John Favicchia versatility and experience at the service of music
John Favicchia versatile drummer. One of today’s top players, New York-based John Favicchia has performed and/or recorded with many great artists. Favicchia has been busy touring and recording as well as stepping up to the plate with his own solo releases. His band Dharma All Stars blends various styles into a powerful blast of fusion that spans the extremes of the dynamic range. Today Planet Drum and Marco Mammoliti have had the pleasure to meet John and ask a few questions.
Marco Mammoliti – First off, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by Planet Drum
You’ve done clinics and masterclasses all over the world, how do you manage to keep them fresh and what is it that you hope the audience will walk away with?
John Favicchia – It’s my pleasure Marco! Thanks for having me. It’s an honor. I have managed to keep my clinics and masterclasses fresh by playing to my original music tracks. My music has a lot of improvised sections to them. So, I play them different every time. I also spend a good amount of time getting to know who is in the audience. I qualify the audience each time by asking different questions. I ask them if they have just started playing drums, or how many years they all have been playing. This way I can focus on which lessons I will teach at each individual clinic. I definitely want each person to learn as much as possible. I also like to take a lot of questions and spend a good amount of time doing Q&A. This way the clinic is more personalized for those who attend.
MM – How did you start with drumming and how did you achieve your technique?
JF – I always wanted to play drums ever since I can remember. Several of my great uncles were well known trumpet players who played with legends like Benny Goodman, but the downside of their traveling musical lifestyles led my father to originally discourage me from pursuing a career in music. Eventually, my passion for drumming won out! In junior high school, (I was 13 years old) I saved enough money to buy my own drum set from a friend in my neighborhood. I actually wheeled it home in a shopping cart!!! At this time I was playing snare drum in the marching band at school. I also started playing in local bands. I was lucky enough to live next door to my still best friend Noam Lusterman. He always had drums sets set up as well as bands coming and going from his place. I got to play with him all the time as well as sit in with the many musicians that would come by his place. We still play and record to this day! Eventually, my influences shifted from straight up rock to progressive rockers like Rush to the jazz eclecticism of Chick Corea. The versatile drumming of Steve Gadd became a huge influence. At 16, I began studying drums with many private instructors. I was self taught before that. At 17 years old I met Dom Famularo. We lived in the same town, Baldwin, on Long Island, New York. One day he pulled his car up next to me at a stop light on the main street in town. I rolled down my window and said “Hey I know you! You just did a drum clinic at my school.” He jumped out of his car and handed me a huge amount of Bunken pad sticks. He then ran back to his car and drove away! I called him the next day for lessons. Even back then Dom was the global ambassador of drumming. He always wanted to inspire drummers. Dom helped my technique so much! We eventually became close and he put me on my first professional gig playing with his family’s wedding band. Back then we would sometimes play 5 gigs a weekend. One on Friday night and two on Saturday and Sunday. I owe a lot to Dom. During the same time I started teaching at The Original Long Island Drum Center as well as getting my A.S. degree in Jazz – Commercial music from Five Towns College. Also, I drove up to Mount Vernon NY once a week to study with Joe Bonadio. Joe helped me with my drum set reading and with session drumming. He was a huge influence on my playing for sure! It was a very busy time for me but I loved it!
MM – How is your practicing routine?
JF – I have always had a serious practice routine. When I was younger I practiced 4 to 6 hours a day. Each night I would make a list of what I was going to practice the next day. I usually spent time on my hand & feet technique, as well as reading, groove playing, studio drumming (Gary Chester’s New Breed was a big part of my practice). I worked on solo development, and playing every style you can think of. Being a pro drummer in the NYC area meant you can get a call to play any style of music. So, when the phone rang for a Latin/Afro cuban gig or a Swing gig, you better have your drum styles together. That’s if you wanted to play full time like a did. I also left time in the day to take care business. It was important for me to put time in to call up musicians on the telephone and let them know I wanted to play, as well as let them know when I had free time in my calendar. I also spent time booking a few bands of my own. All this is just as important as practicing. As you know, you can spend a lifetime in the practice room and still have things to practice. So, letting people know you are out there and want to play is important! These days I still spend quite a lot of time practicing when I am not working on recording or music for gigs.
John Favicchia versatile drummer: the TEACHER
MM – Do you also teach lessons?
JF – Yes! After many years of teaching I still love it. Also, I am lucky that I get a lot of advanced students who come to me for lessons. One of the benefits to having done so many drum clinics around the world is that I get students from it. Not to mention I have a drum method book out called Elements. Having my method book out definitely has students taking lessons with me to learn my method. Right now, because of the Covid pandemic, I am teaching via Zoom. It works out great, especially when the students want to go over my book Elements. I have been teaching the Elements concept for many years and it seems to translate over the Internet via Zoom very well.
MM – In fact you have had a great success with your drum book “Elements” released on Wizdom/Alfred Music. With Elements you show how to utilize ones skills on a full drumset, teaching a comprehensive system to improve the drumming vocabulary, and the ability to improvise with that vocabulary. How did you approach the composition of it?
