Friday, September 30, 2011

Very occasional quote of the day: Jeff Watts

Messing up is not really that bad; it's the recovery that's important.

- Jeff Watts

Billy Higgins' instrument

Here's a nice follow up on my recent Billy Higgins solo analysis. I was just surfing around and getting discouraged at how little of value I was coming across, when I stumbled across this 2000 Jazz Times interview with Higgins, by Chip Stern. The focus is on his instrument, but it's hardly a standard gear discussion:

“I switch up between a K. Constantinople and an old Paiste 602 Medium Ride,” says Higgins. “That old Paiste was given to me by Ed Blackwell, so it has a special thing going for it besides its sound. There’s a vibe to it, and I’ve made a lot of very good recordings using that particular cymbal.”

JazzTimes: Do you always favor rivets in a ride cymbal?

Well, yeah, because it gives everybody a cushion. I remember working with Milt Jackson, and sometime if a cat didn’t have a sizzle cymbal, he wouldn’t hire him [laughter]. Because you’re always playing it, it gives a lot to the player and the ensemble, too—it’s like the maître d’ of the drums set. You might never touch a tom-tom, but that cymbal is a big part of your sound.

Higgins' 602 in action:


After the break, discussion of miking, and tuning and playing the bass drum:

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Something stupid

I hope you're ready for a descent several circles deeper than usual into pure drumming geekdom today, as I've been fooling with devising a sticking system for all limbs, and combinations of limbs. I don't know what the practical utility of this is yet, if any- we'll get into that later- it's just something I started working on.

The rules I gave myself were that the symbols should be keyboard characters found within Arial font, with normal available capitalization and formatting (bold, underline, italics, upper and lower case), that the logic of the character assignments should be not be completely arbitrary or obscure, and that they have to consist of one character only.

The system so far:

R - right hand
L - left hand
R - right foot
L - left foot

H - both hands
F - both feet

So far, so good. For other combinations of limbs the characters form a little diagram the logic of which should be clear:

X - all limbs
< - right hand and foot
> - left hand and foot
/ - right hand and left foot
\ - left hand and right foot

The combinations of three limbs are a challenge. Some possibilities:

L - left hand and both feet
7 - both hands and... left foot?
/ - (underlined slash) right hand and both feet
\ - (underlined backslash) left hand and both feet

Reversing and/or inverting an L (or 7- I think I would prefer that, actually) would cover all of those, but there does not seem to be a way of doing that within normal keyboard functions. There are some little jive web applications for doing that, but that's not an acceptable solution- the most involved I would want to get is some kind of special character (for example, you can enter alt-0169 to make a © symbol). I'd prefer to follow the same logic as for the other combinations of limbs, and to not use Greek/Cyrillic/other foreign characters. If anyone has any suggestions for something in Arial font, I'm all ears- get out your character maps or ascii table...


So, what's the point?


So, assuming we get that last thing ironed out, what's the point of this? What's it good for, if anything? We'll get into that after the break:

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Transcription: Four - the classic intro

Here in chronological order are three very similar intros to the tune Four, recorded by Miles Davis. The one by Philly Joe is the classic beginning of this tune- I don't know if he was copping Blakey's earlier thing, or if it was rehearsed as part of the arrangement. Certainly by Tony's time it was, at least informally- though on his more famous version from Four & More he abandons the Philly Joe/Blakey thing altogether. In the intervening years there are some versions by Jimmy Cobb which follow it loosely. There's also a recording with Kenny Clarke where he seems to have been told nothing other than to play 8 bars of drums up front.


Get the pdf | Get mp3s of Four played by: Philly Joe Jones - Art Blakey

YouTube links after the break.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Very occasional quote of the day: Randy Brecker

It’s a reality these days that it is harder to tell guys apart trumpetistically, because we all study out of the same books, and there’s a certain trumpetistic artistry that’s prevalent these days. So it’s harder to pick people apart, but that’s overshadowed by the musicianship on all these records, which was really excellent. That’s always my answer to the problem these days, when guys say, “Ah, too many guys sound alike.” I say the musicianship is so high it doesn’t matter.

- Randy Brecker

Monday, September 26, 2011

Cruise ship pianist!

Here's something from Timothy McSweeney's Internet Tendency (usually dedicated to hyper-well-written humor): a straightforward interview with a cruise ship pianist. Good straight info for anyone considering that line of work.

