about


“I feel that music can open our hearts. That’s what I want the music to do. We all come from someplace powerful – we just need to find that place inside. My goal is to rest in that openness and let go. The more I practice this, the more my natural faith develops. The music finds its strength in that. That’s what I want to share.”   FK

bio

“I’ve always been mostly interested in how music feels. I looked for the music that moved me the most and tried to understand how it worked. It never mattered where the music came from or who made it. My goal was always to feel both free and grounded at the same time. You have to find your own way to get that feeling when you play. Learning a musical language was a help to get that happening, but never an end in itself. It took me a long time to get to what I considered the bottom-line.” FK

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Born in Montreal in 1956, Kiermyer’s family helped form the foundation for his interest in music.

“My grandfather gave me my first drum when I was 8. He was a great Charleston, Foxtrot and Jitterbug dancer. My mother learned from him and she also became really good. The Saturday morning services in our local Synagogue are some of my earliest memories of the power of music. I always felt very warm in that environment. The singing would get very intense and passionate. There was a drone underlying the chanting that would really move me. Even though I was too young to understand much, I knew there was something special happening.

My father loved New Orleans and Swing music, especially Big Bands. I spent a lot of time listening to his records, from Fats Waller and Kid Ory to Count Basie and Duke Ellington. I loved that music. Sid Catlett. Baby Dodds, Minor Hall and Gene Krupa really impressed me. All of these drummers had a big beat. It felt loose, spontaneous and sure at the same time and I really responded to that. I’ve always gone for that feeling of power and release in my own playing.”

Mostly self-taught, Franklin did have sporadic classical percussion lessons from age twelve until age sixteen, although he never took lessons on the drumset.

“I began studying snare drum with Paul Duplessis, a great percussionist and composer of contemporary chamber music. We focused on drawing the sound out of the instrument and always staying loose. Later on, playing tympani introduced me to the sensation of drum tuning and tone quality. I learned how to let the notes ring out and overlap. I tried to play my drum set with that kind of resonance. I’ve always heard the drums and cymbals as one instrument vibrating together, rather than a set of different instruments.”

His professional career started at supper clubs and private parties with his high school music teacher, Tony Kershaw, a British saxophone player with a great affinity for Stan Getz. The Hungaria social club, a frequent venue, presented great Romani trios that alternated with the standards and jazz tunes Kershaw’s trio played. Franklin was struck by the similarities between the Roma’s music and the sounds of his own roots.

“I felt the same thing in a lot of the Bela Bartok music I was listening to. He cut to the roots of the folk music around him. The Roma players at the Hungaria had a spirit and urgency to their playing that felt familiar to me. It felt like a ritual and a celebration at the same time, like the music in synagogue.”

By his mid-teens, Franklin’s spiritual yearnings found more focus.

“I never really gave up on those questions about life I had as a boy. I thought that all the world’s spiritual traditions had freedom and peace as their goal, but I knew that this couldn’t be reached through philosophical studies – that it would have to be experienced somehow.”

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Books his older brother gave him about Tibetan Buddhism led him to a practice of meditation that would intensify over the years. Around the same time, a close friend introduced him to the mid-60’s music of the John Coltrane Quartet with drummer Elvin Jones. This music had an immediate, profound and lasting impact.

“Records like Transition, Sun Ship and First Meditations became great inspirations for me. This felt like real spiritual music – a spiritual practice of using honesty and faith to transcend concepts and get to the heart of things. I didn’t really think of it as jazz. That openness, honesty and faith became my goal. I felt that if I could share that feeling of freedom, reverence and awe, I’d be doing something worthwhile. I knew that I’d have a long road if I went this way, but I was sure that it was what I should do. I also knew that I’d have to find my own way of reaching that inside myself. I’m still trying. Of course there’s been a lot of discouragement and doubt along the way, but I think that’s helped strengthen my heart.”

Montreal of the 60’s and 70’s was an important part of the East-Coast Jazz scene. Just a fast six hour drive, or one hour flight from New York City, all of the great bands would make it part of their touring itineraries. Growing up seeing legends like Dexter Gordon, Charles Mingus, Philly Joe Jones, Count Basie, Art Blakey, Duke Ellington, Elvin Jones and many others was an invaluable part of Franklin’s education.

After leaving college at eighteen, Kiermyer started to take road trips with U.S.-based R&B bands – musicians he had met when they played Montreal. The next couple of years were spent at different local dives up and down the East Coast.

“It was good to be playing with good musicians and traveling, but I was dissatisfied because the music wasn’t right for me. I felt I could develop more quickly if I could focus my energy more on what I was hearing. I came off the road to live in Montreal again and sort of locked my self away to practice and study. I worked hard at it and after about six months I reached what I thought was a significant milestone.”

On July 21st, his 21st birthday, a fire burned him out of the loft where he was living, destroying all of his belongings, including his drums and all the music he had written up to that time.

“I was sharing the loft with a good friend, a guitar player I had known for a couple of years. He had a couple of close friends that were attending Hampshire college in Amherst, Massachusetts and they invited us to crash there for a while. They told us that we’d be able to play on the instruments in the music studio there, as no one was using them much. We really had nothing after the fire. Both of us lost all our instruments and belongings. My girl friend at the time worked at a clothing store and gave us each a change of clothes and we took the Greyhound for Amherst.

The school was pretty relaxed and no one seemed to mind much that we were there, even though we weren’t registered as students. There was a new jazz program just starting up at Hampshire then, led by the bass player Vishnu Wood. Vishnu was very cool. He let me practice as much as I wanted in one of the music rooms. Not long after we met, he asked me to go to New York City and buy the school an old set of Gretsch drums and some good cymbals. I managed to find a great old kit and that’s what I ended up playing on every day.

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I spent about six months in Amherst and another eight or nine months in Paris, France after that. Then I came back to Montreal. This was an important period for me because I got much deeper into what I was hearing. While in Amherst, I’d make frequent trips to New York City to listen and sit-in. In Paris, I found my way into a bit of pop studio work for some money and had a small practice space set up in the basement of a music store in Pigalle where I spent most of my time. Back in Montreal, there were some really dedicated young musicians on the scene that I had known for a long time and I developed close relationships with a few of them. I think most of them wanted to develop as excellent jazz players, but I was hearing something a bit different. I thought that if I could just work hard enough and not get distracted I’d develop something really strong and compelling. I’m sure some of them thought I was a bit odd in my convictions.”

