Marimba Masters/Vibraphone Virtuosos
By Lauren Vogel Weiss
You find your seat in the theater and look at the stage: nearly empty except for one vibraphone and one marimba, facing each other, shining in the spotlights. This event could be a college recital or a professional concert, as the pairing of these two keyboard percussion instruments is now considered standard. But if this performance were taking place back in the 1970s, the setup would be considered highly unusual. Only two keyboards? Facing each other?
The two performers entered the stage and began to play....jazz? What emerged was a unique sound and approach that set a new standard for mallet percussionists everywhere. This was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, both musically and personally. Meet Double Image.
Dave Samuels was teaching vibraphone at Berklee College of Music in Boston in 1973 when he met David Friedman, who was visiting a friend in town. “We got together and had this immediate connection,” remembers Samuels. “He could say something and I would finish the sentence for him. And we both had a really healthy appetite for humor, which is a great positive energy to have in any relationship.”
Friedman, who was then teaching at the Manhattan School of Music, nods in agreement. “We became friends and just started playing together on two vibraphones, but we decided that had limited musical possibilities. So I came home from Boston and wrote our very first piece, ‘Nyack,’ for vibraphone and marimba.” The two rehearsed the piece at MSM during Samuels’ next visit to New York.
“In terms of percussion, the marimba/vibraphone combination is a unique, and totally complete, chamber music formation,” adds Friedman. “You have rhythm, harmony, form, melody—everything that an ensemble should have. With these two instruments, you have an entire orchestra at your fingertips. We were the very first to do that. It’s a fantastic combination—you have the warmth and range of the marimba plus the clarity of the vibraphone—yet it’s a ‘typically percussion’ chamber music combination.”
“It’s very rare that two people who play the same instrument get an opportunity to develop an intimate musical relationship,” Samuels said in a 1986 interview for Modern Percussionist magazine. “Just look around; how many duos are there where both people play the same thing? It’s great to have such a close look at another mallet player’s approach on a night-to-night basis. It really opens you up to another viewpoint and helps to solidify your own style. We know each other’s style so well, yet we’ve learned not to merge our styles together by sounding like each other. On the contrary, we’ve retained our individuality while still being able to complement each other.”
Samuels moved to New York in 1974, and the two began rehearsing on a regular basis. “Since we were teaching or playing during the day, we found the best time to rehearse together was at night,” recalls Friedman. “We’d meet at either Dave’s loft or mine about nine in the evening and sometimes go until nine in the morning! The music we created was never written down; we just played it and recorded it.”
“We found that as we stretched what we were playing more and more, things didn’t get smaller, they got bigger,” Samuels adds. “The idea of having that kind of palette within the music was the basis for what we were doing.”
“As individuals, they are each living examples of innovative, superb musicians, mallets artists, composers, and teachers,” states Gordon Stout, Professor of Percussion at Ithaca College and a 2012 PAS Hall of Fame inductee. “Together, as Double Image, their impact is immense. Double Image has influenced multiple generations of vibraphonists and marimbists.”
“I first met David Friedman when we were both students at Juilliard,” recalls Ruth Komanoff Underwood, a retired performer and music teacher in Los Angeles. “He was a stunningly gifted vibraphonist and composer with a refreshingly broad musical reach. I had the pleasure of meeting Dave Samuels about ten years later and was similarly impressed by his unique musical voice.” Underwood and Samuels played together on the Frank Zappa recording Live in New York – 1976.
“With their captivatingly gorgeous combination of acoustic marimba and vibraphone and the deceptively simple and immediately memorable material executed flawlessly, the Double Image recordings were easy to love,” she adds. “However, further listening revealed the actual sophistication and complexity of the music.”
Stout recalls one of Double Image’s first performances at the Eastman School of Music. “The memory of that event is ever present in my mind to this day, because I had no idea that the mallet duo as a genre existed at all, and certainly not at the level they presented. Their music was simply mind-blowing at that stage of my musical development.”
