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Percussionist Daniel Sadownick earned a Master's degree in Musical Education at New York University, where he also studied composition. He then went on to study privately with percussion masters Andrew Cyrille, John Amira and Frankie Malabe. Since then Sadownick has toured with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra, Michael Brecker, Steely Dan, Nat Adderley, George Coleman, Dianne Reeves, Carl Allen, Dewey Redman among others. He is a faculty member at New York University.

The following interview with Daniel Sadownick was especially conducted for my Master of Philosophy in Music [By Research] thesis titled The Conga Drum: Development, Technique, Styles, Improvisations and the contribution of Master Drummer Ramon ‘Mongo’ Santamaria which I completed in 2008 at the ANU in Canberra. The thesis documents the conga drum’s historical development, investigates basic hand techniques and current technical hand developments, as well as the enormous contribution of master drummer Ramon 'Mongo' Santamaria, arguably the most influential player in the history of the instrument, exploring his percussive output as well as his ensemble, composition and arranging proficiency. I conducted this interview with Daniel Sadownick via email.

PERTOUT: What type of exercises do you adhere in your conga development?

SADOWNICK: I practice a lot of rudiments such as single, double and triple paradiddles and mama-dada's as well. I also use the heel-toe movement in both hands to work on speed, dexterity and control. These are exercises that most trap drummers would use as well. I find them very essential to proper development. The heel-toe movement is also essential for developing the mano secreta techniques that Changuito and Giovanni have innovated. Also, it is important for one to exercise regularly and to stretch the hands and fingers.

PERTOUT: Did you study with someone in particular who guided you in their particular approach?

SADOWNICK: My wonderful teacher was Frankie Malabe, one of the premier teachers in New York City for many years. Not only was he immersed in the traditional folkloric vocabulary, he could also take that information and transform it into totally something new. However, the tradition and the clave were always there. He was a great teacher who always inspired me. He was also a dear friend and was like a father figure to me. When he passed away it was a deep loss for me. I also studied with a great percussionist in New York City named John Amira. And I studied drum set with Andrew Cyrille who is an innovator and leader in jazz who played with Cecil Taylor for many years.

PERTOUT: How do you see the family of drum rudiments, do you incorporate all the rudiments?

SADOWNICK: I think that rudiments are great for exercises, warming up and for some musical situations. However, I try not to rely on them too much. And yes, it is always a good thing to take whatever you learn and to come up with variations, especially with rudiments.

PERTOUT: Is the practice method you adhere to based on a particular model?  Giovanni’s style perhaps?

SADOWNICK: I think most percussionists will admit that Giovanni is a huge influence on their style of playing. I love Giovanni and practice a lot of what he does but I also have a lot of other influences. There are so many great percussionists who I would listen to. And the ones that I am going to mention are very melodic in their playing. There are many percussionists that have incredible speed but they all don't possess the melodic qualities of these great players: Jerry Gonzales, Daniel Ponce, Candido, Mongo Santamaria, Patato, Tata Güines, Poncho Sanchez. And of course I listen to and have been inspired by many drum kit players like Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, Roy Haynes, Andrew Cyrille.

PERTOUT: Could you describe what Changuito's mano secreta entails?

SADOWNICK: I became aware of Changuito's mano secreta a long time ago but, I was unable to process it and understand it. Later on, I would watch videos of him that were taken very nonchalantly in a hotel room or a classroom where his approach was clearer to me. And then, I would just practice it over and over and very slowly. I thought that I would never be able to get it but then one day, like magic, after months and months of trying to figure it out, it finally appeared. To this day, I practice it over and over because I am never satisfied with my sound. I always want it to get better. As to what it entails, I could never faithfully describe it in words, it would be much easier for me to show you how it is done. It involves a lot of heel-toe movement but that still is not describing it in a proper way.

PERTOUT: Are there any other approaches in terms of conga technique that you admire, the Tata Güines approach perhaps?

SADOWNICK: Tata Güines is an incredible player. Just the sound that he gets from one tone can give you goose pimples. He inspired me to always work on my sound, whether it was one note or a flurry of fast notes. However, once I learned the mano secreta I always wanted to develop it into my own sound. You see, every great player has their own identity. You can tell when you hear a recording if it is John Coltrane or Sonny Rollins, they had their own styles. I don't consider myself a great player, I'm still evolving but, I do think that I have my own identity and my own sound. As much as I have my influences, I still work very hard on having my own sound. I try to come up with my own hand techniques and I think I have succeeded in some ways but I'm still trying to get to another level.

PERTOUT: Who are the players do you feel that have changed this spectrum?

SADOWNICK:   Beside Giovanni and Changuito I would also say Richie Flores, Pedro Martinez, Raul Rekow, Chembo Corniel, John Rodriguez, Samuel Torres and many others.

Email Interview. 27 February 2007.

© Alex Pertout. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without prior written permission from the author. This article forms part of the thesis ‘The Conga Drum: Development, Technique, Styles, Improvisations and the contribution of Master Drummer Ramon ‘Mongo’ Santamaria’ which was submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the degree of Master of Philosophy in Music [by Research] Faculty of Arts, Australian National University.

© Alex Pertout. All Rights Reserved.