Michael Carvin
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Michael Carvin

New York City, New York, United States | INDIE

New York City, New York, United States | INDIE
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Should you step into Michael Carvin’s drum studio for a lesson, be prepared to stand on your own two feet. There’s heat in this kitchen. Carvin does not ask that you arrive as a technique savant. He does not ask that you hike the Himalayas to receive his wisdom. But if he accepts a student, he does ask one thing. “I want them to know what they want,” he says, allowing a long pause. “I can’t teach you how to play drums. But I’ll introduce you to yourself. And once I introduce you to yourself, you can make all your dreams come true.”

For those who survive the heat, the results are undeniable, as proven by the long roster of Carvin alumni who are now notables in the jazz world, many of them praising their mentor with devotional zeal. One such star student is MD Pro Panel member Allison Miller. “Michael Carvin is a force!” she says. “He changed my whole philosophy behind the kit.” And Eric McPherson’s take: “For me, Michael’s influence transcended art. His influence was greatest on my life as a whole. While most teachers impose their personal approach on students as law, Michael approaches each of his students in such a way as to help them find who they are. He is truly one of the great minds of our times.”

But when things do get hairy in that studio, beware. Carvin has witnessed “grown men” scramble for the exit in tears. From the moment a student enters, the teacher scrutinizes any chinks in confidence. “I say, ‘Play something that you like,’” Michael explains, “And he’ll say, ‘What do you want to hear?’ I’ll say, ‘What did I just tell you?’ He automatically shuts down! Because it’s that first sign of discipline.
I didn’t be his ‘friend.’ I shut him down. And I do it on purpose. Now he’s beginning to…lose…it. I’m not trying to be his buddy or be a ‘nice guy.’ A ‘nice guy’ is a con man.

“Then I say to him, ‘What is your dream in life?’ His mind is frozen now, and I tell him, ‘Every dream I’ve had in my life has come true.’ And that’s the truth. This is America, man. At this point he doesn’t know what’s happening to him. But that’s the same thing that happens when a guy counts a tempo off. You have to make a decision, right or wrong.”

If Carvin hadn’t been nurtured in music, he surely would have succeeded as a motivational speaker. His animated verbal discourses are Muhammad Ali meets Tony Robbins meets boot-camp drill sergeant. “Teachers come to teach, not to hold hands,” he says. “I tell my students, ‘I would rather you hate me and be successful than love me and be a failure.’

Through discipline comes freedom. I believe in that, man.” Discipline has rewarded Carvin with a playing style of precision chops fueled by spontaneity and a bold, earthy sound. Outspoken and provocative, Michael speaks with sudden shifts between severity and sentimentality, elation and gravity. He cuts a strong presence, as an impassioned man who’s forged his own path through great self-determination. And he’d love to help you do it too.

The master’s colorful sermons of rhythm are peppered with memorable catchphrases and pearls of wisdom. One saying in particular stands as his defining motto. “‘Each one, teach one’ is something I’ve always believed in,” Carvin says. “In the African tradition we have storytellers. There’s a man in the tribe that passes on knowledge. And there’s always one young man that the master recognizes will be the next storyteller. He will take that young man and teach him everything that he knows about the history of the tribe. That’s ‘Each one, teach one.’ As a drum teacher, I am a ‘master.’ If I have accepted a student, I tell him, ‘Every time you walk through that door, you’re telling me one thing: “Carvin, I’m putting my fate in your hands.”’ And by you trusting me to put the fate of your music career in my hands, it is my duty and honor to teach you everything I know.”

THE JOURNEY Since the 1960s, Carvin has covered a sweeping arc of styles, which has led to recognition among a long list of jazz heavies and a productive career as a leader. Also a tireless crusader championing the drumkit as a total melodic instrument, he has explored solo performances in addition to his ensemble work, as captured on 1996’s Drum As his passion for teaching evolved, Carvin bloomed into one of New York City’s most revered drum gurus. He dismisses the label jazz, but he’s earned that right. To those who insist on defining a “swing” feel, Carvin responds, “I don’t see ‘rock’ or ‘jazz.’ It’s a beat! Check it out—it’s a beat.” The man becomes breathless while discussing the sprawling family of rhythm, whether it be bands, track stars, the Russian Ballet, Times Square bucket players, John Philip Sousa, or
double-Dutch rope jumpers.