Friedman and Samuels, originally called The Mallet Duo, added Harvie Swartz on bass and Michael DiPasqua on drums, and soon the quartet was touring in Europe. Their first record, Double Image (Enja) was recorded in 1977 and nominated for a German Grammy award. Their second album, Dawn (ECM) was recorded in Oslo in 1978 and released the following year. The quartet (with Ratzo Harris subbing for Swartz on bass) also appeared at PASIC ’79 in New York City. About a year later, the quartet broke up, but Friedman and Samuels continued to perform together. Their first public concert as a true duo was at PASIC ’82 in Dallas.
“We would take a tune that everybody knows and try to reimagine it,” Samuels explains. “It would have a different color, a different approach, or a different tempo. The language became very personal for us. Other people would listen to it and ask how we could respond to each other so fast. It got to the point that most of the time we had no idea of what we were going to play until we played it.
“David opened me up to the music, but it was more than that,” Samuels continues. “There was a camaraderie. ‘Let’s try this tune and this change.’ Or we would take a standard 4/4 tune and play it in 6/8—taking something familiar and putting it into a new cover. It’s almost as if the music starts talking to you. There was no precedent for what we were doing.”
“As David and I started playing extensively together,” adds Friedman, “we went through an interesting evolution. We started changing the balance of the music from pieces to free improvisations, and then at some point we started most concerts just freely improvising.”
“This was an opportunity for us to share the sound that we had,” Samuels agrees. “It offered people an alternative from the kind of music that was being played. When we started, it really changed that orientation.”
“Double Image virtually invented the genre of the marimba and vibe duo, as well as modern mallet jazz, and their creative compositions and electrifying performances continue to motivate and inspire audiences,” states Leigh Howard Stevens, 2006 PAS Hall of Fame inductee. “Further, their performing and recording legacy will surely be valued by generations of future percussionists.”
In addition to their concerts, Friedman and Samuels often presented keyboard percussion clinics together. “In my vibe book, Vibraphone Technique, Dampening and Pedaling [Berklee Press, distributed by Hal Leonard], I wrote about a way to practice scales so they’re not called scales but rather ‘tonal areas’,” says Friedman. “You don’t play from root to root; you play the notes of a scale in any given order and try to make a little musical etude out of it, complete with changing dynamics and tempos. We used to do that in our clinics—take a tonal area like E-flat, just playing the notes of the E-flat scale, but not in the traditional order. We’d play together and improvise over that particular tonal sound in different moods, with different rhythms, creating melodies, playing notes all over the instrument, going in different directions, leaving note space, and so on. It’s a fantastic exercise for classical musicians, too. It’s a wonderful introduction to improvisation without intimidating anyone with jazz chords. People begin to improvise immediately and they don’t even realize it.”
“They changed the face of what mallet playing has become,” states Michael Blake, Director of Jazz and Percussion Studies at the University of North Dakota. “It is obvious that these two were masters on their own but came together to create something that had never been done before in the world of mallet percussion.”
In 1986, the duo released their third recording, In Lands I Never Saw (Celestial Harmonies). During Double Image’s third PASIC concert in 1993 in Columbus, they recorded the performance live and it became the duo’s fourth album, Open Hand (DMP). Their fifth and sixth albums—Duotones (Double Image Records, 1997) and Double Image Live in Concert – Moment to Moment (Double Image Records, 2006)—also coincided with PASIC performances in Anaheim and Austin.
“What’s exciting about this ‘band’ is the fact that we’ve played together for over 40 years,” Friedman states with pride. “We had—and still have—a kind of mental telepathy. When I listen to my first solo record, Winter Love, April Joy (Inner City Records, 1978), there’s a tune where we play a free improvisation, and at one point, we play the exact same run at the same time. I still get goosebumps.
