The competition solo "Lazer Beam" that won DCI Individuals in 1976 and the preceding solo "Wildfire" in 1975 were tactical solution to the DCI individual contest rules and talent level of two serious competitors of mine - Rob Carson, the world's first speed drummer and Steve Chorazy, someone who matched him, also learning to execute in the 180bpm speed range. Both are two time DCI World Champions.

DCI rules were 15 points for the roll breakdown (a tenth to half point per error), 25 points solo execution (three tenths per error), and generous 30 point captions for Exposure to Error (difficulty) and General Effect. 

Lazer Beam earned 300 300, two perfect scores in GE and 298 297 in Exposure to Error.

Wildfire was the 1975 solo, a precursor to Lazer Beam with a perfect 300 GE score and a 290 in Exposure to Error.

Wildfire has similar overall solo structure (ABA) but has longer phrases, not as dependent on stick tricks or buzz rudiments.

My solution to the competing talent level and the DCI rules was to compose a solo that choreographed over a hundred visuals; to do something no one would think of. It was a risk. Older judges would have to consider the visual additions as general effect and demanding simultaneously. Since a dropped stick was a point penalty and probably a loss of more in general effect, the visuals added an element of suspence and danger. It would take many hours of practice because there was no time alloted for recovery of a bad flip or catch. Segments were written to flip-grab-catch-play without a regrip.

 

I Olympic trained with endurance (laps around a track), speed drills against time, interval training and strength training by practicing on top of old library books or having a towel over the drum for a half hour. That year I did over 1200 laps on tracks, over 300 miles to get the necessary conditioning. Phantom Regiment corps members and staff didn't quite know what to make of it until I shoved a $1000 Premier Royal Scott double snare drum under the bus on first tour.

I called Premier Company and asked them if I could get a replacement for the first Royal Scott which lasted 5 months of hard practice till the snare mechanisms were stripping and falling off. Drum corps were racking up some serious world wide publicity because Premier sent me a brand new Royal Scot free of charge. We were playing so fast that having a snare under the top head separated the notes better and shortened the decay, making notes more legible to judges indoors and separating buzzed passages from taps. It was harder to play on as the head bounced much less, but well worth the clarity. Both Chorazy and Carson previously had used Royal Scotts.

The three of us introducing speed, execution and choreography to the solo art because the score sheets were objective. Olympic training techniques were assimilated into the training regimen of the best drumlines. One Santa Clara snare stated they did miles of rolls at Moffet Park while Phantom did theirs at Rockford State Park interrupted only by the pretty girl on horseback who sometimes would ride out with something cold to drink. I don't remember if any of the guys got her phone number. When she arrived it was break time.

The Risk taking and training paid off. At the conclusion of the solo, with the drum on the floor - the room exploded and the entire judges panel awarded "Lazer Beam" with a standing ovation.

Doug Reynolds, a former Canadian National Champion, one of the judges in '76 stated, "I had never seen anything like it. It wasn't a contest that day."

Paul Milano was a Cavalier instructor in 1976. I had no idea he was spying on me at times when we were on tour together.

"I saw Ken play Lazer Beam live and in person several times - practices and competition in 1976. Never seen anyone faster before or since - and I'm no Ken Mazur zealot. I was watching him practice back in 1976 - I was scouting him for a couple days when I was on the Cavalier drum staff to see if our soloists had a chance against him. Our guys were phenomenal.  Also, I had to go back to our lead instructor and tell him our guys didn't have a chance. They took fourth and seventh. We didn't care for Mazur's arrogance nor his "lower" stick height style back then. But, we had absolute respect for his drumming ability and were fully accepting of his dominance that year." ....... "Whenever some of you guys "decode" Lazer Beam, trust me it was definitely played that way by Ken."

