Happy Birthday to Jon Fishman!

My first instrument was drums. I say this not because I want you to know anything about my personal life (you know that I’m a male human, which is way too much), but because I want to make it clear that I’m not just talking out of my ass when I say that, in my experience, it’s easy to be mediocre at drums but incredibly difficult to be anything more than that. More than any other instrument I’ve played, drums have a bold and clearly-defined line between skill levels, and it’s incredibly difficult to jump.

There’s a reason that your average music fan can name ten famous guitar players at will, while drummers may be harder to recall. Most drummers are passable and workmanlike. They aren’t amazing because their music doesn’t require them to be. This puts the drummer in a unique position: How are they to grow as artists and satisfy themselves creatively while still providing rhythmic consistency.

If you’re Jon Fishman, who turned 52 years old on February 19, you play each song a little bit differently each time.

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Jon Fishman (yes, the band is named after him), is the sort of restlessly inventive drummer that thrives in the jam-band setting. In fact, Phish lore includes a fun story in which the other members of the band had an intervention of sorts for Fish, the content of which basically boiled down to “Please start playing songs the same way each time so we can practice.” Fishman literally had been stopping himself from reusing beats, approaching each song as though it was brand new regardless of how many times the group had played it. Inspiring, but difficult if you’re seeking consistency.

Say what you want about Phish as a band ( I have maintained that I love them dearly and also every negative thing said about them is completely true), but the instrumental ability of each member cannot be denied. Jon Fishman gives drummers a good name; he combines impeccable rhythm with raw creativity. Plus, you have to assume that, at this point, he can afford his own ride home. This alone puts him a cut above most drummers. Here’s “Limb by Limb,” which contains some excellent work by the man himself.

Photo credit: Memory palace at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

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