Soon, Franklin was organizing his own projects with the best players he could. Sometimes encouraged, sometimes humbled, he kept on trying to set up occasions and rise to them. As his vision grew, so did his reach. This became his method of moving ahead – practicing drums and composing to deepen and clarify his vision and improvising with the best musicians he could, to develop his playing.

“I was trying to get my music out there so I tried a lot of different things. At one point, I recorded an album’s worth of my music with saxophonist Carter Jefferson, bassist Juini Booth and my old friend Fred Henke on piano. The next year, I put together a few nights at Grand Café with saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi and guitarist Mick Goodrick. The next year, I recorded duets with percussionist Don Alias and then, a few months after that, duets with guitarist John Abercrombie. I intended both the quartet and the duo recordings for release, but I wasn’t satisfied with my playing.”

When a young musician’s wings grow beyond local territory, New York has always the place to go. Kiermyer had been spending time there, visiting relatives, since he was a kid. In his early twenties, he started taking trips there to get closer to the music. At age twenty-six, he moved there.

“Living in New York was very exciting. So much creative energy and will is focused in that relatively small space and it was great to be able to go around to venues and hear so many excellent musicians. It was also hard making enough money to pay for a place to live and food to eat. For the first few months I was living at a recording studio on 48th street near 9th avenue owned by some friends of mine. It was a great studio with a lot of activity, but not a great place to live peacefully, so I found an inexpensive room in an old building near Wall Street.

I spent a lot of my time doing odd jobs for some money and the rest of my time practicing, playing with the musicians I was meeting and making the few gigs that came around. Still, I felt I was starting to find my way. I remember how excited I was to get the call to join Cuban percussionist Daniel Ponce’s band at the Kool Jazz Festival. Of course I assumed I was being hired to play drums, but my excitement was somewhat tempered when I understood that Daniel wanted me to improvise on a DMX drum machine with him and his three bata players. This was the ‘80s, the time of Grandmaster Flash, Run-D.M.C, The Beastie Boys, and Public Enemy – all of whom came through my friends’ studio.”

“During the 1980s, the jazz community shrank dramatically.” – Wikipedia

“It wasn’t so easy to find gigs. It was still good being in New York, but also a scuffle and after about a year of that I decided I should find a place where I could spend less time scuffling and more time developing. I needed to reach another level in my playing. I moved to Toronto, set up a practice-living space and got down to more focused development again. A good friend of mine in Montreal, a great guitar player named John Farley, told me about Michael Stuart, a Toronto-based saxophone player who had played in Elvin’s band. I looked Mike up and we quickly formed a close connection. He’d come around my loft almost every day and we’d shed together. It was a very good period of development for me. I stayed in Toronto for about a year and reached another level where I could start to do some of what I intended. I had started playing much broader phrases across the bar line. I tried to bring it down to a single event – one phrase in answer to all the rest that would stretch the time and cause it to open. I tried to expand the energy as much as possible while staying focused on the simple song or mantra in the center.”

Following an intense breakup with his girlfriend, who had come with him from New York, Franklin moved back to Montreal.

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“It was a heavy time for me. I was sad and confused and felt a bit aimless. It took me a few months before I really got back down to work. Even though I felt a lot of pressure inside to finally get some recordings out and perform, I still didn’t feel the music was ready. I thought I had finally brought the drumming to some bottom-line, but I still didn’t have a format or repertoire that would work. I imagined music with nobility, reverence, courage, fire and weight, but I didn’t know how to manifest it. I remember being drawn to this one section in the first movement of Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra where the brass build this incredibly majestic ladder. It sounded like the heavens were opening up, or walls were tumbling down to let the light shine through. It reminded me of the story of Jericho. I started writing music for an imagined ensemble with that name.”

In the fall of 1986 Kiermyer recorded the first incarnation of Jericho with a brass quartet led by trombonist Alain Trudel. Using this recording as an introduction, he began splitting his time between Montreal and New York, setting up meetings and rehearsals with many different musicians.

“I needed to find musicians that would work well with what I had in mind. I asked around to try and find the right players and got together with whomever was interested. It was hard to find the right people. I made a short list of the best contemporary chamber music trumpet players in New York, hoping one of them would sound just right and also be interested enough in my music to help me connect with other brass players. At the top of my list was Chris Gekker, then a member of the American Brass Quintet. We had a really good first conversation and he agreed to meet and listen. That was the start of a great friendship.”

Years later, Chris would write of this first encounter:

“Sitting in a coffee shop in 1987, I heard Franklin’s music for the first time. The impact was immediate: the swirling rhythmic interplay, the circular momentum, strong intervals that seemed often to spill upon each other, always driving forward, extending up and beyond. Sitting with this young man I had never met before, I was returned to musical images that have never left me, since long ago when I first heard Afro Blue, hearing Elvin Jones push McCoy Tyner and Trane into that kind of spiral that was travelling somewhere I desperately wanted to follow. I agreed to get the brass section together … all of us felt a strength and focus that we wanted to be part of. Franklin’s vision, in both his playing and his writing, is one of an extended search – I believe this reflects to a large extent the influences that one can readily hear. Who could ever listen to the young John Coltrane, and not feel a yearning, a seeking spirit that transcends categories of whatever people want to call that music. It’s difficult to open up this way – every normal instinct tells us to find a safe harbor. There is in Franklin’s conception an innate refusal to accept this.” – CHRIS GEKKER

Kiermyer moved back to New York City full-time and began a residency that lasted close to 20 years. This was the tail end of the 80′s, the height of what some people called the neo-conservative movement in jazz. It could have been distracting – Franklin’s music was focused more on creation than re-creation – but by then he was strong in his convictions.

“It was still a scuffle to pay the bills, but I had a mission. I tried to get gigs at the many small venues in and around the city. I started recording some of the Jericho music.”

