Friday, July 03, 2015

Daily best music in the world: more Parliament

From the 1979 Parliament album Gloryhallastupid, Theme From The Black Hole. Dennis Chambers is one of several drummers on this record; I don't know if this is him.

Basic jazz method with varying cymbal pattern

Please forgive the lack of posting here— it's been in the high 90s/low 100s in Portland for over a week, and it's putting a serious damper on my productivity. The climate in the Pacific Northwest is extremely mild, and there's about a 30° window in which we Cascadian types will not feel oppressed by the weather for being too cold or too hot.

I like using the early easy parts of Syncopation (Progressive Steps To... by Ted Reed, of course) as well as the harder middle part, with which jazz students spend so much time. This is a basic method for doing some different things with the left hand along with a varying ride cymbal pattern, using pp. 10-11 in Reed, called Lesson 4 in the new edition of the book. We'll be playing the book rhythms on the cymbal, adding hihat on 2 and 4, and filling in with the left hand in various ways. To save space on the page, I'm not writing out examples as they appear in the book.

Swing the 8th notes. Some of the patterns will have the left hand quarter note triplets crossing the barline, which is a little difficult to read at first. You can also do the left hand moves we normally use with the Pages o' coordination.

Get the pdf

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Dom Irrera talks

If you don't know who Dom Irrera, he's sort of the Godfather of road comedians— stand up is a punishing trade, and comedians try to get away from it when they can. It's also a very pure form of comedy, and Irrera is one who has stuck with it year after year, completely killing it since the 80s. I saw him on a Sunday night at the Comedy Store in Los Angeles back in 1989— Sunday is their traditional open mic night, when pros come out to try out new material, to keep their chops up, or because it's just what they do. It's not an amateur thing; there were several people on that evening who had been in movies recently, and the second person on was Richard Pryor. Here's Dom in about that period:

So, Irrera has been doing a podcast, on which he basically just hangs with other comedians, and talks shop— there's quite obviously no preparation, no real questions, not even much effort to be interesting to an audience— it's just a straight pro comedian hang. It's very cool. The Hang has kind of died off as a thing musicians do, but clearly it's still a major thing in professional comedy. Here's Irrera talking to another legend, Richard Lewis:

You can get part of the series on iTunes, or you can go here and get them all.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Studio triplet feel

Here's a set of basic patterns for making a 70s-style triplet groove, or a moderate, triplety, shuffle,, as you hear on songs like Isn't She Lovely, How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You, Higher Ground, or Lopsy Lu. Nobody likes working on this style— as I noted before, a combination of factors make it a more challenging style than it appears— but it does come up if you're working commercial jobs, and it's a drag to get caught unprepared. Work on it a bit, and you'll kill it.

Play each of the patterns as written, then combine parts. Start by learning each of the cymbal variations along with each of the bass drum variations, then play each of those patterns with all of the snare drum variations.

get the pdf

Practice loop after the break:

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Quarter note Reed method: Maiden Voyage

People, I am all about the quarter notes these days. This is an easy method using the rhythm of the vamp from the Herbie Hancock tune Maiden Voyage— we'll combine that rhythm, played on the cymbal, with the linear quarter note drum parts from Syncopation, by Ted Reed. That's pp. 8-9, or Lesson 3, if you own the new edition of the book. Normally I would explain every step of the process, but you can figure it out. Open up your copy of Reed, print the pdf, and go.  

Usually the cymbal notes will be played with the right hand, but you can catch some of them with the left, if you'd like. And improvise whatever sticking you like on the snare drum notes, move them around the drums, adding flams or whatever embellishments you like. Take advantage of the simplicity of the method to fit that stuff in. Practice lines 1-15 with and without the pickups, then test yourself with the 16 bar exercise.

get the pdf

Practice loop:

If for some unpardonably lame reason you don't own this record, the complete original track is after the break:

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

How to really play jazz drums

I received this question by email:

I wondered if I might trouble you with a small query about a video I recently watched: It's called 'How To (Really) Play Jazz Drums' and it's presented by a guy who does a channel on more advanced playing (you know, Guilliana, Nate Smith and others). It struck me as an odd way to develop a jazz vocabulary, and I wondered what you take is on this? Is learning how to 'really' play Jazz is through the filter of hip hop?! 
He's not a massive fan of the syncopation method (it seems), and his videos are pretty popular. Is this a worrying trend, or a valid gateway?

I think I've watched one of this drummer's videos before (can't find his name, just many repetitions of the 80/20 Drummer trademark)— the only biographical info I found states that he was a student of John Riley's, and that he lives in New York. I'll watch the video and state any observations as they come up. The presentation is pretty meta, so you have to have been playing the music for several years to know what he's talking about. I like that for myself, because I hate sitting through a lot of re-explanation of basic things, but novices might be lost or misled.

Learning to play swing
Good: He says swing is a way of playing 8th notes. As you know, it makes me angry when people say “it's triplets” and move on. Not angry, but I don't like it as an explanation of swing.
OK/questionable: He says the way to learn to play swing rhythm is to play along with hip hop. It's not a bad exercise, but usually the first suggestion would be that you play and listen to jazz music.

