UPPER JAY/WHALLONSBURG — Daniel Freedman absorbed the art of drumming from the hands of masters, so it’s little wonder he’s considered one of the mercurial rhythm changers of jazz today.
His DNA spirals with noted painters, printmakers and musicians, so he had superb raw material to make his way behind his father’s avant-garde footsteps when he crossed the threshold of La Guardia High School of Music and Art and the Performing Arts in Manhattan.
“My father took me to hear Art Blakey when I was young,” said Freedman, who performs this weekend with Jason Lindner and Pablo Menares at the Recovery Lounge in Upper Jay and Whallonsburg Grange.
“A lot of these guys were friends of his. My uncle was a great guitar player. I heard the stories and legends. As a grown man now, I look back and have more appreciation for that.”
At LaGuardia High School, he learned drumming fundamentals from jazz royalty: Max Roach, Billy Higgins and Vernel Fournier.
“I grew up being aware of the legacy of Max Roach,” Freedman said.
“Max always stressed focus on composition and being a complete musician. If I saw him, he would ask, ‘How’s your piano playing?’ He was less concerned with specific drumming and technical things and about being an overall musician and composing and being complete.”
Higgins was an avatar mostly of free jazz and hard bop, and Freedman wishes he had hung out more with him.
“He stressed don’t be afraid to imitate the masters and to learn and be supportive of the other musicians,” Freedman said.
“He talked about listening and using your ears and being supportive. He was one of the most supportive drummers ever.”
Integrity on the drums was Fournier’s edict, and he didn’t suffer slackers gladly.
“Always playing like you mean it,” Freedman said.
“One time I had a lesson with him, and I played something halfway. He yelled at me. He wasn’t kidding around. A lot of the older guys were not playing. It’s hard to be a jazz musician now. It’s always been hard.”
Freedman’s soundscape bursts with rich, diverse influences, instruments and people.
He honed his licks in the West Village. Smalls, a jazz club, was the hotbed for others of his generation including drummer Eric McPherson and saxophonist Myron Walden.
He is touring with Angelique Kidjo and has played and recorded with Sting, Youssou N'Dour, Dianne Reeves, Omara Portuondo, Tom Harrell, Wynton Marsalis and Meshell Ndegeocello.
He is a co-leader of acclaimed band Third World Love with Avishai Cohen, Omer Avital and Yonatan Avishai, and tours frequently with clarinetist and saxophonist Anat Cohen's band.
“Music is a shared thing,” Freedman said.
“I’ve always been lucky. With the guys I’m playing with this weekend and the guys I play with, we’re influenced by each other. I can bring a sketch of a composition, not complete, and I can trust my friends will intuitively know what I meant and will add something to that I would never have thought about but that will work.”
He learned to trust the creative process and musical collaborators early on.
“It will take shape as soon as we play,” Freedman said. “I rely on my friends and colleagues. I write and produce music with their specific voices in mind.”
“Imagine That,” his forthcoming Anzic Records release, features Lionel Loueke, Jason Lindner, Omer Avital and Gilmar Gomes.
He and Lindner have played together so many years, Freedman respects his insight implicitly.
“He could say, ‘You could change this thing here,’ and nine times out of 10 that’s a great idea,” Freedman said.
“If they make constructive criticism on my composition, it’s coming from a good place. It’s invaluable to have those kinds of friendships. I can’t imagine playing music with people I don’t even know.”
Pre-Digital Age, he traveled to faraway places to hear and study in Cuba, Mali, Israel and Senegal.
“I always get the feeling most of the music I love is really folkloric music,” Freedman said.
“Jazz is a folkloric music. The best way to have an understanding of it is to be there when it’s happening otherwise you don’t get it. I love to travel. It’s the perfect combination. You’re actually in the place, in the social context with the music helps you get an idea of what it is really about.”
Before the Internet, a video was the only way to satisfy these musical wanderings without picking up a passport.
“Nothing beats sitting next to the musician and absorbing that sound and creating a memory that you can tap into later,” he said.
If he could time travel, it would be to hear Coltrane, Hendrix and Bach live.
He doesn’t get the world music category because everyone is on the same sphere spinning in the cosmos.
“It’s true that music is an international language,” Freedman said.
“Almost all the places I travel to, I made great friends with people immediately without having any shared language. There’s almost nothing like that in the world that’s so powerful that can bring people together.”
Bob Marley is loved universally in his estimation.
“His music is about being together. People may not understand his words but the feeling of that obviously has no boundaries or borders.”
In Israel, a few-minutes drive could propel him into a different music scene if it wasn’t for the politics of today.
“It’s hard,” Freedman said.
“There would be so many people to hang out with in those places. So, that’s painful.”
Email Robin Caudell: email@example.com