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Billy Martin's new film Life on Drums

Big Hassle Media
Press Release


An evocative, educational exploration of the creative inspiration at work behind the trap set, directed by and featuring Billy Martin of [Medeski Martin and Wood]

Life on Drums, to be released on DVD via Vongole Films on October 8, is a refreshing reinvention of the instructional video, blending a cinematic visual sense with an approach to instruction that prizes the intuitive and the creative over the merely technical. Conceived by, directed by, and featuring the endlessly musical drummer, percussionist and teacher Billy Martin (Medeski Martin and Wood), Life on Drums is a riveting extension of his open-ended approach to percussion, improvisation, and music.

Martin explains: "Life on Drums is about the art of drumming and percussion, and my concepts, methods, and philosophy of what is important. I discuss the steps that I generally go through in a lesson, but rather than speaking at a camera into nothing, I'm speaking with my first drum teacher Allen Herman." The presence in the film of Herman, who first mentored Martin in the mid-1970s, makes a valuable and intriguing statement about the circular nature of the teacher's art. "Allen was my teacher in 1974 and 1975, then I saw him five years later and he gave me the opportunity to be his substitute on a Broadway show, Bob Fosse's "Dancin." From then on, he'd disappear and reappear - I wouldn't always know where he was. He would be on the road, or driving a cab, or living in Alaska. He didn't play for 15 years, while he took a corporate job.

"We've reconnected over the past four or five years, and when I told him that I wanted to do this film, he asked how he could help - even offering to help finance it - and we became partners in this project. Now, he's turned it around: saying that I am the one who is nurturing, teaching, and inspiring him...he's playing again, and is ecstatic to be back in the drumming world."

In addition to both musical and verbal conversations with Herman, Life on Drums includes solo performances by Martin, a group of Martin's students performing some of his composed percussion pieces, and a piece featuring Martin alongside three horns (Marcus Rojas, Steven Bernstein, and Curtis Fowlkes). All the dialogue and performances were shot over three days, in high-definition widescreen, at a disused radio station in Trenton, New Jersey. Using a rich variety of camera angles, lenses, and tracking shots, Martin has created a film as compelling visually as it is musically stimulating. "When not playing music," he explains, "I've been getting into filmmaking, watching movies, reading books, meeting people who are filmmakers...I've done a couple of music videos. I felt ready for this project."

While encompassing an array of perspectives and concepts, the core theme of Life on Drums is artistic integrity and ingenuity. "I'm trying to be as honest and sincere as I am about who I am, what I'm trying to say," Martin concludes, "and then demonstrate how these philosophies and concepts can be used. I want people to see this film and realize that they can be an artist, and it doesn't have to be about technique and flashy stuff. Most creative things do not come from technique. You don't need this full spectrum of technique before you start thinking creatively..."