How drummer Ted Warren has turned himself into a one-man show

Ted Warren is one of Canada’s great drummers.

Along with fronting his own group Ted’s Warren Commission, he’s been a member of Rob McConnell’s Boss Brass and has played with the likes of Michael Brecker, Tom Scott, Kenny Wheeler, Mike Murley and more.

Throughout the pandemic, Warren has been keeping musically active by performing solo drum concerts live on Facebook. He joined us to talk about how he’s been enjoying the challenge of making a compelling one-man show with just a drum kit.

Do you remember why you decided to be a drummer?

My dad has drummed and he left them at the house when he split with my mom. I didn’t take much notice, but then I saw someone playing on Mr. Dressup. The weird thing about that is that I think it was Daniel Barnes. I said to him one time at a party, “Hey man, I think I started playing because I saw you on Mr. Dressup.” And his reaction was, “Oh yeah, okay.”

You think he’d have been blown away by this knowledge!

I don’t know! He didn’t seem very impressed.

But it was him on the show?

I think so. I think his mom had something to do with the production of the show, if I remember correctly.

How have things been going for you during this difficult time?

It’s odd because obviously it happened for a really hard reason and it’s been difficult for people, but I actually have found that I’ve gotten a fair amount done, I’ve lost some weight and I thought a lot about my relationship to music. A lot of it has been quite positive for me and I don’t know if it would have happened any other way.

That wasn’t you looking for positivity — it just revealed itself quite easily?

Yeah… In the summer, I was on my bike a ton. It was a really nice summer weather-wise in Ontario. Usually what happens in the summer is I’m worried about getting to a gig, or getting home from a gig, and without any of that I could just concentrate on enjoying my life, spending time with my wife and daughter. I’ve been able to practise a lot because I haven’t been working.

And you’ve been inspired to practise? Some folks have said it’s been hard to feel motivated.

I’m fortunate because fairly early on, I really enjoyed the research and development process of practising, so I don’t necessarily have to have a gig to prepare for to get into it. Obviously I love working with musicians and playing for people and connecting with them that way, but even without that, I realized I still just enjoy trying to learn everything I can about music. I’m playing a lot of piano, too, so that’s been fun.

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You’ve been doing some live streams on your own. When you go into a solo drum performance, what are some of the challenges in terms of presentation and audience engagement?

A really good point for people to realize is that with a lot of these streaming concerts, if you’re a singer-songwriter, you just get out your guitar and sing like you always do. They really don’t have to change anything they’re doing. But if you’re someone like me who plays the drums, or if you’re a classical trombone player or something like that, you’re going to have to go outside what you normally do. I could play the beat to Billy Jean for an hour, but that could get a little ponderous. I think the cool part about things like this is that it is a chance to explore things that your instrument doesn’t normally do — when it’s in a foreground role rather than a supportive role. I’ve done a handful of these gigs even before COVID-19, and they’re really fun just to give yourself a bit of a challenge that way.

So are you using stuff outside of a drum kit — percussion, keyboard, stuff like that?

I think there’s a conceptual thing I want to get into that mainly revolves around the drum set. I think there’s a way to create variety within that. The fascinating thing about the drum set is that the whole thing is one instrument, but every component of it is an instrument as well. You don’t look at a trumpet and think that the third valve could be an instrument unto itself. But you could play a hi-hat or a snare drum by itself. That’s a cool, different thing about the drum set, and I’m going to be exploring some things around that.

And it’s not like a drum lesson — it’s music to enjoy, but with explanation?

Whenever I’m doing this, I’m trying to play pieces, not necessarily something to impress 14-year-olds who have just started playing the drums. Whenever I listen to drummers, I’m a listener. If you can engage me as a listener with some storytelling and musical drama, that’s what brings me in. That’s what I’m trying to do, as well.

This interview has been edited and condensed.