JF – It’s an honor to have my book Elements published by Wizdom/Alfred as well as the digital version out on Hudson Music. I approached the composition of it very organically at first. Through many years of teaching, my Elements Concept was born. The concept began because drum students were coming to me for lessons who had amazing hand and foot technique, but lacked the ability to completely utilize their technique skills on a full drumset. Their technique was at a very high level on a single surface (for example, on a pad or snare drum), but they were not applying all the knowledge they had on that one surface to the drumset. Elements is also a way of thinking. If you think about all of your drumming as elements, you will be able to bridge the gap between all of your playing styles, solos, fills and grooves. Here are some more ways Elements helps drummers.
- Execute accent figures in any place in the measure.
- Play accents in any desired position combined with double stroke rolls.
- Orchestrate all your ideas in more creative ways around the kit.
- Improvise with much more freedom, both in your choice of rhythms and orchestrations on the kit.
- Use the Elements to create more variety in your drum fills.
- Be able to recognize and execute any given ensemble figure encountered on a chart.
- Solo around the hits while playing with a band, no matter where the hits fall.
MM – What kind of experience was for your carrer working with Wizdom/Alfred Music and are you thinking to work on something new?
JF – Working with Dom Famularo, but also with frineds such as Joe Bergamini and Rob Wallis Is always an amazing experience. They are truly the best of the best in the drum publishing world as well as being great friends of mine. We continue to all work together on ways to get the word out on the book. We also have Zoom meetings with all of the Wizdom authors every few months and this helps to keep the books out and visible in the drumming community .
I am currently working on a new book. Not sure of the exact title yet but for now its called Snare Drum Solo Dedications. The book is going to be all Rudimental type snare Drum solos. I have been asking all of my drummer friends to send me their favorite rudiment or a hybrid rudiment they made up. I then write a whole snare drum solo around their rudiment and dedicate the solo to them. I let their rudiment guide my improvised snare solo writing style. I am planning on having at least 50 of the top drummers contribute to the book. I am lucky and honored that my drum buddies are some of the best players on the planet. So far the solos have been very unique and challenging .
MM – Do you have in project to come to Italy?
JF – Yes I do! I have a few different projects that I think would be great to tour Italy. Of course I have done many drum clinics in Italy with my friend and great drummer from Bologna Bruno Farinelli. So, that could happen very easily once Covid is over. I have 2 different bands that I lead right now. DHARMA AllStars and DHARMA 2.0. DHARMA AllStars is my Fusion band that features Chieli Minucci on guitar, Mike Pope on bass, Benny Reid on sax and Misha Tsiganov on keys. We play all of the songs off of my DHARMA CD , World Time CD and the new single KUKUC 2020. DHARMA 2.0 is an off shoot of DHARMA ALLSTARS with the addition of John Shannon on Vocals. The band performs a mix of contemporary music from reimagined ‘fusionized’ popular covers by bands such as Coldplay, Switchfoot, John Mayer and more, and from my three CDs. You can sample all of these bands and music on my website. http://www.johnfav.com
John Favicchia versatile drummer: the DRUMMER
MM – You are known for your extreme versatility and you have worked with a varied line-up of artists covering a range in styles and genres. Are there differences in how you approach playing different situations?
JF – Yes, there are many differences. Each situation is always different. Every artist I play with has different approaches to their music as well. It also makes a difference when I am called to play as a side man. Being a side man is a specific thing and approach. For example when I played with some of the well know Rock artists such as Eddie Money, Charlie Daniels, Joe Butler from Love and Spoonful, The Tokens and Gary US Bonds, I am hired to play the parts that the original drummer played on the well know recordings. This is very different than when I get called to play with an artist that knows of my drumming and wants me to play creatively on the gig. These gigs allow me to express myself a lot more musically on the drums. I definitely put more of my own stamp on those songs. Same thing goes to all of the recordings I get asked to do. There are times I get called to record tracks and the artist wants me to play the drum part he wrote or programmed in the song. I also get called to record for artists and they know my drumming and want my stamp on the track. I am honored to be on the new Special EFX CD coming out in April 2022. I have played with the band leader and all around amazing musician /composer Chieli Minucci for many years. When he asked me to record the track “Gonna Be Alright” he chose me because he felt my drumming would be right for the track. That is such a good feeling and an honor. Recently, I met a great composer named Kam Falk. When he got turned on to my drumming he actually wrote some songs for me to play/record. He said that my drumming inspired him to write, and that he wrote the music with my drumming in mind! Now that’s amazing! I am working on those songs right now. With all of this said, I want to mention that when I play with my own band this is once again a very different situation. I am in charge of everything. That means a lot of work but when I play with my own band I can play the music the way I hear it. Not a compromise with another musician, band leader or composer. There certainly is a lot more freedom in this situation.
