Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Very occasional quote of the day: perfection

I used to think about this quote a lot:

“I never was interested in how to make a good painting. For many years I was not interested in making a good painting— as one might say, 'Now this is really a good painting' or a 'perfect work.' I didn't want to pin it down at all. I was interested in that before, but I found out it was not my nature. I didn't work on it with the idea of perfection...”

— Willem de Kooning, Content Is A Glimpse...

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Mickey Roker on the bass drum

Mickey Roker is kind of an under-appreciated player— by me, too. We often focus on the ultra-modern star-type players, but he was a very hardworking musician in his day, and there's a lot to learn from him about what works in a jazz setting. You can hear on yesterday's recording (you bought the record, right?) that he plays the bass drum rather strongly through the swing sections of the tune. He talks about that a little bit with Bad Plus pianist Ethan Iverson, in an interview Iverson has posted online. I like that Roker doesn't say feathering the best drum— a term which just annoys me, and I use only begrudgingly:

EI: When you are playing this fast, are you feathering the bass drum? 
MR: I almost always pat the bass drum because that’s the bottom of the drums. I’m from the old school. We used to play with no bass player and you had to pat the bass drum. I am so used to that. Sometimes I get too rambunctious with it but I don’t want to sound like Papa Joe Jones. That’s why I like cats like Vernel Fournier. Nobody played that bass drum like that guy, you can hear it all the time. Some drummers tune their bass drum at too high a pitch and you can hear it but it gets on your nerves. But if it is down and damp, it don’t get in the way of the bass player. 
EI: Do you think you are feathering here? 
MR: (listens to track) No, I am not playing it here. Well, it’s hard to do that on something fast. You can’t do that on something that is extremely fast, unless you are playing without a bass player.

The track they're talking about is Three Little Words, from the album Sonny Rollins on Impulse; the tempo is around 300 bpm.

Yashica D

I had this camera sitting on a shelf for several years, and I finally got it working this summer: a Yashica D, medium-format, twin-lens reflex camera from the late 50s or early 60s. It's a Japanese copy of a more expensive Rollei TLR. Mine has a Yashikor lens, which is good, but not as valued by collectors as the fancier Yashinon. For some reason this model has always been a little bit of a dark horse among quality vintage TLRs, and I think I got mine for ~$25 on eBay. They tend to cost a little more now, but they're still an excellent value, and can be had for $50-120. As an old, seldom-used camera, the shutter times were off, and the shutter release itself had gotten jammed, so I looked online and found a guy named Mark Hama in Georgia, who specializes in servicing these cameras, and for $125 he CLAd (cleaned, lubricated, and adjusted) it, and it's basically a brand new camera now.

A TLR (twin-lens reflex) is an old-fashioned, somewhat steampunk-looking box-shaped camera with two lenses on the front— one lens is for the viewfinder, which you use to frame your shot, and focus; the other is for exposing the film. Today they look like antiques, but they were standard pro cameras as recently as the 1970s. You focus and frame your shot by flipping up the little hatch on top of the camera, and looking down into the 6cm square ground glass. It's fully manual, so you have to focus, set the aperture, set the shutter speed, cock the shutter, take the picture, and wind the film yourself. Advancing the film is done via a knob, which locks when you've reached the next frame. Which is nice— on a lot of cheap, older cameras— and on my Holga and Diana— you have to look through a little red window on the back of the camera, and look at the frame numbers printed on the paper film backing, which is slow, annoying, and easy to mess up. There is no light built-in light meter, so you can either purchase one, or use your digital camera as a light meter, or get a free/cheap light meter app on your phone, or just use the sunny 16 rule and guess at it, as I most often do.

Tree canopies on Sauvie Island. I thought
this was a double exposure, but it isn't. 
The camera uses 120, medium format, film; 6cm-wide roll film. Cameras using 120 film shoot in a variety of image frame sizes; the Yashica D shoots the square 6x6 format, which is standard. You get twelve exposures per roll of film, which definitely requires an attitude adjustment in this age of image-spewing digital. But if you're just doing little art projects like me, often just in the course of daily life, you don't need reams of options, you need to take a second, look, think, get your shot, and move on. Even shooting with this cheap, old, camera, the results are far superior to anything you can get digitally— well, you could spend $5000-30,000 and get a new MF digital camera which will approximate the real image resolution of film. But medium format film gives you a beautiful tonality you basically can't get any other way. It makes ordinary things look like oil paintings. I feel the best digital cameras give you a lot of Blu-ray-looking eye candy. Aesthetically, not the same thing at all.

