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The SCORE Magazine Interviews Atma Anur _June_2015

Atma AnurTHE SCORE: Hi Atma, first off, let me say what a pleasure it is to have a chance to get a glimpse into your groovy world. To start, let us know what your formative years were like at New York, San Francisco. When did you start playing, how did you start, and what were some of your first experiences drumming?

Atma Anur: That’s quite a complex question actually.

I began playing drums officially at age 11, while we were living in NYC, but my mother had told me that I would stand in front of the TV watching Ringo Starr with the Beatles, and point to him while dancing and laughing. That was at about age 2, while we were still living in London.

At age 10 we had a “Show and Tell” day at my Grammar School and one kid brought a marching snare drum in to show to us all. Well, I spent the day walking around the school and wildly tapping away at this instrument (one that I had never even seen before). Once I got home that evening I announced to my parents that “I can play the drums!”

My High School years in NYC were quite wonderful in hindsight, any teenager thinks life is not so great while living it, wherever they may be. I first went to a Science and Mathematics School and was in the school Jazz band… but quite briefly. I later transferred to a “School without Walls” High School with a focus on music and art, something that was quite popular in some parts of the States back in the 70s.

I had my first more serious band finally in that first High School at about age 14/15. We played music by Deep Purple, Hendrix, Scorpions, Al Di Meola and quite a few other popular, but musically difficult, bands in those days.

I attended the Manhattan School of Music at age 16 in a pre-enrollment program where I studied Orchestral and Tuned Percussion… That was a great experience and really got me started in reading. From then on I regularly visited the Lincoln Center for The Performing Arts Music Library to read book, scores and listen to music LP-s of all kinds.

I had my first private drum teacher at about age 12/13. That was the legendary William Kessler, a renowned Author and Jazz Musician. I think I was very lucky to have found such a master at such a young age.

Atma AnurTS: How did your formal education in music help your career? What was studying at Berklee like those days? Did it help you become a better educator as well?

AA: I believe that if one is serious about a topic, one will naturally want to study that topic. Study, of course, comes in many possible forms, but I think that formal study in music is an important part of any professional musician’s life. Most of us improvisation-based musicians begin by playing and enjoying that process, where the orchestrally-oriented player usually begins by sitting with a one-on-one teacher. My belief is that both of these modes of learning will serve the individual the most if they occur simultaneously.

That is how things happened for me, and many of the other excellent professionals that I know and have played with. There is no question that actually learning the language of music, both as it relates to my own instrument and as it relates to communicating with other musicians, has helped my professional career immensely.

As a professional side man, it has been my job to help writers and instrumentalists realize the vision that they have for their music. Most of the time this needs to be done in a short and productive time frame, while being able to have fun and stay creative. My personal understanding of the role and tools of my instrument, and my ability to speak in correct musical terms with the other players has been a huge “selling point” to my being hired so much over the past 30 years.

Berklee was one of the most amazing and influential experiences of my life. I carry the tools and concepts that I learned there in the 70s with me to this very day. One of the most intense aspects of being there was the opportunity to see and play with other talented international musicians, and share ideas and mistakes… invaluable! Being around Steve Vai, Stu Hamm, Tain Watts, Smitty Smith and so many others gave me a deep perspective on what being a “good” musician could mean.

I use the ideas, theories, concepts and values that I have internalized from my days of formal study at schools, private study at “home” (which is on-going) and my personal professional experiences to help younger musicians as much as I have the opportunity to do so… and I love seeing what the future of music holds.

Atma AnurTS: You have played and lived across different continents and recorded on over 145 albums. What were some of the defining moments of your journey and who were they with?

AA: More of my time has been spent in the rehearsal room than on stage or in the studio. The experimentation and learning while playing is what defines me to me. As for what defines who I am to others, I would have to guess it is what people see and hear at shows and on records… which is not the bulk of my playing. I think that this is true of any musician who remains in the learning and growing mode.

Playing Jazz on the streets of NYC in the 70s was a huge and pivotal experience for me. It took me from wanting to play consistently to simply playing consistently. Improvising in front of so many people for so many hours per day made me the type of musician that takes chances… simple.

Learning note-for-note music from bands like Return to Forever, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Bob Marley, John Coltrane and many others, gave me insight into what real chops are on my instrument… not to mention, Groove!

Meeting Mike Varney, President of Shrapnel Records, and having the opportunity to record so many great albums with such amazing musicians has had a deep effect on who I am as a musician. Being in world-class recording studios with great, creative producers like Steve Fontano and Richie Zito (to name just a couple) also helped to give me a better perspective on what and how to play well commercially while still being creative and true to myself.