Daily best music in the world: Gil Evans

We can debate the subtleties of the meaning of the word "daily" later- right now just play this loud:



That's Tony Williams on the drums, in one of my new favorite performances of his after the 1960's. This incredible album- There Comes a Time by Gil Evans- appears to be out of print. If you can't find anyone interested in selling you a copy, you can avail yourself of one of the OOP music blogs around the internet.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Big band figure builder

Here's another installment of a thing I've been doing with several students, using Syncopation lesson 4 to get familiar with the basic moves and reading associated with setting up and kicking big band figures ("cutting" them, that is), or just interpreting a melody line on a lead sheet. The process is broken down to a number of logical, easy- darn near banal- interpretive steps. Read them carefully, and apply them to exercises 1-15:


These related posts should be very helpful: simple variations on lesson 4, kicks and set-ups using Syncopation, and basic big band set-ups.

Get the pdf.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Very occasional quote of the day: Jack on Max

"...and he could play the fastest tempos!"
- Jack Dejohnette on Max Roach



I thought this one deserved its own post.

Know your tempos: what's meant by up

In case you were wondering how fast you need to be able to play, here are a bunch of your favorite tracks spanning the break between "medium up"- where it's still possible to swing- and actually fast, where the 8th notes even out. My method for arriving at these is pretty accurate- my old DB-33 doesn't have a tap function, but thanks to the analog tempo wheel I'm usually able to get it to stay in sync with the track without adjustment for 16 measures or more. I've given the tempos in quarter notes and half notes:

234/117 - Passion Dance - McCoy Tyner / The Real McCoy - Elvin Jones
240/120 - Law Years - Pat Metheny / Question & Answer - Roy Haynes
240/120 - Milestones - Miles Davis / Milestones - Philly Joe Jones
240/120 - The Windup - Keith Jarrett / Belonging - Jon Christiansen
248/124 - H & H - Pat Metheny / Question & Answer - Roy Haynes
248/124 - Music, Music, Music - Ahmad Jamal / Live at the Pershing - Vernell Fournier
248/124 - Humpty Dumpty - Chick Corea / Mad Hatter - Steve Gadd
256/128 - Oleo - Miles Davis / Cookin' - Philly Joe Jones
256/128 - Blues Connotation - Ornette Coleman / This Is Our Music - Ed Blackwell
258/129 - Solar - Pat Metheny / Question & Answer - Roy Haynes
258/129 - Agitation - Miles Davis / ESP - Tony Williams
260/130 - Madness - Miles Davis / Nefertiti - Tony Williams
260/130 - Strode Rode - Sonny Rollins / Saxophone Colossus - Max Roach
260/130 - Humph - Thelonious Monk / Genius of Modern Music, vol. 1 - Art Blakey

After the break- the real fast tempos, Four & More, and more:

Friday, September 23, 2011

Ron Carter on drummers

Here's an excerpt from an old interview with Ron Carter, from Ethan Iverson's Do The Math, concerning some of the great drummers Carter has worked with. Absolutely go read the whole conversation:

EI: In the last ten years or so, we have lost three of the greatest drummers: Tony Williams, Billy Higgins, and Elvin Jones. To me they all play the beat differently, and of course you played with them all. Like you, Tony Williams seemed to push.
RC: That's not exactly right. I know why you say that, but it is because Tony Williams played anticipations all the time: in a certain mood, he would play hits that were a 16th or more ahead of the beat with a lot of frequency. That's why he sounded like he was on the top-side of the beat.
In comparison, Elvin Jones was a "downbeat player." He really played the "one."
EI: I think I have all the records with you and Elvin together. There aren't that many, just a half-dozen or so. Did you gig together more?
RC: We never played live, just in the studio.
EI: Now, to me, there is nothing more swinging than the two of you together, because you are pushing and Elvin is laying back. Like on that Pepper Adams date with Zoot Sims or The Real McCoy…
RC: You know, I just listened to The Real McCoy, maybe for the first time since I made it. I had the original album still wrapped in cellophane. (I probably should have not taken the cellophane off: I could have gotten a fortune for it on eBay.) But someone was telling me that it was one of the great records, so I took off the cellophane and listened to it. I was taken aback. Wow! We really got to it there. I was like: let's try to get there again!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Very occasional quote of the day: Paul Motian

I had at the time 7A drumsticks. After one set one time, Oscar came over and looked at my drumstick and started bending it. He said, “Man, what the f__ kind of stick is that? Go get you some sticks!”

