by Ken Micallef, Modern Drummer magazine
Woodstock-based drummer/composer Harvey Sorgen has lived a hundred lifetimes in one. Sorgen has drummed with such greats as Ahmad Jamal, Bill Frisell, Paul Simon, Derek Trucks, and his longtime gig Hot Tuna, and he's also worked as an engineer and clinician. Upcoming records with Katie Bull, MaMuGe 3, the Fonda/Stevens Group, Black Dog Trio, and his own Sorgen/Rust/ Windbiel Trio attest to his versatility and seriously swinging, slightly abstract style. Sorgen says listening beyond the drums is the key to being a player other musicians want to work with. "Listen to the rhythm of everybody else in the band," he advises. "It's really about the way the other musicians are playing. Their rhythms and dynamics will help dictate your rhythms and dynamics and make it feel natural."
In his workshops around the world, Sorgen details unusual techniques from behind his Fidock drums and Paiste cymbals. "I slow things down to an excruciatingly slow pace," he says. "Like playing one stroke on a snare drum and having it take a minute. Raise your arm, full extension above your head, and, with alternating hands, have each stroke take a minute. That makes you aware of your breathing. A lot of guys hold back on their breathing, which really forces cramps in the muscles. If you do this for five minutes a day, it will change your playing immediately."
Sorgen also recommends a demanding finger exercise. "Keep your hands loose and open as if you're going to shake hands," he explains. "Hold the stick by placing it between the tips of your fingers and thumb while keeping your hand open and relaxed, not clenched. Then play the cymbal with only your fingers—not your wrist— moving the stick up and down. Pull the stick as far back toward your body as you can on each stroke. You'll start to feel the stretching in your fingers and muscles that normally do not get the attention they deserve. After a while, try dropping your pinky, then ring finger, then middle finger, and see if you're maintaining control of the stick. This will help you access everything you have to play the instrument."
Ultimately, Sorgen insists, finding your own voice on the kit will ensure a long and fruitful career. "You need to develop your own sound and what makes you different," he says. "It's not the drums that make the sound, it's the drummer. Find out what makes you different, because there will always be someone younger with more chops. Make sure people are calling you because they want what you do."
~ Ken Micallef