Jazz interview with jazz drummer Fernando L. Garcia Rodas. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Fernando L. Garcia Rodas: – I was born in San Juan, and raised in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. My father used to play the trumpet, and my great-aunt was a choir professor at the Music Conservatory of Puerto Rico and she had a grand piano at her home in Hato Rey. Since I was a very young boy I used to play my dad’s (Luis García), trumpet and my great aunt’s (Haydee Morales) piano, just for fun.
JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up your musical instrument? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose your musical instrument?
FGR: – I picked up the drumset, which is my primary instrument, when I was 14. I had been playing guitar since I was 9 years of age, but the drums just interested me more. Some of my early teachers were Alberto “Papote” Figueroa, and Wilfredo “Bebin” Dávila.
Later on, one of my most influential teachers was Héctor Matos. I studied with him for 5 years in Inter-American University of Puerto Rico (Bachelor’s Degree). We are still good friends to this day. He lives in Puerto Rico and is very active as a performer and as an educator.
I have been living outside of Puerto Rico since 2012, firstly, as I studied a Master’s degree in performance in Berklee College of Music, Valencia Spain. Some of the great drumset and Latin percussion teachers that I studied with are: Mariano Steimberg (Argentina), Yoel Páez (Cuba), Alain Pérez (Cuba), and Victor Mendoza (México).
I moved to New York City in 2013 and here I have studied drumset and tabla with Mark Johnson.
All of these teachers have positively influenced me and my drumset playing as well as my musicality.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
FGR: – I think my sound has evolved as I listen to records over time and my tastes vary over time. I have definitely learned a whole lot from drummers or teachers that I have played with or interacted with in person. I think the human connection is essential in order to evolve musically.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
FGR: – Always practicing with a metronome or with a computer loop. Most recently I have started experimenting with and studying polyrhythms. Also practicing hand drums such as congas, barril, cajón, tabla, and bongo helps me implement in the drumset newer ideas and helps me think with a broader world percussion perspective rather than just a drummer’s perspective.
JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?
FGR: – I think that I have been more immersed in studying the harmonic patters or chord progressions that occur in traditional folkloric Puerto Rican music. A lot of them have influences from the South of Spain and some others are very simplistic 2 or 4 chord patters, because they repeat over and over with a call and response melody on top. I think these are often overlooked and can be very unique and organic.
JBN.S: – Which are the best jazz albums for you of 2017 year?
FGR: – From 2017 I must say that Gerald Clayton’s Tributary Tales is an awesome record. It goes into more contemporary territory with a lot of sound design and also it remains very rooted in the tradition with tunes such as Soul Stomp.
Also, I recommend Miguel Zenón’s Típico. He always outdoes himself and is very surprising with every record he publishes. That very first tune, Academia, is simply genius.
JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
FGR: – That’s a great question! I have been thinking about this lately and I must admit that sometimes as a musician you can get caught up in the intellectual aspect of jazz but I think we always have to keep in mind the audience because that’s who ultimately enjoys and listens to one’s music. Not saying that it has to be overly simplistic but, there has to be a balance between what you, as the composer/performer, want to achieve and producing music that you might also enjoy if you were just an audience member.
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
FGR: – I think I have most fun gigging at Camaradas El Barrio in NYC where people actually stand up and dance to our music without thinking it twice!
JBN.S: – Which collaboration have been the most important experiences for you?
FGR: – I think recently collaborating in a live concert with Miguel Zenón, where he played a new composition entitled En Pie De Lucha which is meant to acknowledge the resilience of the Puerto Rican people after the hurricanes Irma and Maria struck the island back to back and they have been fighting to regain their normality. Miguel played a benefit concert at the Silberman School of Social Work Hunter College on Saturday March 3 and Victor Pablo, percussionist, and I played panderos de plena and barriles de bomba in 2 tunes: Oyelo, and En Pie De Lucha. It was a great experience to share the stage with Miguel and to also support the cause of our own people back home.
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
FGR: – I think that we have to start by creating connections such as the fact that most modern American music has some roots in jazz. Also by emphasizing that jazz music is America’s musical art form. I think that, ironically, jazz is appreciated more outside of USA. We can still do something about this: we have to educate America’s youth about its cultural importance.
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
FGR: – I agree with that sentiment 100%. I think that through music you can definitely express your soul to others and energy in transferred from one living being to another. Go see Concha Buika live and tell me if you don’t get goosebumps when you hear her voice. That’s soul right there.
JBN.S: – What are your expectations of the future? What brings you fear or anxiety?
FGR: – In the future, I will be making more music and trying to make more people happy by doing so. I think that is my purpose in life.
As for fears or anxieties, I fear for the future of our planet and the human race. There is still good people out there but there are a lot of not so good people who don’t care. I hope that the human race can stand together and help solve some of the great problems that we face, such as global warming, a nuclear holocaust, and global pollution. The world is immense but it is also very fragile and we have to take care of it.
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
FGR: – That musicians get payed what they deserve in gigs.
JBN.S: – What’s the next musical frontier for you?
FGR: – Our 4th CD and always to keep improving musically, professionally, as a band-leader and definitely as a human being.
JBN.S: – Are there any similarities between jazz and world music, including folk music?
FGR: – A whole lot. Listen to Indian classical music, Ravi Shankar, listen to the Paco de Lucia, listen to Viento de Agua or Los Pleneros de la 21. I think jazz music is folk music, in a sense, its United Stated folk music.
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
FGR: – I would say the 2 records that I mentioned earlier. Tributary Tales and Típico I have them on repeat on my iPhone… In some time, I will change records; I like to burn records in to my brain and then change, you know?
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
FGR: – Puerto Rico, 1920’s. I would want to see the bomba and plena groups of that era, live!
JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
FGR: – Nothing much, I would just like to thank you Simon for this great review and interview opportunity!
JBN.S: – Thank you for answers.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan