The Prof is in...Cindy Blackman-Santana

Posted by Gareth Makin on

The subject of this blog is the current drummer of latin/jazz/rock/funk supergroup Santana and is in fact married to the leader of said band, the very spiritual guitar virtuoso, Carlos Santana.

Cindy Blackman (as she was way back when) came to my attention (and everyone elses) by backing Lenny Kravitz in the iconic video to his hit single ‘Are you gonna go my way?’ (we weren’t sure which way that was but we all followed just in case it got even more exciting).  She put in all the right moves on the video (much to do with some great editing by the director and the fact that she had done a fair bit of street performance in NYC) and captured the energy, spirit and drive that makes the track so popular.

That probably would have been that had I not come across an instructional/performance video, which dropped into the store I was working at at the time (the Video/DVD was ‘Multiplicity’ – Warner Bros).  As soon as the opportunity presented itself (pretty much immediately, it was a slow day) I sat down (well, actually I stood – it’s easier to look busy if a customer happens by) and watched as she swung (hard) and rocked her way through some small ensemble performances.  These were interspersed with some technique insights and exercises.  She talked about her absolute love of the great Tony Williams (evident in her Gretsch kit layout and the way she approached jazz), playing with Lenny Kravitz and her pathway to becoming the player and band leader she is today.

At a very early age (and coming from a family where both Mom and Pop were working musicians), several key things happened that fostered her passion for Jazz.  Most notably, her befriending the legendary Max Roach and Art Blakey (and studying with them) and seeing Tony Williams in clinic (at famed drum and accessory designer Bob Gatzen’s drum store – she soon befriended Tony too and notably said ‘meeting Tony was the best thing that’s ever happened to me’) fanned the flames that would take her on to NYC, becoming one of the most exciting ‘up and coming’ players in the district. Couple this with a good rudimental grounding (from high school drumline) and a spell at Berklee and you wouldn’t be surprised that she hit the jazz scene fast and hard.

Her work with Wallace Roney led to a recording contract as a band leader which saw the release of the first (of many) record(s), ‘Arcane’.  Then a telephone call (arranged by a friend) with Lenny Kravitz, where they shared their mutual appreciation of Gretsch drums and K Zildjian cymbals (Kravitz is a fine drummer too), led to her being asked to join his band in LA (which is where we came in - actually Lenny did ask her to play drums down the phoneline as part of the impromptu ‘audition’ - as you do).

In 2010 she briefly covered for Dennis Chambers in Santana which eventually led her to work full time with the band (she still gets time to cover her solo projects too) and slightly unrelatedly (I guess), marry Carlos.

Shining a light onto her cymbals (not much actually comes back really as they are sooo dark) she did initially start out working with Zildjian but eventually found her spiritual home with the Turkish manufacturer Istanbul.  They set about realising her dream to recreate the cymbals of the ‘golden’ era of Jazz drumming from which her idols sprang and the ‘OM’ series was the result.  She makes these fabulous instruments whisper and roar and they, I hasten to add, aren’t really that small models either as you’ll see…

(Fast forward to 2018 and her current bronzes are the Istanbul Agop Cindy Blackman ‘Mantra’ set).

15” Hi-Hats

18” Crash

16” Crash

22” Ride

20” Crash

20” Crash

Striking these with her (very useable) Vic Firth signature sticks (oh and you should also note she sings lead vocal on her current solo release, produced by another fine drummer and musician, Narada Michael Walden) addressing them in conjunction with her vintage 70’s Gretsch kit, her own playing voice shines through, distilling all her influences with every stroke.  She plays with passion and fire, whether it’s in a latin setting with Santana, rocking out with Kravitz or ‘whispering the groove’ with Dionne Warwick.

All her performances are out there for you to listen to and watch (hello again youtube and yes, hello again record store) and as usual here, I urge you to search some out.  Hopefully you’ll find another new drummer to add to your favourites list.

Until next time, keep the feel, not the volume, make mine a cymbomute.

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