MM – In 2020 due to Covid restrictions, you decided to re-arrange the classic song KUKUC. The goal was not to change the song but to make it more contemporary as well as more exciting. How challenging was?
JF – Yes, It was a bit challenging. KUKUC was the first song I ever recorded under my own name in 1996. The song was very popular with my band’s audience so we played it as the finale at almost every live show we did. It became a 9 minute song when we played it live and the whole band got to take solos on it. It really caught on over the years. So, during Covid I had the idea to re-imagine it. Yes you are correct. I really wanted to make it sound much more contemporary. During the very crazy times of 2020, I teamed up with my friend and producer Benny Reid to re-arrange the track. The goal was not to change the song, but to make it more contemporary as well as more exciting. With KUKUC 2020 we did just that. I worked on all kinds of different rhythmic unison lines as well as full band ensemble hit type stuff. Once I had written many of these types of ideas I then sent them over to Benny to put some serious harmonies to them. Working with Benny is always a great collaboration. After going back and forth with him many times with the full arrangement of the song, we finally decided on the main arrangement. The next step was to get the right players to record it. I work with so many amazing musicians all the time but I knew right away which players would be perfect for KUKUC 2020. I already had a great sax player (my partner Benny Reid) so that was all set. And, man did he crush it! My longtime piano player Misha Tsiganov played on the demo template track and he’s a monster player, so I had the keyboard player all set. Next I had to choose a bass player. I knew right away that Mike Pope would be perfect, plus we have a 15 year history of playing together. I was blown away when I heard his final track!! He did a fantastic job. Next up was choosing a guitar player. Just like with Mike Pope, I immediately knew that my long time band mate and friend, Chieli Minucci, was the one. And, man did he deliver. Monster guitar tracks came my way in record time. Once we were done tracking we started looking for someone to mix the track. Benny and I had discussed early on in the project that we were going to give this our all. We would not compromise on anything. This track had to be our best work to date. So, after searching around and contacting some audio engineers we decided to do the mix ourselves. I was getting such a great drum mix in my studio I felt like it was pretty much where it needed to be. I did not want to change the sound of the drum tracks at all. So we kept them. Benny is an amazing producer as well as a player and composer. Benny did most of the heavy lifting with the mix but I was with him every step of the way. After much hard work we got one of the best sounding tracks I have ever put out. We were very happy with it. The other part of the project was to make sure every player from their own studio video taped their performance as they recorded it. I am used to doing this but it adds a lot more things to think about while recording your part. Making sure the camera angle is good as well as hitting Record on both the recording software and the camera. I can’t tell you how many times I would be going for a take and realize I did not hit Record on the camera. Ha!!!!
MM – Do you use triggers or any special effects in your live performances and if so, which ones?
JF – I don’t use triggers these days. In the past when I was playing Pop /Rock cover band gigs (mostly wedding band situations) I used to trigger my SD as well as my BD. It was perfect for that kind of music. I do have a Yamaha DTX -MULTI 12 right now. I can trigger the BD and SD as well as assign different sounds to the pads. It’s great to have this on stand by for when I get asked to play more contemporary Rock / Pop Gigs. My main rig I use in the studio and on live gigs is my QSC Pro Touch 30 Digital Mixing board. My Yamaha drums sound amazing going through it. It works out amazingly in the studio and live. I get an amazing headphone mix with it, as well as I can send my drums perfectly mixed to the band’s in-ear system, as well as the front of house PA system.
MM – Many thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. Have you any final words of wisdom to say to the Planet Drum community?
JF – Thanks for having me Marco!!! This has been really great!! It is a true honor! I hope to see you soon.
As far as final words goes, being a dedicated drumset artist is a life long process. Be patient when it comes to your growth on the instrument and of course work very hard. Practice as much as you can. Hard work and dedication always pays off. I also want to mention to be a go-getter/ a catalyst. Don’t sit and wait for the phone to ring. Be proactive!!!! Most of the things I have achieved in my drumming career started with me being the catalyst. Whether it was making a phone call to an artist I wanted to work with, or sending out my Press Kit, booking gigs with my own band, or letting the players in the NYC area know I am available for gigs. Booking clinics tours. Putting together recording sessions for my own CD’s . Doing clinics to let people know I teach private lessons in person or via Zoom. Sending an invitation to an artist I want to play with so they can see me play live in my own band. Going to NAMM and PASIC to meet all the people in the music industry. Having great relationships with all of the artist reps from my endorsement companies, as well as keeping all of the artist reps at my endorsement companies up to date on what I am doing. With that said, I would like to take a moment and thank all my sponsors. Yamaha Drums, Sabian Cymbals, Vic Firth Sticks, Remo drum heads.& L.P. Percussion. Last but not least, at the end of the day, you should be enjoying every step of the process and not only be happy when you achieve a goal. I learned that the amazing feeling of achieving goals is incredible but the feeling soon fades. So if you enjoy all the work that you put into achieving your goals you will be a much happier person. And when you reach your goal you will have the best of both worlds.