As a self-professed drum nerd I often find myself at gigs because of who is going to be sat behind the kit that night. While I do spend these evenings doing my best to absorb the overall performance of the band, my mind often pulls me back to ‘drumland’ and I soon find myself focusing on the tub-thumper a little more than I perhaps should. Usually after a short while I will catch myself doing this and force my ears to ‘zoom’ back out and take in the full aural picture, but every once in a while a drummer will be so mesmerizing that I’m completely drawn in for the entire show; one such performance that has especially stuck with me was Mike Mitchell performing with the Stanley Clarke band July 2017.

I hadn’t bought my ticket solely to see Mike, jazz fusion bassist legend Stanley Clarke was more than enough to secure my ticket sale regardless of the band, but when I knew that Mike would be on the kit that evening I’d be fibbing to say I wasn’t more than a little excited.

Mike Mitchell - Most Memorable Drummer

The gig was held at The Fleece in Bristol (a nice cosy 450 cap venue for those unfamiliar) and I managed to get a spot with a great view of Mike’s kit. From the moment the show began to the second it ended my jaw was firmly placed on the ground. I would love to describe how Mike played that evening, but the words I need simply don’t exist. Mike was playing at the absolutely highest level of world-class player, with ideas sprouting from this seemingly bottomless source of creativity. The entire night was a master class in jazz-fusion drumming. His playing was an untameable force of nature.

While words fail me when describing his playing, one other thing I feel it’s important to discuss is his attitude and confidence on that gig. From a personal perspective, no matter how far I have come in my own studies and development behind the kit I will always doubt myself at least a couple times a gig. I know everyone makes mistakes (including Mike that evening), but I’m talking about second-guessing my ability or execution while performing; a momentary lapse in self-confidence.

From the moment Mike sat on his stool that evening to the moment he stood up I honestly don’t believe he thought about himself as a player at all, he was 110% inside the music. The only thing in his mind was the music that was being played and how he was responding to it. With not even a slither of self-doubt anywhere to be found Mike was able to be creative without any hindrance, simply diving straight into very ambitious phrases and ideas without a glimmer of “am I SURE I can do this?!”. His own unwavering belief in his playing was the device enabling him to play like he did.

Drum Kit

I feel it’s important to re-iterate at this point that the name on the posters for this event was “The Stanley Clarke Band”. Mike took the spotlight countless times that evening, which to some would be questionable considering this was Stanley’s gig, but to me it seemed that no one enjoyed Mike’s playing more than Stanley Clarke that night. Every time Stanley heard Mike beginning to explore he would egg him on (quite a contrast to the daggers many band-leaders would throw a drummer who was being so bold) and this musical relationship led to the magical performance that took place.

While I leave many gigs talking about a specific fill or lick the drummer played, I left that evening speaking mostly about Mike’s incredible confidence, and that was certainly the greatest lesson I took away from that evening. His self-assured attitude didn’t come across as cocky to me; it was simply an awareness of who he was as a player and what he had to offer the music. It’s one thing practicing and being able to play some great parts, but all of that is worthless unless accompanied with the confidence to execute without self-doubt, that is when you are able to make music with it.

What is your most memorable gig to date? What was the greatest lesson you took away from that gig? Comment below and join the discussion!