Monday, July 15, 2019

Ruff bossa on the drums

This is something I was working on with a Skype student* recently: ideas for practicing Alan Dawson's “ruff bossa” method on the drum set.

...first, nobody ask why it's called ruff bossa, because I don't know. It doesn't make any sense.

But, it's a really handy method for soloing, kicks and set-ups, and modern, textural playing in jazz, using Syncopation by Ted Reed. It has an easy hand-to-hand motion that that seems adapted to the snare drum, so it's especially good when playing brushes. Here I'll give a few ideas for practicing it. Hit the link above to get a summary of the basic method.

* - Did you know I teach lessons online via Skype and Facetime? I do. Hit 
the email Todd link in the sidebar to inquire. 

Anyhow, for the following examples we'll use the rhythm from line 3 on p. 34 in Syncopation:

Here's the ruff bossa pattern for that rhythm, as it would be played on one surface:

1. Play the accents on the cymbals:

2. As above, add bass drum on all of the cymbal notes:

3. As above, but add bass drum only on the accents corresponding with the long notes in the book rhythm— anything longer than an untied 8th note. The example rhythm has long notes on the 1, 2, and & of 3.

4. Play only the accents corresponding with long notes on the cymbal, plus bass drum. So the remaining accents are played on the snare. This is a way for playing kicks and setups, but is usable also in soloing.

5. Play on the snare drum, except the accent on the 1, and the last accent in the measure; play those on the cymbal and bass drum:

A lot of the patterns in the book don't give you an accent on 1, so obviously that won't work for all of them.

6.  Play the last accent in the measure on the cymbal/bass drum:

An obvious thing I didn't mention is to move the accents to the tom toms— or any part of the pattern to the toms. This method has such a strong RLRL motion (albeit with occasional doubles on either hand) that the possibilities for moving to the toms are kind of limited, and not real interesting to me.

You could play through the entire system all of these ways— running the interpretation while reading pp. 34-45 in Syncopation. Or just use this as a guide for different things to try while you work your way through it.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Protecting your business

Maybe not.
This is a situation I had recently, which is common for teachers working with music stores, teaching studios, or other services. Many of those businesses require teachers to sign contracts to keep them from poaching students, sometimes to stop them from competing with them generally.

I worked with a business like that, where I would get paid half my normal rate to teach at students' homes. Presumably it would be worth it if they were able to fill out my schedule a bit. During the two years I was with them, they never provided me with many students. They students they did refer to me were good kids, in supportive households, but retention was poorer than in my own practice. When the following thing happened, I was teaching one weekly half hour student through them.

The company owner called me for a meeting. I thought he was just checking in to see how I was doing, and that we would talk about how to get me more students. So we can all make some more money. When we met I told him my own teaching business was doing well, and answered all of his many questions.

Increasingly it became clear that the non-compete contract was the primary reason for the meeting. There were probing questions about my recent business activities, the relationships between my ongoing students and my new referral students; about me teaching piano to some beginner students, which we had discussed doing with his business. I had been keeping a marimba for them, which they had previously been paying to store— he wanted to know if I was teaching anyone on it. He wanted to know about my activities in “his” part of town.

Basically, he was taking a proprietary interest in things that were none of his business, trying to find out if I was taking money out of his pocket.

Obviously, it was way out of line. No rational person would expose himself to this kind of scrutiny, and possible legal action, in exchange for $17.50 a week— that's what I was making with him at the time. Him thinking that employing me for $17.50/week entitled him to do that was very troubling.

This was my response to that meeting:

Hi [the business owner]— 
I was very surprised at the nature of our meeting yesterday— I was not expecting an interview about contract enforcement, and was very surprised to learn what you were construing as possibly infringing on my contract with [the business].  
It made me wonder if I understand our relationship correctly. I believed our arrangement was that I provide services at a substantially discounted rate in exchange for a) students in bulk, b) reduced office work. At present, with you offering a) negligible employment, and b) interviews about contract enforcement, it is objectively little more than an agreement for me not to compete with you (interpreted sweepingly) in exchange for very little. 
I sympathize with your business needs, but there is obviously no incentive for me to agree to a relationship on those terms. I can't conduct my own business while worrying about whether anything I do could be construed as conflicting with my contract with you. It would be very difficult if you were providing substantial employment for me; it is obviously impossible when you're giving me nothing.  
I am happy to continue offering my services as a feature of [the business's] product, with a verbal agreement to work ethically and respect that [the business's]contacts/clients are not my contacts/clients; I can't do it under the cloud of a sweepingly-interpreted non-compete contract. 
Please let me know how you want to proceed.  
Todd Bishop

His response was to refuse to continue the relationship without a contract, and I responded to agree to end the relationship. I have a fairly robust teaching business of my own, and it was not difficult to walk away from the speculative income they offered, but showed no sign of being able to deliver.

Just because there's some small amount of money involved, you do not have to tolerate any conditions people want to impose. Especially when it involves a contract— which always carries a background threat of legal action.

