From Mike Clark, world-renowned jazz and funk drummer who played with Herbie Hancock's "The Headhunters" in the 70s.
I first met Bob in Oakland. I had gone to his house years ago to meet him after hearing about what a great musician he was from a mutual friend. Within the first few minutes of walking in the door, over a strong cup of coffee, we started talking music and every period of jazz we could think of—Bob knows our musical history on a profound level. Then we moved on to his studio where he had at least three or four sets of drums, and some of the finest cymbals I have ever played. When we started playing, I immediately I knew this guy had an immense talent and had been playing his entire life. He addressed be bop, post bop and more. I was delighted—playing with an accomplished peer is always a joy—and we played for hours! Bob Kaufman is a natural musician, and one of our greatest drummers. He is also a natural teacher which is a rare gift.
From Max Gaenslen, drummer and former student
Thank you so much for your email. You made my day. It has long been on my bucket list to make contact and let you know how much you’ve meant to me over the years. I studied with you in your basement in Richmond, CA (that room had a magic) for probably two or three years, circa ’94-’96. It is a regret of mine that I didn’t study with you longer.
One lesson I came into the room and you had your CD player repeating a brief segment of a drum intro, I’m pretty sure it was Roy Haynes’ ‘Snap Crackle’ from Out of the Afternoon. We spent the whole lesson working on one brief phrase. You were amazing; you would tell me that I needed to lay a little further back on one offbeat 8th note, but another one was closer to right down the middle—you could hear exactly where I put everything (being listened to that deeply is an amazing thing). You really got me listening to where I put, and how I shaded every note. Your lessons are with me every time I practice. It’s so much more satisfying to practice slow and make every note land beautifully than to try to ram a bunch of notes.
We would sometimes have evenings at your house in which you’d invite a few students over to sit in with your Threedom trio. Sometimes we’d all prepare a tune, like Softly . . . , then discuss what happened with each person’s rendition. One time I dropped into something where I could just hear exactly how my ride cymbal should fall with Bill’s quarter notes on the bass—and that, with the hi-hat on two and four, was basically all I played. I was hardly “doing” anything, but it was some of my best playing ever. I’d heard all the adages like: less is more, serve the music, it’s not about you. But I didn’t get it until I got it. And when I got it, it was in service to something larger.
You really taught me how to listen to myself, and how to make that resonate with the larger context. And that has transcended the drums.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Lots of love,
From Jeffrey Lien, drummer, educator, and former student
I can clearly remember the first time I ever walked into Bob Kaufman's office at Berklee. It was the fall of 1999 and I was very excited to finally begin my studies at the school. Not knowing what to expect and a little nervous, I made my way to Bob's office through the corridor of dark hallways in the basement of the 1140 Boylston building. A few knocks on the door received no answer, but I could hear someone inside. . . . Figuring maybe Bob just wanted me to come in, I cracked the door and was suddenly blasted with Elvin Jones at full volume! I believe the song was "Three Card Molly" and Bob was sitting quietly at his desk looking at me with hands folded and eyebrows raised. Although I was a nervous wreck, Bob looked very peaceful and comfortable in his dimly lit drum space. As I stepped further into the drum cave I was surprised to see an x-ray image of a wrist/arm, which was taped crooked against a light up xray screen on the wall. Written on the xray in permanent marker was the phrase, "Use this!" I remember thinking, "Jeeze, I'm not in Wyoming anymore!" Bob didn't turn off the music, but instead sat quietly as I scuffled around not knowing what to do next. Finally, I found my way to a drum stool and settled in, placing my stick bag at my feet. I gave him a nervous smile, and he looked up at me and just smiled and pointed at his ear. So began my studies with master drummer, Bob Kaufman. Bob has a very unique way of teaching drums, and in some ways, I was not at all ready for it at that time. Bob's lessons did not follow the path of methods books like stick control, syncopation, etc, nor were they about applying specific rudiments necessarily to the drumset. Instead, Bob's lessons were about sound production, relaxation in the limbs, mental focus, and above all, musicality. No one in my opinion, and I really mean no one, has a more beautiful 'sound' on the drums than Bob Kaufman. The tuning, the attack, the relaxation in his phrasing.. Sticks or brushes, it doesn't matter. Just hearing Bob play is lesson enough. Bob is as deep as the ocean, and as I became very involved in Buddhism during my time at Berklee, I suddenly began to realize that Bob was indeed a Buddha! :)
Bob produced two books that should be listed in the hall of fame of drumset publications. The first book, which was written in 1993 and entitled "The Art of Drumming," goes deep into Bob's concept of 'slow motion swing.' His theory, and it's spot on, is that practicing at super slow tempos will dramatically improve your sound, time, and overall body motion/tension far greater than flying through a bunch of independence exercises. Simply, this is meditation through drumming, and the rewards are endless. Quiet the mind, quiet the tension, and observe and react accordingly. Again, Bob is deep! As you go through the book, Bob takes you through various exercises in 4/4 and 3/4 as well as some funk applications, some polyrhythmic concepts, and finally some outstanding transcriptions. Bob's transcription of "There is No Greater Love" from the great album, Inception, by McCoy Tyner, was a pivotal point in my development and made me fall deeply in love with Elvin Jones. No one loves Elvin more than Bob, and he passed on his respect and admiration for Elvin to all of his students. Bob's second book called "Deeper Into The Art of Drumming" further tackles the subjects of polyrhythmic playing, musical phrasing of triplet variations, and more slow motion swing exercises. In general, "Deeper" goes further into contemporary concepts and features some great transcriptions of Paul Motian, Elvin, and concepts of Jack Dejonette's drumming. Like all artistic masterpieces, you can find endless amounts of information the deeper you go into Bob's books. Ten years later, I am still using this book on a weekly basis and all of my students have gained great insight from the concepts that Bob has displayed. I remember Bob said to me simply, "The students who really follow these concepts and apply patience, become great drummers." Guys like Jeff "Tain" Watts are proof enough.
In my opinion, the most valuable part of these books isn't just in the music, but instead in Bob's foreword and instructions in the beginning chapters (presented in both English and French)! Many of the quotes he comes up with in this section are hanging on my drum studio wall motivating both myself and my students. "The Art of Drumming" and "Deeper into . . . ," along with Bob's continued mentorship and kindness, have taught me so much about music and ways to approach my own teaching practice and life.
Please, do yourself a favor and go get these books! DO NOT skip over the words and try and tackle these books on your own, or you will miss the point entirely. Count the exercises how he tells you to count them, and be patient with yourself.