- Paul Motian on playing with Oscar Peterson

Paradiddles with 16th note triplets

Here's a companion to the other pages of paradiddles I've posted, this time using an embellishment used in Wilcoxon occasionally- a 16th note triplet in place of the double. Playing the triplet starting on an 'e' or an 'a' is a little strange, so I've presented this in RLRR and RRLR positions only.


Get the pdf.

Have you been using the labels (at the bottom of each post) to find related items? You should be! Hit 'paradiddles' for related items.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Kenny Washington overheard

Or the cyber-equivalent. Mark Feldman at the Bang! the drum school blog features a Facebook post by jazz drummer and scholar Kenny Washington, in response to a question about how to take one's drumming "to the next level." Here's a portion of it, but go read it in its entirety:

[...] For me, I never thought about next levels and all the superficial shit. I thought about the next gig. Your hands and overall technique are very important. I say this all the time. [...] I’m up every morning at the crack of dawn practicing trying to play better. What helped me coming up was practicing out of Charlie Wilcoxon’s “Modern Rudimental Swing Solos”. Practice these etudes slowly bar by bar and take them apart. This will help your control, brushes and help you to get a better sound on the instrument.

Listening to records is very, very important. I checked out tons of music. Too many records to mention. I listened to just about every drummer you can think of. At one time or another, I tried to play like all of them. I learned what made them all tick. All of them have something to offer you musically. If you do that, you’ll eventually get your own sound and start to formulate your own ideas from what you’ve heard. Don’t just listen to the drummers, but listen to how they accompany the other musicians. It’s what I call “musical action and reaction.” Learn the melodies and solos of other instrumentalists as well. This will teach you about musical form which in turn will help you to play musical drum solos. All of these things helped my approach to the drums.
[...] Playing with local musicians that have more experience than you is also very important. Ask for comments from these musicians. It might not be what you want to hear, but listen and give thought to what they’ve said. When you’ve really put the time in, then try to sit in with the more established musicians. It’s like applying for an office job. First impressions are everything. If the boss is not impressed, you won’t get the job. It’s the same thing with music. If the boss likes your playing, you’ll get hired. If he doesn’t, you won’t get the gig. If you come back months later even if you’re playing much better, he probably won’t be interested. He remembers you from the first time. Take your time and put the work into the instrument. If you do that, you’ll reap the benefits and eventually your phone will start to ring. Speaking of which, it’s time for me to go and practice. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Talent and practice

I guess the "Gen Y Entrepreneur and Investor" author of this piece Why natural talent is overrated knows this stuff from reading a book, but there are some good things in here about practice. Maybe obvious, but restating the obvious is a good thing:

Deliberate practice has been found to encompass five characteristics:
1. It is designed specifically to improve performance
 The exercise often needs to be designed by a teacher or mentor who understands what your weaknesses are and what needs to be done to improve.
The activities need to be designed to stretch you and push you outside your comfort zone. Tiger Woods will drop a golf ball into a sand bunker, step on it, and then play the stroke and he will do that thousands of times until he is exhausted. Tiger may only play that stroke a handful of times through his career, but when he comes to it he is well rehearsed in how to execute.
2. It can be repeated a lot
Repetition counts. Repetition alone however is not good enough, but when focusing on a particular skill-set with a clear outcome, there needs to be high repetition.

Not so very occasional quote of the day

"Technical knowledge is not enough. One must transcend techniques so that the art becomes
an artless art, growing out of the unconscious."
—Daisetsu Suzuki (1870-1966)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Know your tempos: Rolling Stones

I've been keeping a little tempos database, containing information on as many very familiar tracks as I can manage- mainly tempo, meter, and style. These are a handy mnemonic device for picking tempos out of the air, and are just good general knowledge of the terrain of music, so I'll be posting more of these from time to time, on a variety of themes. Today it's also a good excuse to take a minute and appreciate the Rolling Stones:

Heart of Stone (12/8) - 59  
Wild Horses - 68
You Can't Always Get What You Want - 85
Beast of Burden - 97
Miss You - 97
Play With Fire - 106
Sympathy for the Devil - 113
Waiting On A Friend - 114
Gimme Shelter - 115
Start Me Up - 120
Undercover - 120
Under My Thumb - 124
Street Fighting Man - 126
It's Only Rock & Roll - 126
Brown Sugar - 127
Bitch - 134
Little T & A - 134
Satisfaction - 135
Jumpin' Jack Flash - 136
She's So Cold - 137
Shattered - 138
Let's Spend the Night Together - 139
Hang Fire - 150
She Was Hot - 150
Paint It Black - 158
Mother's Little Helper (two beat) -158
The Last Time (two beat) - 170
19th Nervous Breakdown (shuffle) - 193

