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Modern Drummer April 2006

Virgil Donati Soloing Feature in MD April 06

A virtuoso who has advanced the art of drum soloing, Australia’s Virgil Donati is a state-of-the-art performer in terms of power, polyrhythm mastery, odd meters, phrasing, and metronomic precision, all under the auspices of dazzling showmanship. Currently using a second tier of toms and cymbals positioned above his standard kit for even greater tonal and rhythmic color, Donati is an articulate and energetic spokesman for the drum solo, in all its permutations.

“Why play a solo? Why does a novelist write? Why does a painter paint? It’s a way to stretch our ingenuity, which only bending the faculties of our mind and body with constant application can help us accomplish. It’s a way to express a universe of rhythmic possibilities. it’s a way to transcend. It’s skill overcoming difficulty, and artistry triumphing over skill.

I started soloing with my father’s band somewhere between three and six years of age, studying out of Ted Reed and Joe Cusatis books. There were many rudimental patterns, syncopated snare and bass drum exercises, and cross-sticking patterns. The ideas I developed from these formed the foundation of my early solos.

There are three essential requirements that will help you develop the ability to imrpovise: a sound understanding of rhythm, good technical control, and awareness and control of dynamics. A better understanding of rhythms is a matter of becoming familiar with the smaller units of a bar: the downbeats, upbeats, and everything in between. You have to be able to place accents on different beats, without it turning your ear around. it’s important that you always feel the basic pulse - usually 4/4. If you can feel that, no matter what you play and how you manipulate and bend the rhythm, it will always have a sense of groove and you’ll keep your place within the structure. From here, there are so many places you can take it – layered rhythms, polyrhythms, ostinatos, etc.

As far as planning goes, I have no preconceptions. if I’m trading fours, I try to create a dialog with the other soloists. If I’m soloing over a vamp, I like to weave in and out of the perceived time, creating tension using rhythmic and metric means. My solos can be very abstract and freeform, but I also like to use rhythms in a way that is thematic, and develop and reprise them.

To me, spontaneity is the essence of soloing. So to this day, I never pratice solos, just ideas. Some things are left to chance. This can create a feeling of uncertainty and difficulty.
Danger is a good teacher.”

Selected Solo Discography:
On The Virg: Serious Young Insects
Joel Hoekstra:
The Moon Is Falling: “9/11” and “Kaleidoscope”
Undefined: “Electric Fields”, “Mad Bar”, “Homework”, “Plot In Motion”
Planet X: Live From Oz
Steve Vai: Live At The Astoria London (DVD)

Favorite Solos And Soloists:
Tony Williams Lifetime, Believe It!, Million Dollar Legs
Billy Cobham: Spectrum
Harvey Mason: Lee Ritenour, Captain Fingers
Also: Philly Joe Jones, Vinnie Colaiuta