Chester Thompson’s visit to Uruguay

Those who read Atresillado know I usually write about music shows on the same day because this habit is actually cathartic to me. Now it’s been three days since wonderful events took place and their effects shook me so much that I’m finding it hard to move from the heart area into the brain, and translate part of that into words. But here I am and I promise I’ll do my best.

As you read some days ago, I had the fantastic opportunity to interview drummer Chester Thompson through Skype, before he came to Uruguay (and I published it here). I was astonished to meet a super kind gentleman. He talked calmly, he actually listened, and he showed patience and good manners when we faced some initial technical problems to communicate. It was a real pleasure having that human and enriching conversation.

The day came when the musicians of Alphonso Johnson’s Quartet arrived in this end of the world. Their plans included a clinic by the quartet, a master class by Chester Thompson, and the concert at the Teatro Solís.

To my surprise and to my panic, I was asked by their producer to be the interpreter of Chester Thompson’s master class. Even though I translate all the time, I never work as an interpreter, because I am convinced that my memory is too “short-termed” to remember long sentences. However, I overcame the panic and accepted, considering that I would really do my best for drummers to grasp everything he said.

Also to my surprise and to my panic, I was asked by Chester Thompson to show him how to play some candombe. Imagine the scene: Alphonso Johnson, Federico Ramos, Gary Fukushima and Chester Thompson plus several Uruguayan drummers right there… and I attempting to play one candombe pattern. It was an impossible mission. I played something different, a new kind of rhythm. Therefore, I offered Chester Thompson to take a lesson with one drummer who would certainly help him grasp an idea of our rhythm: the one and only Martín Ibarburu, of course. [This may be unfair with several other Uruguayan drummers who also play candombe very well, I know, but most of you know how much I like Martín’s music]. Chester Thompson had the good idea to accept and I had the fantastic task to take him to Martin’s home and introduce them one to the other.

Martín always amazes me for his humbleness, generosity and kindness with everyone. It was thrilling to discover that Chester was cut from the same cloth. I now invite you to imagine Martín telling Chester that it was an honor to have him in his house and Chester telling Martin that the honor was his. Witnessing that meeting was something absolutely amazing. Luckily I was invited to stay. That’s how I can tell you that these two are out of this world and not only as drummers.

After explaining a little about the rhythm, Martín showed it to him at the drumset. It was a delight to hear them talk about the structure of the rhythm and how Chester associated with several other latin rhythms he has already played. Without exaggerating, five minutes later Chester was playing his first candombe and sounding nearly Uruguayan!! Martín’s smile couldn’t be wider and I felt blessed to be able to witness all that.



Photo: Patricia

Chester ended showing to Martin a couple of things too, of course, and I felt that for that hour the entire planet was living a positive transformation.

This experience only would have been enough for my heart to feel joy for a year. But this was just the beginning.

That same day, at 6:00 pm, Chester Thompson would be offering his Master Class in Teatro Solís. So, at 5:30 pm I was entering for the first time in my life through the back door of the theater. I couldn’t believe how big and tall the backstage of the theater is! And how beautiful our beloved theater is seen from the stage! It’s a delight.

Chester arrived and we went a little over the concepts he was going to present, and he showed me with a pad of his how not to lose contact with the sticks and how to use fingers to have a better control of them. And there we went, to the stage. Unbelievable: Chester and I. Crazy, ha? Yes. I agree. Super crazy and fascinating. However, I must be honest here. I was not nervous anymore and I was not feeling like I was with a legend, with one of the very top drummers of the world. I felt calm and having the best, best time, because he made everything easy with his presence and kindness.



Photo: Pablo Avellino



Photo: Germán Suárez

(Thanks to Pablo Avellino and Germán Suárez for the pictures).

He spent one hour generously sharing his experience, his knowledge and his wisdom.

He insisted on his having had a very blessed life, having the chance to make music with the musicians he played (Zappa, Weather Report, Genesis, Phil Collins and so many others).

Among the concepts he shared, he suggested to practice everything starting with your right hand first and with your left hand later. Everything. He showed a warm up exercise, where he played a few notes on the bass drum and on them he played a single roll, a double roll and paradiddles with the hands (starting with R then L). “And if that is too easy, make it faster”, he said, and showed it. It was funny when he said that his right hand was funky and his left hand was straight, so he got a different feeling if he played with one or the other.

He talked about using the wrist only for the first hit but using fingers for all the others, with the elbows not separate from the body but loose, hanging at the sides.

He stressed the importance of listening to the whole band as if you were sitting at the audience. Not to listen to the drums; to listen to the band. He said that whenever you listen to a band from the audience and something sounds wrong is because some of the musicians is not listening to the band but to themselves. I must say I’ve been practicing this new perspective for listening and it makes a real difference in the outcome! And not only in the drumset but in life too.

People from the audience asked him how the experience of playing with two drums was. He said it was much more difficult than people usually think. He said that it was really important to have eye contact with the other drummer and to pay close attention and really listen. He explained how Ralph Humphrey and he felt music a little different and how they had to practice to manage to play well together. He also said that with Phil Collins it was different because they both felt music very similarly and from day one they played as if they were one only person.

Another question was about the position of his feet. He said he realized gravity was his friend and he used gravity in his favor. He places his heel not up and not down, somewhere in the middle.

I’m sorry that I made a big mistake: I forgot to record the clinic. Being on the stage, focused on translating, I know I am missing lots of information here, but if I get to remember, I’ll edit.

After the master class finished, magic went on and on: Alphonso Johnson’s Quartet played their concert in Solís Theater. You may read about that in a separate post.

I think it’s not by chance that his music is so outstanding. I’m convinced that in cases of superb musicians like him, it’s the soul we hear expressing. You may be a reasonably good musician and not transmit much. If you do transmit lots like in this case, you have learned to show your soul to the world.

I want to thank Jazz Tour and Cecilia Martínez-Gil for bringing Chester Thompson with Alphonso Johnson’s Quartet, for making a free master class possible, and for having chosen me as a link between this fantastic drummer and the wonderful drummers of Montevideo, who were delighted to have this opportunity and have expressed in several ways how good this clinic was.

Chester Thompson will always be welcomed here. Let us hope he will come again soon.


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