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Umdaga, part 1

This is a very simple pattern I use a lot- I'd go so far as to say it's one of the basic DNA instructions of my playing: right/left/bass. I didn't exactly make it up, but as far as I know it has no name, so I gave it one that fits with the way I conceive it. I pronounce it oom-DA-ga. I don't know why I named it inverted from the way I think it; it sings better, I guess, and maybe it encourages something other than the usual rock & roll "floogada-floogada-floogada" thing. When you say it over and over it's got the little diphthong from the ga to the um, so I say the 'oo' in the um a little under my voice: m-daga-m-daga-m-daga-m.

So what I've done here is write up some four measure solo phrases that are neither easy nor hard, using that pattern over a variety of quarter/8th note rhythms. There are one or two deviations from the pattern because that's the way I heard the phrase, and to keep you on your toes.

Play these with both swing and straight 8th interpretation; tempo can range anywhere from quarter note = 72 to half note = 150+. Recommended stickings for the hand parts are RL RL, LR LR, single-handed, hands together, improvised. You can and should move your hands around the drums, and add accents and embellishments. You can play the hihat on 2 and 4, or play some other ostinato, or you can substitute the hihat for the bass drum, or play both feet together.

Get the pdf.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Basic Mambo

I guess I had to eventually post something directly drumming-related on my drumming blog, so here is an older piece I'll be sharing with a couple of students today- some variations on a generic, very basic one-measure mambo-type Latin pattern. Some form of this is usable in actual playing where strict authenticity isn't a primary concern (and there are many such situations), at bright tempos, or when playing with inexperienced musicians unable to follow the more correct patterns.

Get the pdf.

Bill Evans speaks

Here's a nice, timely (given the last post) find from Ted at Trap'd: pianist Bill Evans talking at length about music:

You must hack

That imperative comes from Running Linux, a classic manual on the use of the Linux computer operating system. What it meant in context is that to take advantage of the full power of the OS, you can't just be a passive user, you must apply some ingenuity and use it actively and creatively, with a programmer's mindset. I was reminded of it when I was noticing in practicing and teaching just how little I use my materials for their intended purpose, and how much information I apply that is not on the page. I dove back into some of the old literature- I read a lot of this stuff when I was a daily Linux user from about 2000-2005- and was surprised to recall just how much it has influenced my thought process and writing style, and how well it applies to learning music and being a player in general. In fact, you could substitute "player" for hacker, and equivalent musical/musical community terms for much of what follows.

First, what hacking is and is not:
The terms cracking and hacking are often confused in popular usage. While cracking involves immoral or illegal behavior (such as compromising the security of a system), hacking is a generic word meaning to program, tinker with, or have an intense interest in something. The popular media often uses the term hacking to refer to cracking; the Linux community is trying to reassociate hacking with positive connotations.

The definition from the venerable Jargon File, a collection of hacker speech/writing conventions, terms, and slang:

hacker n.
1. A person who enjoys exploring the details of programmable systems and how to stretch their capabilities, as opposed to most users, who prefer to learn only the minimum necessary. 2. One who programs enthusiastically (even obsessively) or who enjoys programming rather than just theorizing about programming. 3. A person capable of appreciating hack value. 4. A person who is good at programming quickly. 5. An expert at a particular program, or one who frequently does work using it or on it; as in `a Unix hacker'. (Definitions 1 through 5 are correlated, and people who fit them congregate.) 6. An expert or enthusiast of any kind. One might be an astronomy hacker, for example. 7. One who enjoys the intellectual challenge of creatively overcoming or circumventing limitations. 8. [deprecated] A malicious meddler who tries to discover sensitive information by poking around. Hence `password hacker', `network hacker'. The correct term for this sense is cracker.

Much more interesting stuff after the break:

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Tugboatism!

The Tugboat Brewery is a small venue in Portland which has for years been one of the primary places hosting consistently adventuresome music locally. The reason for this is strictly financial- basically, they didn't want to pay their ASCAP fees, so they require all performers to play original material- or at least non-ASCAP material. The room can be alternately empty or noisy, there's no pay other than food and beer, and musicians mostly love to hate it,  but keep playing there. Performances there can be a little rough, either from indifference or hostility towards the room and the audience. I've played there many times over the years, and found a few fun things while rooting through my mini-disc and digital recording archives.

