As a kid taking drum lessons, I didn't know what kind of music I liked. I was just interested in music and I wanted to play. After taking drum lessons at a local music shop for some time I started to get really bored. I was playing endless exercises but no music. The drum teacher never encouraged me to play in school band and it wouldn't have mattered anyway because I went to a parochial school with no fine arts program at all. I don't know why, but one day out of sheer boredom, I put on a pair of headphones and tried to play along with some music on the radio. I didn't try to play exactly what I was hearing I just tried to play along using ideas from my exercises that seemed to fit. I know that one of the first songs I tried this with was Dreamweaver by Gary Wright, so I guess that was 1975, and I was 12.
About this time my older brother started bringing home more and more albums, most of them Prog. I would play my drum lessons, then put my headphones on and play to Prog records and FM radio for hours. I know that a lot of what I was hearing was way over my head, but that didn’t matter, I just kept trying different things, different exercises, playing what I thought I was hearing, trying something else, making things fit, and so on. Then I would take the headphones off and keep playing. I would play the grooves, create fills, string fills together, incorporate my drum lessons and try to see how long I could keep it going. Little did I know that I was teaching myself how to improvise. This became my routine for several years. Then one day I met up with some guys from another high school and they invited me to come jam with them. These guys were into music I had never heard of, something called fusion. I was completely unfamiliar with that style. They told me not to worry and just play the way I play. So I did and they loved it.
I think that the ability to improvise is one of the greatest skills I’ve ever acquired. The ability to improvise gives me the freedom to let creativity flow. When you can improvise, the instrument has become your voice. But even more than that, Improvisation keeps art (and much more) from becoming static.