Steve Jordan is a drummer’s drummer and a producer’s producer. There’s a good chance you’ve heard him without knowing it, from his work in late-night TV bands, to with Keith Richards, John Mayer, and Mix Master Mike. The job of a drummer and producer is mostly to keep things organized while making somebody else look really good. These aren’t featured roles, but they are essential – making them very applicable to the work we all do (unless you’re a diva of some form, in which case stop reading). Here are a few lessons from him we can apply to our own work.
When Jordan hears a new song, he doesn’t ask what he can do on the track, he listens to see what the song needs. When we’re new in a profession we want to leave our mark by making sure we’re seen and heard. When we’re seasoned, we want to leave our mark with an impactful contribution to each job or project. Whether it’s a jazz, rock, or hip hop session, he approaches them the same way, by asking, “What does this need from me?”
Knowledge is something to share. Outside of protected intellectual property situations, we’re usually better off giving some of what we know away to those that want to receive it. The pro knows knowledge isn’t the thing, it’s what you do with it that matters. Jordan was a direct beneficiary of a few producers who took him under their wing and explained what they were doing and why. Now, he does the same for others. It builds people up and you never know what they might teach you in return.
Jordan says to “Develop your sound, your groove, and your ears.” I’ll translate that for the non-musical applications. You have to find your own voice, or a way to be confident in what you say and do. You have to be recognizable and reliable in your confidence, without arrogance or ego. Finally, you have to develop your ability to listen to others to know where your talents can enhance the situation.
Making the right decisions in the moment takes a lot of practice. It also takes loving the process and performance of whatever it is we do. With time – whether we are session drummers or any type of professional, we can learn to make it look and sound simple. As Jordan says, “Simplicity is not stupidity.” We just have to put in the work to get there.
If you want more, I highly recommend Steve Jordan’s interview with Cory Wong on the Wong Notes podcast. And if you need a taste of his playing, this is mesmerizing.