First, with the Dan Duval Sextet, from 2010. Here's the free blowing portion and ending of Dan's tune The Texas of Canada:



The other is my group Lower Monumental, in this case performing as a duo with myself and Seattle saxophonist Saul Cline, in 2003. Normally this group played completely free, with no rehearsals and no prepared material; in this case Saul started playing the old Paul Whiteman hit Whispering, in open defiance of the ASCAP policy, if anyone gave a crap enough to notice:



More Lower Monumental and Dan Duval Sextet after the break:

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Branford Marsalis on the problem with jazz

  In the Seattle Weekly, Branford talks about what's going on with jazz- here are a few excerpts:

You put on old records and they always sound better. Why are they better? I started listening to a lot of classical music, and that really solidified the idea that the most important and the strongest element of music is the melodic content.

I have a lot of normal friends. 'Cause it's important. [When] you have a bunch of musicians talking about music and they talk about what's good and what's not good, they don't consider the larger context of it.

When laypeople listen to records, there're certain things they're going to get to. First of all, how it sounds to them. If the value of the song is based on intense analysis of music, you're doomed. Because people that buy records don't know shit about music. When they put on Kind of Blue and say they like it, I always ask people: What did you like about it? They describe it in physical terms, in visceral terms, but never in musical terms.

In a lot of ways classical music is in a similar situation to where jazz is, except at least the level of excellence in classical music is more based on the music than it is based on the illusion of reinventing a movement. Everything you read about jazz is: "Is it new? Is it innovative?" I mean, man, there's 12 fucking notes. What's going to be new? You honestly think you're going to play something that hasn't been played already?

So, you know, my whole thing is, is it good? I don't care if it's new. There's so little of it that's actually good, that when it's good, it shocks me.

So much of jazz, it doesn't even have an audience other than the music students or the jazz musicians themselves, and they're completely in love with virtuosic aspects of the music, so everything is about how fast a guy plays. It's not about the musical content and whether the music is emotionally moving or has passion.

(h/t to Tim Paxton)

After the break- bonus YouTube Branford on improvisation, (his) students, stardom and pop music:

Very occasional quote of the day

The problem of being an artist...

is that it takes a lot of time
learning the technique.

And when you've learnt it...

probably you've forgotten
what you want it for.

- Older artist to a young Vincent van Gogh, from the film Vincent and Theo

Monday, September 12, 2011

Marty Hurley 1946-2011

I've just learned that drum corps hall of famer Marty Hurley has passed away- he was best known as the percussion caption head for the Phantom Regiment drum and bugle corps from 1976 to 1992. In addition to his drum corps work he was a high school band director for several decades, and influenced countless young musicians.

I was in a different sphere of influence during my corps involvement, but he was one of the big names at the time, and I loved what Phantom did with the 1812 Overture in 1984 and especially Spartacus in 1982.

Here's a clip of Hurley playing with some former Phantom members- you can safely turn it off at the end of his feature at 1:05:



After the break is an excellent extended comment from a snarescience.com discussion of his approach to snare drum technique.

A Nubian challenged by an auroch!

Prior to flooding the arena for the gladiatorial re-enactment of the battle of Actium, here's a fresh novelty to ogle at, courtesy of my old friend Kirk in LA:



I retired amazingness as a thing I care about along time ago, but that's quite a feat of memorization for anyone. It just keeps going. After the break- child plays drum solo:

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Still loving Sabian AA's

I continue to be very impressed and excited by what Sabian is doing with their AA line. I've long felt the A. line of Zildjian cymbals- and by association, the AA's- to be in decline, with product development stagnating and the quality of the cymbals as musical instruments going a little bit to hell- I haven't made a systematic study of this, I've just come across many too-heavy, bright, and unrefined examples in the past 20+ years.

The addition of Zildjian's A Custom line did little to change that impression, though I have come across a few better cymbals. I had heard and played fewer Sabians, but since the manufacturing process is similar, I lumped them in with the A.'s.

No more- the first Sabian AA that got my attention a few years ago was the fast and very mellow El Sabor crash. More recently I picked up a Raw ride, after seeing them at Cymbalsonly.com, and I love it- thin, somewhat dry, and incredibly musical. Then just this week a student picked up one of the new Memphis rides, and I'm blown away even further. This is the perfect medium ride- an old fashioned medium- that is to say, lighter than has been standard since about the 80's. The pitch is high, with nice definition and a lovely harmonious cushion underneath- the sound made me think of the slamming bar bands of the 70's. I actually can't give you a detailed review because I was only able to play it for a few moments in a lesson, but it made a tremendous impression- I wanted to own one instantly.

