Interviews With Successful Musicians

Interviews with successful musicians will appear on this page from time to time. These interviews will be part of the learning experience you will find on these pages. They will be with practitioners from many different fields of music. All have turned their talents into careers in different and unique ways.

Read our first interview with Danny Gottlieb, world-famous drummer who first burst into the Jazz and Contemporary music scene with the original Pat Metheny Group.

You can visit Danny's website by clicking on the photo below. Then you can return here and read our interview with Danny. Then, be sure to read our interview with Joseph Golan, one of Chicago's most successful and versatile violinists by simply clicking on the Joseph Golan link below.

Finally, read our interview with Howard Levy, virtuoso of the harmonica who is also a fabulous pianist. Howard rose to fame as an original member of Bela Feck and the Flecktones. Click on the Howard Levy Interview link below.

Joseph Golan Interview
Howard Levy Interview

Musicians Professional Resource (MPR): Welcome to the Musicians Professional Resource website, Danny. Tell us about your first exposure to music and how you decided to study the Drums.

Danny Gottlieb (DG): I was born in New York City, on April 18, 1953, and grew up in nearby Union, New Jersey. I was an only child, and my parents were both musical. Our household was always filled with music and the arts. My mom played the violin in a local symphony (and still does play, at age 84!!!), and my dad, who unfortunately passed away in 1982, was an avid music fan and opera buff. I actually started playing music as a ‘cellist at 6 years of age, that I played for 8 years. When I was 14, I decided to take drum lessons in a local New Jersey summer music school program because I was having trouble counting, of all things! Just one day of drum class was all it took. I was hooked on playing the drums forever!!!!

MPR: What were your musical experiences like while you were growing up?

DG: I was really a product of the American public school system. As I mentioned, I started ‘cello in a school music program, and later, the drums as well. After playing drums for a year, I wandered into a local music store (Dorn and Kirshner, in Union, N.J.), and discovered that the great jazz drummer, Joe Morello, was teaching at that store! I didn't really know much about his playing except that he played with Dave Brubeck, and was on the cover of the Ludwig Drum catalog. So, I figured he must have been a great drummer!!! After getting up enough nerve, I signed up for an evaluation lesson, and that was the beginning of a student-teacher relationship that still continues to this very day. Joe himself studied with George Lawrence Stone (famed author of "Stick Control"), and Billy Gladstone (the drummer at New York’s Radio City Music Hall) and had developed a teaching method based on his experiences with those teachers. It's a very disciplined approach to the snare drum and natural body movements technique, a system that is very unique to drum instruction. I have never met anyone else with a more logical approach, and I will always continue to study and consult with him whenever possible. I first started studying with him when I was 15, and I am now 53, so it's been almost 40 years!!!! And - he still plays unbelievably well!!!

As far as musical experiences, I was lucky enough to have another great musical influence in school, my Junior High School and later High School Jazz Band director, Morty Geist. I still call him “Mr. Geist” and am very close with him today. A former big band sax player, Geist used to play jazz recordings for the detention classes, and after a while, all of us interested in jazz would stay after class and hang out there just to hear the music. In addition, he brought in many interesting arrangements for the jazz band, as well as the recordings from which they came-a really great experience.

There was also a radio station in NY, WRVR, that featured a famous jazz DJ named Ed Beach. Ed would highlight a different jazz artist everyday, and the station would broadcast the show in the morning and again later that night. Mr. Geist would listen to the show and let us know if the show was particularly interesting. I would go home at night and tape record the shows on my reel-to-reel recorder. It was an amazing way to gain exposure to jazz. (Some of these tapes have survived, and I hope to get them transferred to CD one of these days!) A crazy thing happened last year when someone contacted me who was doing either a Master’s thesis, or Doctorate on the "Influence of Ed Beach's radio programs on jazz musicians in the late '60's." It was crazy! He told me that 1,000 reels of tape are sitting in the basement of the Library of Congress containing recordings of his shows. They were so important to me!

The other big influence during those high school years was the great jazz drummer, Mel Lewis. We would often sneak into the Village Vanguard (I was still underage), and hear the famed Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra. At one point, I got up enough nerve to ask Mel if he would give me lessons, and he said he was too busy. I mentioned that to Joe Morello, and he said, "Get Mel on the phone-he's a friend of mine!" So I got Mel's number, and during a lesson, had Joe give him a call. Joe got him on the phone and said, "This kid is driving me nuts, because he loves you and the way you play the cymbals. Would you please get together with him for a lesson?" Mel amazingly said "OK.”

