When you are backing a singer or a soloist it's like being part of the Secret Service. You don't see secret service agents staring at the wall and looking bored EVER! No, because their mission is CLEAR; they are to protect the President AT ALL COSTS, even if it means sacrificing their own lives. Mind, heart, intuition, breath, EVERYTHING is focused on the protection of the President.
IT IS THE SAME WITH MUSIC; EGOLESS SERVICE TO THE MUSIC AND TO THE MUSICIANS. Bradford Marsalis remembers what Coltrane's drummer ELVIN JONES had to say about this.
"a lot of younger musicians were hanging around with Elvin Jones, and they were talking about, ‘Man, you know, you guys had an intensity when you were playing with Coltrane. I mean, what was it like? How do you play with that kind of intensity?’ And Elvin Jones looks at them and says, ‘You gotta be willing to die with the motherfucker.’ They started laughing like kids do, waiting for the punchline, and then they realized he was serious...."
The AWARENESS needs to be resilient and flexible enough to maintain awareness on the execution of an instrument and feel (holding your own), while at the same having an awareness of the entire band as ONE UNIT (giving your all).
I tell my students that it is the drummer's DHARMA to be the OCEAN for JESUS to walk on. This requires a balanced ego, massive intuition, dedicated practice, and LOTS OF LISTENING AND RESEARCH. Peter Erskine says in the new DRUMHEAD magazine,
"Imagine, the rhythm section is a bright blue background and the soloist cuts a brilliant red diagonal stripe across it, it makes no sense for us to turn red"
RHYTHM SECTION = OCEAN
SOLOIST = JESUS WALKING