Question : So what exactly was it about drums that attracted you to them in the first place?
Cindy Blackman : "You know, I can't actually remember a time that I wasn't intrigued by them. Whenever I listened to music, the drums were always the instruments that fascinated me most."
: Music has always played an important role in your family hasn't it?
Question : How were your first experiences on a drum kit?
Cindy Blackman : "The great thing about drums is that anyone can get on them and immediately make a sound - it might be a bad sound, but then you can start refining it. I was pretty satisfied the first time I played a kit - prior to that I was just banging boxes. I used to tap out rhythms, mimicking what I thought I was hearing on records - I'm not sure how accurate it was, though!"
Question : Unlike so many other players, your school provided you with fantastic opportunities on the drum front didn't it?
Cindy Blackman : "Yeah, I joined the concert and jazz bands at junior high school, and when we did plays and performances, I was part of the percussion section. I got the chance to play timpani and lead snare drum in the orchestra too, which was a wonderful experience - it opens up your ear and makes you so well-rounded."
Question : Did you take any drum lessons outside of what you learnt at school?
Cindy Blackman : "No, but I joined a fife and drum corps, which was a bit like having a teacher, because I had to learn all the rudiments and learn to play them accurately with a certain type of technique. We used to take each rudiment and start playing it as slowly as we possibly could, then we'd speed it up, still keeping the sticks the same distance and height from the drum. When we got to top speed, we'd slow it back down, still keeping the sticks even - a very difficult task for a kid. It meant that I had to get my hands together really early, though, and it was a great opportunity. I may only have been twelve at the time, but I still draw on that experience today."
Question : In addition to the drum corps were you playing in any other bands?
Cindy Blackman : "My mum wouldn't let me play at bars or clubs, but I used to play at high school and college functions. The bass player in my band was a close friend of mine and he used to come over to my house every day to practise. I learnt so much from him. A good relationship between the rhythm section is a must; the bass player is your closest link with the rest of the band and one of your jobs as the drummer is to link all the other players together. Bass and drums is the first link - it's the foundation - and it's an extremely important bond that has to be cultivated."
Question : Can you remember which drummers in particular had a big influence on your playing in the early days?
Cindy Blackman : "The first time that I focused on a particular drummer was when a family friend - a drummer himself - turned me on to Max Roach. He took a passage that Max had played on a certain record and he wrote it out on paper for me. He explained what Max was playing with his right hand, his left hand and his feet, and I was just like, 'Wow! All that at the same time?' I realised that there was a lot more to it than I'd thought and I began to have more respect for players like Max and Elvin Jones. Then I started listening to Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones and then my ultimate hero Tony Williams. Their standard of playing made me determined to reach a certain level myself."
Question : Your style of playing in particular can be credited to Tony Williams' approach to drums, can't it?
Cindy Blackman : "One of his concepts was to get a big healthy swing to reach your drums. He didn't set his drums up too close, because otherwise you're deceiving yourself into thinking that you're faster than you are. I have to reach for my drums and cymbals, and I make every stroke count."
Question : You see technique very much as an ongoing progress, so do you still set yourself levels to reach now?
Cindy Blackman : "Oh, most definitely. I'm never satisfied, because if I reach one plateau then I immediately start looking for the next one. That's one of the beauties of music and the arts in general - you always have somewhere to go. I pity the people who don't think they have anywhere left. Me, I see it as stretching, searching and reaching for different goals which change as your level of expertise changes. It might not be a technical thing; it might be a texture that you're trying to find, or something that you're trying to make feel a certain way. One day you'll get it. It's not about technical speed either - it's about delivery, sound, the warmth you get out of your instrument, and the blend of your instrument with the rest of the group."
Question : Did you ever consider any other career paths or were you always determined to pursue music?
Cindy Blackman : "Music was always the direction for me, and always the thing that I wanted to do. I never had a back-up plan. My mum always suggested that I get one, but I just loved music, and that's all that I saw."
Question : When you left school you went to Berklee College Of Music for eighteen months. How did you find the experience?
Cindy Blackman : "As an environment, it was very healthy. There were people on the scene who liked me, people who didn't, people who I liked and people I didn't, people who had a competitive vibe and people who were just friendly - all different sorts. And having a scene with that many people definitely makes you stronger as a musician. For me, that was the great thing about Berklee."
Question : You then moved to New York. What was it about the city that appealed to you?
Cindy Blackman : "For the kind of music that I wanted to play, New York was, and still is the ultimate forum. All the innovators live here or come through here, and the music is progressive - it has an edge and it pushes forward because people here are not afraid of playing creatively."
Question : And you were lucky enough to meet a lot of your drumming heroes in New York, weren't you?
Cindy Blackman : "I was introduced to Art Blakey, who befriended me. Meeting him was just amazing - he started calling me his daughter, and even his children acknowledged me as part of the family! He helped me with my playing, and it was pretty amazing to realise that the great Art Blakey I was listening to at home was the same great Art Blakey, my friend. I got to meet so many people - Elvin Jones, Billy Higgins and Tony Williams. Meeting Tony was the best thing that has ever happened to me. It was better than watching a sci-fi movie, and I love sci-fi movies, because they are bigger than life. Tony to me was better than that - what a force! He was just incredible and I feel sorry for anyone - particularly musicians - who didn't get a chance to hear him when he was with us."