At some point, you have to move out of the just-out-of-college mindset, where you will take anything, and start acting like a professional, and protect your own interests. You are the talent, without whom they have no business. Beware of people who see you as simultaneously their employee and their competitor.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Transcription: Jack Dejohnette - Tennessee Waltz

Jack Dejohnette plays Tennessee Waltz! One of the most cursed tunes in the standard repertoire. I don't know what's going through his head here— maybe he's having a wonderful time. I know a couple of guys who will confidently tell you what Jack Dejohnette or anybody else is feeling based on what he's playing. I find that annoying, so let's leave it at this: for me it would be a bit of a struggle making a jazz performance out of this tune. There are a lot of funny tunes on Sonny Rollins's records. This is from Falling In Love With Jazz— made in 1989, which certainly has to be the low ebb for that tune as far as jazz musicians are concerned.

Here he's playing behind Jerome Harris's guitar solo, starting at 2:03.

There's a good amount of variation in the dynamics on the ride cymbal— quite a few accents with the shoulder of the stick. To me, that's a modern, post-Tony thing— I feel like I don't hear as much of that with drummers in the 50s. I notice at the end of phrases he'll accent before the 1, but still play the 1 with the bass drum. Not a lot of independence happening here; usually he's playing one foot or the other. There are a couple of standard Dejohnette licks near the end— similar to what he plays in this very old John Scofield transcription.

Get the pdf

Friday, July 12, 2019

Ten tunes: solid standards

Continuing our little ten tunes series of often-played tunes to learn— today's theme is solid standards; standards that are called a lot, that everyone still likes to play. Some things you play a thousand times and you want them permanently flushed (a list for another day?), but these are extremely durable— inherently pleasing and rewarding to play, for players of all levels.

There are multiple great recorded versions of all of these:

All the Things You Are

But Not For Me

Have You Met Miss Jones

I Could Write A Book

I Hear a Rhapsody

If I Should Lose You

If I Were a Bell

My Romance

The Song Is You

There Will Never Be Another You

There Will Never Be Another You may draw out a few whiners— it has to be one of the half dozen most played tunes ever— but it's still great. I get a little tired of playing All The Things You Are, but nobody else seems to.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019


Everyone has seen things like this polluting the internet:

What fun. I get that I'm the only person who thinks these are the trashiest possible associations to attach to anything musical— judging from the delighted responses that always accompany someone reposting them. I just don't get the concept of this as a teaching aid. What, the student is going to remember to associate particular rhythms with a laundry list of quasi-food items, and then remember the notation like it's a hieroglyphic? And this is easier than just teaching them to count 1&2&?

And who says “grape, soda” anyway? “I'll have some cheese. Ravioli, please.”

Come on. If you're going to do this, do it right with this fun and educational, non-inane, CRUISE SHIP DRUMMER! approved “rhythm guide”:

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

3/4 rhythms - a special set

See, this is what I'm talking about: no matter how much drum stuff gets written, no matter how many thousands of pages of drum books I have in my studio, and even after having written a book on this very subject... I always need something else.

I was playing with a rumba practice loop in 2/2, doing a basic thing out of Syncopation, and began playing some variations in three-beat groupings— a basic meter-within-meter thing I/we do all the time— and it occurred to me that I could use a page of *all possible 3/4 rhythms with a note on beat 1, and no more than two notes in a row on consecutive 8th notes. It's easiest to do this one thing, at the speed I was doing it, with rhythms with those parameters. So:

At the bottom of the page there's a summary of the thing I was doing. I also marked with an * the patterns that have no more than two filler notes in a row. That's helpful when playing a rhythm on the cymbal, and filling in with the left hand. Another thing we do all the time.

* - I see I left off straight quarter notes. Oh well.

Get the pdf

Monday, July 08, 2019

Transcription: Mel Lewis fours

Here is Mel Lewis trading fours on Stoppin' at the Savoy, from Bob Brookmeyer's album The Blues Hot and Cold. These are pretty interesting. Lewis isn't anybody's idea of a chops guy, but he's not dumb. The fours begin at 3:49 in the track.

There are a couple of funny items— at one point he's throwing a stick down on the floor tom, hitting the rims. The part on the sixth line with the ruff right before the stick shot will take a little practice. Play this by itself, a lot, and work it up to speed:

It's a natural motion; you have to get the left stick onto the head to make the stick shot, so you just press it into the head on that note. We're not going for a quality buzz stroke there. I have a feeling Mel didn't practice it, but just played it on the job a few tens of thousands times.

Get the pdf

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Page o' coordination: Simple 3:2

Coming at that 3:2 hemiola polyrhythm from the triplet side— all of our recent hemiola funk stuff has been using it in a duple subdivision. Here we'll use the 2 side as the primary pulse, played with both feet in unison, and the 3 played on the cymbal, felt as a quarter note triplet— the 12/8 rhythm here is equivalent to a quarter note triplet in 4/4.

I've written a hundred pages like this, and if you've done one of them, you know the method: learn the whole page as written, then drill it with my set of stock left hand moves.

Get the pdf

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Groove o' the day: John Von Ohlen - Love for Sale

A Latin groove played by John Von Ohlen on Love For Sale, arranged for the Blue Wisp Big Band by Carroll DeCamp. From their famous album Butterfly. This was one of the first serious big band arrangements I ever played, in high school. It's funny, I barely remember working out a Latin groove for this, but I must have played something.

The groove is another quasi-Mozambique— at least Von Ohlen settles on that standard bell pattern by bar 5. He plays the bass drum lightly throughout; I've only written the accents. By the third measure he's playing half notes, then quarter notes around the fourth measure. The ending fill is played with both hands almost in unison on the same drum.

There's no YouTube link for this, but you should already have it. If you don't you'll have to scrounge it up from somewhere.