Tuesday, September 30, 2014

20% off all books!

UPDATE: Today, Monday, is the LAST DAY of this sale!

Hey, what the heck, let's do a little slightly-after-the-end-of-summer book sale. From now until midnight, September 30th, the 2011 Book Of The Blog- Transcriptions, the 2013 Book Of The Blog, (each containing all of the downloads from the blog that year) and the 100 Grooves book (over half new material never covered on the blog) will be 20% off the regular retail price.

So, if you don't have your copies yet, this would be a lovely time to get over to Lulu.com and snag them all!

I'll keep this at the top of the blog until the sale is over, so scroll down for new posts.

“Skiplet” analysis — the basics

A few weeks ago we introduced a new term, that is totally made-up by me: skiplet. It refers to the cluster of three notes of the standard jazz ride cymbal pattern starting on beat 2, and on beat 4:

In working with students on jazz independence, I found that it was helpful to isolate those notes, and treat them as a unit, integrating it with the independent part. Giving that unit a name, however stupid, helped with that.

Today we'll begin a series of posts talking about how I'm using this idea in teaching, starting by looking at some jazz independence exercises, and seeing how the different left hand parts effect the skiplet analysis of the pattern— since we're turning the the skiplet plus the independent part into one thing, the two-beat coordination idea may overhang the bounds of the skiplet proper... it will make sense. Next time I'll show you how to break down a whole line of non-repeating patterns, and then give you my own method for working through this with my students.

First let's pull the skiplet from a full measure of jazz time, written as 8th notes (to be played with a swing interpretation), with the normal hihat part added. There's no time signature given here, but the meter is 4/4:

Being skiplet-oriented, our thinking about the pattern becomes less of this barline bound rhythm 1, 2-& 3, 4-& ; we're now thinking the same way your body feels the rhythm as you play it, as 2-& 3, 4-& 1:

Adding the left hand, patterns starting and ending with skiplet notes are easy enough to figure out:

Any time the independent part fills out beat 1 or 3— whenever the rhythm on those beats is something other than a quarter note, our little coordination unit will be a little longer. If the middle of the triplet, or the entire triplet, is written, we think of those notes as coming on the end of the skiplet before it:

If there are plain 8th notes on beats 1 or 3— we're swinging them, so those &s of 1 or 3 will fall on the last note of a triplet— those &s are attached to the skiplet following it, as a pickup:

This will cover every pattern using swing 8th notes or 8th note triplets. Knowing this way of thinking helps students be absolutely clear on the architecture of the patterns they're attempting to play, and eliminates some common confusion related to being barline-and-downbeat oriented. Next we'll analyze a non-repeating line of music from Syncopation, and then talk about actually teaching this approach.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Generic Latin method for Syncopation: part 1

Here's a basic method for doing a generic, Afro-Cuban-derived Latin feel using the book Syncopation. We'll be taking rhythmic patterns out of Reed, and using them as our bell pattern, playing them with the right hand on the cymbal or cowbell, and adding several left hand parts, and basic bass/hihat ostinatos to them. Usually clave is an issue with anything Salsa/Cuban-oriented, but we are not actually doing clave-based music here; these grooves are really non-clave jazz with a Latin flavor.

Use this method with pp. 10-11, and 29-44 of Syncopation (page numbers from the old edition— part of the new edition is one page off from that)— that does include the long syncopation exercises, played straight through, top to bottom.

Start just playing each of the LH parts along with one line of Reed, then add each of the foot parts, moving on to the next line/exercise after you've done all possible of hand/feet parts. Shoot for doing one or two pages out of Reed, plus improvising, per practice session.

Get the pdf

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Transcription: Todd Bishop — Black Monk

This week I was working on something really narcissistic: a transcription of one of my own performances. I was just listening to some of my old rehearsal/gig recordings and thought, hey, I'd like to figure out what the hell I'm playing. When I had the thing finished, it seemed like it was a good opportunity to talk about some organic, seemingly-semi-metered Elvin- or Dejohnette-like playing. It's a thing that basically never gets discussed in any detail, and this is one instance in which I can definitely speak with authority about what was going on in the player's mind with it. Also, I was curious hear my own playing with the same frame around it as these other people. It's an interesting exercise, and, if you do any transcribing, I recommend it.

The recording was made from the stage during a 2009 gig with the Dan Duval Sextet, and isn't some special piece of genius playing on any of the performers' part; it was just a routine, rather sloppy, original-music gig at the Tugboat Brewery in Portland— a little dump which for a long time hosted live creative music. The tune is an easy, triplety, medium waltz, and a local favorite: The Black Monk, by Duval. I've transcribed the drums from Dan's guitar solo. The piece is really in 3/4, but the stuff I was playing is easier for me to notate in Finale in 9/8. It's the same thing; a predominantly-triplet feel in 3.

Here's the audio— the transcription begins at 0:27:

If you'd care to download and print the pdf, there's an extended analysis after the break:

Friday, September 19, 2014

Page o' coordination: Dannie Richmond-inspired — harder

I need to keep saying this: we do so many of these Pages o'... that a person could get the mistaken impression that I think this is the best way to learn drumming vocabulary. I don't. We're just trying to make ourselves play things that are very difficult get to through the normal Syncopation/Ted Reed-based method— which is the real basis of everything, in my book.

Anyway, here's a variation of our previous Danny Richmond-inspired page, this time with a slight variation in the bass drum and hihat parts, and a little more irregular left hand parts, which makes it quite a bit more difficult. You do have to think while you do these.

Hopefully we all know what to do with these by now: 1) do the full page at once, and 2) move your left hand. That's the complete drill.

get the pdf

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. I really think we should lose that part of the American drumming literature. 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.