Getting to play huge stages for audiences of up to 500,000 people has also changed who I am as a player and as a performer. Seeing the effect of what I am playing on such a large scale brings a lot of consistency and power to one’s professional creative process… truly learning what not to play, and why.

Watching how other very well-known, talented musicians interact and create together is also invaluable for any professional musician. The relationship between the people playing can make or break the music. That relationship also makes things move faster or slower… or not at all. Communication feeds creativity in most cases… and feeds the personal joy for what one is doing.

I can mention just a few names that come to mind who really stand out for me as people that inspired me as a player and as a person and were a joy to work with. Richie Kotzen, Jason Becker, Marty Friedman, Tony MacAlpine, Neal Schon, T.M. Stevens, Guthrie Govan, Michael Lee Firkins, Arthur Rhames… and so many more amazing creative and talented people that have helped shape who I am as a musician and as a person to this day.

Atma AnurTS: What kind of music do you dig and play these days? Recent collaborations? 

AA: I really love playing and listening to Fusion and Modern Jazz more than other styles, but I have played more Rock, Reggae, Funk and Blues live over the years. Honestly, I love playing anything that sounds good, music is the whole point for me.

Since relocating to Europe I have played and recorded more Hard Rock, Prog Rock, Neo Classical, Metal and straight Pop than other styles. I, of course, play many other things in my personal time.

There have been many, and a wide variety of, collaborations since leaving the States 8 years ago, but at this moment I am recording CDs with Jani J. Szentkiralyi (Hunagary), If Wen (U.K.), Timo Somers (the Netherlands), The Vivaldi Metal Project (International) and a “secret” Tribute Project for Japanese release. At any given time I usually have 2 or 3 CDs being tracked if I’m not touring… I’m at 145 CDs now… and counting!

Atma Anur - photo credits Izabela DoniecTS: You have taught at SAM earlier during its very first semester. What memories of India do you carry and what are the things you are looking forward to doing this trip, musically and otherwise?

AA: Well that first trip to India was a true high point for me in so many ways. I made many new friends that I stay in contact with to this day, and was personally exposed to the Carnatic music system and Traditional South Indian Classical Music as a whole. Working with people like Ghatam Karthick, Ed DeGenaro, Ranjit Barot, Ashish Manchanda, Amit Trivedi and Nandini Srikar while there, and then meeting other great Indian musicians later on, like Shree Sundarkumar, Sunita Sarathy and others, was such a great experience and I really look forward to more creative expression with each of them… and all the new yet “un-met” musicians there.

I am extra, super excited about getting back to the food (which is one of my very favourite kinds) and the very warm people. The vibe is gloriously positive and inspiring.

Atma AnurTS: We know your energy is infectious! What can students at SAM expect from Atma Anur this Fall?

AA: For sure more of the same! It’s been five years since I was at SAM and I am really looking forward to meeting the new students, the older faculty and friends. I’m also really looking forward to doing some great shows and more recordings as well.

I have been working quite a bit on my book on Poly-Rhythms and sixteenth-note understanding, so I will draw from that in my drum instruction classes for sure as well.

I look forward to sharing this wonderful gift of music and the joy that it brings… my goal is to bless as I have been blessed… and beyond.

http://www.atmaanur.com

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GROOVE PORTAL INTERVIEW WITH ATMA ANUR

Atma Anur At WorkHi Atma, welcome to Groove Portal. First of all, tell us how did you start playing drums?

I am told that as a baby, once I could walk, I stood in front of the TV and danced wildly to the Beatles, and pointed to Ringo as he played. I have two older siblings that played music in the house all the time, mostly Blue Beat (now called Reggae) and Soul. My dad bought me a red toy snare drum when I was about 2 and I walked around the house playing that quite a lot. We had a “Show and Tell” day at my grammar school in NYC when I was about 10 or so and one kid brought in a real marching snare drum. I played that thing for just about the whole day, and when I got home I announced to my mom that “I can play the drums”. I asked for a drum set for the next whole year… finally got one as a birthday gift (a paper drum kit!). Once I figured out that it was not a “real” kit I went back to the asking phase… lol, a few months later we went to a local music shop and got a Stewart 3-piece drum kit (20″ kick, 14″ snare, 12″ tom with 1 cymbal attached to the kick drum)… it was glorious. I started playing in a band with some school friends and also at my church in NYC. My first teacher was the well-known author William V. Kessler… I think that was good luck.