‘Break Down The Walls’, Kiermyer’s first album, released on the German Konnex label, met with some critical acclaim.

“Never has an album been so aptly titled. The music of Franklin Kiermyer, a drummer with an Elvin Jones-like intensity on his drum kit … is like the music of classical composers Bruckner and Mahler, one of searching and extending the search. That he imbues the search with such a range of physical motion and psychological emotion is remarkable … This isn’t free jazz, nor is it out jazz. This is methodically realized composition in the modal jazz idiom that reveals its unquenchable desire in every bar. (Think of Coltrane’s Africa Brass sessions with the spiritual and emotional underpinnings of A Love Supreme and you can glimpse it.)” – ALL MUSIC GUIDE

“Even though some people seemed to like Break Down The Walls, I wasn’t so happy with my playing on it and I felt that I hadn’t really reached my goals with this format. A lot of the music was composed and I couldn’t get a strong and spontaneous feel. I knew I needed to play looser and with more conviction, find a better format and learn more about leading a band.”

His next record, ‘In The House of My Fathers’, with Dave Douglas on trumpet, John Stubblefield on saxophone, John Esposito on piano and Anthony Cox or Drew Gress on bass, was released by Konnex in 1993. This album focused more on improvisation and less on writing. Like Franklin’s first album, it was received well. Although he was encouraged by this marked step forward, he knew there was a lot of room for improvement.

“I was still holding back, trying to direct things from the drums. There was too much conception and not enough freedom. I was still listening instead of hearing. Some people had been telling me about a piano player up in Woodstock that could really contribute to what I was trying to do. John Esposito and I formed a strong connection right away and we spent a lot of time together in the shed. John had come up playing with Arthur Rhames, so he was used to intense practice sessions. Working with John, I eventually reached a point where I felt my playing was doing more of what it was supposed to do. Along with more trajectory and freedom, the drumming had taken on a lot of size.

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John and I spoke about saxophone players who would be able to work with this. Because of the vibe, energy and size of what we were doing, we both agreed the obvious choice would be Pharoah Sanders. Even though I knew he was probably out of my reach, I somehow managed to get Pharoah’s phone number and I called him up. I introduced myself, described what I felt was the motivation behind my playing and told him I wanted to make a record with him but didn’t have a big budget. For whatever reasons, he told me to come to his house the next day for lunch. We met and talked some, but mostly just sat together for a while. Over the next few weeks we got together and rehearsed a few times and then went into the studio.

Drew was a friend of John’s. He’s a very special musician, in that he is an excellent bassist and very open as well. Drew can play in a very creative and soulful way without being locked into a style and his time is good. When we played, he wasn’t derailed or distracted by the intensity or dimensionality of what I was doing. Those qualities are very important.”

It would be 1994′s ‘Solomon’s Daughter’, featuring Coltrane alumnus Pharoah Sanders on tenor saxophone (Evidence Music), that would finally begin to satisfy some of Kiermyer’s criteria. Reaction to this album was very strong, garnering highly favorable reviews, even beyond the jazz media.

The church of Coltrane has a street-sharp new priest: Franklin Kiermyer, a charismatic, 38-year-old drummer who is bringing the late saxophone god’s style of eruptive jazz rapture into the realm of pure rhythm. Saxist Pharoah Sanders, an original ‘Trane disciple, contributes elder cred-not that it’s necessary here. Kiermyer plays (and composes) with an almost evangelical belief in jazz as a form of pure inspiration. – ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY

“With Solomon’s Daughter, I felt I could finally do some of what I intended. It had taken me a long time to get to that stage. It had always been difficult to find people that could play with a high enough level of energy, conviction and faith so that I could really open up. Pharoah could do that – perhaps one of only a few people who could. Even though the structures of my drumming were still somewhat vague and I wasn’t able to control the energies, I felt that I had reached a milestone. Pharoah was very happy with what we had accomplished and that was gratifying. We made plans to perform together. Our first date was a release concert in New York City. For some reason, he pulled out at the last minute. I’m still not sure why. I didn’t know who to call to fill in. At that time, Joe Lovano had just come to great prominence. It turned out he was a fan of Solomon’s Daughter. He graciously agreed to join me and it went very well.”

Franklin Kiermyer Quintet featuring Joe Lovano – Sweet Basil, NYC: “Kiermyer supercharges spiritual modality … I predict it won’t be long before he’s a headliner.” – DOWN BEAT

Following Solomon’s Daughter, momentum gathered quickly and Franklin began to receive offers to perform as a leader at leading venues and festivals.

“I needed to get out there and perform, so I put together a quartet with Michael Stuart on saxophone, John Esposito on piano and Dom Richards on bass, hoping that we’d be able to advance the music together. We worked hard on a new repertoire, trying to open up the energy and sharpen the focus. Taking this next step wasn’t easy. The music needed a high level of energy and faith and I saw after a while that it was a real challenge to get it there. We were playing gigs around and certain things were progressing, but overall it was frustrating. This was showing in my attitude. I was often irritable and discouraged because I knew that what I was putting out there wasn’t right.

During this period I was listening to a lot of traditional spiritual music of different cultures. That was my study. I was also getting together to play with many different people in a rehearsal setting, looking for some alternatives, but nothing really seemed to fit any better. I didn’t give up on the quartet. I hoped that it would grow over time. Eventually, the label wanted another record and so I began working on Kairos.”

The repertoire for Kairos (1995, Evidence) grew out of Kiermyer’s study focus. Pieces that intertwine his drumming with historic field recordings of various traditional ritual music alternate with simple themes improvised on by the quartet. Two of the cuts include saxophonist Eric Person and there’s also one sextet cut that includes Sam Rivers. The momentum that had been triggered by the release of Solomon’s Daughter was further fueled by Kairos’ reception.

“Most happenings are beyond expression; they exist where a word has never intruded,” Rilke said – recalling this year’s favorite inexplicables: Franklin Kiermyer Kairos the drummer pulses and pushes his group into middle Impulse!-era Coltraneland. What a journey, what a view.” – WASHINGTON CITY PAPER

“We were playing around more and more and after about a year I felt I should try to take the next step, with even less writing – relying more on the spontaneity. I thought that might help open things up more and let the natural energy come out.”