“The beat” has been Carvin’s guiding star ever since his father taught him drums, starting when Michael was five. He still thrills about his drumcaptain days in high school: “We marched with 110 bodies that I moved up and down the football field, taking the command of their l - Modern Drummer


With a career that spans half a century, master drummer Michael Carvin has plenty to look back on, although he's mostly a forward-looking man. To say he's been prolific puts it mildly. By his own count, he's made some 250 recordings and toured the world five times. He has worked with such major jazz luminaries as Jackie McLean, Dizzy Gillespie, Pharaoh Sanders, and Freddie Hubbard, among many others, in addition to fronting his own bands and recording ten albums as a leader. His strong influence on jazz drumming is clear through his long teaching career as well, both through the Michael Carvin School of Drumming he founded in the early 1970s and through work at Rutgers University, the University of Hartford, the New School, and elsewhere. He estimates that he's taught as many as 300 students, notably including Camille Gainer, Allison Miller, Ralph Peterson, Eric McPherson, E.J. Strickland, Kim Thompson, and Max Tucker.

Carvin clearly feels at home in just about any musical context, and he has a very holistic view of music, preferring not to use terms and labels that compartmentalize it. His early professional experience included stints with Motown Records and blues icon B.B. King, and he has fond memories of being drum captain in his high school marching band. In his long career in jazz, his work has ranged from the avant garde to straight ahead and much that lies in between. His own last two records albums reflect both ends of that spectrum—the explorative Lost and Found Project 2065 (Mr. Buddy, 2010) and the swinging, post-bop Michael Carvin, part of the Marsalis Music Honors Series (Marsalis Music, 2006).

The band he's formed in mid-2012—set for a major venue debut at the Jazz Standard in New York July 31 and August 1—takes on a musical approach similar to his Marsalis Music outing, but with new personnel that has an East- meets-West sort of flavoring. The quartet includes bassist Jansen Cinco, from the Philippines, pianist Yayoi Ikawa, from Japan, and tenor saxophonist Keith Loftis, who, like Carvin, hails from Texas—Dallas in his case, whereas the drummer/leader is from Houston. "The way I'm thinking at this time, I don't want to have a band full of Americans. Because that allows me to learn and to adjust. I want to help them get comfortable with their blood and their ancestors and the smell of their country. Then, they're going to play something that I've never heard."

Carvin met each of the musicians in their student days and has focused on mentoring them in a number of ways. "Until you put a band together of younger cats that are unknown and you develop them, then you have a band, in my opinion. To put a band together with a lot of cats who are already established is not your band. You're just the leader on the date. There's no developing. There's no giving it up. There's no encouraging."

Jansen Cinco collaborated with the drummer on the Lost and Found Project 2065. "He's a great bassist," says Carvin. "I first met Jansen at the New School when he was 19, maybe about ten years ago. I really like him. Jansen is cool. I had him come by my drum school one day, and I said, play as fast as you can play, but relax. He got all nervous at first, but I said, man, don't worry about that. So, I taught Jansen how to play fast, how to relax and breathe and understand what breaking points are in the tempo. Because in every tempo there are air pockets. You just have to know where they are. And that's where you break your time so, for the bassist, the forearm muscles can slide. And once the forearm muscles can slide and come back, then you won't tense up." Carvin also encouraged Cinco to draw from his roots. "He was into Ron Carter, all the guys are, and I said, man, where are you from? He said, 'I'm from the Philippines.' I said, 'Well, play the bass like you're from the Philippines. You don't have Ron Carter's fingerprints. Play that Filipino feel and style. Now, he really developed that, even though we're playing in a jazz context."

Carvin first encountered Keith Loftis at a master class at Southern University. "Keith was a freshman in college. He was studying with Alvin Batiste, who is one of the greatest clarinetists and reed men." Sometime afterward, Loftis moved to New York and, by chance one day, saw Carvin walking down Broadway. He introduced himself again; Carvin gave him his phone number and told him to keep in touch. "And he would call me, and say, 'Mr. Carvin, I just finished junior year, now working on my master's, and so on. So, when I was looking for a tenor player, and I said, I'm going to call Keith. He came by my studio, and I showed him how to listen to the ride cymbal. I explained to him, get on top of my beat and ride it, man, like you're surfing. You don't have to match me. Just get on top of it and find the spot—the beat—that you like, and just ride it. And just let it be."

