While he has been attracting attention for his swinging, highly empathetic drumming in piano trios led by Jean-Michel Pilc, Kenny Werner and Joshua Redman's Elastic Band, Philly native Ari Hoenig has taken the art of melodic drumming to a new level on his remarkable self-produced solo drum CD, The Life of a Day (Ah Ha; available only through arihoenig.com). On this one-man tour-de-force, Hoenig plays familiar melodies like "Nardis," "Summertime," "My Funny Valentine" and "Night in Tunisia" on the kit by manually leaning an elbow or hand into each drumhead to attain the proper pitch. It's an old-school technique that has been applied to varying degrees in the past by scores of great drummers, but Hoenig has raised the bar with his sheer mastery of melodic drumming.
It was while attending University of North Texas in the early '90s that he began experimenting with the technique of playing precise pitches on the kit. "At some point I realized that I could play 'Confirmation' on the drums-the actual pitches to the tempo that it was," Hoenig says.
He first documented his melodic ideas four years ago on a previous solo-drum album, Time Travels (1K), during a period when he was touring the jam-band circuit with the Jazz Mandolin Project. "They said that I could bring a CD on the road to sell at gigs but they didn't want competition from another band CD, so I decided to go into a studio and just improvise a solo-drum project based on some of these tunes that I had worked out at the time. It wasn't a planned thing at all, but on the second [album] I really decided to make it more produced. So I had a little more time to experiment with vocals and effects on some of the tunes."
Hoenig made his move to New York toward the end of 1996 and immediately began picking up work around town. Nowadays, when he's not out touring with Pilc, Werner or Redman, the Brooklyn resident can be seen regularly around New York in a variety of musical settings, plying his interactive trade behind the likes of guitarist Wayne Krantz or leading his own group consisting of pianist Pilc, tenor saxophonist Jacques Schwarz-Bart and bassist Matt Penman. "I'm doing all the writing and arranging for my quartet, which is a relatively new thing for me, although I've written music before," Hoenig says. "But having a band has really given me a chance to get deep inside the composing process."