Saturday, May 27, 2017

Groove o' the day: Go Ahead John

Getting loose definitionally with our groove o' the day here— this one is all variations, really, and no foundational groove. This is Jack Dejohnette playing the beginning of Go Ahead, John, from Miles Davis's album Big Fun. He's playing a two-measure groove with a stop in the first measure, and a busy second measure. I've just transcribed the first 15 bars of the track:

He's playing around with it, but you can see there are a few basic ingredients he's using. They got cute panning the drums in the mixing— if you want to give the track a close listen, you may want to go to your digital file of the track and load it in Transcribe or Audacity, and play it in mono.

Get the pdf

Wednesday, May 24, 2017


Apropos of no particular part of this post,
these are remarkably similar to many drum
teachers I've encountered.
A short beef about the nature of teaching. Maybe I should've included this in my recent post, “I complain about things said online.” There's a special attitude among some teachers, some students,  and a considerable number of people on the internet, that your job as a teacher is to teach the client “what they want” or “the way they want.” The customer is always right, they're the one signing the check, blah blah, insert another platitude...

Problem: You're supposed to be the expert. Part of your actual job is to educate the client on how things are done, and on the reasons for doing things the way they're done. Often this comes up in regard to reading, or “theory”— whatever they think that is, they don't want it. Usually it means reading. The student can't read, has never had much success with it, and wants you to teach him without doing any reading. Can't we come up with a way of doing that? It seems doable!

Maybe it is doable in the sense that you can definitely eat up a lot of lesson time walking someone through whatever basic patterns you can get through in 30-60 minutes. It's poor practice, and they're not going to learn anything much, but they'll pay you to do it for a few weeks or months— however long it takes them to get bored with their lack of real progress— so you do it.

This is not good. In doing this you are a hack. It's the definition of hack work.

Actually Merriam-Webster's online dictionary defines hackwork as “literary, artistic, or professional work done on order usually according to formula and in conformity with commercial standards.” I would expand that to include “doing anything at all for money”, regardless of professional standards and best practices. Or doing whatever stupid thing the client thinks he wants, or lazily doing whatever you can get away with because the client doesn't know any better. Perhaps a level below hack are teachers who deliberately teach this way with the goal of making the student permanently dependent on the teacher. That appears to be business model of several online “lessons” sites.

The ethical thing to do: Maintain your standards. Take a minute and educate the student on how things are done, and why the thing they are asking you to do is not done.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Practice loop in 5/4: Everything's All Right

I've had a busy week here, ending with going to Seattle for the weekend to play in/hang out at the Ballard Jazz Festival, so let's ease back in to blogging with a practice loop— a nice, cheesy one: the vamp from Everything's All Right, from the Jesus Christ Superstar original soundtrack, from 1973. It's moderate-tempo, in 5/4, with a swing feel; it's not remotely jazz, but it's good for beginning to get your jazz in 5 together. No, it's not very hip, but— I'll level with you— a lot of jazz in 5 is not that hip either. Tempo is about quarter note = 130.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Finally getting a handle on this Dahlgren & Fine business

No getting around it, this sucks. But...
It's funny how it can take years to figure out fairly simple things. 4-Way Coordination by Dahlgren and Fine has always been a problematic book for me, but in recent years I've been making an effort to actually learn it, and have come up with a few productive strategies. The “harmonic” coordination section, with unisons between the hands and feet, is particularly challenging, both technically and musically— on its face it looks like a pure mathematically-derived technical study, unlike anything I normally play on the drums. It's a real grind to practice.

The book uses a four-limb staff without instrument assignments, but I default to a normal timekeeping position with the right hand on a cymbal, left hand on the snare— and feet on the normal hihat and bass drum, of course. Lately I've been doing something different: playing the cymbals on all notes in unison with the bass drum, and playing the snare/toms on all notes in unison with the hihat— the left foot. This causes you to do a lot of moving around, with both hands moving between the cymbals and drums.

