Publication: The Star - Ledger
Author: Zan Stewart
Michael Carvin makes his drums talk. He’ll caress them, evoking whispers. He’ll whap them so they stand up and shout. He’ll work a middle volume, creating an alluring rhythmic language. The drums are his passion.
“I still clean my drums like I used to as a teenager,” says Carvin, 61, a Houston native who lives in Franklin Park with his wife of 20 years, WBGO-FM (88.3) on-air personality Rhonda Hamilton. “I have five sets, I clean all of them. During a break at a club, I’ll sit and just look at them. I’m fascinated. There’s still that dream, that beauty. I love the drums.”
The mercurial Carvin performs Friday and Saturday at Shanghai Jazz in Madison. Though he’s been a continuously active pro for 40 years, and has played with such jazz greats as Jackie McLean, Freddie Hubbard, McCoy Tyner, and Bobby Hutcherson, he’s yet to become a marquee name — which is fine by him.
“I’m a well-kept secret, but I still go to the bank on a regular basis,” Carvin says, laughing. His youthful attitude is clear when he says of himself as an artist, “I haven’t even begun.”
Carvin will undoubtedly attract new followers with his recent CD, “Marsalis Music Honors Michael Carvin,” his first album in a decade. The recording runs from songs soft and slow to those loud and racing, and features tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland and pianist Carlton Holmes, both of whom will appear at Shanghai Jazz. At the club, Janson Pinko is in for the CD’s bassist, Dezron Douglas.
The leader, whose Web site is www.michaelcarvin.com, has good words for his cohorts. Of Holmes, who has performed with him since 1990, Carvin says, “His playing is open and flowing, and I love his use of space, his patience. Janson really listens, tries to understand what we, as bass player and drummer, are trying to do. I like that Marcus really listens to the drums, and that’s he’s studying piano — very important for anyone who is not a pianist. I encourage all of them to find themselves in the improvisation, try to find your voice.”
At Shanghai, Carvin will focus on selections from the CD. One will be Charles Lloyd’s “Forest Flower,” played as a ballad instead of its usual bright medium clip. “This lets you listen to the melody, which is so beautiful,” says the drummer, who is decidedly a melodic player.
“The Lamp Is Low” is given a hearty back-beat, which derives in part from the Motown classic “Heat Wave” — apropos, as Carvin was a Motown house drummer in Los Angeles in the 1960s. “Hello, Young Lovers” is played way fast, built over a bouncing beat that comes in part from the famed 1920s tune “The Charleston.”
Carvin created sounds on pots and pans via spoons before starting drum lessons at age 6 from his father, Henry “Hank” Carvin, a renowned Houston trapsman who played with such giants as Louis Armstrong and Jimmy Lunceford.
A Texas State Drum Champion for rudiments for five years, the younger Carvin headed to Los Angeles at age 18 to start his career. He moved to New York in 1973 and, in addition to performing, opened the Michael Carvin School of Drumming. His students have included such now-noted drummers as Nasheet Waits, Ralph Peterson Jr., and Rudy Walker.
“To enjoy what I do, have people enjoy it, that’s an honor and a thrill beyond anything I can conceive of,” Carvin says of his life in drums.