Question : So when you met all these heroes, did they live up to your expectations?
Cindy Blackman : "Definitely. Jazz is the music of the streets, and it's intellectual music that comes from the heart, so people are living what they are playing. And all those players that I just mentioned had and have so much heart about what they are doing and what they did."
Question : When you started out in New York, was it session work that you were looking for, or a permanent position in a band?
Cindy Blackman : "I've always liked being in a band because then you grow with that group of musicians. When you play one-offs they can be great, but there's no long-term life there, and I like building something. A good musical relationship takes time to grow and it's rare to find all the elements that you need immediately. I didn't really have a working band when I first went to New York, but I did have a partner who knew a lot more music than I did, so I was able to learn a lot."
Question : Most of your work with, amongst others, Hugh Masekela and Pharaoh Sanders, has been in the jazz field, but in total contrast you joined Lenny Kravitz's band in 1993. Can you tell us how that gig came about?
Cindy Blackman : "We have a mutual friend who is a saxophone player, and this guy told Lenny about me and vice versa. This friend called me one day and said he had Lenny on the line and would I like to speak to him? At that time I was mainly into jazz - I liked rock 'n' roll but I wasn't really up on who was who, and to tell you the truth I didn't really know who Lenny Kravitz was. The main reason I was interested in talking to him was because my friend had told me he heard drums the same way - in terms of tone - as I did; he loved Gretsch, and K Zildjian cymbals, so I thought, 'Hey! This guy sounds cool'.Anyway Lenny came on the phone and after chatting for a while, he asked if I had drums set up in my house. I did, and he asked me to play over the phone. After I'd played he asked if I would fly straight to Los Angeles. To be honest I had no idea what I was getting into, but I went to LA and ended up auditioning with thirty other people. I packed for two days and ended up staying for two weeks. At the end of those two weeks we did 'Are You Going To Go My Way' and I shot my first video with Lenny. He asked me to join the band, I said yes and asked when I started. He just turned round and said, 'You already have..."
Question : Was there an instant rapport between the two of you?
Cindy Blackman : "I liked Lenny immediately, but I didn't know how things would turn out. I had no idea of the level he performed at in terms of venues, or the amount of shows he played, and when I first went out to Los Angeles I thought it would end up being just a few gigs. Lenny used to laugh at me saying, 'Cindy, you had no idea what was going to happen, did you?' And no, I didn't, but it's cool and my liking him is quite honest - it had nothing to do with his star status. Obviously we had to get used to each other, but there was definitely a vibe there right away."
Question : You've recently finished the American leg of the current tour. How did it all go?Cindy Blackman : "Really good, and we did a gig at Madison Square Garden on this tour which was particularly special. It was very emotional for me because I've been in New York for seventeen years and never played there, and it was the first time that Lenny has headlined there."
Question : Do you see each live show as a new challenge?
Cindy Blackman : "Yeah. I still get butterflies, though, and you know what? I kind of enjoy that. It means I still know that when I get out there I have to be better than I was yesterday."
: Is playing live what you enjoy most then?
Question : Are there any gigs that you've been to yourself that particularly stand out in your memory?
Cindy Blackman : "There are a couple. The first is one of Miles Davis' last gigs. My friend and I were in the front row and Miles walked over to our side of the stage and started playing. Because he was bent over the stage, you could hear his sound acoustically - his tone was incredible and it was an amazing experience. I've heard him a lot live, but always through the sound system, and I'll never forget that moment. The second was the first time that I saw Tony Williams play live. He was doing a drum clinic - just him and a bass player. His technique, his musicality, the sound he got from the drums, all stunned me. I wanted to ask him a question but I couldn't - I was speechless."
Question : What is your most memorable musical experience?
Cindy Blackman : "It was with a piano player, Carlton Holmes, and a bass player, George Mitchell, in a rehearsal room. It was only a small room and I got there first, so I was playing my drums when the other guys walked in. We didn't say anything, they just fell in with me. We had the studio booked for three hours and we only stopped when it was time to leave. We went through different motions, different moods and different movements. That was one of the best musical experiences I've ever had - we didn't talk and we didn't stop."
Question : The gig with Lenny keeps you pretty busy, but you've managed to find time to get your own band together as well, haven't you?
Cindy Blackman : "Yes. I'd describe what we do as creative jazz. Actually, we've just finished a new CD called Works On Canvas. Its great having two totally different things on the go, and it keeps me fresh. One plays off the other well."
Question : What three albums would you consider a must for any drummers collection?
Cindy Blackman : "If I can only say three then I'd have Miles Davis - Filles de Kilimanjaro, John Coltrane - A Love Supreme and Tony Williams Lifetime - Emergency ".
Question : What advice would you give young players who would like to pursue drums and music as a career?
Cindy Blackman : "Whatever goals you have, stick to them. The thing that's important is being able to do what you love. You don't have to learn all styles of music, and if you want to play rock music, you don't have to play jazz drums to do it. But if you do learn about jazz drums and then you play rock drums, you'll have the advantage over someone who just plays rock. Study and keep an open mind when it comes to music - don't let someone else's thoughts or negativity control your ideas. If your passion is drumming and music then just go for it.