’s of the most paramount importance, but also just getting out and seeing people play live – I think sometimes cats don’t do enough of that,” Moore says. “To come out and see people play live and submerse yourself in the live music scene wherever you’re at, I think is very important.” 

Moore, who cites drummer Johnny Vidacovich as one of his mentors, also urges aspiring jazz musicians to approach artists at shows, as they might score some useful tips or even find a mentor to help them develop their skills. “Just talking to [a local artist] at the gig, you can pick up things, ask him questions, get a little private lesson at the gig without having to go anywhere else other than just show up to the gig. Ask him to let you sit in, maybe – sometimes he’ll let you sit in, and sometimes he’ll answer questions.” (It’s safe to presume that Moore himself would not be averse to this kind of impromptu fan tutoring – so if you go out to see one of his bands live, work up the courage to follow his advice.) Moore has cited favored New Orleans venues to see live music including the Maple Leaf, where Vidacovich plays regularly; Snug Harbor, where his own trio played regularly while developing the material that would become Conversations; and Tipitina’s. 

On his website stantonmoore.com, Moore offers resources including a list of books on drumming, drummers, and musicians ranging from Miles Davis to John Bonham. So, which books does he consider essential reading for aspiring jazz drummers? “For jazz, I think that John Riley’s The Art of Bop Drumming is a great place to start. It’s really become a standard book by now. The Complete Teachings of Allen Touissaint is great, and then if [readers] want to learn about the New Orleans stuff, my book, Take It to the Street – not to give myself a plug, but why not?” He chuckles.

In addition to his work giving lessons, clinics, and master classes to adults, Moore is also involved with music education for younger students. Profoundly moved by Hurricane Katrina’s devastating impact on his home city, Moore got involved with the nonprofit Tipitina’s Foundation (named for the above-mentioned venue) in its aftermath, to foster music education for young people in New Orleans. The organization helps bring donated musical instruments to school bands in Louisiana, and hosts regular free music workshops in which young music students get to jam with and learn from professional musicians – including Moore himself. (Moore’s other gigs giving back to his beloved Louisiana include a role as a spokesman for the Gulf Restoration Network. He also pitched in following the August floods that devastated Baton Rouge, posting a photo of himself on his way home from “gutting houses” along with the plea, “If you can reach out and help BR or any of the flooded areas of Louisiana, please do so. There are thousands of people, desperately in need of help.”)

Moore and his wife, Aletta, also set up the Staletta Fund, a scholarship program to help fund young students of jazz. “[Music education is] very important, but unfortunately it’s not as prevalent as it used to be,” Moore reflects. “I think everybody used to have music in schools, and now there are a lot of schools that don’t have music programs.” 

He’s helping make up for that, though: “I’m on the board of directors for the Roots of Music, which is an after-school music and tutoring program for kids. A lot of them don’t have music programs in their schools, so we tutor them and teach music.” The result is a children’s marching band called the Roots of Music Marching Crusaders, who “march in parades and play functions.” And we’re not just talking events like high school football games, though the Marching Crusaders do a fair deal of those. They have performed for President Obama to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Katrina, played at Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards’ inauguration, and marched in New Orleans’ famed Mardi Gras parade. “They sound great,” Moore enthuses, adding that the program is “literally changing kids’ lives, and it’s an amazing thing to watch. So when you do have music and music education, it can really enhance their lives and give them something to focus on and help direct them, in a way I think is very positive.”

When it comes to giving kids lessons, Moore says his method is pretty consistent with the way he works with adults: “I don’t think I approach it too differently, because a lot of what I talk about, at least in the first several sessions, is feel, and learning how to play between the cracks – so that’s all more conceptual, and it’s not necessarily difficult things that a younger student can’t pick up.” 

He adds that, despite their age or experience level, “I always try to give my students what they are looking for. I don’t try to preach to them too much. Until I start getting to know them a little better and seeing things I feel I can show them that will help them develop. So pretty much whatever level the student is at, I like to answer their questions first and then start offering suggestions, either to help fix issues that they’re having or help them develop and fine-tune things that they’re doing.”

Moore is seemingly unstoppable both as a creative force and as an artist giving back to his fans and community. In January, he’ll combine his roles as performer, educator, and hometown hero when the Stanton Moore Trio appears at the first annual Jazz Education Network Scholarship concert in New Orleans. “It’s gonna be fun,” he says. “A lot of people still haven’t gotten a chance to hear me play in something other than a funk context, and I’m always excited to play for an audience in a way that they haven’t heard me play before.” (Moore hints that there might be special guests during the performance…but as of the time of our conversation, that wasn’t officially locked in – “I don’t want to make any promises that I can’t cash,” he says – so you definitely didn’t read that here.) 

And he’s “super excited” about his new vehicle for teaching, the instructional website stantonmooredrumacademy.com, which is “a subscription site where people can watch tons of video lessons and interact with me.” Of course, teaching music online is a very different proposition from being in the same room with students: “Live in person, you’re catering things to the individual,” Moore notes. “You’re answering questions as you’re going, and it can go in any different direction. So you maybe start in one direction and they want to know something about something else.” His online tutorials, by contrast, consist of him speaking directly to a camera, with no students actually present – “but then [viewers] get to ask me questions in the forum, and they can ask me to present other lessons, so that’ll be interactive,” even if “it won’t be as immediate necessarily as being right there face-to-face.” The fledgling site will also feature monthly live chats, so there will be an additional element of real-time back-and-forth. 

Moore is also “really psyched” about the fall release of his album paying tribute to fellow New Orleans luminary Allen Touissaint, who passed away in 2015. On it, he covers Touissaint songs with his trio, “the same trio from Conversations, plus all of these special guests. Nicholas Payton, Donald Harrison Jr., Trombone Shorty, Eric Bloom. Mike Dean played percussion on some of it, and then Cyril Neville sings on five tunes.” 

Seriously, the man is a master multitasker… and he’s got a pretty impressive contacts list to boot. 

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