Billy CobhamWho are the drummers that most inspire your style now, and who were the first?

I get inspiration from many musicians, not only drummers. I love Sax, Guitar and Violin especially. But Piano players and Percussionists also inspire my playing. Honestly, I am more interested in music than I am in drumming in particular. As I said, the first drummer that I noticed was Ringo Starr, after him there have been a great many drummers that I credit with helping to shape my playing over the years. Some of the first real influences were Ian Paice, Bill Bruford, Phil Collins, Bill Ward. Also the drummers for James Brown, the drummers for Bob Marley… Carl Palmer from ELP as well. As I got older I started listening to an even wider variety of styles and got into The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever, Yes and Tony Williams’ Life Time. Soon after came my interest in Jazz, I got into players like Elvin Jones, Art Blakey, Jack DeJonette and Buddy Rich. Narada Michael Walden, Billy Cobham, Terry Bozzio, Steve Smith and Vinnie Colaiuta are still big influences up to today.

Atma Anur, photo credits: Michal Kubicki, June 28th, 2013What are your current projects?

Things are constantly changing for me as far as projects go. Personally I have gone back to my foundational roots and am playing the rudiments slowly with a metronome and working on placing them on the full kit. I periodically re-work my technique, that is an important thing to do I think. I began playing matched grip and quickly moved to traditional grip. I played traditional for about 7 years then moved back to matched while I was studying at Berklee. There are 5 new CDs that were recorded over the past few years that are scheduled to come out this year. Wojciech Hoffmann’s Behind the Windows (Poland), Roy Marchbank’s The Grand Design (U.K.), Timo Somers’ Tri-Head (Netherlands), and two other projects still being mixed. I am currently tracking three other CDs right now for some European artists including Neo-Classical guitarist Jani J. Szentkiralyi (Hungary) and Folk artist If Wen (U.K.). I am constantly recording with all kinds of musicians doing all kinds of music. I am touring and teaching as well.

Uk poster for Nov 16 2012Tell us something about your experience with Jason Becker and Cacophony.

I met Jason Becker through my relationship with Mike Varney and Shrapnel Records. Mike actually hooked me up with Marty Friedman first and we spoke about putting this new project together. Then we met with Jason and a bass player and began working through some music. I knew Peter Marrino from our time together in his band Le Mans, we have worked on quite a few projects together over the years. Playing with Marty and Jason was a great pleasure, they are both easy to work with and very creative, excellent musicians. Mike Varney has a talent for finding the best. I found Jason to be one of the most naturally gifted guitar players I’ve met through Mike, he just incorporated any new idea into his playing with ease and excitement. Both he and Marty share my love of odd meters and odd subdivisions… so it worked out well. Tracking those two CDs was the usual Varney experience of those days… everything had to be done very quickly and done perfectly… right now! So that was how that went. The version of Cacophony that I was in did a few live shows in California and also at the 1988/89? NAMM show… great fun.

Atma's setup for the Jason Becker Fest 2011What kind of warm-up do you do before a show?

That really depends on what kind of show I am playing. Physically speaking I like doing push-ups, stretching and playing doubles and paradiddles on a pillow. Depending on how familiar I am with the material, I will listen to the rehearsal tapes while warming up… possibly to the “original” recordings and look over my charts as well just before doing the show. Getting into the right frame of mind is important for me as well. I want to feel relaxed and in control of my mind and body as much as possible. Checking the vibe of the room/venue helps, and being by myself in silence just before I go on stage also helps with that.

Drum setHow do you choose the placement of your drumkit?

You mean my set up? or where I am on the stage? As for my set up, I like things to be close to me. I don’t want to really reach for any part of my kit. I like my cymbals high and I like to sit low. These two things are for leverage. Although my cymbals may look “very high”, they are only high enough for me to extend my arm to where my elbow is just below my shoulder, my elbow is never straight. My thighs are parallel to the floor and I play a slight heel-up foot technique most of the time… not always though.

Atma AnurPlease recommend 5 albums that you consider essential for a drummer.

  • Inner Mounting Flame – The Mahavishnu Orchestra

  • A Love Supreme – John Coltrane

  • Sex Machine – James Brown

  • Are You Experienced – Jimi Hendrix

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles

Honestly it’s kind of impossible to talk about only 5 albums. I guess these are a good sampling of good musical drumming in a few styles, but in 5 albums I am leaving out a lot of music… really! A drummer should listen to as wide a variety of music as possible… all the time. One should also try playing things that one does not like, is not to one’s taste, as much as possible. This shows our weaknesses very quickly and gives one things to work on without having a teacher. Of course you should play what you like… and also what you are able to play. But don’t do this as much in terms of practice. I would say figuring out what kind of drummer you want to be will also help, if you want a professional career. Spend time reading music, practice with a metronome and also just improvise and have fun.  