Kiermyer’s growing interest in the techniques of recording his music led him to purchase a used 8-track digital recorder, some microphones and other gear. He started recording rehearsals.

“I wanted to learn how to record what we were doing, as we were doing it. That way, we’d be playing in a natural, relaxed way – no studio time pressures, no headphones, no isolation booths – and capturing the spontaneity more. I was expecting the music to grow into a very free but deep-rooted heart-song, but it wasn’t really working like that. I was hearing something different, but I wasn’t able to communicate that, or the others were just hearing some other things. We just weren’t reaching the levels of energy and faith the music needed.”

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Franklin’s frustration was still there, but his attitude was changing. Instead of looking to change the music or the musicians to move things ahead, his focus shifted.

“This is when I really started to understand the deeper elements behind the music. I started to see that I’d have to address the personal underlying conditions that allow music like that to manifest. I realized I had to open my heart and mind more. I had been looking around me for what was holding the music back, but ultimately it was me. I turned further toward spiritual practice. I remember I was living up in Harlem at the time – 129th & Lennox. I started spending more and more of my time alone in my flat, meditating and studying.”

Back in touch with Karma Triyana Dharmachakra, Franklin was offered an opportunity to record with one of the chief ritual musicians of the Kagyu lineage, Umdze Lodro Samphel, who was soon to visit from his home at Rumtek monastery in Sikkim. The Kagyu lineage, one of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism, follows the path of the 11th century lord of yogins, Milarepa. Greatly inspired by his example and teachings, Kiermyer developed a plan for a recording based on the liturgy for the Milarepa puja. This recording, featuring his drumming with Umdze Lodro Samphel and other monks of the Kagyu lineage playing ritual instruments, was released as Auspicious Blazing Sun (1999, Sunship).

“Absolutely amazing stuff!” – Michael Cuscuna – MOSAIC, BLUE NOTE, IMPULSE, VERVE

“During this time, I was very fortunate to meet a great Tibetan Buddhist teacher. In him, I saw the depth and openness I knew was at the source of great music. I would ask him for his instructions on how to practice. He’d tell me what to do and I’d go and do my best to fulfill that. When I completed a set of instructions, I’d go back to him and ask him again how to proceed. This went on for a few years and the instructions became more and more direct and challenging. As my experience slowly grew, I became happier and more flexible. Following his instructions like this, I spent most of the next twelve years focused mainly on meditation and practice, often in remote solitary retreats in the Himalayas and other parts of Southeast Asia.”

Halfway through this period, Franklin returned to New York briefly and recorded Sanctification (1999, Sunship) with Michael Stuart, John Esposito and Fima Ephron on bass.

“His quest is grounded in spiritual music … In the tradition of the ecstatic expressions of post-Coltrane acolytes such as Pharoah Sanders-a previous Kiermyer collaborator-Sanctification establishes a roiling atmosphere of a journey to enlightenment.” – JAZZTIMES

“I was becoming freer in my conception by then. I had these very simple themes for us to play on and I meant it as a kind of invocation. I was feeling that things were changing. The part of my life where I was chasing was ending and the part where I was finding was beginning.

As my meditation practice slowly deepened, I became more confident in that feeling of openness. At one point, my teacher suggested I stop playing drums. He said, ‘Many people know how to play drums, but those that know that drumming is impermanent and empty of self-nature are miraculous.’ I had never been challenged like this before. I thought I was leaving drums behind forever. This was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done, but it was worth it. When I eventually got back to playing after about six months, I had taken a big step in my looseness, openness and faith in the moment.

I was studying the Uttaratantra Shastra at the time, which is translated into English as the Treatise on the Sublime Continuum. Known as the Gyu Lama in Tibetan, this text is a commentary on the Buddha’s teachings describing primordial nature. I think many musicians feel that music comes from that primordial nature we all share. My teacher asked me to make music using the twelve verses that refer to the metaphor of a drum.”

‘One who has arrived at the True Nature is like Indra, a drum, clouds, and Brahma – and like the sun, a precious jewel – and an echo, space, and also the earth.’ – Maitreya’s GYU LAMA

Great Drum of the Secret Mirror (2002, Sunship) has each of the twelve ‘drum’ verses of the Gyu Lama set in a different traditional spiritual music. Ranging from a South Indian Carnatic inspired temple dance to an African inspired balafon and drum ensemble, this album features only a little of Kiermyer’s drumming – notably the last piece entitled ‘Aspiration to Fulfill the Guru’s Instructions’. The vision of a global ecstatic music orchestra made up of master musicians from various spiritual traditions inspired him during this creation. This inspiration was the impetus for him to form Great Drum Foundation, a non-profit corporation dedicated to realizing that vision.

“I created Great Drum Foundation to help integrate my activities. I wanted the music and my spiritual practice to be more closely related to what I was producing and sharing.”

Over the next few years, GDF was the focus of Franklin’s work. Activities ranged from weekly Sunday afternoon concerts called ‘Sound Revelation – NYC’ that featured different musicians from New York City’s many spiritual communities to performances featuring master musicians from other countries, entitled ‘Masters of Spirit’.

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In the Fall of 2004, at age forty-eight, Franklin stepped away from GDF and his other musical pursuits to follow his spiritual path more fully.

“I had good experiences with Great Drum Foundation. It was a lofty goal and a lot of my time was taken up with business things. Looking back, I can see that I’d always been more interested in going further into the source of the music than developing the business side of things. I felt I had come to a junction because my playing had grown deeper, but I was certain that it was meditation and my other practices that helped me develop more than anything else I was doing. I knew that my career required much more attention, but meditation was leading me toward a deeper experience.

Then my teacher suggested a course of action that sliced right through my indecision. He told me about an isolated mountain retreat on an island off the Pacific coast of Canada. He thought I should move to that area, do short retreats in that place, and work at any simple job in between. He handed me some money for a plane ticket and a couple of months sustenance and said it would be good to do that for three years.

