Monday, July 22, 2019

Harmonic coordination improved - triplets

Here's the triplet-based companion for the harmonic coordination improved warm-up. It's a less miserable and soul-destroying, more musically relatable way of playing exercises of the type found in the harmonic coordination section of Dahlgren & Fine's 4-Way Coordination. A famously painful book. Most of our practice methods are based on finding the easiest, most natural, most economical ways of doing things. This harmonic coordination thing is about practicing inconvenient ways of doing things. We're training our limbs to expect the unexpected. 

This is a rapidly developing body of stuff, and I'm still settling on the best way of presenting it. With triplets, the best way seems to be as follows. This method has two elements: 1) orchestrating a written snare drum pattern on the drum set, 2) playing the resulting drum set pattern using a variety of stickings.  Read the voluminous notes on this method here and here

I've been teaching this method using the triplet accent pages from Syncopation— pp. 53-57. There are a lot of patterns, and a lot of stickings to use with them, and if you just take them in order you'll never finish. You could start with patterns 1, 3, 11, 12, 17, 25, 26, 27, 29, 35, 61, 62.

The orchestration works as follows. Using this pattern from the book as an example:

Ignore the written bass drum part— the stems-down part. Play accented notes on the cymbal, with bass drum in unison. Play the unaccented notes on the snare drum, with hihat (played with the foot) in unison, like so:

You can also do this system without playing the hihat:

Play the accent patterns from the book applying the above orchestration, using the following stickings:
RH only
LH only
Four beats all RH / four beats all LH
Two beats all RH / two beats all LH  
RH plays cymbal notes, LH plays snare notes (I call this “natural orchestration”)
LH plays cymbal notes, RH plays snare notes 
Alternating, starting with RH
Alternating starting with LH  

These one-beat stickings will be a little more challenging:

 This method generates a lot of material to play through, so you have to use your head, and think about which starting patterns you're going to use. Many or most of the patterns from pp. 53-54 of Syncopation are functionally duplicates for the purposes of this method. Rather than worrying about completing the system, you should just try to do this method for a set amount of time, striving for moderate discomfort the entire time. You should be able to get through the exercises, but it should be hard enough that you have to concentrate. If you don't strongly feel like doing something else, maybe you should try some harder patterns. 

Using this Melvin Sparks practice loop will make this rather tedious method a lot more tolerable, and help demonstrate the musical purpose of what we're doing here.

Sunday, July 21, 2019


The other day I listed some often-played tunes that had some kind of an mystique, at least in my mind. Here's a tune that nobody ever plays, with a lot of mystique. Apropos of nothing— I've just been thinking about it a lot.

Vashkar is a rather impenetrable, hardcore, short little tune— almost a miniature— written by Carla Bley. It has been recorded several times by Paul Bley, and Gary Burton, and Tony Williams Lifetime.

It's like an 8 bar blues written on a gas planet, with a Giant Steps-like air of pitilessness about it. It's not designed to be easy to play on the drums, and it's not amenable to just playing it and getting it by vibe. But it's also weirdly attractive, and seems readable enough to make you want to learn it. Then when someone calls it sometime in the next 15 years, you can be the hard case who insists that you follow the form and make the hits on the solos.

It's not hard to whack out the notes. It is hard to just follow your nose and end up with a good performance. It doesn't develop in a normal way, or give you any room to do normal drummer things like fill, set up figures, or establish a groove.

Above is the lead sheet from Carla Bley's site. The best known chart is found in the original Real Book.

It's eight bars long— six bars of melody plus two bars of space. The opening theme is repeated in bar 5, sometimes with a subito mp dynamic change. Usually no repeat on the head in. Meter is 6/4, phrased as 4+2/4, but there's never a strong feel of being in 6. Often the 2 side is anticipated, so several measures are phrased like this:

In the fourth measure there's the hit on 2, which makes it feel like there's an odd measure. It actually makes the whole last half of the tune feel random.

The Gary Burton and Steve Swallow version on Hotel Hello is best known. On that arrangement the main punches are hit without any kind of set up, which emphasizes that random feeling. The live version below, with Bob Moses on drums, follows that same arrangement, maintaining the form and rhythmic structure during the solos. Bob doesn't set anything up on the head in, either.

Here are some different recordings of it, starting with Hotel Hello:

So, the Burton version is the hard one, where you have to actually know the tune, and be able to blow over form while catching the rhythmic stuff. It's easier when the solos are free— you can read/fake your way through the head and then just wing it. Most of the other recordings do that.

On Paul Bley's record with Pat Metheny, and Jaco Pastorious, Bruce Ditmas plays it in a more aggressive fusion-era way, which is great. In this arrangement there are some added kicks in the last two bars. The other version with Ditmas is basically completely free.

The version from Paul Bley's Footloose has the tune with a normal light rhythm section accompaniment, and more open solos. Pete La Roca is on drums, and maintains the 6 feel throughout. I imagine a lot of people give it this kind of Ida Lupino-like treatment.

