Steve Gadd listens before he talks

Veteran American drummer Steve Gadd has one simple rule in music that has made him one of the most sought-after sticksmen in the jazz, pop and rock worlds - know when to keep your mouth shut.

"It's better to listen than talk," says the 68-year-old who in the past five decades has recorded and toured with acclaimed names as diverse as English blues guitarist Eric Clapton, folk/pop star Paul Simon and fusion jazz pioneer Chick Corea.

"If I was going in the studio, I would just go in with an open mind. I would just go in and let the music dictate what I do. I think it's important to not speak about it until after you've heard it.

"If you talk about it before you've heard the music or played it, then you're setting up barriers for yourself, you're starting to think about things to go with something that you haven't heard and might have nothing to do with when you hear the music for the first time."

He was talking to Life! in a telephone interview from his home in Phoenix, Arizona.

A respected band leader in his own right, the drummer will be fronting his own band of musicians at a performance at the Esplanade Concert Hall on Oct 7.

Made up of Gadd on drums, Larry Goldings on keyboards, Jimmy Johnson on bass, Michael Landau on guitars and Walt Fowler on the trumpets, the Steve Gadd Band will be playing songs they recorded for the drummer's 10th solo album, Gadditude.

This same line-up also backs acclaimed singer- songwriter James Taylor on tours.

"We're all sidemen, that's what we do for a living, and we've all also done solo projects. The album seemed like a real natural way to play with people I love playing with. We're used to working together as a rhythm section, so we just decided to take it one step further," he says of the jazz fusion songs in Gadditude.

Born in New York, Gadd learnt to play drums at seven on the encouragement of an uncle who played the instrument in the United States army.

By the time he was 11, he was playing with his first bona fide big star - the late jazz icon Dizzy Gillespie. His parents used to take him to afternoon gigs, where the performers would get musicians from the audience to jam with them.

He studied at the New York Eastman School of Music and at the same time spent nights playing with then upcoming jazz names such as Corea and Chuck Mangione.

In the 1970s, Gadd became one of the most sought-after sessionists in the American music industry, playing drums for Simon, soul queen Aretha Franklin, singer-songwriter Carly Simon and jazz rock luminaries Steely Dan.

His reputation among other musicians has endured through the subsequent decades. To date, Gadd has played on close to 700 releases.

Asked to pick the most memorable artists he has played with, the grandfather of three chooses to be diplomatic.

"They are all memorable in different ways. They are all very special. There have been so many magic moments, I can't pick one. And they continue to happen, it's an ongoing process.

"All of the people that I have worked with helped me grow musically and they help bring music out of me, so I'm very grateful for that."

His humility seems far from contrived.

He has no qualms about admitting that, sometimes, even a musician as prolific as him goes through dry creative periods. When that happens, he says, he soldiers on, and that attitude has helped him sustain a long and illustrious career.

"Sometimes, you get a little self-conscious or a little insecure. But you just got to fight through those periods and do whatever it takes to keep on going and not give up. That's what it takes to have a long lasting career, that kind of energy and determination and a willingness to give."

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