Atma AnurWhat are the aspects of your drumming that you consider the most powerful?

This seems like an impossible question for me to answer… maybe ask the people that I work with what they think. I hope that I show dedication, enthusiasm, discipline and creativity. All of these, along with ability and humility. That would be my goal. I study all kinds of music and practice “styles” as much as possible. I come up with parts to the music that is in front of me and then play things based on what came to me first… It’s important to be consistent in your parts but also be able to spontaneously improvise within the context of the foundational ideas for the song you are playing. At my core I am an improviser, but I understand the need for recurrence in popular music.

Atma AnurWhich are the qualities that a good drummer must have, in your opinion?

A good drummer cares about what he is playing. The basic job of any drummer in any style is time keeping… but creativity and ability (as they pertain to the song) are also quite important. If one cares about being “good”, one will take the things one does seriously. More than that would be me saying too much about what someone else should or should not do. For example, I like to practice a lot, I like to improvise a lot, I transcribe other musicians and learn other drummer’s “stuff” as well. I think the 26 rudiments are very cool and useful and I play poly-rhythms, in many forms, as much as I can. These are my personal things… other musicians have their “things”… that’s good, and keeps the world as interesting as it is.

Atma Anur teaching a comboDo you teach?

Yes. I actually started teaching friends by around 15 years old and have continued in many forms since then. I teach privately, in schools around the world and on line through Skype. My focus as a music teacher is to point people in a direction that seems to fit what they want to do with their drumming and try to give them the tools to improve what they play… and want to play.

Do you give drum clinics?

Yes. My first clinic was in San Francisco in the early 80’s and I have continued ever since. I like sharing what I am working on. That’s why I post videos of me working on stuff. I figure that the final product will be on a CD or in a live show. I have been a clinician for DW, PDP, Pearl, P.I.T, Razor-Back and Sabian… also for schools and music shops.

Atma Anur, Barend Curbois and Timo SomerWhat format do you follow in your drum clinics?

I am really into explaining how I come up with my drum parts. I also talk about odd-meter grooves and how to understand them. I speak about how to write charts, read them and understand music notation using examples from my book. The book is a theoretical look at an approach to rhythm and poly-rhythm based on Mathematical probabilities. I have a lot to say about music on a conceptual level and may actually do more talking than other clinicians. Clinics are an opportunity for the listeners to learn something that they may not get from only listening to someone play music. This is the spotlight on the “how” and “why” of the clinician’s creative process. I play along with tracks from various CDs that I played on and may be working on at the time, and use those as a way to introduce my thoughts on drumming and music in general. I also talk about the gear that I use and my reasons for choosing them.

Atma AnurWhat are the questions that you receive most often from the crowd?

I get all kinds of questions really. Questions about speed (playing fast) could be one of the most frequent. I talk about practice, the metronome and relaxation. As I mentioned, I do refine my hand technique regularly, so I talk about that as well. I will show how my technique applies to playing music. I am also asked about groove and feeling quite a bit. I have quite a lot to say about those two topics.

Atma Anur What are your future plans?

I am thinking about a teaching residency some place right now. I plan to continue recording and improving my skills as a musician and an engineer. I am looking forward to playing some live shows this year in support of a few of these new CDs coming this Spring and Summer. I am continuing my endeavour to master my instrument… that means spending time listening, reading, practicing and playing. I change how and what I do physically in order to keep me sharp and creative. I am always open to new situations as a drummer or teacher. I invite the readers to stay tuned to my web site www.atmaanur.com, and also contact me about studying on Skype.

ATMA ANUR recording session for Tri-Head February, 2012Can you give some advice to anyone studying music, and those who might want to become professional drummers?

I always say that one will know inside if they should do music professionally or just enjoy it as a hobby. I would not advise anyone to choose a life as a professional musician. If you feel that you MUST play music at all costs… then there you have it. Once one would choose this professional level of playing, my advice would be to learn and practice as a way of life. To establish a relationship with your spiritual side, and develop a humble and focused personality. The main thing is to follow your dreams and do not give up. But that’s just me.

Atma Anur - photo credits Izabela DoniecOver the past few years YouTube has become a great way for drummers to promote themselves; with cover videos, drum cam videos and tutorials. What you think about this?