The Tony Williams version uses a different arrangement to feature the drums, and him slaughtering the universe on it is part of what gives the tune its aura. He plays it faster than usual, and the melodic phrases are spaced out. Cindy Blackman's version is kind of strange— it's like a tribute rendition.

Hopefully, the tune eventually begins to feel like a long, strange vamp or repeating A section. You learn to follow its little moves, and gradually you're able to get through the tune without stepping on the other parts, and maybe actually make a creative contribution, and take it somewhere interesting on the solos.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Max's rubadub - transcribed phrases

Some excerpts from a very large transcription I'm working on— Max Roach's entire performance on Freedom Suite, by Sonny Rollins, which I plan on releasing as an e-book. All 19 bloody minutes of it. These excerpts from the first section of the piece highlight Max's rubadub-like thing I mentioned in the linked post.

The concept and underlying pattern is almost exactly the same as Mel Lewis's thing*, except Max maintains the complete cymbal rhythm, which stays in 4, or shifts backwards/forwards once or twice in a four bar phrase— it doesn't have the running 3/4 feeling of Mel's thing. Max's thing really seems to hang off of a RLRR RLRR sticking pattern, in swing 8th notes; there are a lot of snare hits on the & of 1/3. Hit the link above to see that broken down.

* - That is, Mel Lewis's thing as we've been exploring it on this site— which is entirely based on Chris Smith's very helpful explanation of it. I need to make some transcriptions of Mel's thing and get a clearer idea of how he actually played it.

To highlight the idea we're studying here, I've removed all dynamics and articulations, and edited a few of them slightly. Many of the four bar examples can be played two bars at a time, repeating. On the recording there is very little audible hihat played with the foot; you can play it on 2 and 4, or leave it out.

I've been focusing on how this connects to Mel Lewis's playing, but also see Billy Higgins's playing for something very similar to this. Higgins was a generation later, and was very influenced by Max.

Get the pdf

Friday, July 19, 2019

Ten tunes: heavy standards

Ten more tunes. These are some standards that have kind of a serious aura, that are reasonably-to-very likely to get called. They're not necessarily very hard, but they demand to be approached with respect. It's a subjective thing. Several have unusual forms; I don't feel like any of them just play themselves. Maybe this category only has meaning to me, I don't know.

All or Nothing at All

Alone Together

Central Park West

Chelsea Bridge

I'll Remember April


Mr. PC

The Night Has a Thousand Eyes

Old Devil Moon

Upper Manhattan Medical Group

For example: I'll Remember April is a commonplace tune with a deeper vibe happening. Alone Together has an odd form. There are several trio recordings of Joe Henderson playing long versions of Invitation that are very hardcore. Strayhorn ballads are very deep and always demand special treatment.

These tunes are most likely to come up with better players. I'll Remember April and Alone Together are the ones you'll mostly likely encounter first. The Night Has a Thousand Eyes also seems to be real popular these days.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Daily best music in the world: Bruce Ditmas

Honoring a new Facebook friend: Bruce Ditmas, an American drummer living in Rome.

Here's something he played on with Paul Bley, Jaco Pastorius, and Pat Metheny:

He's also on some Gil Evans records, including the Jimi Hendrix album, and this bananas version of the Brazilian tune Nana, from Where Flamingos Fly. He shares drumming credits with Lenny White on that album.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Groove o' the day: Philly Joe Afro 6

From the Sonny Rollins album Newk's Time, another individualistic version of an Afro 6/8 groove, played by Philly Joe Jones on Asiatic Raes, a Kenny Dorham tune.

On the snare line, the x is a rim click. It sounds like he's playing with just a snare and floor tom, no small tom. They continue the 6/8 feel for part of Sonny's solo, and it feels a little labored; you get the feeling that in 1957 it was still a pretty exotic style. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Page o' coordination: Max's rubadub?

This is a page of jazz comping exercises based on Max Roach's playing on Sonny Rollins's Freedom Suite, which I'm transcribing right now. There's a lot of interplay between the snare drum and bass drum, and there's clearly a concept happening; everything seems to hang off of comping notes on the & of 1/& of 3. It jumped out at me immediately like “this is a thing”, very similar to Mel Lewis's rubadub thing, but not.

How many pages of jazz coordination patterns does the world need? I don't know. This isn't about writing more patterns, it's about forming a concept. Max's playing on Freedom Suite, Mel Lewis's thing, those are concepts. Also with John Riley's thing, with all the things we do with Syncopation, there's a concept. You don't really get that by just playing through the endless junk in Advanced Techniques, or whatever jazz book.

Swing the 8th notes. Use patterns 1, 7, and 13 as your key. Think of them as a sticking pattern played in a swing rhythm: RLRR RLRR. Or RBRR RBRR. Or the two combined with ex. 13-18. Use those as your foundation, learn them well, and hang the added notes off of them.

If you listen to the recording there's a lot more happening than is represented in this one little idea. I'll probably rewrite this page, or at least add to it, if I can deduce any kind of formula to Max's thing.

Get the pdf

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.