Drummer’s Originality Gleams Like a Cymbal in CD “#1”

Igor Willcox 2

Tender is the flute on Igor Willcox’s “Waltz for My Love” from the recent CD “#1”. The percussion comes in, having equal weight yet retaining the delicacy of the piece; that would be Igor, enhancing the flavor of the song without over-seasoning.

The rock-inspired “Lifetime” intersperses inventive rolls with quick solo-trading with the electric guitar, keeping the lifeline of “Lifetime” churnin’ and burnin’ forward.

What’s perhaps coolest of all is that his CD “#1” features a full range of all-original material; and the album is aptly named, as it includes his personal favorite musical colleagues. The sound is obviously the result of friendship, fellowship and a knack for reading each other like open books. The audience wins in this scenario. 

When did you know you wanted to play percussion? 

Since very early! I grew up in a very musical environment because my mother is a great singer and my father, Paulo Cesar Willcox (in memoriam), was a very important maestro, arranger, piano and vibraphone player. He died when I was still a baby, but I had the opportunity to grow up listening to his recordings.

I studied a little bit of piano when I was a child, but my mother told me that I was always drumming everywhere. When I was 14 years old, my mother was a member of a Brazilian Pub in Santos City and watched a lot of musicians playing. I became interested in the drums, especially watching my two uncles, who were great drummers: Marton (in memoriam) and Paulinho Freitas (in memoriam).

When the band paused between one set and another, I just sat on the drums and tried to play something. One day, my uncle Paulinho came to me and said, “Hey kid, do you want to learn how to play the drums? Go home and I’ll give you some lessons.” I went, of course! On the same day he introduced me to Buddy Rich’s “Tribute” video with Steve Gadd, Vinnie Colaiuta and Dave Weckl. That was awesome! Far beyond what I could understand at the moment, but it was there that I totally fell in love with the drums and I thought: This is what I want for myself!

What was your first public performance and how did it feel? 

My debut concert was in a crowded pub, playing with a rock/pop band. I was 15 years old. I was very nervous, anxious and worried to not make any mistakes. But after the first song I felt very comfortable when people started screaming and applauding the band. It was an amazing start for me! 

What specific drums and cymbals are your favorites?

I like to use two kind of drum setups. I use Nagano Drums, who I’m an endorser for.

– Fusion setup with 10”, 12” toms, 14”, 16” floor toms, 20” bass drum, 14” snare, 10” snare. The tuning is a bit medium/high, but not too much, with a good, balanced decay. I like this setup, it sounds full and defined.

– Jazz setup with 12” tom, 14” snare/tom, 14” floor tom, 18” bass drum and 14” snare. The tuning is high, usually the drumheads are tighter. I use this set to play in small pubs with the jazz trio.

The cymbals are Zildjian, who I’m an endorser for.

Setup: Constantinople Renaissance 22”, A Custom Projection Crash 19”, A Custom Projection Crash 18”, K Custom Dark Crash 16”, A Zildjian New Beats Hi Hat 14”, K Custom Complex Ride 22”.

I like versatile, well-defined, balanced and full-bodied sounds and this setup responds to the exact sonority I like.

Your treble lays nicely atop the piano in “Brad Vibe”- how does a drummer not overpower the other instruments?

Thanks! If the drums are louder than the soloist, something is wrong. I think that the most important thing is always listening to the others instruments, be aware and play the dynamics together. Playing a lot together, you can achieve real synergy. 

What are some of the more unusual instruments or items you have used?

Loop Machines and Electronic Percussion. I love to get new textures.

Your newest CD “#1”- what inspired it?

In 2016 I put my ideas to work and started to compose. I realized that I already had a certain number of compositions to record an album and it was very motivating. So I decided to make a reunion with musicians for whom I have a lot of admiration, respect and friendship. This is the first album with my own compositions.

What were you going for as far as an overall sound?

I’ve tried to get the most natural sound possible, using the only reverbs and a little bit of compression on the drums and other instruments.

For the keyboardists, I suggested using some vintage instruments like Rhodes, analogue synths. I like the 70’s sonorities so much, it’s the greatest sound ever!

What is your favorite track on it and why?

It’s hard to choose only one, because every track is a history of my musical life, but “Room 73” is one of my favorites. I like the energy of this tune and the interplay with the musicians. This tune is always a challenge to play.

I like “Waltz for my Love”- very sweet sound that glides forward. You?

For me, it’s the most beautiful song of the album! I did it in honor of my wife Audrey Willcox, who without a doubt is the most important person in my life and who is always by my side, giving me all the support and impelling me to make my music. When I composed this song, I thought of a flute to make the melody.

How did you come to choose the guest artists on it?

When I decided to record my first album I kept in my mind inviting musicians who are part of my 21 years of music. They are great friends and amazing musicians. I also chose musicians whose ways of playing fit well to each composition. They are Vini Morales (keys), Glecio Nascimento (bass), Erik Escobar (keys), Bocato (trombone), Carlos Tomati (guitar), Bruno Alves (keys), Rubem Farias (bass), Fernando Rosa (bass), Clayton Sousa (sax), JJ Franco (bass) and Marcus Cesar (percussion).