Information is good in general. YouTube can be a way of getting information about topics of interest. In my day, let’s say… we drummers just listened to records with great musicians playing, and tried to copy what we heard. Music is sound… not so much sight. These days people seem to want to “see” music, and have less time for listening… quite strange. The visual aspect of advanced playing is a smaller part than the auditory aspect, but maybe the way we learn is changing. The traditional way to learn is to play what you hear… not what you see. The wonderful thing about not seeing what you hear is that it gives one the opportunity to discover one’s own way to get the sounds… The one aspect about YouTube that is not helpful is that anyone can post anything… so in terms of music, there is a lot of nonsense on there… with quite a lot of views I might add. Numbers of views confuse the issue of quality and relevance. In the past, more or less only the talented and meaningful players got the chance to record music and share it with the public in general. These days, due to the web and home recording/video production… everyone can (and does) make music/videos etc… I believe that art in general is for everyone, but that does not mean that all art is “good” or “meaningful”. Our culture seems to have a huge desire for fame so something like YouTube is perfect for these times. Too much information is just about the same as none at all, however.

Atma AnurDo you think YouTube could be a good way to receive information or not?

Yes. Real improvement comes from playing music with people that are better and more experienced than you are. Having a good personal private teacher is also very important. Videos can help, but you need to watch the right ones and know how to implement what you see and hear…. that can be difficult to figure out.

Thanks for this amazing interview Atma, we hope to see you soon in Italy!

HUNGARIAN ROCK MAGAZINE “SHOCK!” INTERVIEWS ATMA ANUR & JANI J. SZENTKIRALYI

1. How did you get to know each other, and how did you come up with the idea of working together? 

Atma & Jani

ATMA: If I remember correctly, Jani contacted me on Facebook about the possibility of working on some of his (new) recordings. I had not yet met him but after listening to the things he sent me I thought it would be a cool collaboration (at this point I try to not play music that I don’t enjoy).

We spent a lot of time chatting, getting to know each other. We found we had many things in common and basically had a good time in conversation (his English is much better than he thinks… lol

Jani J. Szentkiralyi JANI: Well, back in 2010 I sent a demo of five songs to Mike Varney (Shrapnel Records) who replied and suggested to record the drums with Atma Anur. So I contacted Atma and sent him the songs, and from that point we started comunicating and systematically working on the songs and the musical ideas that came to us.

2. From which CDs did you know Atma before and which is your favorite one?

JANI: The first CD I heard on which Atma is drumming was Cacophony’s Speed Metal Symphony, and shortly after that Jason Becker’s Perpetual Burn. Both of these are reference CDs for me till today.

It is very hard to pick one, because Atma’s legacy is so wide after playing with so many artists. There are more than 140 CDs (Cacophony, Jason Becker, Tony MacAlpine, Greg Howe, Richie Kotzen …… to name a few) and all of them are outstanding, but for the sake of giving an answer I will pick the Cacophony and Jason Becker CDs because both of them are close to my musical taste and heart.

3. Atma, it seems that you like Hungarian musicians because you are working with two great Hungarian guitarists at the same time, with the same name. Is this a coincidence or something more?

ATMA: The fact that they have the same name is actually quite funny… to me

I like working with good musicians, it’s really as simple as that. I don’t actually care much where someone is from or whatever may or may not be going on with them… other than what the music sounds like.

Atma Anur

With that said, I will also say that I have found many great musicians (especially guitar players) in the Central and Eastern European area since leaving the States… and that’s quite cool I think. Jani and Janos are both talented cool people… so what’s not to like?

4.  How do you remember your first meeting with Jani, and what were your first impressions when you heard his music?

ATMA: We first met in person at the Marty Friedman show in Budapest back in 2011, lots of good fun. Jani showed me quite a lot of Budapest and we had a chance to hang with Marty as well. I made a few other new friends there on that trip as well. Atma & Jani

As for his music, I thought he sounded great, had a cool feel and an exciting vibe. I like playing good music, I love Progressive Rock and Fusion, and I saw an opportunity to play my style and have a good time doing it… Jani also thought that my style would fit his writing… so it was a good match.

JANI: LOL ……. there is always a smile on my face when I remember the moment I met Atma. Besides the awesome time we spent together at Marty Friedman’s gig in Budapest, and having the opportunity to hang with one of my favourite guitar players, Atma and I also started mixing our first recording,  Canon Rock, and I could tell that Atma is an ENERGY BOMB (literally). He is so disciplined that he shocked me (in a positive way). In those moments I realized that I was dealing with one of the best of the best. He is the guy who used to go to sleep the last, no matter what time it was when we went to sleep…and he woke up first (a funny story I remember is that we went home from Marty’s gig very late, I went to sleep but Atma was still doing  things, then I woke up in the morning to Atma was mixing his drum tracks ……. hahaha). In this short period of time we also became close friends, and this relationship is still the same till today.

