in (non) performance: bill bruford


bill bruford

It wasn’t a performance. It wasn’t anything that even approximated one. Yet last night’s appearance by veteran-turned-retiree drummer Bill Bruford in every way celebrated the works of a masterful career with remarkable performance insight, alert detail, invitingly wry humor and a few cautionary tales about the pitfalls of stardom.

Arranged as an informal talk before a crowd of about 40 that filled out every corner of the Drum Center of Lexington (Tama Drums sponsors Bruford’s speaking engagements, hence the locale), Bruford used archival video footage to illustrate a career that ran from a late ‘60s Yes lineup playing Astral Traveler to a 21st century improvisational drums/keyboards duet with Michiel Borstlap.

Assorted clips with Genesis, his own late ‘70s prog band Bruford and the early ‘80s incarnation of King Crimson all generated the kind of applause that usually greets an actual live performance. Bruford also read passages from his memoir, The Autobiography, that illuminated his thoughts on art, craft, commerce and making of music in the age of computers.

But Bruford’s most illuminating comments were more spontaneous. He tagged himself initially as a “failed pianist,” tying that estimation to the design of keyboard-like sounds he created in the ‘80s and ‘90s on electric percussion. Later, he referred to himself as an “ideas guy” who stressed dynamics and invention in playing and performance over the common commercial practice that dictates the only way to follow-up an artistic success is by replicating it.

“I can do that for maybe a week,” Bruford said. “Pay me a ton of money and I’ll do it for a month.”

He admitted to a bit of artistic role playing (“to be Max Roach in Yes”), gave heavy praise for such new generation jazz drummers as Bill Stewart (“steal anything you can from him”) and sheepishly recoiled at the fashion statements revealed in video footage of his early years with Yes (“my apologies for some really bad haircuts”).

Such was the mind of the prog rock star with the jazzer’s heart.

“You exist to serve the music,” Bruford said. “The music does not exist to serve you.”

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