Monday, October 16, 2017

Comping the Billy way

Here's a fresh lesson on simplicity in comping in jazz— file this along with the post about the “Kenny” note from a few years ago. I've transcribed some ideas from Billy Higgins's playing on  Things Ain't What They Used To Be with Hank Jones and Ray Drummond, from their trio album The Essence. They form an easy progression, and it's almost the order in which Billy played them on the recording.

You'll note that like Kenny Clarke in the earlier post, Higgins plays a lot of & of 1/& of 3 on the snare drum. He especially seems to be centered around the 1, and his ideas are very contained within each measure of 4— that's my feeling upon listening and not really analyzing, anyhow.




Swing the 8th notes. If you listen to the record, Higgins's phrasing is very legato, and timingwise he's playing behind the beat. People claim to love Billy's playing, but it would be a real challenge for most of them to play, sound, and be as alertly relaxed as he is here.

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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Practice loop: Wilson Pickett - Mojo Mama

By the way, all of yesterday's ranting and raving about people's drum covers doesn't apply to my sampled practice loops, which are lovely, highly recommended, and serve a totally different function. We're not aiming for a simulated musical performance here. The loops just act as a glorified metronome substitute and  a) give you a chance to hear your drumming exercises as musical ideas, and b) with their infectious goodness, keep you playing said exercises longer than you would have if you were just playing them solo. Or you can have fun grooving or soloing along with them— with the caveats I raised yesterday.

Today's thing I sampled from the intro of Mojo Mama by Wilson Pickett, and it'll be great for getting your 8th notes together. That's what I'm doing with it and I can already kind of play 8th notes. The tempo is quarter note = 120 BPM.




Friday, October 13, 2017

A rant: limits of playalong tracks

You playing along with a backing track.
So, I watch the YouTube videos of drummers playing along with their playalong tracks, and sounding pretty OK, and I think you know, I probably wouldn't sound any better than that doing that, but there's this nagging feeling that there has to be more to this job of drumming than following along and making all the right notes, maybe playing a cool fill for the fill part, doing cool comping junk, and generally signifying an OK jazz performance.

The notes are there, but something's wrong— the energy is all wrong. The drummers are all as relaxed as a Hindu cows, knowing that whatever they play will be accepted by the band with perfect equanimity— they will give the exact same blandoid competent performance no matter what the drummer does.

That's because the fundamental dynamic of where a performance comes from has been violated.

Usually the energy goes both ways; you play the context, but you also influence the context. In your videos the band isn't reacting to you. No one is playing extra well because they like you. No one is walking off because they hate what you're doing and they can't play with you. The bass player isn't moving his attacks around trying to get a handle on how to play with you. No one is playing too loud, or too busy, or trying to rush and/or drag. No one didn't get what you were trying to do, and blew a figure or entrance after a break. No one is disagreeing with you about what tempo was counted off. No one reacted badly when you played that one thing. Nobody doesn't quite get the idiom of the tune, and is playing the wrong stuff which makes what you're doing sound wrong. No one knows how to help you sound good so you start playing extra well. Your feathering the bass drum isn't pissing off the bass player. There isn't a famous player on the session who is actually weird to play with, and you have to figure out how to deal with that. You will never be fired. There is no possibility of you influencing the band in any way, so you forget that's even a thing.

Those are the actual dynamics in which you have to sound good and try to make other people like playing with you.

You in an actual performance.
You think these are all small complaints, and all a matter of “seasoning”, and the main thing is still getting all the right notes in there, having ideas and being able to play them during an actual pass at playing an arrangement. Surely that's the first thing a student has to be able to do, and for that, these playalong tracks are very valuable!

I don't know. Maybe. I imagine one could become a fairly complete mediocre musician by getting good at playing with them. Probably the baseline of student competency has gotten higher as they've become more popular, and means of playing with them have improved. And who cares. Seriously. Managing performance dynamics— meaning energy— is really the whole thing. What you actually have to do, after you've spent a couple of years getting the very basics together, is to play with people and figure out how to make a performance work. I think spending a lot of time polishing these drum covers is missing the boat. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Page o' coordination: Latin in 3 - 05

This is a fairly subtle variation on this Afro 6 feel, which we've covered pretty fully in the past few years, and possibly one of the easier entries in the series. I suppose you could say we're taking an incremental approach to developing and expanding on this style, learning one small new thing with each page of stuff. Today we're just using a slightly different bell pattern I heard on a Cal Tjader record, which really suggests a 3/4 feel. Increasingly jazz musicians I play with are playing waltzes with a Latin feel, which drummingwise is very similar to the Afro-Cuban 6/8 (or 12/8), except that you have to be able to count it in 3/4.


Play the snare drum/left hand part as a rim click, or normally on the snare drum, in a jazz-like way— I don't swing the 8th notes, but you could do that if you choose, treating this page almost as an interpretation of a jazz waltz. Once you can play the page that way, do our stock left hand moves around the drums. I've been practicing this along with an Afro-Peruvian guitar riff loop— perhaps I'll post that if I can figure out who it is... I may have forgotten where I got it...