Guessing at the exposure, I'm tending to over-correct,
and over-expose; but the results are still pretty cool.
The Yashica D is just a perfect medium format running-around camera. It's reasonably compact and light, it makes you look cooler than your average camera-wielding tourist yahoo, but not too serious— that's actually important. But it's a real camera. I actually have some fine control over the focus, exposure, and framing. The toys, like the Holga, are fun, and I've gotten some very cool pictures with them, but they're unusable in many situations; I've wasted a good deal of film, and had a number of missed opportunities with them. At this stage, I don't always want to rely on chance to get a good picture. And the pictures from the Yashica still have a very subtly funky quality, due to the slightly-vintage, though very solid-performing Yashikor lens.

If you're thinking about buying one, I personally would get the cheapest one you can find and then have it serviced by Mr. Hama. It shouldn't be too hard to pick up one in near-perfect condition, but untested, or with the shutter speeds off— that should drive the price way down. Since there's no guarantee that a camera you pay more for will not need servicing anyway, and since after servicing they will each be perfect, new cameras, so you might as well pay as little as possible up front.

Some helpful links after the break:

Monday, September 15, 2014

Groove o' the day: Mickey Roker Latin

Fantastic, I hadn't planned it this way, but here's yet another thing you have to buy— a Latin groove by Mickey Roker, on the tune Woody'n You, on McCoy Tyner's album Live At Newport:

Roker plays a Brazilian-style bass drum pattern (very softly) under his quasi-Afro-Cuban bell and tom part— a very common thing for many years, but which doesn't really fly these days. You could play the bass drum lightly just on 1 and 3, or try this more contemporary-sounding pattern:

That seems a little closer to an authentic salsa pattern. If the band were actually playing off of clave, this bell pattern suggests a 2-3 orientation, in which case we'd be wanting to punch the bass drum on the & of 2 of the second measure instead of (or in addition to) the written b.d. part here. It doesn't matter; we're not playing salsa, we're just trying to make a reasonably hip Latin groove for a jazz context.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Page o' coordination: Dannie Richmond-inspired

A page o' coordination inspired by that last Dannie Richmond transcription, with a syncopated cymbal pattern. Are you getting to the point with these that you can anticipate what the left hand parts are going to be? We'll step up the level of difficulty on future entries.

These are written to be played with a swing interpretation, but you could also play them straight, and convert the triplet rhythms to 16th notes in whatever way seems right. Maybe a la this page; or as in the explanation here. An easy variation would be to add bass drum to one or both of the remaining cymbal notes. Don't forget the left hand moves.

Get the pdf

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Transcription: Dannie Richmond — Ugly Beauty

I guess the theme this week is TRANSCRIPTIONS and BUY RECORDS, because this post also does not have a YouTube link. But you can get the album on iTunes, probably from some other online sources.

The record is Bennie Wallace Plays Monk, with Dannie Richmond on drums, recorded in 1981. We don't do enough Dannie Richmond, because he's often hard to transcribe, and there's a lot more going on with him than the notes on the page let on. And I just have little to say about him beyond he was one of the most exciting drummers in jazz and you must listen to his recordings. He was best known for playing with Charles Mingus, but I also like him on some lesser-known albums later in career (he died in 1988)— he handled his tom toms differently from a lot of jazz drummers, I think touring with some rock bands in the 70s changed his playing a little bit.

The tune today is Ugly Beauty, a waltz— the only waltz— written by Thelonious Monk. I've just transcribed Richmond's accompaniment of Jimmy Knepper's single chorus of soloing. Just a little snapshot of some routine playing. Richmond plays the 3/4 with an emphasis on the & of 2, and with a lot of tied notes generally. For a long time this is the way I would play, too— I wouldn't play the 3 on a waltz. It was an Elvin-and-Roy-Haynes-inspired thing. I also feel it's an example of the swing feel continuing to evolve, before the neo-classic movement came along and slammed on the brakes, and got young people playing like it was the 1950s again.

The transcription starts on the last bar of the head, with the drum fill leading into the trombone solo. He does have a second floor tom in his set up, which he uses on that fill only. I've been getting more detailed about indicating ghost notes, and very light hihat notes, than in the past, so the page is kind of “noisy”— there's a lot of extra ink that doesn't really help you in reading the thing. Don't be afraid to leave things out if you're going to try to play it.