“We’ve been friends for so long,” continues Friedman. “We have a very similar rhythmic and time concept, which means that we are always playing together. One of the most difficult things about playing duo is slowing down or finding the time. We just were intuitive about where it was—we found it together, or we didn’t find it together—but we never, ever lost the time, which is something I never had with anybody else except David.”
When asked his favorite instrument, Samuels smiles. “It depends on the music! The definition of jazz doesn’t come from the instrument, it comes from the player. From my standpoint, being a living musician is what I am, whether I’m playing xylophone or marimba or vibes.”
What about a favorite performance? “The last time we played together,” Samuels promptly replies. He was referring to their impromptu concert at the 3rd World Vibes Congress held in Asbury Park, New Jersey this past January.
Friedman nods in agreement. “We hadn’t played together in almost two years, and we just started playing. That, to me, is the essence of music. Pure music is when you can go on the stage with someone you know and trust and just make music. David and I are capable of playing spontaneous tonal music; we can get together without discussing it. With most people you have to say, ‘Let’s plan something. What do you want to play? Do you want to play in four? Do you have a key signature you’d like to play in? Should we do a Latin feel? Should we play a standard?’ All we do is start playing and it comes out to be music. It’s very rare.”
What advice would these two mallet masters impart to the next generation? “I would tell them that are no boundaries to your instrument—or your ears,” states Samuels. “If you think ‘I only do this’ in terms of which instruments you play or what books you read, then you’re missing out on letting yourself try something new. Musicians should experiment with more than one idea. Then you will be able to play something that sounds like you, and that you like, but is still part of the community.”
“Learn how to improvise,” advises Friedman. “Be flexible. Be versatile. Learn how to interact with other musicians. And what’s even more important is to be your own manager. Learn how to sell yourself and market your own music. The successful musician today is someone who is a performer, a teacher, a composer, and an agent. And I think it’s extremely important, even for classical players who want to play in an orchestra or play classical marimba, to compose your own music.”
“It would be nice to know that people are moved by what we’ve done over the years,” summarizes Samuels. “That we have inspired them to make music that’s either a continuation of something we’ve done, or something that they’d like to try, or something that they’ve never heard before.”
Will they still be playing for Double Image’s 50th Anniversary in 2023? “It would be an unbelievable treat if we could both still stand,” Samuels says with a laugh. “But even if we can’t play, we’ll certainly be on stage telling jokes!” Friedman nods in agreement.
Born in Winnetka, Illinois on October 9, 1948, Dave Samuels grew up in a family interested in music. Mostly self-taught on his signature vibraphone, he began playing drumset and took lessons from Jake Jerger. “I always wanted to improvise,” explains Samuels. “One of the great things about growing up in Winnetka was that it was close to Chicago, and a lot of American jazz greats came to town.
“We had a jazz club at New Trier High School and invited musicians to visit us. I remember when [saxophonist Julian Edwin] ‘Cannonball’ Adderly came. He didn’t play much but talked to us about important things: what jazz was, what improvisation was, what being an artist was, what the language was about. Here was a guy whose LP I must have listened to a thousand times, and I’m sitting right in front of him! I learned a lot from Cannonball even though I only saw him once. There he was, creating his sound, and I was a part of it because I was trying to understand what he was doing. He was helping me, and everybody else, find their way. It was real for me, being inspired by all these great musicians. I knew that I wanted to be able to learn their language.”
After graduating from high school in 1966, Samuels took some time away from music. But after attending a Ludwig Symposium in 1968—his first exposure to playing a mallet keyboard—he began to practice his new instrument. Having been attracted to the sound of the vibraphone that he heard on recordings by Milt Jackson (and the Modern Jazz Quartet), Lionel Hampton, and Gary Burton, Samuels found his voice. A friend of his, Renick Ross, asked Dave to play vibes, not drums, with his group. Even though they did not play many performances, they rehearsed several times a week. “Renick was a great musician,” recalls Samuels. “He taught me so much about everything yet at the same time was accessible. He helped me learn how to improvise by translating the sounds in my head into notes. And he also introduced me to the music of Gerry Mulligan.” Dave’s first public performance on vibraphone was on November 4, 1968 with the Renick Ross Trio at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.