Usually I try to make things as easy as possible, but this actually makes the exercises more difficult and time consuming. And it requires extra focus— since both hands play both drums and cymbals, you can't rely on your ears to tell you whether you're playing the correct hand for the pattern. But this is a more realistic way of playing, so the patterns sound less arbitrary, and eventually they begin to feel more natural— at any rate, you're practicing normal drumset motions and orchestrations, so you will be improving, even if you don't feel like you are.

It takes a long time to learn this section of the book, and if you use my recommended practice sequence along with this voicing scheme, it takes even longer. You can't think in terms of mastering these materials— think of it more like physical training and just put the time in. If you're just getting acquainted with the book, it's probably a good idea to play just the individual 3 and 4 note patterns on pp. 15-18 and 20-21 for some time, and combine them later.

Oh, and you'll have a lot more fun if you use a practice loop. This is a great one:

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Key players: Elvin Jones

This is the first in a series of thumbnail introductions to some important players. Like everything on the blog, this is my personal perspective— there's no pretense that these are complete historical sketches, or a complete style analyses; they'll just be little verbal introductions for drummers wanting to learn more about these players' work.

And I should clarify right up front that your entire job is to listen to the recordings, enjoy them, and learn something about musicianship from them. No verbal explanation has any meaning, and there is no understanding, without a whole lot of listening.

Elvin Jones (1927-2004), you might have gathered, is a very special player. Today basically every jazz drummer with any aspirations to modernity develops a very close personal relationship to his playing, and learns some approximation of his “thing.” His way of playing has become an actual style— I've been asked to play an “Elvin-like” feel many times, and have played many tunes on which it was obviously the intended style... which is not to suggest that he's merely a stylist who can ever be fully imitated.

On first impression his playing is deeply swinging, emotional, organic, rolling— and also impenetrable— it can be hard to tell what's going on, and it often takes students awhile to figure out why he's so great. Once you do figure it out, he may be the only player who sounds like he's doing anything— it's very common for students to be into Elvin and no one else— for a time, at least. His playing is so deep it suggests a connection to ancient things, to African drumming, to some old form of swing, but he is an American phenomenon, extremely modern, and a unique artist.

Elvin is also a jazz drummer, and what he plays can't be fully understood without understanding that context: jazz tunes, standards, and circa-50s-70s modern/avant-garde jazz forms. In fact this is one reason to get into jazz— so you can understand the greatest artists on your instrument.

He is one of the most recorded and most influential jazz musicians in history, and he played in one of the greatest and most influential bands in history, the John Coltrane Quartet. He's extremely important to the evolution of the instrument as the first truly multi-directional drummer— he improvises with all four limbs in an integrated way. The major triplety, linear methods of practicing are really derived from his playing. The stereotype of his playing is that it is all triplets, but he uses a lot of 16th notes as well. Much of the “organic” quality of his playing is created by the way he combines triplet and 16th note rhythms— sometimes within the same beat— as well as his very legato phrasing and articulation.

He had a unique way of playing the jazz cymbal rhythm, which is now widely copied. Where other drummers would accent the 2 and 4, or accent the quarter notes, Elvin typically accents the “skip” note:

And de-emphasizes the note after it, sometimes to the point of eliminating it:

He was one of the great players of the jazz waltz, even when playing in 4/4— he has a polyrhythm built into his playing, with an omnipresent 3/4 and 6/8 cross rhythm. This is encouraged by his cymbal interpretation, which flows easily into a dotted-quarter note emphasized rhythm:

Played in 4/4:

His playing in general is marked by that rolling feel, dramatic dynamics, adventurous rhythm, and aggressive accompaniment. Elvin's comping is it times is so forward it almost puts him in a co-soloist role. But hearing him only on the famous records it's easy to overestimate his aggressiveness (and volume)— on seeing him play in person I was actually surprised to see him play straight time quietly with brushes during a piano solo; his real playing confounds the stereotypes it is so easy to form about him.