Get the pdf

Friday, September 12, 2014

Reed interpretation: fast within slow — alternative sticking

Here's another set of stickings for that last “fast within slow” Reed interpretation. The major thing we'll be using is the sixtuplet form of the six stroke roll— or the “Swiss” sixtuplet, as I sometimes call it (which is not Swiss)— any place where the fill-in is two complete 16th note triplets, the sticking will be RLL-RRL. Single 16th note triplets will be RRL, and three triplets will be RLL-RRL-RRL. Everything else uses combinations of those. Also, any time there are two accented notes in a row, we will alternate them. The filler triplets will always start with the right hand. You can, of course, run the whole mess starting with the left hand, as well.

Here are these stickings applied to the examples from last time:

Just a quick refresher on how we're arriving at the interpreted rhythm. Take the written rhythm, and:
1) Swing the 8th notes— play the &s late, so they line up with the last note of a triplet.
2) Accent the written rhythm.
3) Fill in the spaces between the written notes with quiet 8th note triplets.
4) For each of those filler notes, play a 16th note triplet.
5) Badabing, you're doing the rhythms you see above.

So, you should be to get these pretty smoking fast with these stickings— they're designed for that.

Get the pdf

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Transcription: Paul Motian — Trinkle Tinkle

Oh, look, another transcription with no YouTube video— no worries, though, because as a serious listener, you already own this record. This is Paul Motian's playing during Bill Frisell's guitar solo on the tune Trinkle Tinkle, from Motian's album Monk In Motian. The form of the tune is AABA, with each A section having seven measures of 4/4 and one measure of 2/4; on the solos, the A sections are just eight measures of 4/4. That's the way it's done on Monk's records, as well; the solos are straight 32-bar AABA (on this record, the head is played that way, too).

Motian plays a lot of straight 8th notes along with the swing 8th notes, so I have notated the rhythms literally here; don't swing the 8th notes. There are a few strange-looking things in the transcription, but don't get too hung up on working them out exactly; use the page as a guide, and go for the vibe.

He plays the primary pulses very strongly throughout: he plays the 1 a lot, as well as a strong half note pulse, and quarter note pulse. The syncopations are simple and few. Much of what he's playing on the hihat seems to be sort of automatic, and it gets a little sloppy. In a few places he plays straight 8th notes on the hihat with his foot, while swinging with his hands, which I don't believe is a worked-out, deliberate thing; he's just letting his limbs run, there. If you're going to work up the transcription, I would you could just play quarter notes with the left foot, and leave it at that.

Where there is a buzz written on a note with both a cymbal and snare drum, buzz the snare drum only. The buzzes are generally very short. Housetop accents on a drum usually mean a rim shot very close to the edge of the drum, not necessarily a lot of volume. Housetops with a cymbal usually mean a crash.

He's using two cymbals, in addition to the hihats, which are just classically Paul Motian: one is obviously a 22" Paiste Sound Creation Dark Ride, and I believe the other is his famous old cracked A. Zildjian, which he used since he was in Bill Evans's band.

Get the pdf

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What's going on: my recording of Ornette Coleman's Mothers of the Veil

While I was traveling recently, I got a note from a reader who had very kindly purchased my CD Little Played Little Bird, the music of Ornette Coleman, asking for some analysis and explanation of my drumming on the opening track, “Mothers Of The Veil”:

First, listen to the original Ornette Coleman recording, from the album In All Languages:

You can hear that Billy Higgins does a sort-of Latin feel on the head, seemingly at a faster pace than that of melody; the rhythmic connection between the drums and horns is somewhat obscure. It sounds like he's playing a shuffle rhythm on his cymbal, but it's really a quasi-Latin feel in a fast 3; what his left hand is doing really coordinates with that, and where the time goes during the solos is based on it:

Here's my chart, which is basically just a transcription of the melody as played by Coleman and Don Cherry— I don't know what the original music, if any, looked like, but you could play this chart with a steady pulse all the way through, and arrive at something fairly close to what's on the original record— putting it in 5/4 I think gives it a similar pacing to the original, which might have just been phrased with a breath every measure. Listen through the head of each of the recordings while following the chart:

Continued after the break: