Ronnie Burrage has shared stages with such jazz heavyweights as Wayne Shorter, Sonny Rollins, Jaco Pastorius and Pat Metheny. Having given his life to the music, he’s also influenced many players with his teaching, including his stint as CEO of the World Rhythm Academy, a nonprofit organization he helped find that is dedicated to empowering and helping marginalized youth. Burrage is going to be holding a masterclass in free jazz drumming from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday at New Spire Spaces on East Church Street in Frederick. We caught up with him recently to talk about his influences, Holographic Principle, which is his trio, and what he believes is the greatest song ever composed.
You are teaching a jazz drum masterclass. First, what, to you, makes a good drummer?
I’m a musician first, and I encourage drummers to be musicians first. There’s a trend for young drummers thinking they need to be “good technicians” and that takes away from a musical approach to drumming. What makes a good drummer is learning to make music with others in all genres of music.
Who were some of your influences as a player and how did you get started with playing the drums in the first place?
Elvin Jones, Art Blakey, Bill Buford and many others. I was attracted to making rhythms just before I started walking, my family tells me.
What are some of the challenges a drummer consistently faces that he or she might not know about before they get into learning the instrument?
Learning to play swift and loud, being musical and understanding dynamics.
You are playing with Holographic Principle. What can you tell us about how you got hooked up with them and Eric Delente? What genre of jazz do you guys perform the most?
Holographic Principle is my trio. I put this group together. My bassist, Nimrod Speaks, has been playing with me for over seven years and he was also a member of “Band Burrage.” Dr. Michal Wierba started learning to play jazz around 11 years old from listening to a recording I did with a prolific Polish bassist and composer and a close friend of mine. Michal invited me to Poland to play tribute concerts to this great bassist who passed too early from cancer and our relationship started from that moment. He is an incredible pianist and artist. Eric Delente and I go back to junior high being friends. We recorded an amazing album called “Bluenoise” he also is an amazing musician and one of my closest friends.
You are involved with the World Rhythm Academy, from what I understand. What is that and what’s your role within it?
I am the CEO and my wife, Chanda Burrage, is the COO. Our nonprofit organization is dedicated to empowering marginalized youth by taking them around the world to see first-hand and learn how others live. We currently have a GeoArts Program at Brownsville Collaborative Middle School in Brooklyn.
To you, what is the greatest song ever written and why?
I’m not sure. Perhaps “Round Midnight” by Thelonious Monk or “Lush Life” by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. Why? Because they tell such an incredible story of life and jazz and humanity.
What are your thoughts of Maryland as a place for jazz? Conversely — what are some of the best cities in the world for jazz and why?
Maryland, first of all, has great jazz musicians and it used to have more venues. Some best cities are New York City, Paris, Tokyo and others.
We’re only a month in, so what does 2018 have in store for you?
Lots of educational work and opportunities, recordings and tours. I’m always composing and moving upward forward.
And finally, what’s one piece of advice you could give to someone just learning how to play the drums?
Learn all musical styles and how to play with as many other musicians as possible.