That started an amazing series of wonderful experiences hanging out with Mel Lewis. For my first lesson with Mel, I was expecting to hear about paradiddles and technique. The first thing he told me was "Make sure you cut your toenails!" since the bass drum pedal and hi hat can mess them up. I ended up hanging out with him quite a bit while in High School and College. Mel played many private tapes for me and let me copy some, and gave me others. He even took me on gigs, recording sessions, and gave me cymbals to try out. I sat in a corner of the studio for the recording of Suite for Pops and he let me overdub the cowbell on the song A Good Time Was Had By All. They were just fantastic experiences. After moving to NY years later, I got to sub for Mel with the band as one of the substitute drummers when he was out of town. I also replaced Dennis Mackrell in the band a year after Mel passed away.

MPR: That was a great bit of history! So, how much formal education have you had and how do you value that?

DG: I have a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Miami. For me, it was the perfect place to gain experience, and go through the formative years of experiencing music. After high school, I wasn't really sure WHAT to do as far as a career was concerned. My parents' only request was that I get a college degree, and I wasn't convinced of a real direction. The UM offered a degree in Music Merchandising at the time, and was the only school in the country with that program. I figured it was a safe place to start. As it is with many students,I wasn't happy dividing my time in two areas and realized in my second year that I wanted to go into music, specifically jazz, full-time. So I switched my major and studied percussion with Fred Wickstrom there.

While at school, there were many factors that contributed to my musical development. One was the performance ensembles. I was allowed to play in the top jazz band as a Freshman, which really helped me jump into a very professionally demanding environment. Jerry Coker, and then Dan Haerle, were amazing musicians and instructors, and each wanted the rhythm section in the band to function on a very high level. They were just full of advice and ideas.

Also, the musicians in the ensembles were really good.. One person who was very important to my musical development (and to many other students) was the sax player, Mark Colby (now Chicago based). Mark was an older student at UM, and while he heard potential in my playing, I knew I still needed exposure to a much wider range of music. He would ask me if I had heard this recording, or that recording, and most of them I had not. So he took me down to the local record shop, and I promptly spent every dime I had buying records (like 300 of them). It was an educational experience never to be forgotten!

Other special college experiences include: Whit Sidner, when he ran the UM jazz band, standing in front of me with a cowbell, demanding the song groove and not rush; listening to a drummer a few years ahead of me who was also in the band at UM named Billy Bowker. Billy was and is one of the GREAT drummers in the world, and I learned so much just listening to him play at school. There were many other great students I met and played with , including Pat Metheny, Jaco Pastorius, Mark Egan, and many more.

MPR: What were your earliest professional gigs like and how did you get them?

DG: I did some club dates while in high school ( weddings and bar mitzvahs, etc) with Mr. Geist and some students, but my first real gig occurred not long after I started playing. I was still in high school when I would often go with my parents on vacation to the Catskill Mountains, the so-called the Borscht Circuit, and I would always watch the drummer in the show band. One evening I saw the drummer in the coffee shop, and I introduced myself. I told him I was a beginning drummer, and that I was wondering how I could eventually start working in the Catskills. He told me there was a booking agent in NY who worked for the William Morris agency, named Stanley Flato. He said that Stanley was always looking to book young drummers at hotels, bungalow colony gigs, etc. The drummer's name was Mike Ronoan (who later became a good friend), and I took Flato's number. I went to see him in his office in NY, and he asked me if I could "cut a show?" I said “Yes.” I then asked Mr. Geist how to play shows and before I knew it, I had a summer gig at the Irvington Hotel in South Fallsburg NY, that paid $65 a week, room and board, 3 shows a week, two strippers on the weekends. The band consisted of sax, piano and drums, and no bass. But, it was great!!!!! The best time for me was when my parents came up for the weekend to see what their son was doing for the summer. There I was, playing for a stripper. One night, the stripper called my father up to be her "assistant" in the show while I played the “Miserlou” beat. I tried not to fall off the drum seat from laughter and embarrassment. But- I worked 3 summers in the Catskills- learned how to read charts, learned how to interact with other musicians, how to play with a rhythm section, and how to "cut a show!" It was a great early experience!