His drums are a little different-sounding to non-jazz drummers; the snare is tuned high, and sounds crisp, aggressive and metallic. The toms and bass drum are tuned as an ensemble, high (especially the bass drum) and wide open. His cymbals are generally large (remembering that in the 40s and 50s a 20" cymbal was considered large), thin, and dark. That sound is standard for jazz drummers now, and was not uncommon in the 50s, but Elvin's playing in the 60s was one of the things that fixed it as the jazz sound. At the very least, from the 40s to the 60s there was a general trend from smaller to larger, darker cymbals, and Elvin's popularity was certainly a major factor in that.

These things don't work in neat progressions, but Art Blakey and Max Roach seem to be Elvin's closest musical “ancestors.” They were only 8 and 3 years older than him, respectively, but Elvin's career didn't take off until 10-15 years after they were well known. In the 60s and after, Roy Haynes's playing seems very connected to Elvin, but I don't hear a particular influence either way in Roy's playing in the 50s. Elvin was born two years after Roy, but again, his career didn't take off until later.

Practice materials:
My materials and transcriptions
Jon McCaslin's Elvin Jones independence exercises
Four Way Coordination - the jazz section at the end of the book.
Syncopation methods using triplets
Haskell Harr drum method, and Charley Wilcoxon's Rudimental Swing Solos
Three Camps - with rolls
Joel Rothman's Compleat Jazz Drummer, Basic Drumming, Drumming And All That Jazz, 3-5-7-9-Jazz. These aren't regarded as the hippest in the world, but Rothman's jazz independence materials using triplets are very Elvin-like.
The Art of Modern Jazz Drumming by Jack Dejohnette and Charlie Perry

Ten recordings:
McCoy Tyner - The Real McCoy
John Coltrane - Live At The Village Vanguard
John Coltrane - Live At Birdland
John Coltrane - My Favorite Things
Elvin Jones - Live At The Lighthouse
Elvin Jones - The Ultimate
Sonny Sharrock - Ask The Ages
Elvin Jones / Dewey Redman / Cecil Taylor - Momentum Space
Sonny Rollins - Night At The Village Vanguard
Larry Young - Unity

Ten great tracks: 

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

EZ Zigaboo method

Should have included this when I first made this up way back when, but... here's an EZ entry into my quite challenging and extensive Zigaboo Modeliste/Cissy Strut-style practice method. It's a way of playing funk grooves with a mixed rhythm on the hihat, played with both hands, which is how Modeliste played the very famous groove on Cissy Strut. Credit to Stanton Moore for writing about this in his book Groove Alchemy.

It uses the syncopation section (pp.32-44) of Ted Reed's Progressive Steps to Syncopation, but you can also use pp. 29-31— the 8th note rest portion— or pp. 10-11, with 8th notes and quarter notes. The crux of the method is that you play the book rhythms in natural sticking on the hihat and snare drum, and add bass drum. The method is in cut time, so, to make a funk groove, the snare drum is played on beat 3, or if there's a rest on 3, the closest note to it. In the original method the bass drum played an array of stock patterns; with today's EZ method, we're just going to play it in unison with the hihats— exactly the same as the book rhythm, except you don't play the bass drum when you're playing the snare.

Natural sticking, you'll recall, means that you play all the notes on strong beats (in this case, the 1, 2, 3, and 4) with the right hand, and the weak beats (all the &s) with the left hand. It's a very good system for playing mixed 16th note rhythms accurately— or their functional equivalent in cut time, mixed, syncopated quarter note and 8th note rhythms, as we're playing here.

Tempo for this method is roughly half note = 60-100. I suggest doing this two different ways— first by playing the snare drum on 3 all the time, no matter what's written in the book. So with this familiar line of music from Reed:

You'll play this— notice that on measures 2 and 6 there's a rest on 3, and the end of a tied note on 3, and we're playing the snare drum there anyway:

Then do it playing the book rhythms exactly. When there's a rest on 3, play the closest note to 3 on the snare drum, with whichever hand it falls on— usually the left. Usually you'll want to play the note before the 3 if possible— & of 2 is generally preferred to & of 3. So for the same passage above, you would play this:

Here's another line of music from the bottom of the same page:

Here's what you would play the always-play-the-3 way:

And here's what you would play the exact-rhythm way:

I neglected to put in the stickings on those examples, but remember: 1-2-3-4 = RH, &s = LH.