My girlfriend at the time was Norwegian. We had originally met in Kathmandu many years before and she would spend time with me whenever she could, wherever I was. Not long after I moved to BC, she came to visit.”

It was during that visit that they conceived their daughter. The mother was adamant about living in Norway, so he moved to Oslo in June of 2006. They seperated soon after Hanna was born, but Franklin decided to live in Norway to be there for his daughter. In 2008 he met his wife. Their daughter, Ava was born the next year.

“I’m certainly happy that I did focus more and more on my spiritual practice and I’m happy I decided to be there with my family. I really feel these have done more to deepen my music than anything else I’ve ever done. Being together with my wife and daughters, and ensuring my girls grow up as sisters, has allowed me to go a bit more beyond myself. That’s what I want the music to feel like.

I had been focused more on meditation and my daughters, but my goals and motivation never left. It felt like the right time to focus more on music again, but this time more from the basis of what I had experienced in my spiritual practice. I put together a good workspace with some recording equipment and began inviting some local players to woodshed with me. After some time, I began to take it out to the local venues.”

Pretty soon, it was time to assemble a strong band to take the next step. The opportunity arose to bring Azar Lawrence, Benito Gonzalez and his old friend, Juini Booth together to perform and then record some of his new music. Franklin then sent some rough mixes to Michael Cuscuna who was moved to sign on as co-producer to help guide the album to fruition. The fruit of this collaboration is Further, his 2014 album released on his Mobility Music label.

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“What brought Azar, Benito, Juini and I together most of all, is this sense of music as a spiritual practice. I was very grateful that Michael and I could work together. His reputation as a champion of the music and a great producer is well founded and he has been a great help to me over the years.”

“Franklin Kiermyer conveys a spiritual feeling through his music that reaches each listener in different ways. He has a way of expressing his work without being locked into a musical category. What’s unique about Franklin’s music is that as different as various settings are, it always sounds like it is him. The language created by John Coltrane with works like Sun Ship and First Meditations and by Pharoah Sanders with albums like Karma opened an avenue that proved popular and innovative in the late ’60s and early ’70s, but few chose to expand upon that language until Franklin settled in New York City in the 1990s and recorded Solomon’s Daughter with Mr. Sanders on tenor sax. Franklin has steadily built upon that foundation and this latest chapter in his musical step is a breakthrough. With this project, he is building a body of work that is wide-ranging with a singularity of purpose and an ensemble with which he can tour.” Michael Cuscuna

“After Further, I felt very motivated. I wanted to take the next step, but needed a fresh canvas – somehow less referential and more reverential. I started spending more time in New York, checking out a lot of younger players and trying some different things. I was fortunate to assemble a strong group willing to develop this with me.”

Closer to The Sun is Kiermyer’s latest album, again co-produced with Michael Cuscuna. It documents the period from October to November, 2015. During a five-week period, saxophonist Lawrence Clark, pianist Davis Whitfield, bassist Otto Gardner and Franklin came together each weekday to record for three hours. Most of the songs were created on the spot by Franklin and the group.

“I came in with new themes and songs and we played through a lot of it, but I saw that we’d be better served to focus on the interaction and let that evolve the pieces organically. I’d sing a melody or play an idea on the piano or the drums and the band would develop on those themes. Sometimes, I’d take something one of the others played and used my reactions to that as a starting point.

The development of Closer To The Sun was a really great experience for me. To have the time and space to work in such a focused way with a group of such soulful, brave, passionate and sensitive musicians is really the only way this music can become what it’s supposed to do.

Over the years, I never gave up on my goals. I shifted my focus to working through what was holding the music back. If you listen, you’ll hear it’s further now. I’ve had a vision of what the music could do – what it could feel like, for a long time. I’ve developed a way of playing the drums and writing songs to cause that experience, in some different ways. It feels like all the things I’ve worked on and learnt have led to this period where it all comes together in a more organic way and I’m grateful for that.”

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PHAROAH SANDERS • AZAR LAWRENCE • REGGIE WORKMAN • JOE LOVANO • BOBO STENSON • TISZIJI MUÑOZ • DEWEY REDMAN • DON ALIAS • CHRIS GEKKER • JOHN ESPOSITO • DAVIS WHITFIELD • OTTO GARDNER • JOVAN ALEXANDRE • NAT BIRCHALL • LAWRENCE CLARK • JUINI BOOTH • BENITO GONZALEZ • VERNON REID • HILARIO SOTO • DREW GRESS • FIMA EPHRON • DAVE FIUZCYNSKI • FAMORO DIOUBATE • UMDZE LODRO SAMPHEL • ANTHONY COX • BENNY BARBARA • JIM FINN • SYLVAIN LEROUX • PER TJERNBERG • BOB MOVER • BENGT BERGER • MICHAEL STUART • HASSAN HAKMOUN • JOHN STUBBLEFIELD • PETER MADSEN • DAVE DOUGLAS • JOHN ROJAK • HILL GREENE • JOHN ABERCROMBIE • DOM RICHARDS • IVAN SYMONDS • T.V. GOPALAKRISHNAN • TOM CHESS • RUFUS CAPPADOCIA • BAO’AN CAO • DEBASHISH BATTACHARYA • BILLY ROBINSON • ANTHONY COX • LISLE ELLIS • JOHN FARLEY • ERIC ST LAURENT • NIMROD SPEAKS • TOM CHESS • FRED HENKE • TONY KERSHAW • JERRY BERGONZI • PETER EPSTEIN • STEVE HALL & many more I am grateful to.

writing

the spirit of drumming

In the spring of 2014, I was asked to write a guest column for Canadian Musician Magazine’s three following issues. Here’s my contribution…

The Spirit of Drumming – What it is

by: Franklin Kiermyer © 2014
Canadian Musician Magazine – vol. XXXVI – No. 4

So, this is not about flamadiddles or ratamacues. It’s not about what heads are best, or the latest 13/8 shuffle rhythm. It’s not even about getting the gig and keeping the gig. In fact, it’s more about making music than playing drums.

I’ve named this column “The Spirit of Drumming” for two reasons. Firstly, I think the most important thing a musician can focus on is the feel – the spirit or heart – of the music. Secondly, I play the drums.