Samuels moved to Massachusetts and obtained a Liberal Arts degree from Boston University in 1971 and also took some vibe lessons from Gary Burton. “There was so much music going on in Boston,” he says. “Whenever you went into a club, it was nonstop music. Coming from Chicago, I just couldn’t believe how many great players there were.”
After graduation, Samuels taught general music in a junior high school in nearby Dorchester. In the fall of 1972, he was invited by Burton to join the faculty at Berklee, where he taught for most of the next four decades. It was around this time that he met David Friedman and together they altered the course of mallet percussion history.
But Samuels also continued to make music with others. Soon after he moved to New York in 1974, Samuels was invited to play a Jazz Workshop with Gerry Mulligan in Boston. This was the beginning of a high-profile relationship with the saxophonist that lasted for a couple of years and included a live recording with Mulligan and Chet Baker in Carnegie Hall.
Following a Double Image concert in Buffalo in 1977, Jay Beckenstein and Jeremy Wall asked Samuels to play vibes on their band’s first record, Spro Gyra. Over the next few years, Dave would travel upstate every few months to record with the Buffalo-based band and even began to tour with them on a semi-regular basis. By 1984, Samuels was a full-time member of Spyro Gyra, an association that would last until 1994. During that time, the five-time Grammy-nominated group was named “top Contemporary Jazz Artist” (1988) and “Top Contemporary Jazz Group of the 1980s” (1989) by Billboard magazine. Their 1986 recording, Breakout, is one of Samuels’ favorites.
In 1995, Samuels created a new sound with a new ensemble: Caribbean Jazz Project. Along with co-leaders Paquito D’Rivera (alto saxophone and clarinet) and Andy Narell (steel pan), Samuels also included Mark Walker (drums), Pernell Saturnino (percussion), Oscar Stagnaro (bass), and Dario Eskenazi (piano). [These same musicians originally teamed up to perform a concert in New York’s Central Park in 1993.] After five years, CJP was “reinvented” with a different front line: Dave Valentin (flute) and Steve Khan (guitar), along with Samuels. The new “back line” consisted of Ruben Rodriguez (bass), Richie Flores (congas), and Dafnis Prieto (drumset/timbales).
The ensemble made eight recordings over the years: The Caribbean Jazz Project (Heads Up, 1995); Island Stories (Heads Up, 1997); New Horizons (Concord Picante, 2000); Paraiso (Concord Picante, 2001); the 2003 Grammy-award-winning (Best Latin Jazz recording) The Gathering (Concord Picante, 2002); two more Grammy-nominated ones—Birds of a Feather (Concord Picante, 2003) and the 2-CD set Here and Now – Live in Concert (Concord Picante, 2005)—plus Mosaic (Concord Picante, 2006) and Caribbean Jazz Project – Afro Bop Alliance featuring Dave Samuels (Heads Up, 2008), winner of the 2008 Latin Grammy for Latin Jazz Album of the Year and also nominated in the same category for the 51st Grammy Awards. CJP also performed at PASIC ’95 in Phoenix and at PASIC 2001 in Nashville.
What was it like to win that first Grammy award? “It’s nice that there was an opportunity for someone like me to create something that was new and impacted people in a positive way,” says Samuels.
Other projects over the years have showcased Samuels’ vibraphone, marimba, and composing skills on his five solo recordings: Living Colors (MCA Records, 1988), which spent six weeks at #1 on the Radio and Records Contemporary Jazz chart; Ten Degrees North (MCA, 1989); Natural Selection (GRP Records, 1991); Del Sol (GRP Records, 1993), and Tjaderized – A Tribute to Cal Tjader (Verve, 1998). He was named “Best Vibes Player” by Jazziz magazine (1987, 1989, and 1992) and “Best Percussionist” by Modern Drummer magazine (1987 and 1989).