Pretty straightforward once you have natural sticking figured out, and can read the rhythms. We don't call these EZ methods for nothing. When do this with all of the first eight full-page syncopation exercises (pp. 37-44), you can take a crack at the more challenging original method, playing the hands as in this method, along with this page of bass drum ostinatos.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Tony clichés

This is an interesting recording, with a strange performance by a great drummer, Marvin 'Smitty' Smith— it consists almost entirely of Tony Williams clichés. When I heard this in a record store I realized I knew a lot of Tony things I didn't know that I knew. I guess Smith is making a kind of tribute by playing this way, or maybe it's some kind of post-Young Lions neo-classicist idea that the correct way to play Nefertiti is to play Tony stuff.

Here, give a listen to the original, in case you don't have it memorized:

I should clarify what jazz musicians mean by clichés, since drummers don't use the word as often as horn players. It just means stock licks or ideas; it doesn't necessarily carry the negative connotation it does in normal speech.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Page o' coordination: Latin in 3 - 04

Here's a fairly easy page of exercises in 3/4 Latin. The bell/cymbal pattern is similar to the regular Afro 6/8 rhythm, but simplified— you sometimes hear American drummers playing this rhythm in the 50s and 60s. The bass drum part here is functional if you include the circled note, and more interesting if you omit it.

So we're clear on the terms: “Latin in 3”isn't a “real” style per se— it's sort of a 3/4 version of the Afro 6/8 feel, adapted for modern jazz. Sometimes someone will actually ask for Latin in 3; other times it will be an ECM-feel in 3, or just a fast modern jazz waltz. Additionally, playing the familiar Afro feel in 3/4 will also help your understanding/flexibility with the more authentic groove metered in 6/8... which isn't authentic, because you're playing it on drumset (which has only been used Latin music for 50-60[!] years), and most likely in a non-traditional setting— a topic for another day...

Play the left hand as a rim click on the snare drum, or improvise moves between any two drums— or all the drums— or do my stock left hand moves which you should already have memorized if you've done any of these things at all. You could try playing it along with my old Eddie Palmieri practice loop— they fit together pretty well.

Get the pdf

Friday, May 05, 2017

Chaffee linear phrase as 32nd notes

This is a thing I was working on with a student— this particular Chaffee-style linear phrase (5/3/5/3) happens to work really well as a fill— it sounds impressive, and it's really easy to play. In the original presentation— in vol. 3 of Gary Chaffee's Patterns books— the patterns are written as 16th notes in 4/4. Here we'll put them in context, as a 32nd note fill in 4/4, using parts of the linear phrase, building up to using the whole thing. By following the progression below, you'll be getting the most real vocabulary out of the book exercise, while making sure the internal architecture of the lick is solid when you go to play it in longer repetitions.

I think it's a good idea to learn this system with the given stickings, so each 5 or 3 note pattern (RLRLB or RLB) starts with the right hand. Feel free to change the sticking any time you think you have a good reason to. If you move your hands around the drums (both hands or just the right), you'll have a fancy fusion/“gospel chops”-style fill; if you leave your right hand on the hihat, you'll have a little burst of hyperactive Chris Dave-syle action. When practicing at slower tempos, you may want to play 16th notes during the time portion of the measure. You can also add an extra measure of time between fills, so you have a two measure phrase with the 32nd note fill at the end of the second measure.

The inverted way on the bottom half of the page is not something I normally do with every Chaffee phrase; it just seemed like an obvious thing to do when practicing this particular lick this particular way. Which is part of the method: when something strikes you, do it. People think that there is some pristine system that must be followed to the letter to get the intended result... there isn't. Try to understand what parts of idea are important, and do what you want.

Get the pdf