All of these cymbals all have the classic A. sound- which I can't describe for you; you just have to have heard and played a lot of them- but much more refined than in the past, and much more controllable dynamically. These don't have the darkness or complexity of the hand-hammered K-types, but are fully their equal as musical instruments- using my Raw ride in a jazz setting is no compromise. Think Irish whiskey or a great British session beer compared to Scotch or a Trappist ale. I'm very eager to play another one of these, and to see what else Sabian is up to.

There are a number of YouTube clips of varying sound quality demonstrating this cymbal- one of the better ones is after the break. But I'd really recommend seeking one out and playing it.

Simple variations on Syncopation, Lesson 4

That's pages 10-11 for those of you with the old edition- as you can see I've given up completely and started referring to the parts by their new edition names. I've been working with this section of the book a lot with my students, for rock (and another), jazz, and Latin, and have developed a few methods for my own practice for it.

These variations require just a little selective reading, and are very good for making this underused section of the book a little more interesting. I'll outline later the exact method I've been using with my students; I've found it's very helpful in getting them accustomed to reading figures, and manipulating some of the basic elements of ensemble playing in jazz drumming.

This is a good companion to my piece using this same section for making big band kicks/set-ups.




Get the pdf.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Putting some things in

This is me at my most masochistic.
I'm back in updating my events band's book again- it's a long, tedious process- and thought I would continue to share the gory "thought" process with you. Previously I made lists of tunes I was pulling, for various reasons, and things I added to keep the band from mutinying right on stage, and things I wanted never to darken my tunelist again. After that great purging I'm now ready to do something constructive and add fresh material to the book. Fresh may not be the right word for 80 year old tunes we just haven't played in a while, but I think it's going feel great not having to lash another mile out of some of these old dray-horses.

So, here we go:

Allright, Okay, You Win - Crowd-pleasing blues tune a level or two of hell above Blues In The Night. Shares a page with the truly abhorrent Always, which people also love, and we'll probably have to play again. Maybe if we play this we won't have to play Night Train.

Blue And Sentimental - Easy 30's tune. Pleasant.

The Breeze And I -  A little "exotic" number, an alternative rhumba so I don't get beaten up for calling Frenesi again...

Canadian Sunset - Yah! Why??? It's pure Nelson Eddie schlock, the long, static form bores the crap out of saxophonists- ok, everyone- and we've played it to death. But, like a favorite old threadbare, reeking, rapidly-perishing sweater I just can't give it up...

Close Your Eyes - "Cool" jazz a la Doris Day. I love those '50's white lady singers... words you never think you're going to say.



More after the break:

Thursday, September 08, 2011

My Vinnie Year - part 4 - PASIC, 1985

Here is what's available of Vinnie Colaiuta's performance at PASIC in 1985, which has since become somewhat legendary, and I was lucky enough to see in person. The quality is poor- plus there is such an abundance of dazzling drum crap available now- so this probably has nothing like the impact it had at the time. But it completely wiped everyone out. This was Star Wars:



After the break, longer audio-only clips, plus another clinic performance from the same period:

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Quick takes

- Jon McCaslin @ Four on the Floor shares this video of Marvin "Bugalu" Smith, who I had actually not heard of before. He was in Sun Ra's and Archie Shepp's bands in the 80's.

Truth be told, "BETTER THAN HOLLYWOOD” series 115 the master sessions by Marvin Smith part I. from Marvin Bugalu Smith on Vimeo.

There are a ton- like hundreds- more videos of Smith at his vimeo channel.

More selections from neighboring blogs after the break:

My Vinnie Year - part 3 - superimposed metric modulation

This is a technical piece by Vinnie Colaiuta, which accompanied his 1987 Percussioner magazine interview, and he now shares with us on  vinniecolaiuta.com. I spent considerable time with this- way too much, actually, considering that it's not exactly a daily-user, and there were more ahem pressing matters for me to attend to.

Be sure to read his explanatory text, and remember his closing advice, with a big emphasis on the if:  

"...if you find that you have the place where you can use something like this, above all else, be musical!"


Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Different values

I usually keep just one CD in my car for days or occasionally weeks at a time- recently for me it's been Don Cherry's Art Deco, an old favorite that had been languishing in the stacks for some time. Repeatedly listening to Billy Higgins' solo on When Will The Blues Leave, it's striking how alien the working value system is to so much of what's going on in drumming now. I imagine it would be hard for drummers immersed in the current amazingness cult to know what to do with something that really isn't even trying to blow them away.