Carvin also produced Loftis's CD, Simply, Loftis (Long Tone Music, 2011), which features trumpeter Ro - All About Jazz


Discography

Michael Carvin, Lost and Found Project (Mr. Buddy, 2010)
Michael Carvin, Marsalis Music Honors Series: Michael Carvin (Marsalis Music, 2006)
Billy Bang, Vietnam: Reflections (Justin Time, 2005)
Billy Bang, Vietnam: The Aftermath (Justin Time, 2001)
Michael Carvin, Drum Concerto at Dawn (Mapleshade, 1996)
Michael Carvin, Each One, Teach One (Muse, 1992)
Cecil Bridgewater, I Love Your Smile (Blue Moon, 1992)
Johnny Lytle, Possum Grease (Muse, 1992)
Lonnie Liston Smith, Watercolors (Novus, 1991)
Hamiet Bluiett, You Don't Need to Know . . . If You Have to Ask (Tutu, 1991)
Michael Carvin, Revelation (Muse, 1989)
Michael Carvin, Between You and Me (Muse, 1988)
Michael Carvin, First Time (Muse, 1986)
Lonnie Liston Smith, Live! (BMG, 1978)
Frank Strozier, Remember Me (SteepleChase, 1976)
Pat Martino, Starbright (Warner Bros., 1976)
Michael Carvin, The Camel (SteepleChase, 1975)
Pharaoh Sanders, Elevation (Impulse, 1974)
Lonnie Liston Smith, Expansions (Flying Dutchman, 1974)
Jackie McLean & Michael Carvin, Antiquity (SteepleChase, 1974)
Jackie McLean, New York Calling (SteepleChase, 1974)
Gerry Mulligan/Hampton Hawes Quartet, The Shadow of Your Smile (Moon, 1971)
Hampton Hawes, A Little Copenhagen Night Music (Arista Freedom, 1971)
Hampton Hawes, Live at the Montmartre (Black Lion, 1971)
Hampton Hawes, This Guy's in Love with You (Arista Freedom, 1971)

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Bio

Michael Carvin is a drummer of extraordinary talent, inventiveness and technique. His mastery affords him the ability to handle any musical situation and to skillfully pass on his knowledge of the instrument to an ever increasing number of students internationally.

Born in Houston, Texas, Carvin's musical training began at age six with his father, one of the top drummers in Houston. By the age of twelve, Carvin began playing professionally and won what would be the first of five consecutive Texas rudimental championships. Mr. Carvin's diverse career has included two years as a staff drummer with Motown Records and extensive studio and television work on the West Coast.

Joining Freddie Hubbard's band in 1973, Mr. Carvin moved to New York where he quickly gained a reputation as one of the most formidable drummers on the jazz scene. A prime example of his work with Hubbard can be seen on the Mosaic Records/Jazz Icons DVD released in fall 2011 featuring Carvin with Hubbard’s very first touring group.

In addition to leading his own bands, Carvin's vast playing and recording experience includes work with Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Jackie McLean, Hank Jones, McCoy Tyner, Illinois Jacquet, Pharoah Sanders, Bobby Hutcherson, James Moody, Hampton Hawes, Ruth Brown, Johnny Hartman, Abbey Lincoln, Jimmy Smith, Hugh Masekela, Alice Coltrane, Cecil Taylor, Charles Brown, Terumasa Hino, Bobby Watson, Billy Bang, and many others.

Michael Carvin has established himself as one of the world's most respected drum teachers and clinicians. He's attracted students from Europe, South America, Australia, Japan and India. The alumni of the Michael Carvin School of Drumming in New York are among the elite drummers in music today. A list of some of his students is available at www.michaelcarvin.com.

Mr. Carvin has recorded on over 250 albums. He endorses Pearl Drums and Istanbul Cymbals. The Michael Carvin Signature Drum Stick, which he designed, is available through Pro-Mark.