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1. How did you get your start playing drums?

My personal start on the drums came while I was playing the pots and pans (at 4 yrs old) in the kitchen while my Mother was cooking. It was actually my Grandmother who suggested to my Mom that she should put me in Drum Lessons.

2. Who influenced you early on and who inspires you today?

I feel everyone teaches me something… so it’s hard to point at one influence. But definitely I was INSPIRED by music and those who authentically expressed themselves. Like John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Jesus, Buddha, Albert Einstein and countless others.

3. You grew up as a teenager who struggled with weight issues and was the target of cruel children and mean-spirited teachers. Did the bullying you endured as a youth, have an effect on your playing or your drive to succeed?

Hell YES… because at first I was like “I’m going to show all these mother f*&%ers that I’m the best”… (laughing). Now I look back and laugh about what happened in my youth… (children being children). I can’t hold a grudge for what happened back then… but it’s amazing what things/circumstances in life that can give you that push in certain directions

4. Wynton Marsalis saw something special in you at a high school workshop, and encouraged you to continue studying Jazz in New York City. What was that feedback like for you? How important do you think having a mentor was to your overall success? Would you have gone on to pursue music as a career without his vote of confidence?

When Wynton told me that he liked my playing… I was like :-O (WOW) because I just remember telling myself to stay simple and play exactly what’s needed… mostly because I was a little nervous. Having a mentor is just a thing, it can be great to some musicians and not so great to others. Just depends on what a person is going for. In my case, Wynton wasn’t trying to mentor me… he just encourage me to pursue playing music. The choice was still up to me and that was great. So basically, the main thing is having someone encourage you to start a career in something that they feel you are good at and follow through with connecting some dots (career wise) that you may not be able to do yourself. Now would I have still played music without Wynton giving his vote of confidence..? Absolutely, I’ve always loved music.

5. You pushed yourself to the point of exhaustion at the Manhattan School of Music and ended up returning to Houston to recharge both physically and spiritually. Did you consider giving up drums at this point? Why did you choose to become an ordained minister? Has your spiritual connection helped to keep you grounded in this crazy industry?

Well, pushing myself to exhaustion is a bit extreme, let’s say that I really desired to be as small as possible and went long times without eating. When I was 15 years old, I weighted 380 lbs. So I decided one day that I was going to start losing weight… and I found various ways of getting results… one being to not eat at times. But I eventually took it a bit too far and would pass out from not eating for long periods of time.

I did move back to Houston for a year after college, but that was mostly due to those high NYC rent prices. But if you know me, then you know that I don’t waste any time. So while in Houston, since I wasn’t gigging, I decided to get a better understanding of Theology, Church and God. Since I grew up in a Spiritual based family that had very strong views about religion, I wanted to get my own views on this. Needless to say, it was all beautiful. Becoming an ordain minister was just part of the process of studying Theology. I did preach the gospel a bit… but honestly really just loved my understanding of God/Universe and the One-ness of us all. I stopped preaching because I came to a state of awareness that we are all loved by God, no matter who we are or what we’ve done. There is no judgment, just love and opportunity to live your life fully. And yes… this new philosophy did impact my approach to drumming and my views on this WONDERFUL Industry. It’s like this, when you understand that people are just living according to what they know, then it’s hard to judge them. They are just living and trying things out… just like us all. So the freedom I give them is ultimately the freedom I give myself. I definitely bring this philosophy to the bandstand.

6. You have played live and recorded albums with some of the greatest names in Jazz. How do you go about picking cymbals for each musical situation you’re in?

Well, I don’t specifically pick certain cymbals for a situation, it’s more about being adaptable. When I play cymbals, I’m listening for that overall sonic connection… meaning that they produce the sound that I desire to hear at that time

7. You have a new album coming out in August. Can you tell us about it? What cymbals did you use to record with?

Yes, I have a very exciting new album releasing on 8/11/14. The album is called “Vipassana”. Vipassana (insight meditation) is the ultimate expression of Socrates' dictum, "know thyself"… at least for me. I’m sure that it means so many different things to many people, but what spoke to me was this relationship of the mind/body/spirit and getting a deeper more personal understanding of that. The Buddha discovered that the act of suffering can actually be erased when we see our true nature. This is a radical insight. It means that our happiness does not depend on manipulating the external world. We only have to see ourselves clearly. So I wanted to create an album that represented my meditative journey to my own since of clarity.

8. Congratulations on being selected as this year’s Artist in Residence at the Monterey Jazz Festival! What will some of your responsibilities be there this summer?

Monterey is an awesome place… I’m glad that they thought enough of me to be there. My responsibilities are pretty laid back. I worked with Next Generations All-Star High School Ensemble, gave a master class… next I’ll be teaching some drum classes for about a week, and then the grand finale of the Festival where I’ll be performing with my group “Voyager” and other groups I’m apart of… like “Sangam” w/Zakir Hussain and the Charles Lloyd Quartet.

 

9. How do you define success as a drummer? What would you say your secret to success is if you were giving advice to someone starting out?

Well I personally define success as experiencing what brings a person joy.  So ultimately, my advice to anyone would be to follow your heart and let joy be your guide. For example, when practicing, try the things that bring you joy rather than things that don’t. If you mess up at something, the joy of trying what you love will keep you inspired more than doing something mundane that you wouldn’t want to. There’s joy in the process of doing the things you love (even without a direction), as to where there isn’t love, there tends to be more expectation.

 

10. You already pursue a sidebar career in modeling, if you weren’t a first-call drummer, what else would you want to do?

Hmmmm… I would say that my 2nd passion is football. I always wanted to play pro-ball. But now that I’m older, I would now say that I would start a wine company and just travel. Be with family, friends and really just enjoy life. Focusing more on BE-ing instead of DO-ing.

 

Eric Harland
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