Samuels is also a respected music educator, teaching at the Berklee College of Music in Boston (1972–74 and 1995–2014) as well as being an adjunct faculty member at New England Conservatory, New York University, and Manhattan School of Music. He has also taught master classes and given clinics all over the world.
“Dave’s quick wit and relentless sense of humor never failed to uplift all of us who had the honor and pleasure of working with him,” states John Ramsey, Chair of the Percussion Department at Berklee. “His musicianship and mastery at improvisation are also undeniable.”
Samuels also has several publications to his credit, including books (Contemporary Vibraphone Technique Vols. I and II) and videos (Contemporary Vibraphone Technique Vols. I and II); the ensembles Rendezvous, Square Corners, and Dusk; and a marimba solo, Footpath.
Dave Samuels served PAS as a member of the Board of Directors for four two-year terms on two separate occasions (1986–93 and 2005–11).
This past February, Samuels traveled to Bloomington, Indiana for a special recording project. Over the course of three days, he performed with Anders Åstrand (vibraphone), Steve Houghton (drumset), Jeremy Allen (bass), and John Wittmann (percussion) in a variety of free improvisation duos, trios, and quartets. “It was a very spiritual three days of music making,” Houghton says. “It was very inspiring and rewarding to make music with Dave, as he is one of my vibe heroes. I took a lesson with him while I was in high school.” The CD will be released in 2016 and used as a fundraising promotion for the Alzheimer’s Association organization (www.alz.org).
Samuels is also an actor/speaker for the “To Whom I May Concern” program (www.towhomimayconcern.org). This program serves as an educational tool for individuals and families of those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. Dave was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s in 2013...and the music goes on.
Born in New York City on March 10, 1944, David Friedman was exposed to music at an early age, especially jazz. “My parents had a good friend, Jerry Jerome, who used to play saxophone with Benny Goodman,” remembers Friedman. “When I wanted to study drums, Jerry recommended Stanley Krell, a Broadway show drummer in New York, who became my first drum teacher and mentor. He insisted that I become classically trained, so I studied xylophone and marimba, which I didn’t want to do.”
Growing up on Long Island, Friedman played timpani and percussion in the Great Neck Symphony Orchestra but continued his fascination with jazz. “I was enchanted with the Modern Jazz Quartet and Milt Jackson,” he recalls. “My parents got me a vibraphone when I was 17, and the very first piece I learned was Milt’s solo from the tune ‘My Old Flame.’ I never wrote it down but learned it by heart and played it with the record.” Friedman began to earn money as a working drummer, playing jazz gigs and bar mitzvahs on Long Island. “Once I had the vibes, I was able to play wedding gigs, too,” he adds. “That’s how I learned all the standards.”
After graduating from Wheatley High School in Old Westbury in 1962, Friedman decided to study percussion. “I heard that Juilliard was the best school,” he explains, “so that was the only school I applied to. Around this time, Music Minus One records came out and I used one of those, minus the violin player, to practice. When I took my audition, I played the Bach ‘Concerto in a minor’ with the record and people were totally knocked out by it because no one had ever done that before.” He received a scholarship for his efforts.
During his first three years at Juilliard, Friedman studied keyboard percussion with Morris Goldenberg before studying timpani with Saul Goodman. “One of the best things that Mo did for me when he realized I was interested in jazz was send me to study vibes with Teddy Charles, who had played with Miles Davis,” says Friedman. “It takes a forward-thinking teacher to do something like that. And Saul was a great musician as well as a very good friend and musical inspiration.” Friedman, who joins his two teachers in the PAS Hall of Fame, graduated from Juilliard with Bachelor’s (1966) and Master’s (1968) degrees in percussion.
While he was still at Juilliard, Friedman began to play professionally in New York. “When I was about 20,” he remembers, “I started subbing with the Metropolitan Opera, New York City Ballet, and New York Philharmonic playing percussion. At the same time, my former teacher, Stan Krell, was hiring me on jingles playing mostly mallets, which at the time was way above my head, but the experience of doing it made me a very good sight-reader.”