“Bottom up”
He suggests that jazz is usually thought of as “top down” playing, by which I assume he means that it is ride cymbal-driven, or hands-driven. So when  he says bottom up, he apparently means playing in a bass drum-driven way, like in backbeat-oriented styles. It's a good exercise, not so good as your primary concept. It takes some musicianship to pull it off in a way that doesn't sound like a funk or rock drummer trying to play jazz, and that doesn't draw some pointed questions from the more experienced musicians you play with.

The hihat conversation
The presentation about the hihat doesn't cut it for me— I need a little more to work with by way of explanation. I can see what he's doing, but his job is to explain it. He says conversation the way other people use interaction, or coordination, or independence, which is a good idea. The words you choose matter, and conversation suggests a more musical way of thinking than independence does.

How he plays the drums
With all of this talk about jazz drumming, but no talk about jazz music, you want to check if you're ending up in the right place. He has a nice touch, has a command over the instrument, plays things that are stylistically “correct”, and probably sounds great playing with a band. In his demonstrations I'm not hearing what I consider a jazz musician's phrasing, which is going to be oriented around four measure or longer phrases. Basically, if I'm not able to hear Bye Bye Blackbird— a blues, something— as a backdrop to what you play, it sounds wrong to me.

Not a great title
At the 8 1/2 minute mark, it occurs to me we're not really talking about jazz here— he's more sketching out some ways of doing creative independence, with, it happens, a swing feel. “Jazzy” hip hop, maybe.

The feel
Hmm, all we get here is “practice with the metronome on the swing & of 2/4.” Not a bad suggestion, but I'd think that subject would merit a fuller treatment.

Objectively what he's done is sketch out some ways of practicing hip hop with a jazz-like feel; so the title's no good. You can't have a jazz video without some kind of reference to jazz music, and the common practice of it. He's clearly educated, and able to play, but what I'm hearing feels curiously detached from the tradition. Normally jazz musicians make references to that stuff without even thinking about it, so it makes me wonder to what extent it's part of his background in a serious way at all, or what's going on here. Overall not a bad sketchpad for alternative ways of practicing a jazz feel, and coordination, not good as a primary concept. B-

Monday, June 22, 2015

Jazz language?

Great blog post by Bill Plake: “The Problem With Studying 'The Jazz Language'”:

The other morning I was giving a first lesson to a jazz guitarist ( a university student) and was struck by something I notice quite often: Young jazz students spending a seemingly disproportionate amount of practice time learning and memorizing jazz lines and improvised solos. 
When I asked this musician what he practices, he said that most of his practice time is spent learning new tunes, heads (like Donna Lee, Milestones, etc) and transcribing and playing improvised jazz solos by the “masters”. 
This is all good stuff to do if you’re studying jazz. It lets you go deeply into the  heart of the jazz tradition, giving you perspective and context. It gives you insights about how the musicians formed their ideas. It helps you develop technical skill that you can use as an improviser. It improves your ear. All good stuff. 
But then when I asked my student what else he practices, his face went blank. He said, “That’s pretty much it. I want to really absorb the jazz language. All my teachers tell me this is the best way to do that.” 
Then I listened to him play. He was very competent, very fluent, had a nice time feel, clearly showing how much, and to whom he had listened. 
He was also stunningly unoriginal, and rather disconnected from the improvisational process. Everything he played sounded like an excerpt from one of the lines or solos he’d memorized. I don’t mean he was copying things note for note. It was…well, as if he weren’t really feeling at all what he was playing. It was as if it came from some external source, foreign to him.

Basically, the student plays well, studies everything he supposed to, and cannot be specifically faulted musically, but is missing something fundamental, and what is up with that?

We do study a fair amount here, but, for me, its purpose is to develop something in common with players I love. I want to know their culture, and play the same game as them. I don't want to make classical music out of it. Learning jazz as a historical style is a pretty minor end in itself— it's more a means to larger creative end.

There is a lot of good discussion of this over on Facebook— not everyone agrees completely. Some think it's not realistic to expect students to be creative players, that creativity is some kind of rare thing requiring a high level of mastery. Clark Terry's “imitate, assimilate, innovate” dictum is quoted several times, but I'm skeptical that you can do those strictly in order. I always tried to do all three at once. As I commented on FB, this may or may not have made me a better player early on— I think it probably made me a worse player, when I was in school— but when I did eventually accumulate some field knowledge, I had a creative personality in place ready to do something with it. I don't know if you can train people to be subservient to genre rules for 10-15 years, and then expect them to shift gears and think like artists.

Daily best music in the world: not Bop Gun

Hey, there are other songs than Bop Gun on Parliament's Funkentelechy Vs. The Placebo Syndrome. Here are a couple of nice, light little numbers that maybe get overshadowed by that funk classic. The drummer is the great Jerome 'Bigfoot' Brailey, who is still around. If you're a fan, you can friend him on Facebook.

First, The Placebo Effect, with a little Beatles-like hook:

Funkier is Funkentelechy:

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Phil Austin 1941-2015

Very sorry to hear we lost another comedy legend last week: Phil Austin, from the Firesign Theater— an incredible surrealist satire troupe, if you don't know them; they're really the American Monty Python. Austin was best known for his character Nick Danger:

TFT's album Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers is really essential listening.