5. Which are Jani’s most impressive skills? Is there anyone of your previous musical partners who is playing in a similar way to him?

Jani J. Szentkiralyi ATMA: The best thing about Jani is his personality, he is simply a great person. He is quite serious about music and about life in general… I have a lot of respect for those things.

Jani shares a particular quality with most of the exceptional musicians that I have played with, that is Joy. Expressing the joy that is at the core of music is a special but simple element that I find in the best of the best…

I also find Jani to be quite open minded, besides the fact that he is a talented musician.

6. You are very busy and I’m sure you get invitations all the time to take part in various musical endeavors. How do you find time to do such projects and how do you decide to take part in such sessions?

Atma Anur ATMA: As I said before I am always into playing good music, my decisions are based on the music first and the relationship next. I am, and have been a working professional for many years, there is always time for good music. If I like the sound and the vibe of the music I will most likely want to play…

7.  How do you write the songs, how can we imagine the process?

JANI: We started with the songs which were included on my demo but I also shared with Atma all of my musical ideas, and from that point we shared our thoughts and vision. Actually Atma changed almost everything rhythmically….. lol. He’s thoughts and ideas are so brilliant and inspiring.(as we used to say jokingly: These Berklee guys think musically different ……lol)

So, we dont have a specific way of working, we simply just share ideas, thoughts and so on but, I need to mention here that Atma is taking part in the composition section too. On all of the songs he is a co-writer.

8. How would you sum up the essence of the music?  

ATMA: From the drumming side of things I can say that these songs have the groove and the creativity that anyone that likes my style will recognize and enjoy…

JANI: I’m sure that those who like guitar music and especially the ’shred’ style will love it. I feel that sometimes it’s a bit “progressive” influenced, sometimes neo-classical but we also have slow, melancholic lines and parts.

9.  How did Piero Trevisan come into the picture as a bass player?

ATMA: I met Piero when I first met Steve Saluto (Italian guitarist/composer). I worked with Piero on at least 3 recording sessions and also some live shows.

Jani and I were working with a few bass players on the recordings and I also suggested that Jani check out Piero for some possible gigs… So far everything sounds and feels great. Piero has a talent for finding the most groovy simple parts that fit the vibe very well.

10. What we  need to know about the upcoming EP? Will there be a sequel, any concerts?

JANI: The EP will contain 5 songs and it looks like it will be released by a Hungarian label. Sequel? Definitely. Yes, we want to take those songs to the stage, and continue recording.

ATMA: I hope to record a full CD’s worth of songs and do live shows of this music…

11.  What other projects are you working on?

ATMA: Right now I am working on a bunch of things with some European and South American musicians, I am also trying to finish my first solo CD and am writing for my second one… there is a lot to be done still to get these finished!

I am also putting finishing touches on my Theoretical book on rhythmic understanding… I try to stay busy being creative… I want to leave as much of what God has given me to do as possible after I have had my time in this life.

JANI: Right now I’m not working in other projects. I’m doing some studio work, for example I recorded guitars on two songs for Alina Alens (Romanian pop-rock artist).

12.  Which are the best three albums of all times? Atma Anur

 JANI: Speed Metal Symphony by Cacophony

A Dramatic Turn of Events by Dream Theater

1987 by Whitesnake

ATMA: Impressions by John Coltrane

Inner mounting Flame by the Mahavishnu Orchestra

Are You Experienced by Jimi Hendrix

13. What is the meaning of life?

ATMA: Beauty, Love, Loss… Peace, Anger, Music… Passion and Forgiveness.

To understand time and the basic human condition that we ALL share.

To make something useful of what is presented to you, and to express gratitude and joyfulness in every situation.

Jani J. Szentkiralyi

Life is about relationship… to one another, and to God.

JANI: Atma’s answer is so wide ….. so all I can say is that I identify myself with his answer.

Atma Anur Interview by Royal Northern College of Music Student (Manchester, England)

Many musicians believe the best form of practice is with other musicians, would you agree?

Atma AnurPractising, Learning, Playing and Performing… I think these are the most basic modes, or contexts, we musicians find ourselves in. These modes can be seen and used separately, but many times occur simultaneously.