You can be heard prominently or at least equally with the other musicians- you are not a “background” type of drummer. 

I just play to the music and I do what I feel at the moment. The musicians are a big motivation to how I play. There’s a lot of interplay in my music, so I’m always listening to the soloist and interacting with him, that’s why I don’t just play the beats.

Music to me is something synergistic, an open dialogue between the musicians, that you have the freedom to interact with each other.

Why do you think the CD “New Samba Jazz” was so highly rated and on top of the charts for four years?

Because we made something different that time. We played Brazilian music outside of the traditional way. We mixed Brazilian music with jazz, but playing in a very “fusion” way, without borders. I think that’s why this album was so highly rated. We ran away from traditional.

How would you compare jazz audiences throughout the world; is their appreciation for the art form universal?

For sure, but each country has its peculiarity. I notice that there are huge audiences in Europe and North America and in some countries of Asia, maybe because of the early cultural education they have.

In Brazil we could have so much bigger audiences, but most of the media only shows poor music with no quality, only easy listening music focused on selling millions of copies.

Being called and awarded “Modern Drummer”- what does that refer to?

Surely he or she must have a set of qualities. The good drummer must always be studying technique, harmony, theory, listening to different sounds, having an open mind to discover new things always, to breathe music.

But above any study, always play in favor of music and try to build a proper identity in the sound without imitating other drummers.

You can have many influences, but never imitate them.

Talk about the personnel in your self-named trio and what strengths they bring. 

Wagner Barbosa, the sax player. This cat plays really impressively. He is so versatile; a guy who knows how to put himself in each song. His influence goes from John Coltrane to Bob Mintzer, but he has his own way of playing, with so much personality, with a vast phrasing vocabulary and swing feel.

Vini Morales (piano/electric piano/synths). Vini is an exciting piano player! He plays every music and every concert with intensity. He is a very skilled and talented player who plays from the more complex harmony to the simplest and most beautiful chords. His improvisation always tells different stories, with so much freedom, interplay, technique and feeling.

Glecio Nascimento is the bass player. His groove and his way of playing is amazing! It seems he always understands where I’m going with the music. We have a great connection and this is one of the most important things between the bassist and the drummer. He has a lot of creativity and creates strong bass lines, with a real swing feel. I also like the effects of pedals that he uses, bringing some fresh and modern textures to the song. 

When you write, what themes inspire you? 

My compositions are influenced by Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, Weather Report, Return To Forever, Allan Holdsworth, Ivan Lins and Joshua Redman. I listen to these and many other guys every day, these are my inspiration.

What prompted you to produce a solo album?

Make my music, recording a very important moment of my musical life, expressing myself, the way that I see the music; and to expose my art.

Why did you record play-along tracks?

When I was only a student I felt the necessity to practice with a band and sometimes I had no band available to practice with. I learned a lot by playing together with the recordings of Bill Evans, Miles Davis, Weather Report, etc. But the only problem was that I couldn’t take the drums off the recording. So, in my album “#1”, I would like to give drummers the opportunity to play along with the recording, for practice.

Your music is beautiful, upbeat, accessible. What do you want people to feel when they hear your music? 

The same that you felt! I think music is there to listen with your heart, this is most important. If you feel good listening to my music I achieved my objective! My music reflects my personality.

What is the biggest challenge for you in composing?

To bring something fresh and new, different and authentic, even when you have a lot of influences. 

What elements from Brazilian music or other genres have influenced your composition today?

This album, especially, almost has no Brazilian music influences; only on the song “Thankful,” that I called the great percussionist Marcus Cesar to give it some Brazilian flavor. Other genres that influence me are jazz, fusion, funk and rock.

Where will you play for the rest of 2017?

We are going to play around Brazil, where we live. We are still doing release concerts of the album “#1.” We played at the most important jazz clubs and festivals in Brazil like Santos Jazz Festival, Play Jazz Festival, Jazz nos Fundos, Sesc Jazz Festival, São Paulo Jazz Festival, Jazz no Hostel, etc.

Are you marketing your new CD any differently than your past recordings?

Yes. This time I’m using the tools of the social media to help me. We are creating some ads on my Facebook page, Instagram, Bandcamp, etc. And of course, traditional media like magazines, blogs and jazz websites.

We try to use the any good form of communication to spread my music.

What are your plans in 2018 to grow your music, either personally or with your quartet?

I’m planning to record a live album with my quartet and do an international tour. We have some good festivals in Europe interested in booking the quartet. I think 2018 will be promising.

Other comments? 

I would like to tell to readers that my CD is available on my site www.igorwillcox.com, and in the main digital stores like Spotify, iTunes, Google Play, Bandcamp, Deezer, etc.

Debbie, I would like to say thank you for the interview, I loved the questions and I wish you all the best.

For more information, visit www.igorwillcox.com.

Photos courtesy of and with permission of Igor Willcox.

© Debbie Burke 2017

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