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Drummer. Producer. Legend.
Duke's Lullaby - THE GADD GANG

Rochester, New York is
where Gadd grew up. He lived
with his uncle and grandparents
there until he was three. “Uncle was
a drummer and he inspired me,
but my whole family were
very supportive and very
encouraging. When they realized
that I was leaning towards
the drums, they started to
nurture it. One birthday they
bought me a proper snare drum
and a little white bass drum.
Then for another birthday
I got a tom-tom that you could
clamp on to the top of the bass

drum. And then for another
birthday I got a hi-hat.”
Gadd used his first snare drum

as a little floor tom, “I stripped it
of its snares,” he says. “I guess
I must have been about six or
seven – that was
my first kit.”

At high school Gadd took
drum lessons and played in the
drum corps. College followed

where he studied all the

percussion family including
timpani, marimba and all the
orchestra stuff, he says. “At
one point I had to make a
decision, as I wasn’t going to
be able to keep on playing all
those instruments. I decided that
there was nothing I could
play as well as a kit of drums.
These are the scary decisions
that you have to make
along the way.”

Gadd’s influences came initially
from listening and playing to the

records his uncle bought.
“I remember he bought me
some Gene Krupa and Louie
Bellson. Then I heard
about Philly Joe Jones and
started listening to all those
kinds of guys. My dad would take

me to hear different live
music which he loved. There
were a couple of great clubs in
Rochester. The one at the rich end
of town brought in all the big guys
like Oscar Peterson and Dizzy
Gillespie. I used to sit at
the very front and remember
watching Gene Krupa play.

“Then there was the other club
in another part of town where

they brought in organ groups like
Jack McDuff who would play there
regularly – sometimes they would let

me sit in. So I was constantly
hearing different bands, and at one

point I was playing with Chuck
Mangione, who also came from
Rochester. What I did was follow
my heart in terms of where my
passion was. The goal was
never to get to a financial

place, the goal was just to
play good music.

“My uncle bought me a Gretsch
drum kit when I was 12 that I still

have. When I got out of the army
I bought another set of Gretsch drums

with a small bass drum and small

toms. A couple of years after that I

built a set of drums, putting different
combinations of things together when
I started doing some recording in
New York and I needed a more
‘all around’ sound.

“Then in 1975-76 I got a deal
from Yamaha. They approached
me to become an endorsee and
I’ve been  with them ever since.
I helped them design the Recording
Custom series,  sizes and everything.
They were aware that I played
was connected at
a certain level in terms of
advertisements. But I wasn’t
paid anything to do it but in return
for my ideas I got drums. I have
12, 13, 14, and 16inch toms and I
use a 22x14 bass drum, although
sometimes I’ll use a 20x16, it just
depends which one sounds good
with whoever is doing the sound.” 

Gadd keeps his own personal kit in
New York, otherwise Yamaha

supplies his every need for
the smaller jazz tours. “For big
tours I have a kit that
goes with me.”

Even though Gadd has been
playing the same basic kit for
some 35 years  he says he has
changed from a birch  bass drum
to a maple bass drum. “It gives a
fatter sound,” he says, “and when
I first went with Yamaha, they
were only making
birch drums. I always use
Remo heads. Coated Ambassador
on the top and clear on the
bottom although sometimes,
depending on the situation I’ll use
clear Pinstripe heads on top. Years

ago I was trying Evans sets, which
were great for recording, but then
when the endorsement came
along I found that I could cover

everything that I needed with Remo.”

Gadd has always played Zildjian
cymbals; it was a Zildjian cymbal
that his uncle bought him
that time 58 years ago. “I use a
combination of all of them,”
he says.

“One of the orchestra
rides I’ve got is an A.
Actually, it’s not an
orchestra ride, but an

orchestra cymbal that I use
as a ride. I also have a
Constantinople: both
are 20s. I have an 18inch
dark K crash and an old K
heavy hi-hat which is worn out,
because it’s one I bought back in the
1960s. But I use that on top with

an A, with rivets in it
on the bottom. It had holes
in it originally, but the fact
that it lets some of the air go
through, means that when
you’re playing it with your
foot it sounds really good and
helps me get the sound
that I want.” Gadd plays

his own model
of Vic Firth sticks and
brushes,. “We just came
up  with what
we’d like them
to be.”

Interview by David Gallant (2010)

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