His first “real jazz gig” was with folk singer/songwriter Tim Buckley. “He was like the poor man’s Bob Dylan,” Friedman laughs. “I had been playing with a bass player, John Miller, who told me that Tim was looking for a vibraphone player. One day, John brought Tim over to my house and I learned 20 tunes in one rehearsal and the next night we played at the Fillmore East in New York. That was my first real professional improvising gig, and I played with Tim for two years.” They performed not only in the U.S. but also at Royal Albert Hall in England and in Denmark and Germany.
Friedman was also very involved with the contemporary music scene and played in the Juilliard Contemporary Ensemble, under the direction of Italian composer Luciano Berio, for three years. During the early 1970s, Friedman toured and recorded with flutist Hubert Laws and was also active as a New York studio percussionist, winning a “Most Valuable Player” award in 1975. He toured and/or recorded with a variety of musicians, from Bobby McFerrin and George Benson, to Wayne Shorter and Yoko Ono (including her first album after John Lennon was killed, Seasons of Glass, released in 1981).
Like Samuels, Friedman is also a respected music educator. He taught for many years at the Manhattan School of Music as well as giving workshops and seminars all over the world. He also appeared as a solo vibraphone artist at three PAS conventions (PASIC ’84, PASIC ’85, and PASIC ’87). In 1987, Friedman moved to Germany to establish the jazz department at the University of the Arts (formerly Hochschule der Künste and now Universität der Künste) in Berlin. He was a Professor of Jazz Studies as well as the Head of the Jazz Department for 16 years. Although officially retired now, he continues to teach vibraphone and direct the Masters of Music ensemble.
“They asked me to create a new curriculum for the jazz department, which I did,” explains Friedman. “It was a less structured program. There were more ensembles than classes. If you want to learn to play jazz, you have to play; it’s practical, not theoretical. I even created courses called ‘Practical Ear Training,’ which you would use when playing in a jazz group, and ‘Time and Space,’ which had to do with rhythm.”
While living and working in Europe, Friedman found new musicians to make music with. Over the years, he led several trios, including Ternaire, which featured drummer Daniel Humair and bassist J.F. Jenny-Clarke (1992); Rios, which featured the legendary bandoneon player Dino Saluzzi along with American bass virtuoso Anthony Cox (1996); Other Worlds, which featured French accordionist Jean Louis Matinier along with Cox (1997); and Tambour, which featured German saxophonist Peter Weniger and bassist Pepe Burns (2003–present). Tambour’s CDs include Earfood (Skip Records, 2004) and Rodney’s Parallel Universe (Skip, 2007), which was named Album of the Month in Stereo Review. Friedman and Weniger continue to record and perform together under the name Duo Élegance. Their CD Retro (Skip) was released in 2010.
In addition to authoring the “bible of vibraphone books” (Dampening and Pedaling), Friedman also wrote a book of vibraphone etudes, Mirror from Another (Alfred), plus a book of transcriptions of Renaissance and early Baroque lute music for the marimba, as well as several other solos for vibraphone (Norsk Musikforlag).
Friedman has also received the “Award of Honour” from the Universal Marimba Festival in Belgium in 2007 and a lifetime achievement award from Italy PAS at their 2013 Days of Percussion.
In 2013, Friedman premiered Leah Muir’s “By the Reflecting Pool, Concerto for [improvised] Vibraphone and Orchestra” with the Bruckner Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Dennis Russell Davies, at the Ars Electronica festival in Linz, Austria. He was also commissioned to write a piece for Chinese percussionist Biao Li to be premiered at the Beijing Music Festival in May 2016. Friedman continues to perform and teach clinics and master classes all over the world, including at the Keiko Abe Lausanne International Marimba Academy (KALIMA) in Switzerland this past September.
PASIC15 Hall of Fame Induction Video