I don't even know how to make a case for this. Stuff like "why Billy Higgins is great" is usually just something you figure out by listening. Your ears get a little tired of rimshots and barrages of 32nd notes, and there's Billy waiting to fill the void. Sometimes it takes a little independent credibility boost- like knowing that he's one of the most recorded drummers in history- to encourage you to try to get it. "Either all of those producers and bandleaders were idiots, or he's a great drummer in a way you don't understand yet."

After the break is a little thumbnail analysis of the solo, written for my own benefit as I was thinking about this- I can't promise you'll find it educational. I always thought the analytical tool of stating the obvious was kind of BS, and I feel like I'm BSing when I do it. So, skip it if you want and just enjoy Billy Higgins' drum solo on When Will The Blues Leave, from Don Cherry's Art Deco:



My Vinnie Year - part 2 - Percussioner magazine interview

Sometimes I think the whole purpose of this blog is just for me to gather all the things I ever did, heard, read, or listened to about the drums a put them in one little basket. One little, ratty basket. Fine. Here's part two of MVY, with Vinnie Colaiuta's other 1987 interview, this time with the short-lived Percussioner magazine:

MUSICAL IDENTITY:
"I tried to actually sound like Tony Williams when I played certain things; I tried to play like Steve Gadd when I played other things; I tried to sound like David Garibaldi for other things; and I really got into Billy Cobham for other things, to the point where it just melded together and my own style emerged. I knew that I was sounding a lot like other people and I wanted my own identity.

I don't know how it came about because it was so evolutionary but, I knew my style wasn't going to come out by copying somebody else. My brain must have said, 'you're copying this guy. No, go to him. No, don't. Do this, do that', and I came out with myself. When I was playing with Frank, I had to find a way. There, I was presented with something different on the drums that I could not rely on my predecessors to show me how to play. I could draw on their influences to play fusion beats and certain licks but when it came to applying polyrhythms, I had to do it my own way."


LEARNING A STYLE:
"I was in London with Frank and he wanted to play a reggae tune. I heard one thing and I knew the bass drum was on 2 and 4 and I just took it from there and made up my own thing. The beat was kind of a swing, not straight eighths up and down, but subdivided so I had some room to play around and it went over. People liked it. Then, I heard the authentic stuff and mixed that in with it. So I kind of went about it the backwards way. I once heard Steve Gadd play one reggae groove on a Joe Cocker record and I said, 'Yeah, that's it.'

So, a lot of my stuff came from groping and I came up with my own style. But, sometimes I still play stuff that sounds like someone else and I don't cover it up. Like, Gadd played something that I love and it's a great move and I'll play it if I can pull it off, if I am playing the kind of music that warrants it. Since Steve recorded so many things with Tom Scott, it was like he wrote the book on it. At least, I couldn't find a way to play it any better than he played it, so it felt comfortable for me to assimilate his way. I didn't sound exactly like him. It's like one saxophonist playing 'In The Mood' and another saxophonist plays the same melody. It is not going to be exactly the same, but it will be close."


AFTER ZAPPA:
"I wanted to take what I had learned and apply it to other things but I found out soon enough there was no room for it anywhere, unless I did my own thing which I still haven't really done yet. Music is like language - if you don't speak it, it stays up in your head and you just stammer at it."

Monday, September 05, 2011

Sort of a Motown feel

Producer and drummer Tony Lash sent me this- I don't think he likes all of my drum crap.

My Vinnie Year - part 1 - "My left hand is kind of funky."

It was actually more like three or four years closely studying Vinnie Colaiuta's playing, but this sounds better. Anyway, '87 was when I was really deep in it- or so I thought- and he happened to get a lot of press that year. I had been chipping away at transcribing Joe's Garage since '84, I saw his legendary PASIC performance in '85, which of course made a big impact, and spent '86 and '87 absorbing some of his thing through Gary Chaffee's Patterns series of books. My bassist friend Kirk Ross had moved to LA and sought him out and befriended him; Kirk would send me bootleg cassettes of Vinnie's gigs, and passed along my crappy transcriptions to him.

So here, from Vinnie's web site, is part one of some stuff I was immersed in at the time, first some excerpts from Vinnie's 1987 interview in Modern Drummer, with Robyn Flans:


RF: You made a comment recently that you would like a teacher to revamp your technique. Could you explain that comment?