Paul Milano: "Speed, power and complexity had now been displayed by one drummer at a time when I saw him win DCI I&E in 1976. Though a proponent of lower stick heights than the majestic/bombastic Arsenault or Markovich, Mazur still achieved a powerful sound through the sheer force of nature that he was. You were almost afraid for his drum as you watched him perform, though you ultimately relaxed and realized you were witnessing a musician of the highest order as well. And, for an added benefit, "stick tricks" that were never considered before to be of significant merit in a drumming competition, became sincerely applauded and appreciated by his peers and adjudicators."

Ron Schultz (Phantom Regiment): "Over the years Regiment members have produced many memorable Individual and Ensemble performances.  The most memorable for me was probably Ken Mazur's 1976 solo snare performance, which mixed superb percussion skill with a few hilarious drumstick tricks that needed to be seen to be believed."

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Lazer Beam has shorter segments and accent pattern lines  so judges would have less time reading the execution by comparing note spacing and volume.

As in Olympic figure skating, the strenuous elements of fast 24th Note Triplets and other speed work begin the piece.

The "7 Second Rule" is in effect throughout, adding buzz textures ad dynamics while getting blood in the muscles to remove lactic acid and regain strength. 

Much consideration was given to "transition" as the solo length was only 2:30 and one needed to get as many different textures and accent patterns to work together artistically. The "7 Second Rule" helped smooth some ideas into each other and stick flips with dotted figures helped to continue tempo.

The solo uses many types of phrasing, Ancient 110 bpm Fife & Drum Corps patterns, Buzzes with speed, 1960s rudimental Ruff-Rat-Drag-Roll assimilation, a middle section of drum set riffs on tenor with visuals, Jazz drum set independence, Roll and Tap Sweetening, Complex Swiss Flams with lead hand switches and metric modulations that lead to an ending with the drum on the floor.

Many years earlier a drummer from New York came to our Vanguard Senior Corps rehearsal to practice with Jay Tuomey. We didn't know how famous Jay was. Drummers - good players -  would drop in all the time. He showed me something from his solo where he put the stick next to his mouth to get "notes" playing the theme from the Maxwell Coffeehouse Commercial. I needed something easily understandable and well known like "Pop Goes The Weasel". If it worked for Gerry Shelmer for a major drum solo display over at the Boston Crusaders, then it would work for me.

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Lazer Beam went through many structural changes.  These are some of the last pages of "rudiment writing" done in the Dan English and Earl Sturtze "drum notation" manner that is much quicker to make changes with than writing it out.

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Lazer Beam Score Sheet 1976  •  95.9                                                Wildfire Score Sheet 1975  •  92.2

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Wildfire is much more in the traditional vein of flowing accent patterns.  It is an easier solo to adjudicate because once  tempo is locked in by the judges, they can discern execution better.The structure is the precursor of "Lazer Beam": Difficult entry with "7 Second Rule" use, a first section with 6/8 pattern, flam complexity displays, a middle GE section and closing Rudimental Wildfire at the judges.

Wildfire takes the time to develop flam difficulty using accelerandos so judges understand the sticking and are used as a transitional element.

Both Lazer Beam and Wildfire have "back-sti-click" segments.

Lazer Beam's is shorter to only show the ability - not the endurance - as the judges probably would not consider it. 

"Play the least you have to when getting an idea to be perceived. How many notes does it take to be understood?"

Lazer Beam is about "consideration". What would judges consider as "difficulty" or "effect" and how long does it have to be to get them to grant points?

Wildfire is a more difficult solo than Lazer Beam if you consider length of phrases. It is more exposed for a first time read.  

Lazer Beam introduces more speed and with all the visuals, took much more practice to confidently perform each segment.

It also used more complex buzz rudiments and textures.

Lazer Beams' transitions had to have a profit element for both demand and general effect and a method of maximizing physical strength to brief rest periods. 

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Malformed Malfunction was my second competition solo (March 7, 1971). It is note and difficulty laden with all kinds of flam work including off-the-beat fake flam paradiddles & drags. The 7/4, 5/4, 11/16, segment is a flam complex lead hand switch segment Jay Tuomey taught me in 1969. It is in all my solos.  He never said where the series came from.

 

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