MPR: That was great to hear about! But, how did you happen to get with the Pat Metheny Group?

DG: Pat was also a student with me at the University of Miami, and we met there. We really hit it off, and played together all the time. He was very mature and self- directed, and practiced all the time. He even said to me, “I’m going to be a major guitarist, and my direction is right in-between Wes Montgomery and John McLaughlin.” He was only 17 then. I thought he was nuts. He left school after two years to teach at Berklee in Boston, and I stayed in Miami to get my degree. The third and fourth year at school were really hard for me, as Pat was asking me to move to Boston. But I’m glad I stayed in school, got my degree, and played with Pat anyway.

Pat got me into Gary Burton's group (1975-76) that he had been touring with for years. I would follow them around - and I knew every tune. I think the reason Gary hired me was because I knew all the songs! After Pat and I left Gary, Pat started the Metheny Group, and I was in that band for 6 years.

MPR: How did others learn about your talents?

DG: Many of my high school friends moved to NY, but we all stayed in contact with each other. Many became successful, and either needed a drummer, or recommended me to others. I moved to NY in 1975. That was when I got the gig with Gary Burton and I decided to move to Boston where he was based. From playing with Pat, people came to know me in the area and I got some gigs during the off time from the group; again, through friends. In 1981, I moved back to NY from Boston, and kept meeting new people, and doing as much playing as I could. I went to jam sessions, and would meet people who would then hire me for gigs.

MPR: When and how did you start teaching?

DG: I only started teaching fairly recently. I have always been more of a student, and when I lived full-time in NY (1981-1998), I did do some clinics and master classes. I did a few subs at the New School, and it was fun, but nothing I really thought about pursuing. However, when I moved back to Florida, my wife Beth was teaching percussion at Rollins College, in Winter Park, FL. She helped me get a job there as an adjunct instructor. I was then asked to teach grad students at the University of South Florida, in Tampa, and was eventually offered my current full time position at the University of North Florida, in Jacksonville.

MPR: What other musical activities are you currently involved with?

DG: Well, at the moment, I’m juggling many different gigs, as are most freelance musicians that I know. I teach at UNF, play with movie and TV actor Gary Sinise and his Lt. Dan Band, travel often to Hamburg , Germany, to play as a guest with the NDR Big Band (7 trips this year!), do free lance concerts and recording, play duo with Beth, and am currently beginning a solo project.

MPR: How beneficial have you found your own website?

DG: Fantastic!! People have been able to reach me that otherwise might not have! I’ve gotten gigs, especially from Europe, by people e-mailing me through the website. There many people can see my schedule and whereabouts; download my pictures and bio, all of which saves me so much time!

MPR: What advice would you give musicians starting out as professionals?

DG: If I were going to be a pro musician, unless I just HAD to quit school and not continue because I just HAD to be in a band, I would recommend getting an undergraduate college degree, then a Master’s, and even a Doctorate. The competition for teaching gigs is just crazy, and better to have the degrees even if you think you would never teach. I never thought I would!! I would also make sure I was going to a school where I could study with a GREAT teacher, and have a chance to play with ensembles. Then, I would really work very HARD!!!!

MPR: Thanks a million, Danny, for a great interview and some very sound advice. Hopefully, our readers have learned a great deal from your experiences and recommendations. What was not mentioned was that none of the above would have happened without your own hard work and a whole lot of talent. Thanks again!

Here you see a recent photo of Danny & Beth Gottlieb with your host, Sam Denov, in the middle, at a recent Lt. Dan Band show in Schaumburg, Illinois.

Danny has performed with virtually all the biggest names in the business. To date, he has appeared on over 300 cd's, including 5 Grammy Award winners.

You will be struck by the experiences that unfold here because each of the interviewees will discuss the interesting and informative means by which they have turned music into a substantial livelihood. While each career is unique, they all began by studying music in their early years. They each knew at a very young age that they wanted to be a musician of some sort.

Return here often to read an exciting interview from which you will gather ideas on how to turn your own life and musical interests into a rewarding livelihood. Our next interview will be with Joseph Golan, one of Chicago's best known violinists. He has been a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for many years. But, he also plays jazz and can improvise with the best. You will be amazed by the accomplishments Golan has to his credit. Don't miss what promises to be a dynamite interview.