Kim Plainfield – A Lesson in Life

It was my senior year at the Berklee College of Music, and for my seventh semester I studied privately with a man named Kim Plainfield. To be totally honest, I didn’t know much about him other than the fact that I had enjoyed taking his Fusion Drumming class the semester prior and really connected personally with his playing. That connection began to deepen immediately upon our first lesson together – Kim really seemed to understand and appreciate my playing and where I was coming from as an artist. At times throughout my musical education, I had felt a bit like I was being pushed in a direction that was not necessarily my own. This was not because I didn’t like my professors or wasn’t enjoying my instrument, but because I didn’t always feel like I was being pushed to find my voice as a player. This wasn’t the case with every professor or class by any means, but nonetheless it was immediately different with Kim.

One of the first things Kim and I started to work on was advanced improvisational concepts/soloing – soloing over a form/vamp in odd times, how to craft a meaningful and poignant drum solo, playing over the bar line fills/appropriate fills for any given situation, etc. I appreciated this because this was something I felt I needed work on, but also because it showed me that Kim really trusted in my level of playing enough to move straight into some advanced material. By our second or third lesson his assignment for me was to become comfortable taking a solo in place of the trumpet solo in the song Binky by Snarky Puppy. The focus was that it had to be completely spontaneous and unplanned, yet that it needed to have a strong shape consistent with and appropriate for the song.

When I came into the lesson the day that the assignment was due, Kim and I exchanged our usual banter about drums and life for about 5 minutes before he quickly shifted to the Binky solo. I was surprised to notice that I was nervous, especially in light of the fact that Kim had almost always been able to put me at ease. At this point in my development this was a very challenging exercise, and it suddenly became clear to me that I was quite concerned with showing Kim that I could really do it.

Despite the nerves, the first time through the solo felt surprisingly smooth and I thought I straight up crushed it. My final 32nd note chop landed and we turned the track off. I looked up at Kim with anticipation, slightly winded and with a bit of perspiration forming on my brow. There was an endearing yet ambiguous grin on his face which I had already become accustomed to seeing on him and that seemed to indicate he knew something I did not. There was a brief moment of silence that I impulsively decided to interrupt by asking him intently, “How was that??”. Maintaining that same inconclusive grin, Kim slowly began to nod and added something to the effect of, “Man, you can really play…”.I immediately felt a strong sense of relief and contentment. After thanking him, he gradually went into more detail. He said, “Sam, I have a question. If you were single and you were to go see a girl you were interested in, would you immediately take off your clothes?” I laughed, knowing exactly were he was headed with this analogy and replied, “No, of course not!”. Knowing that his point had already hit home, he then said, “Well then treat the drums the same way – set the mood, light some candles, make conversation… wait for the right moment, but don’t expect it.” We laughed together after I told him that I would take his advice to heart, and that it was a great point.

Almost five years later, I do my best to apply this lesson to everything. It’s so obvious and Kim was certainly not the first person to make this point, but he was the only one who put it in such a hilariously intelligent way that really allowed me to hear it. I don’t know if it was the analogy, his general vibe or just the way I was feeling that day, but I’ll never forget that lesson as one of the most memorable moments in my time studying at Berklee.

I was very sorry to hear of Kim’s unexpected passing just the other day. I am eternally grateful to him, as well as any other educator I’ve had the pleasure of studying with, for sharing his/her gift with us. Thank you Kim, you will be missed dearly.

Posted on April 12th, 2017 by Sam Ward.


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