Here's a great shot of drummer Han Bennink, who turns 70 today, deploying one of his signature moves: the "putting a foot on the snare drum." It's quite a spectacle when you see it live. There's the visual display of a big man (he is well over 6-feet-tall, and muscular) contorting himself with the gleeful strain of a mad scientist. There's also a practical basis, which has to do with ingeniously modifying the timbre of the drum. He explains in this short video:
This clip comes to us via the NPR program Fresh Air, who brought the Dutchman into the studio recently and posted this iPhone video to YouTube. Bennink's interview with host Terry Gross runs today, on his birthday, and even comes with a few improvisations with violinist Mary Oliver.
For those who don't know Han Bennink, here's a quick primer. From his base in the Netherlands, he supported many American expats or touring musicians during the 1960s — in fact, he even appears on Eric Dolphy's Last Daterecording (recorded in 1964, when Bennink was 22 years old), and on a 1969 live recording with Dexter Gordon. But that being upwards of 40 years ago, he's done a lot more than that, much of which has flown under the mainstream North American radar. He's collaborated extensively with Europe's best jazz musicians and/or free improvisers. Among his best-known projects are the Instant Composers Pool, a collective of avant-garde improvisers co-founded by saxophonist Willem Breuker and pianist Misha Mengelberg, and the Clusone 3, a trio with reedman Michael Moore and cellist Ernst Reijseger. He's also one of the few European improvising musicians to regularly tour the U.S., having established working relationships with many stateside players.
All this makes him a versatile virtuoso, one of the few musicians who appeals to a wide swath of jazz fans. But what really seals the deal is his injection of humor. This can mean anything from performing in an ICP gamepiece with a circus-like atmosphere, to an amusing in-song exclamation or gesture — say, putting a foot on the snare drum. Explicitly or not, his performances often remind us that improvisation ought to be fun and full of wonder.
Also in his arsenal: Bennink has a way of appropriating anything on or around him for percussive effect. (Drum set made of Dutch cheese, anyone?) In the Fresh Air interview, he explained to Terry Gross how his father taught him to be resourceful, demonstrating on a bunch of office supplies and studio equipment:
P.S. The first comment reminds me that the radio station WKCR is celebrating with a five-day marathon broadcast of Han Bennink's music, through Saturday April 21. Online listening is available. Full disclosure, as always with WKCR: It's my alma mater.