Growing one’s ability to think and execute tasks while also being spontaneous and creative is the highest level for any musician to reach, and this is where the four modes come into some kind of conscious relationship.

 The correct execution of an action in time is the most basic level of practice for any musician, and this should be done slowly and quite consciously with a metronome (this is done to gain perspective). Correct execution is only a small part of playing music of course.

 Rehearsing music with recordings and in your band context is the next obvious step in becoming a better player, in this mode we learn about form, dynamics and groove.

 “Stream of consciousness” playing is also an important part of finding out “who one is” musically (on your instrument). This would be where you pick something to do with as little thinking as possible, and check what comes out of you. Recording these sessions can also be very helpful. One can experiment with sound and time and be creative in any way that comes up. I think this kind of “practice” is important and quite valid.

 Learning how to play melodies is another very important part of being a musician, and this includes all instruments (percussion as well). The “meaning” of most music is in its melody (especially ethnic styles), so internalizing melody will promote good sensitivity and musicality in one’s playing in general.

 Listening to great players (and even learning exactly what they played) is another very important part of learning about one’s instrument and how to play it. Playing with musicians that are more experienced than yourself and have better control of their instrument than you do is also very helpful.

 With all of this said, I would have to say that Practice and Playing should be one and the same, the time spent alone and the time spent with others should amass to help one simply make good music. All practice is good, and very important. It seems that the best form of practice would also depend on the individual’s goals, but for me everything I do is a part of my musical growth.

Do you sometimes find it hard to get into the zone once the red button is pressed and it’s time to record?

Atma Anur Recording The ZONE is simply the state of mind where control and creativity meet, when a musician can do what is needed, and more, at any given time. Getting to that “place” as a player mainly relies on proper preparation and a good state of relaxation (emotional freedom).

 Preparing is fairly obvious; KNOW what you are going to do. Have a mental picture of what things should sound like before you start recording (unless spontaneity is the point of the session). Relaxation is a bit more difficult of a topic; much of feeling relaxed has to do with the environment and one’s confidence as a player and a person. I try to actually focus on being relaxed when I play.

How would you deal with this common problem?

I try to be as prepared as possible, I learn the material and also give myself possible options for grooves and fills (in case what I prefer to play is somehow not working). Also knowing that you are there for a good reason should keep one feeling good about what you are doing. For me life has destiny and providence, I don’t really believe that things are random, so this shapes the way I see the situations I find myself in.

That perspective on life also allows me to understand that if I don’t “feel” the way I want to feel at a session… that may just be exactly what should be happening (not so comfortable, but a positive way of dealing with emotions)

How do you go about remembering everything you would need for a gig/session?

If you mean musically, I write charts, even when I know the music by heart. I find that writing things Atma Anur down somehow internalizes them in a deeper way. I also don’t really trust my memory, so I like to know, on paper, things like tempos and numbers of bars and so on.

 If you mean physical items… for me that has been experience… but you could make a list. List making is an important tool for achieving one’s goals in any field.

Do you believe in listening to as many varied genres as possible to become a better musician, could you give me some examples?

If one’s goal is to be a better musician one should be familiar with music in general, but self-definition is a very important part of life as well. Getting involved with music that one does not like is challenging and can be of great help in all kinds of ways (emotional and technical), but understanding one’s strengths and weaknesses is also important to musical maturity.

I think any musician really has to decide what he wants to do and take it from there. In the beginning that may include just looking around and seeing what’s out there… but I don’t think that works for everyone.

Excelling at a style usually takes a lot of discipline and dedication. This means spending time perfecting specific techniques and so on.

Obviously if you are the “sideman” type of musician (like me) you will enjoy mostly all styles and try to play them with passion and conviction… “do right by them”.

 I did and do listen to many styles of music, but that is because I enjoy them. At this point I do not listen to things that I don’t like, I also try to not get involved in playing music that I don’t enjoy (but as a sideman that can be a challenge).

Finally, how do you continue to move forward with your playing 

Atma Anurafter many years being a musician?


I can’t imagine not moving forward, there is just so much music out there. For me technique and coordination are absolutely a never ending endeavour, and my creativity never ceases to amaze me… lol

“WELL PLAYED, SIR!” – A Recent Perspective on an Original Influnce: BILLY COBHAM

Atma Anur At WorkUpon recollection of the events that took place in the small Market Square in the beautiful city of Krakow, Poland, quite recently, I came to another quite fascinating realization; that drummer Billy Cobham has grown, yet again, into another kind of musical inspiration for me.