Yes. I play drums. I remember writing that sentence on the back of my practice pad when I was a kid. It felt like a manifesto – a declaration of purpose.

As a young teenager in the last part of the hippie days, growing up in the environment of the ‘revolution’, I was deeply inspired by the incredible freedom music of the late 60’s (John Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix, etc.). My goal was to be able to answer ‘yes’ to the question “Are You Experienced”, the title of the debut album by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. That album, released in 1967, is still regarded as one of the greatest debuts in recorded music. 1967 is also the year John Coltrane passed-on. I was eleven years old. By the time I was 15, my main goal was to play music with that much soul-fire.

Of course, at that tender age I had no idea how deep and vast an undertaking that was and how much I’d have to learn. I also didn’t realize how lucky I was. I was born at a time and in a place where I had enough to eat, a stable roof over my head and I wasn’t dodging bullets or bombs. Also, with just a little effort, I could listen to a recording of a great performance of pretty much any music that grabbed my attention. I suppose that most of you have enjoyed these same lucky circumstances. Now, many years later, I see that there was one piece of luck that was even more rare. I was lucky to learn, from older and much wiser musicians, the three most important lessons a musician can learn:

1. Always loose and relaxed. The heart of the music comes from openness, honesty and bravery.

2. The music is already here. It’s everywhere. We are channeling it, setting it free and releasing it from the instrument – not making it or putting it in.

3. We need to be hearing, not listening – feeling, not thinking.

Volumes can be written about each of these points and lifetimes can be (and should be) spent on the path they signify, but these three points sum it all up. Sounds like a spiritual quest, doesn’t it?

Music has always been used to conjure the spirits and fan the flames. We can assume that early on in human history there were no divisions between sacred music and popular music. It was all spirit and magic.

I think musicians have always tried to get deep in their soul and share that magic with others. I think that’s the whole point for most of us. Whether you’re playing church music or death metal, it’s all about spirit and magic.

Ask a musician if their music is spiritual and most will say “Yes, of course!” Some will say, “what could be more spiritual than the groove?” or “I always play with spirit!” Some will say that everything in life is spiritual; some will say music is spiritual because it taps into the source. Others will say that when the music feels good it’s spiritual and still others will say that soulful music is spirit music.

I’ve heard all kinds of musicians say these things – touring arena pop drummers, avant-garde jazz drummers, virtuoso fusion drummers, classical percussionists and Yoruba Santeria drummers alike.

I’m sure that, on some level, they’re all speaking of the same thing. When we’re young – before we can really get much happening on our instruments and with other musicians – we hear music that moves us. For those of us that are so moved as to devote our lives to ‘making it happen’, these first feelings are a big part of what we try to emulate. We want to feel that feeling even more and share it with others.

Most musicians I’ve spoken with about this try to describe this peak experience where it seems like the separations between them and the music, them and the other musicians, them and the audience just falls away or disappears and the flow seems almost timeless. We can try to describe it, but it’s beyond words.

When the music is really ‘in the zone’, what is it we’ve conjured? Isn’t that feeling the same passion of faith and freedom that lies at the very core of our human being?

So, it’s this feeling — the vibe or spirit of the music that motivates us. I’m convinced that to get that happening there are three points to remember above all else:

1. Always loose and relaxed. The heart of the music comes from openness, honesty and bravery.

2. The music is already here. It’s everywhere. We are channeling it, setting it free and releasing it from the instrument – not making it or putting it in.

3. We need to be hearing, not listening – feeling, not thinking.

Dig? So, that’s all for now, sisters & brothers of the drum. I’ll say more next issue.

The Spirit of Drumming – The most direct and perfectly natural music I have ever heard

by: Franklin Kiermyer © 2014
Canadian Musician Magazine – vol. XXXVI – No. 5

I’ve always been drawn to passionate spiritual music. Whether from the Americas, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, the Indian Sub-Continent, Europe or beyond, I’ve found transformative soul music coming from all over the world. I’ve felt that special vibe while listening to John Coltrane, to Qawwali and Gnawa music of the Sufis, to Jimi Hendrix, to South Indian Nadaswaram and the blues from the American South. I’ve felt it listening to Korean Mudang music and in the passionate music of the church, the mosque and the synagogue.

The music that catches our ear and moves our heart when we’re young goes far towards defining the music we aspire to make ourselves. As a young man, I encountered a certain music that transformed my vision of what music could do and still drives me to go deeper. I think sharing music that has transformed us is valuable unto itself, but I also want to share some of what this music has taught me on a more practical level.

Perhaps you’re already familiar with the music of the hunter-gatherers living in the Central African rainforests. These people, and various others in Asia and Oceania, have been called Pygmies, but that term is derogatory. There are at least a dozen distinct groups living in the rain forests of Central Africa.

The most direct and perfectly natural music I have ever heard comes from the Aka and Baka (Mbenga people) of the western Congo basin, and the Efe (Mbuti People) of the Ituri rainforest. I have never heard music so stripped of artifice and guile – music so organic that the lines we often draw between the sacred and the mundane are nonexistent.

I do not exaggerate when I say that this music has changed my life. It has been a primary source for understanding how music really works – in its magic, art and science – and it continues to inspire me and help deepen my music-making to this day.

The people I’m speaking of relate with their surroundings as provider and protector. For them, environment and day-to-day experience are not separate from the divine. No matter how we so-called moderns relate with our particular concepts of the divine, we generally think that communing with it requires some special circumstances. They do not.

For these people, music making is an integral and essential part of most day-to-day activities. Finding food, cooking, washing, learning and playing, as well as special occasions like births, deaths and other celebrations are all enveloped in music. To me, that by itself is huge. Still more amazing is how this music moves me – how it makes me feel. But what really changed my chemistry happened when I decided to play along with recordings of this music to get deeper into these incredible feelings.

I was particularly enthralled by the polyphonic singing of the Baka. While it always sounded beautiful and ‘right’ to me, it also puzzled me. It seemed that each person had their own song and would often just join in whenever they felt like it, without much regard for beginnings or endings – of phrases or songs. The same was true for the various drumming and other instrumental music I had on recordings.

