Cris Cohen: You've talked repeatedly about the importance of knowing what not to play. How do you teach the absence of something, of "not hitting this rack tom at this moment" kind of thing?
Sandy Gennaro: It comes from the song. Everything I teach in my lessons is geared towards song performance. And part of song performance is playing what you need to play, or not playing what you do not need to play. In other words, if there is space in the original song, you leave that space there. Space does not exist for you to fill it on the drums.
When I audition to play a song live, I try to play exactly what's on the record, and not any more. I'd rather be asked to play more than play too busy and be asked to play less. That's the kiss of death for anybody in an audition, to show all of his drummer chops. You play what you need to play, and less is more.
Don't ever make it necessary for an artist to say, "Don't play so much." Play what's needed for the song and respect the song. It's not about you as a drummer. You're not playing in a cocoon. You're playing on stage with three, four, or five other people. You’re a team and part of that teamwork is to support the vocal, the person on the microphone. Cyndi Lauper always said to me, "Don't ever play anything that's going to step on my vocal." She was a great teacher when it came to songs.
I listened to that. I listened to Tom Dowd when he told me, "If the feel does not fit the song, no matter how well executed it is, it's not worth the paper it's written on. Save it for your clinics. Save it for your drum solo."
If it doesn't fit the song, don't play it.