Some people don't like Mickey Hart, others, like me thought Mickey Hart was one of the best. Mickey studied Jazz with a Long Island drummer named Charlie Perry, not sure who Charlie Perry studied with but, he is kinda well known in the Jazz arena. He joined the Dead after Bill Kreutzman had been with them a while.
Kreutzman seems to be more self taught, which doesn't make him a bad drummer. Kreutzman has a real groove style, funky and jazzy tight rhythm style. It worked good with the early Dead stuff which was a bit Garage-bandy and bluesy. I read that Hart taught Kreutzman and they both learned from each other. As a duo drum team, they worked well with the Grateful Dead. They describe the Grateful Dead drums as "a dragon chasing it's own tail." My take on the Dead drum flo was that Kreutzman played down the hihat, snare, and bass drum back beats, while Mickey Hart played the cowbell, hi tom toms, and melody lines on the other tom toms. So, it worked good. The beat was tight and Mickey was playing the talking drum parts.
When they soloed, both guys took turns playing the melody lines. Kreutzman seemed to really vibe on playing congas. Hart seemingly played the large Kettle drums and xylophone melodies with drum mallets. Both drummers hooked up with tribal drummers throughout the world and Kreutzman bonded with the Djembe guys. Hart seemingly played on all kind of instruments.
Now, Jon Fishman seemingly studied drums in college. He trained to play Latin music and jazz. His style reminds me of the jazz fusion drummers of the late 1970's. According to my drum teacher, Fishman worked out of the Gary Chester book that I was using. His drumming style is slightly ZAPPA-esque in that he has classical and jazzy type arrangements. Very orchestrated. The jam in that song Reba is so ZAPPA. If you ever heard the album Lumpy Gravy or early Zappa, the drums sound like a an orchestration of instruments.
The reason some people seemingly don't get Phish, could be because of some of this abstract type of rhythms that Fish provides in the sections in Harry Hood and the spacey shit in Divided Sky. The one thing that I thought was kinda strange was that Fish never really did drum solos. His style was very energetic like he was soloing throughout the whole song, so perhaps that was why he felt he didn't need to do drum solos. For a while, I kinda felt that he was not quite as studied or not quite as world drum-oriented.
It takes years of drum playing to integrate musical knowledge. I think that Fishman's style really made Phish unique in a certain way. He used rock beats integrating Latin vibes and his drumming was so tight that it made Phish have cohesion. And, he had more styles that he could integrate from Polka, to Rock-a-billy to Reggae to Bluegrass. He seemingly integrated drum beats and styles of various types of music and it all worked together to formulate Phish's sound.
Fish could play jazz really good. I saw him with the Mandolin Project and he had a lot of knowledge to draw from. Seemingly as he progresses, he may end up being a better drummer than both Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzman. He is younger than both those drummers. These days I think Kreutzman is now drinking on a beach in Hawaii making digital prints of weird psychedelic images. Not sure what Mickey Hart is up to but it might take me the rest of my life to analyze that guy. Mickey Hart is MR. WORLD DRUMMER MAN. Quite the long term research project.
I need to research Fishman a little more. He is quite eclectic and has many influences. That is why I found Phish to be so coolio...