If I tried to play along with what I was hearing, or tried to copy one of the parts, it never worked. I would always be an outsider and somehow get lost. But if I just gave myself over to the feeling of the music and jumped right in with my own part – no matter if I understood what the others were doing or not – miraculously, it all worked. It blew my mind that it didn’t matter if I was in the same time signature as anyone else or even knew what the time signature was. It didn’t even matter where I thought ‘one’ was. It didn’t matter if I understood the song, the parts or the rhythm, as long as I was resting in what I was doing and feeling the others. All I had to do was open my heart to the music and have faith in my intuition. Think about that for a moment.

This is some of the most soulful and deeply grooving music I’ve ever heard, but it’s functioning doesn’t rely as much on prescribed parts or structures or rules or even a “one” as much as it does on openness and feel and heart. For me, this was a game-changer.

Please go and listen to some of this music. You can find some examples by searching the web for videos of “Mbuti music”, “Baka music” or “music of the Ituri”. Try to sing or play along with it. See what happens when you try to figure out what they’re doing. Then see what happens when you just believe in the magic of what’s going on and simply sing or play whatever you feel at the same time as the others.

I know it can seem like these people are worlds apart from us – how we live, what we know and what we want – but through feeling their music, I think you’ll see that we are all mostly the same.

Dig? So, that’s all for now, sisters & brothers of the drum. I’ll say more next issue.

The Spirit of Drumming – Intention

by: Franklin Kiermyer © 2014
Canadian Musician Magazine – vol. XXXVI – No. 6

This is my third and final guest article here. I’ve enjoyed the experience and learned through my ruminations. I’ve used this opportunity to share some of my thoughts about the spirit or heart of music. That’s because even though articles about technique can be really helpful, what’s harder to learn, and much more important, is how to let the music come from the heart and share it with others. It’s all about the feeling. Great music feels great. That’s it’s defining characteristic. I’ve heard very simple music that required little technical expertise and was absolutely great and I’ve heard very complicated music that required incredible virtuosity and was also truly great.

In music, like everything else, result follows intention. What you are trying to do defines your actions and your actions create the result. In other words, great things don’t usually happen by accident. It’s also true that the more we understand why we are trying to do something, the more likelihood we’ll accomplish it. That’s because the real power of intention is activated by feeling righteous about your motivation.

There’s more power in doing something for the betterment of all rather than solely oneself. Looking into our motivation leads us to be conscious about the real value of our intention. When we’re sure our motivation is noble, we can use the power of that righteous conviction to fuel our path.

If we are motivated by a desire to do something positive for the benefit of everyone, not only will we have the power of that intention, but our result will have that flavor too. If, on the other hand, our motivation is more selfish or self-aggrandizing, we will struggle against our own reflection and that’s how the result will feel.

Spending time sharpening one’s clarity of intention is very worthwhile. If my goal is just to be a musician, there’s not much chance I’ll be a great one. I’d have to be much more focused in my intent to achieve that. Examples of a more focused intent could be as simple as “I want to play the drums in a way that feels as good as …” (fill in the blank with your favorite drummer), or more refined as in “I want to develop a way of playing that combines the great feeling of so-and-so’s groove with so-and-so’s passionate soloing.” Focusing intent is an evolving practice. The more you do it, the more refined and illuminated the path.

It’s also extremely beneficial to spend time looking into one’s motivation. If I want to play drums because it would be cool and fun and I’ll be rich and admired, my chances of playing great music will be pretty slim, mostly because this is completely self-serving. It doesn’t connect with others. On the other hand, if I love the feeling of hearing great music and I want to experience making music this beautiful and sharing it with others, I will have already taken the first step towards realizing my dream. The power comes from wanting to create and share something great. It feels righteous. Understanding our motivation is also an evolving practice. The more you try to look inside at why you want to do this, the more an honest and powerful feeling of faith grows in what you’re doing.

At a certain age, most of us feel the need to understand our motivations. Many arrive at some type of easy conclusion early on and leave it there. For others, understanding what makes us tick is part of our evolving self-knowledge that never ends. A deepening knowledge of my own motivation has informed my playing and continues to do so. It changes it. It helps it be more honest and real. The point is, you can feel that in someone’s music.

Learning about the intentions and motivations of our role models can help us understand more about the power of this intention/motivation equation and our own mindset. What did they set out to do and why? What are we setting out to do and why do we want to do it?

The second point of research – why – is usually harder to discover, especially in ourselves. That’s because often, we’d prefer not to look at what might be our less-than-noble motivations. That’s when the most controversial key of all comes into play: Vulnerability.

Vulnerability is a key because it opens the door to both honest reflection and sharing your feelings with others. You have to let yourself confront the difficult feelings to work through them. That’s true of developing your paradiddles and also true of developing an understanding of why you’re practicing paradiddles in the first place.

If we want to make music that feels great we need to open up to that great feeling as well as confront the obstacles that come up as we try to manifest it ourselves. That takes courage. Then, if we want to share that feeling with others, we need the courage to open up to them. The only way to open up is to let down your guard. That’s vulnerability. The more you experience this, the stronger you grow and the more the feeling flows. That’s the path to greatness.

It’s about love. It’s the only thing that works. It’s about loving that feeling, loving your courageous heart that motivates your quest, loving the music making and loving the activity of sharing it with others. The more passionate the love, the greater the music. It’s not about paradiddles.

That’s all for now, my sisters & brothers of the drum. I wish you all the best & peace always.

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drumming

this is what I think a drummer should practice …

Start by singing a simple improvised motif or song fragment that is the most natural to you, like a chant or a prayer. Dig deeper until you hear the heart of it that moves you the most.

This is the beginning of finding your sound. Finding your internal song is the key and the quest. It should feel like a very familiar theme or song to you, not a drum pattern.