Billy Cobham began inspiring me as a drummer, and as a musician, in 1974 when I first heard him with The Mahavishnu 

Billy Cobham in Poland, 2013

Orchestra on the Inner Mounting Flame LP (this was released in 1971, the year I began playing). I actually heard the Visions of the Emerald Beyond LP first, even though it was the 3rd or 4th LP released by that very legendary group, led by guitarist John MacLaughlin. My early days of contact with the LPs of The Mahavishnu Orchestra consisted of constant listening, and playing along with the songs. My goal was to learn every note I could, and play the drum parts correctly. A specific point would be that Billy Cobham brought to the forefront of drum set drumming the use of the “Paraddidle Beat” as a staple in what we now know as Fusion. And pioneered the use of paraddidles and their variations, as patterns to create odd meter grooves on the drum set (something that I took to heart).

I also choose to learn how to sing the melodies (mostly Violin and Guitar) and bass lines, as close to what I heard being played as was possible. After some years I even began playing along with The Inner Mounting Flame tracks at 45 rpm… as opposed to the normal 33 1/3 rpm… seemingly unbelievable but true.

Billy CobhamI first saw Billy Cobham live at the Beacon Theater in Manhattan in the mid to late 70s, I don’t remember which band it was with, but I do remember a moment when Billy went to ride his high mounted China Cymbal, and a roadie had to come on stage to hold the cymbal stand for him… it was as if the intensity was simply too much for the poor cymbal stand… or at least that’s what it seemed like to me at the time… awesome!

I do believe that my contact with those records changed and shaped me into the musician that I am today, and I must thank Jonh MacLaughlin, Billy Cobham and Narada Michael Walden for all of that inspiration, both technically and musically, and for their commitment to excellence. Atma Anur - photo credits Izabela Doniec

That recent Saturday night was an unreal surprise for me as I found out, just as they were going on stage, that Billy Cobham was playing not only in Poland, where I now live, but my in own city of Krakow… and only a few meters from where I was standing at the time… this seemed completely impossible to me. I of course ran across the Main Square where there was a folk festival in progress (also with very nice music) and made my way to the small Market Square just in time to see and hear some of the first song… and there was Billy Cobham himself on a wonderful spacious stage with a very nice drum riser, playing his 7 tom, double bass drum set up… genius! I stayed to the side of the stage behind the speakers to see him better… I did not hear the amplified sound of the group at this point.

At a momentary break in the action I moved to the other side of the stage where I was ushered into the back stage area at the foot of the drum riser itself (it’s always nice to be recognized), and discovered that each musician, including Billy, had a double sized music stand with long sheets of music on them… for each song. I found out later that the band had only a short rehearsal for the show earlier that same day.

After a couple of songs of my focusing on Billy’s playing (which was awesome), a song in 7/8 came on, not one that I knew, but a very cool piece. I noticed that the bass player was leading the groove to set up the upcoming melody, and that the four piece band sounded a bit stiff at this point as there was really not much groove or communication happening between them.

The bass line seemed to be written, was quite syncopated and in 7/8. The bass players lack of familiarity with the part was obvious… and then I watched how Billy handled this situation. I have been in similar situations many times as a side-man drummer, where a member of the band has trouble keeping the spirit of the music at hand alive due to his or her desire to be „correct” rather than play music for the music’s sake. In this case I saw and heard an example of truly gracious and mature musicianship.

Billy Cobham gently relaxed the groove while playing some snare hits in the places that made the bass line more understandable. He allowed his playing to swing just enough to show the other players where the spirit of the groove should „be” and kept that going until the bass player slowly realized where he should sit in the time. Billy brought his volume down a touch and generally made even more „space” for the other players.

The point for me was HOW Billy did this, both musically and emotionally. His „vibe” was so peaceful and honest that I could tell that the bass player felt supported, not corrected… this was a wonderful moment for me as a listener and a musician to see in action.

I remember thinking to myself „this is how to play as a Gentleman”, to retain the „vibe” of the group while making the music „right”… what a wise and respectful way this is. As I said, Billy was yet again a wonderful inspiration to me, as he always has been, but in a way that I could not have experienced from listening alone. I had to actually see the interaction between him and his fellow musicians. This was indeed the Gentleman’s approach to letting the music, not the musician, speak loudly.

Atma Anur - photo credits Izabela DoniecI was privileged enough to see this from only a few meters away from Billy’s drum riser, on the floor tom side of his set up that evening, the first time I had seen Billy Cobham live in over 30 years. After the show I had a short moment with this master musician, in which I thanked him for so many years of passion and inspiration, he was kind and communicative… and a true Gentleman.