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Groove o' the day: Jimmy Smith / Midnight Special

In about 1991 I lived in Eugene, Oregon, and every once in awhile KLCC 87.9 would play something that would send you immediately to Cat's Meow (the jazz record store that survived for 30 years in that little town of 100,000 people) and cause you to give up a very dear $15 buying the CD. I typically felt rich enough (and compelled enough) to do that maybe once or twice a month. One such record was Fourmost, by the organist Jimmy Smith, with Stanley Turrentine and Kenny Burrell, and Grady Tate on drums— a very great drummer who just passed away this weekend. What grabbed me was the way Tate played a shuffle, with the hihat on &s of the shuffle rhythm:




I also liked a lick he played at the end of choruses, which I still use today; he would play quarter note triplets on the cymbal and bass drum, filling out the triplets on each note with the left hand on the snare drum:



Except he did it in a way that's very difficult to notate with the snare drum filler, with the quarter triplet inverted:



You could try thinking of it this way, playing the snare drum notes very legato, and dropping them in earlier than you would when playing a strict 8th note triplet timing:



Ending the lick is also weird if you're thinking in quarter note triplet terms. Here's approximately what Tate does on the record— he fudges it a little bit at times:




Here's the recording— I played along with this a lot:




I assumed the main groove was just Grady Tate's hip way of playing a shuffle, but here is Donald Bailey playing basically the same groove with Smith 30 years earlier. My knowledge of organ trio playing is not encyclopedic, and it's similar to what Al Jackson does on the Booker T records, so I wouldn't be surprised if it's a more common groove than I'm presenting it as. No matter, to me it's the Midnight Special groove. Bailey plays a normal swing rhythm on the cymbal (Tate mixes it up with straight quarter notes), and plays the rim click on 2 or 4 only during some sections:

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Stick Control drumset exercise - RLRR-LRLL

Part 3 of this series, where the need to write out the exercises becomes perhaps more apparent. We're playing a basic drumset orchestration of exercises from the first page of Stick Control by George L. Stone, while doing a variety of stock left hand moves around the drums. Usually when doing those moves along with an exercise I'll keep any doubles on the same drum, rather than moving on every single note; here we're doing it both ways— as you'll see, there are some very hip melodic things that happen with the toms when you split the doubles between drums.




There are 33 drumset exercises total here, so if you do them for 30 seconds each without stopping, it'll take you a little over 16 minutes to do the entire drill. I usually do them 4 or 8 times each. If you can do these along with my Betty Davis practice loop (playing in cut time, so the 8th notes are at the loop's 16th note speed), that's a pretty good first state for this exercise.

Ambitious students looking for ways to take this farther can do the same thing with patterns 6-8 in Stick Control— the paradiddle inversions, RLLR-LRRL, RRLR-LLRL, and RLRL-LRLR. After you've practiced these pages, hopefully you'll have the moves memorized, and know how they lay vs. a paradiddle, and won't need to them written out. You can also do the above exercises with any standard funk cymbal rhythm of your choice.

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Sunday, October 01, 2017

Groove o' the day: Spider Webb - It Feels So Good

This is by a drummer I need to know more about, because he's great: Kenneth “Spider Webb” Rice. I guess I need to do some homework, dig up some records, and listen Jake Feinberg's interview with him.

This is the opening groove on the title track from Grover Washington's Feels So Good album, and the drumming performance is a textbook on how to play a funk arrangement. There's not really any fancy drummer stuff here, but if you play this well, nobody will care (nobody cares anyway, actually, but still). Rice shares drumming credits with Steve Gadd on this record.



To make this groove you really have to know where the quarter note pulse is, and place the 2 and 3— the little notes after the displaced backbeat on the 'a' of 1, and after the open hihat. Don't accent them, just think about them and place them. As you listen to the track you'll hear some of the 16th notes swing— on that ending bass drum note, and on some of the fills. The snare drum on the 'a' of 1 is not swung, however.


Friday, September 29, 2017

Linear Chaffee lick in 32nd notes

This is one of the more fun-and-easy-and-cool-sounding short linear phrases from the Gary Chaffee pantheon: 5 notes (RLRLB) + 3 notes (RLB). Today I've written out some ways of playing it as a 32nd note lick in a funk or fusion context. I guess we're going a little “gospel chops” today, teaching you a canned lick— don't abuse it.



Play the cymbal part on any cymbal— on the version ending with the RL cymbal hits, catch the ride cymbal and the crash cymbal, or whatever you have on the right and left. Don't try to get both hands over to the hihats for that. Take some time to figure out some different possibilities for moving the actual lick around the drums. On some of the examples where the lick happens earlier in the measure, I've written in some simple fills to finish the measure— you should also improvise your own fills there, as I've indicated on the page.

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Friday, September 22, 2017

Stick Control drumset exercise - RRLL and variations

This little series presents a kind of writing problem; it has to be either very short or very long, each of which will hit resistance with users. I've done it the long way, simply because it's the only way anyone may actually practice the thing. The first entry and today's entry are easy enough to figure out on the fly by following simple instructions, but they're good preparation for reading the later entries, so go ahead and read through them.

This is a very basic drumset orchestration for the 8th note sticking exercises found at the beginning of Stick Control, by George L. Stone. We're simply moving the right hand to a cymbal, and playing the bass drum in unison with it, and then doing a number of stock tom tom moves with the left hand. We'll also do them in a triplet rhythm. And practice any very similar exercises found in Stone— for example, today's starting pattern is RRLL; you should run the same steps with LLRR, RLLR, and LRRL.




We've opted to be very thorough with the tom moves, covering all possible combinations, and it it will take quite of bit of time to get through all of them. Which is a good thing— tricking you into playing the basic pattern for longer than you would have is half the point. The patterns we're covering are very fundamental, and you want to be really good at them in a variety of rhythms, tempos, dynamics, and movements around the drums. Note that we're in 2/2— cut time— so each measure is two beats long, and we're playing a four-note subdivision— treat these exercises as you would 16th notes in 2/4. You can also play the 12/8 versions of the exercises (on page 2) as sixtuplets in 2/4.

I've only written out left hand moves, but you can also move your right hand between cymbals. Just improvise those moves as you play through the written exercises; if you try to be systematic about it you'll never finish this thing.

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