Segment Two: Tommy Bendel

I don’t normally speed, but the light on Friday was gorgeous and I wanted to capture it on film before it sank into the streets of Fishtown. Say what you will about the show, the sun looks damn good when it’s setting.  Even if the interview flops, someone will at least say, “Oooh, that’s pretty!”

But it didn’t flop. It BOOMed and THWACKed, thanks to the subject of segment two: Tommy Bendel.

Tommy is one of those players whose musicality precedes his instrument.  You can tell he’s thinking about his approach before hitting anything. Cymbals and toms get a cursory stroke of the brush before the rhythm develops.  It’s like a pre-game huddle: pep talk, strategy, planning and suddenly the team becomes one.

Oh, and he’s also a hell of a drummer.

I hate to use words like “organic” when describing musicians or produce, but that’s just how Tommy’s playing sounds.  It’s not like he takes command of the drum and rolls out amazingly technically proficient fills for the benefit of the drummers in the audience (though I’m certain he’s left other players slackjawed). Rather, he lets the drum sound the way it would if it had its own set of arms. Organic. There, I said it again.

He set up a snare in the middle of the street and I did my best to gather remaining light. The moment Tommy started playing, the whole of Philly turned into his band. Sirens, passing trains, footsteps all built up around the foundation he laid down. I closed my eyes (which a cameraman isn’t supposed to do) and everything became music. I hope that little bit of magic comes through in this segment.

This was the hardest editing job I’ve ever done. We recorded so much music, but when Tommy plays, you want to hear the whole thing uncut. It would be terribly unfair not to give you everything so look for a video in the next post.

Tommy has been doing this for over two decades, yet he still has a boyish charm when he talks about making music. His fingers move through the air like he’s twirling invisible sticks. He sways to a spoken beat.  His eyes get Christmassy when he talks about the sessions he has coming up.

Somewhere between studios, Bendel finds the time to play with Philly phenoms, Buried Beds. I could go on and on about their new album, Tremble the Sails and how it’s one of the best things I’ve heard in years, but I’ll leave that to the Pitchforks of the world who are spitting out metaphors about the band faster than a…camel who…spits.

During the drive back home, a mile long row of safety cones on the Jersey Turnpike made a rhythmic whooshing sound as I passed them. Tommy could add some sick shit on top of this, I thought.

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