Always remember these 4 essential points:

1. Always stay loose and relaxed

2. Bring the sound out of the instrument, don’t try to put it in

3. Each note should sing out fully

4. Hear – don’t listen. Feel – don’t think

Then. do these while singing your song:

• Play it on the snare drum – loose

• Then play it on the snare with bass drum & hi-hat

• Then play it using different parts of the kit

• Bring it down to its essential groove and repeat

• To get deeper into it, try stopping in different places

• Also starting in different places

• Then try it with more notes and less notes

• Finally, drill down to its core to develop clarity and fluidity

If you have any questions, just drop me a line on the contact page


On retreat, inside of my cave in the mountain behind Tso Pema, Himachal Pradesh, India.

questions

great doubt?
then certainly great awakening!

Every once in a while, someone asks me why I seemed to drop off the map from 2001 until about 2013. Even if you don’t know me well, or know much about my music, it’s easy to see that I didn’t release an album during those 12 years. I wrote some about that period in my bio. I reached a sort of milestone way back in 1994. I felt that I had reached a point in my playing and writing where I could realize some of what I intended, but it was just a beginning. I had to go further. I tried, but realized that it was not a matter of learning to play drums better, or write better songs. I had to grow as a human being. I needed to evolve and transform on a spiritual level.”

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I’d already been practicing meditation and studying the teachings of the Buddha since my teenage years and had many opportunities to learn from exceptional masters, especially of the Karma Kagyu tradition. In 1998 I was extremely fortunate to meet a great Tibetan Buddhist teacher – a man who was so obviously my teacher – who agreed to guide me. In him, I saw the depth and openness I knew was at the source of all the great music I adored. By 2001, I was spending most of my time meditating and practicing following his instructions, very often in remote solitary retreats in the Himalayas and other parts of Southeast Asia.

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I’d already been practicing meditation and studying the teachings of the Buddha since my teenage years and had many opportunities to learn from exceptional masters, especially of the Karma Kagyu tradition. In 1998 I was extremely fortunate to meet a great Tibetan Buddhist teacher – a man who was so obviously my teacher – who agreed to guide me. In him, I saw the depth and openness I knew was at the source of all the great music I adored. By 2001, I was spending most of my time meditating and practicing following his instructions, very often in remote solitary retreats in the Himalayas and other parts of Southeast Asia.

drums

about my drums & cymbals…

My first drums were bongos my grandfather got for me when I was 9-years-old. They were champagne sparkle with calf heads and a red-painted interior. The 2 drums were held together by a block of wood that had a bolt + wing nut through it. I’d sometimes take the drums apart to pretend it was a drum kit. for the next couple of years, all I wanted was to get a real kit. I’d play on chairs and borrow a snare drum, if there was one to borrow. My first real traps were a WFL kit I bought from a school friend’s uncle when I was 12-years-old. My dad helped me carry them home. I’ve had a lot of drum kits in the 45-odd years I’ve been playing. If it’s interesting to anyone, I’ll write more about them here. For now, here’s a catalog picture of the first new kit I bought. A set of Fibes with a black fur-like ‘fivel’ finish. I was 15. I worked all summer and saved every penny to put down a deposit on them.

Currently, I play custom kits manufactured by C+C Drums, Istanbul Agop cymbals and my signature sticks manufactured by R-Stick. I am grateful to be an artist-endorsee of these fine companies and enjoy being involved in the evolution of some of their products.

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My new C+C drum kit was designed by Bill Cardwell, Gregg Keplinger and myself. The shells, made by C+C in-house, are Maple with an outer layer of Bubinga. I have one snare like that and one copper-over-brass, that I use when it sounds best in a room.

For many years, I used a 10″ and 12″ tom. In 2015 I began using a 12″ and 13″ instead. I’ve also been using 2 floor toms, a 14″ on my right and 16″ on my left, next to my HiHat. for a long time now. C+C has just made me a 15″ to use next to the 14″. I’ve used an 18″ bass drum for as long as I can remember. My current snares are all 5.5″ x 14″. My basic cymbal set-up has remained the same for many years as well. I use a 22″ medium ride, a 22″ crash/ride and a 22″ very thin, dark and ‘airy’ china-type next to my ride. My HiHats are 14″. I’ve tried a lot of different bass drum pedals over the years, but I’ve always returned to the ubiquitous single-spring, strapped, no-cam, Gretsch/Camco design that has been ably reproduced by a number of companies, including DW and Yamaha.

I’ve been very fortunate to have the support of a number of innovative drum and drum-related companies over the years. I am thankful to Istanbul Agop Cymbals • C+C Drums • Paiste Cymbals • Erickson Music • Canopus Drums • GMS Drums • Humes + Berg Cases • Pearl Drums • Mapex Stands • R-Stick • Regal Tip-Calato.

Whether or not I dive more into my drum and cymbal history, I certainly will write more about the instruments I use now. Especially because I am so involved in their evolution.

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My new C+C drum kit was designed by Bill Cardwell, Gregg Keplinger and myself. The shells, made by C+C in-house, are Maple with an outer layer of Bubinga. I have one snare like that and one copper-over-brass, that I use when it sounds best in a room.

For many years, I used a 10″ and 12″ tom. In 2015 I began using a 12″ and 13″ instead. I’ve also been using 2 floor toms, a 14″ on my right and 16″ on my left, next to my HiHat. for a long time now. C+C has just made me a 15″ to use next to the 14″. I’ve used an 18″ bass drum for as long as I can remember. My current snares are all 5.5″ x 14″. My basic cymbal set-up has remained the same for many years as well. I use a 22″ medium ride, a 22″ crash/ride and a 22″ very thin, dark and ‘airy’ china-type next to my ride. My HiHats are 14″. I’ve tried a lot of different bass drum pedals over the years, but I’ve always returned to the ubiquitous single-spring, strapped, no-cam, Gretsch/Camco design that has been ably reproduced by a number of companies, including DW and Yamaha.

I’ve been very fortunate to have the support of a number of innovative drum and drum-related companies over the years. I am thankful to Istanbul Agop Cymbals • C+C Drums • Paiste Cymbals • Erickson Music • Canopus Drums • GMS Drums • Humes + Berg Cases • Pearl Drums • Mapex Stands • R-Stick • Regal Tip-Calato.

Whether or not I dive more into my drum and cymbal history, I certainly will write more about the instruments I use now. Especially because I am so involved in their evolution.