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Drummer Cindy Blackman sets down the jazz beat

Stina Sieg
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Contributed photoDrummer Cindy Blackman and her quartet perform Wednesday, July 16 at Two Rivers Park in Glenwood Springs as the Summer of Jazz continues.
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GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” It was more than 40 years ago that Cindy Blackman pounded on drums for the first time.

She remembers it fondly.

She was 7 years old and hanging at a pool party when she downstairs at the host’s house to use the bathroom. Sitting there was a drum set. Blackman glanced around and then took a seat at the drums.

“It was incredible,” she said.

Sure, she must have sounded terrible and was quickly shooed off, but it didn’t matter. Musically, she was home.

“Just looking at them struck something in my core, and it was completely right from the second I saw them,” she said. “And then, when I hit them, it was like, wow, that’s me. That’s completely natural for me. It’s like breathing for me. It didn’t feel awkward at all.”

She “never wavered” from the instrument.

In her more than 20 years of playing, Blackman has been a street musician in New York City, a drummer for Lenny Kravitz and even the star of her own instructional drumming video. As a solo recording artist and backup player, she’s done all kinds of work. But it’s jazz that speaks to her like nothing else.

“I can’t let go of that,” she said. “That’s like saying, letting go of my nose. I can’t do that. That’s like my arms or my eyes. I can’t do that. They’re mine. Jazz is part of me,” she said.

Blackman’s musical life started not long after that short, fateful drum session. By playing in bands at school, she was able convince her parents to buy her a drum set of her own.

She eventually spent three semesters at the Berklee School of Music, but New York called.

“I wanted to delve into the intricacies of jazz,” she said.

Soon, she was in the thick of it. Jazz isn’t an old art form, so when she arrived on the New York scene in the early ’80s, many of the genre’s founding fathers were still kicking it. She was listening to and asking questions of the best: Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, Woody Shaw and more. While it was Blakey that really took her under his wing, it was watching Tony Williams use all four limbs to attack the drums that most influenced Blackman.

“I just love and loved everything about Tony,” she said. “To me, not only was he a master technician, a master drummer, the innovator of the age, but also, he was a sound innovator. He had so many things that elevated the sound and the level of skill required to play this kind of music.”

The chaotic rhythm of jazz drumming, said Blackman, is all part of the underlying foundation of jazz. It isn’t a shapeless art form, but a complex one, she insisted.

“That’s advanced,” she said. “And you know, that’s why jazz is my all-time favorite music, and I think it’s the greatest music.”

As the Cindy Blackman Quartet prepares for Wednesday’s Summer of Jazz performance in Glenwood Springs, the group’s drummer knows exactly what she’s looking to do. More than exposing someone to jazz or getting her name out there, she wants people to feel something. If someone is inspired, if only for a second, she’s happy.

“Oh my gosh, it’s the best thing in the world,” she said. “I feel so blessed, and I’m so thankful to be able to play music. It’s an honor, and it’s a blessing.”


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