VC: [laughs] It's self-explanatory. I was looking for somebody who I could sit down with and say, "Hey, look. Here are my hands. What do you think of them?" I'm at a crossroads, where I'm just doing whatever is coming out and not really thinking that much about how I'm hitting the drums. Consequently, I've developed some bad habits, I think.

RF: What kind of bad habits?

VC: My left hand is kind of funky.

[...] The posture of my left hand is not so good. My sitting posture is weird now. I was going through a little changing thing before. It was a period that had to do with my changing the way I approach the drums, and it changed the way I thought about playing.

[...] It made me feel a certain way, and I just wanted to approach the drums from that angle when I played, which is part of the reason I sat so low.

[...] I've [since] raised my seat height.

[...] I was starting to develop some lower-back problems. One night, I made a move while I was playing, and I was frozen still. I screamed out, and it was horrible. So I've been gradually changing it; I'm still changing it, because I want to get better leverage. My right foot feels weird, which I think is partially because it's still healing since I fractured it.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Afro 6/8 - basic coordination

This is something I've been working with daily for several weeks now- getting the usual jazz coordination/comping stuff together with the Afro-Cuban/Bembe/Naningo bell pattern. It's pretty tricky, and it's a good idea to do it with the preparatory ostinatos before attempting the main pattern.

One thing I did early on was play just one or two measures of an ostinato followed by the same number of measures of just hi-hat, playing the coordination patterns the whole time- this is especially good to do with the quarter note/8th note bell pattern (the first pattern on the third line on the page).


As it says in the notes, once you're comfortable with the given ways of practice, you can take a stab at using the common jazz coordination sources, like Chapin, Syncopation, etc. Ed Soph's Essential Techniques has been really useful for this, as well as Rick Mattingly's Creative Timekeeping, and especially Joel Rothman's Compleat Jazz Drummer, which has a comprehensive section on triplet coordination, written in 2/4.

Get the pdf.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Swiss triplets exercise

Here's a fairly challenging swiss triplet exercise we used to play in my advanced practice pad group. The trickiest part seems to be the fourth line, with the 5/16 groupings comprised of a swiss triplet plus a flam tap:


Get the pdf.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Gainsbourg biopic

The film on the life of French songwriter Serge Gainsbourg ("GAINSBOURG: A HEROIC LIFE" Heh.), which was just being released in Europe after my last tour over there in 2010, is about to come out in the US. We'll see if it amounts to anything- the prosthetic nose they slapped on the dude playing the ol' Serge-monster has left me a little... trepidatious...

Anyhow! What an excellent time for me to plug my 2009 Origin CD 69 Année Érotique, featuring his music! It received some good notices and airplay, made several serious writers' "best of 2009" lists, and I built two Europe tours around it. If you're finding the content I'm providing useful, and are looking for a way to support the blog, buying the CD is a good way to do that- it's $15.00 with free shipping. Thanks in advance!

What brought the whole thing up is that Salon has a feature polling some hip/hipster musicians- including China Forbes, of Portland's own Pink Martini- on their favorite Gainsbourg songs. You can go take a gander at it- it's entertaining reading- while playing my own selections in the background...

My Gainsbourg pics-o-the-moment after the break:

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Another way of counting odd meters

Here's something new to me- though for all I know it's a common thing- for stupid dogmatic reasons I for years stayed pretty willfully ignorant about the finer points of playing in odd meters. Probably this method is best for faster */4 meters and moderate */8 meters.

Anyway: Ed Uribe explains one way samba in 7/4 (yes, that's a real thing) is counted:
Note that beat 4 does not get an &, which implies a 2+2+3 grouping. I suppose for 3+2+2 you could count it: "1-&-2 3-& 4-&"

It's a little strange at first, but maybe at least as good as the other options- if they weren't a little bit odd I guess they would call them "happy" meters, or something. I think once you get used to slurring the 4 into the 1 you're not going to make the mistake of playing a 4 &.

This idea could be a life-saver in five, one of the most annoying meters to count and play:

For that matter, you could try doing it in three:  
 Since most people don't have a problem counting 3/4, I don't know what is gained by that, except that the half note + quarter note interpretation is built into it. Maybe it's something to fool around with. Maybe I need more coffee. 



DBMITW: Young Man Blues

Another one of these was dropped in my lap, so I guess I'll continue this feature du jour. A different performance of the standout track from Live at Leeds: