Sunday, November 27, 2011

Something key

Jon McCaslin presents a very core principle of modern jazz drumming, via a lesson from Alan Dawson. The 3/8-within-4/4 polyrhythm has been present in a variety of forms in jazz since the beginning, and became a core part of the rhythm section concept  with the Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Bill Evans groups of the early '60's. It comes from African music, and is a very elemental way of conceiving and expressing time and meter.

In Dawson's approach, as presented by McCaslin, it's treated as a melodic idea, in the bebop fashion- the recurring dotted quarter (and rhythms derived from it) is something of a special occasion within distinctly 4/4 bop playing. In post-60's playing, I regard it as more or less ever-present, whether it's stated directly or not- I may be a little bit of an extremist that way. It's often used (and abused) as a tension-producing device- "metric modulation", the currently popular pre-packaged indicator of amazingness, is the most egregious example of this.

This isn't exactly a how-to piece, but you can begin to introduce this into your playing by following the instructions at 4OTF, by getting very familiar with the way 3/8 and 3/4 lay against various 4/4 phrases, by getting your snare drum stuff together in 3/8 and 3/4 (here's a clue for how to begin applying that to the drums), by studying the difference between/similarity of 3/4 and 6/8, and especially by doing a lot of listening to the great drummers since the 1960's, including Elvin Jones, Roy Haynes, Jack Dejohnette, Bob Moses, Billy Hart, Jon Christiansen, Barry Altschul, et al, and to African, Afro-Cuban, and Brazilian drumming. I didn't say it was easy...


  1. No it's not easy!

    But at least it is fun... ; )

  2. I'm ashamed to admit I'd always been a little dismissive of Jo Jones as being old fashioned until I started really studying his work. I've been transcribing a bunch of brush work and dotted quarters are all through his playing on tracks like Bebop Irishman and Philadelphia Bound (dotted halves because of the tempo?) from the Jo Jones Trio album. Mainly splashes and kicks in his feet playing against standard time in his hands. He did a lot of hip stuff, he just did it subtlety. And he could blaze.