BY AJ DONAHUE
Developing your sound as a musician can take years, decades, or perhaps more likely, a lifetime. So, when we come across a young player that already has a sound—a sense of feel, phrasing, or touch that makes them almost immediately identifiable to the ear—we get excited.
Steve Lyman (AKA Stevely Man) is one of those players. The adjunct professor at the University of Utah is earning significant attention among the modern jazz set, and he’s developed a sizable following on social media platforms as well. Spend a few minutes scoping out his playing, and it’s easy to see why. His crisp execution and remarkable control mark him a dedicated student, while his exploratory phrasing and adventurous ideas showcase his truly emergent voice.
While we’ll no doubt be carving out some time to speak with Lyman about his playing, we wanted to get the ball rolling with a quick conversation about gear. Our guy is playing some drool-worthy instruments, but they’re not just eye candy. It’s clear that Lyman made some serious choices about what he sits behind, and how it helps him achieve that ear-catching sound.
If you’re looking to dig deeper on Lyman’s playing, check out the following recordings: The Dreamer by José James, Crosscurrent by Chase Baird, or Revolver by Steve Lyman. He’ll also be filming at Drumeo this July, and knocking out a series of drum clinics in the UK, Argentina, and Singapore later this year.
What drew you to Craviotto?
I was in the market a few years ago for a new kit because I needed a different sound. I was debating between a few different companies, but I was leaning toward Craviotto, as my favorite players like Marcus Gilmore and Justin Brown played them and I could hear why. I thought they were out of my price range, but Sean at Salt City Drums said that Craviotto was that right fit for my sound. Long story short, I became an artist thanks to David Victor. I can safely say these are the greatest drums I have ever played, and it’s an honor to play them each day. It’s also a family. Saul, one of the main builders sends you photos as the drums are being built. It’s more than just drums.
What sizes are you playing?
For the kit, I chose 12” x 10”, 14” x 14”, and 18” x 14” with wood hoops for a warmer sound. I also have a 14” x 16” floor coming soon. My snares include a walnut 14” x 7” and a maple 14” x 6”. Perfect.
It seems like you’re mostly playing with a fairly open sound, does that create any challenges with the intricate and often note-dense patterns you’re working on?
Not really. It actually helps my technique and articulation. If I have to work for the sound I want, that can be a good thing. These drums are living creatures, after all.
Do you have a preferred tuning philosophy or does it vary by situation?
I usually tune drums in fourths, and a bit tighter on bottom head. I really like my walnut snare tight and high.
What do you look for in a ride and hats?
It’s a cliché but for me the sound that I hear in my head is Tony’s [Williams] cymbal from Miles Davis’ The Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel box set. To me, that is the ride cymbal. I like cymbals to be dark, grainy, earthy and imperfect… Human. I want to hear the air in between each stroke, and I am seeking specific personalities.
I recently joined Istanbul Mehmet as an artist. I really love their stuff. I can’t get cymbals locally where I live because we don’t have a retailer here, but I am going to go to Los Angeles in May to spend a few days in their vault to pick up some new additions before my Drumeo filming in July. I love their Origin and Turk series. I’m excited to have a few days to play with different combinations.
Do you use different sticks for different settings?
I mainly use Vic Firth MJ2s, but I also like Promark’s Elvin Jones models and the Vater Maple jazz lines.
Any general philosophies on sound or gear you’d like to pass on to our readers?
I’ll try to make this simple. Invest in good gear. Cymbals that you jive with are critical. Drums that inspire you are critical. Take the time to really ask yourself what sound you want, and just seek out everything that you can to make that happen. It’s a joy to play an instrument that inspires you. If you are looking for endorsements, you have to really love the gear, and that will help make it happen. If not, it’s still a win-win, because your sound will be authentic. Just be you and play what you love.
Learn more at stevelymandrums.com.