Thursday, October 31, 2013

On playalongs, pt.1: use real music

That's the idea.
I was working on a single post about practicing along with recorded music— something I've been doing a lot of lately— but it was running long on me, and taking forever to finish. I need to start acting like a blogger and getting stuff out there in shorter bits, so here are some thoughts on choosing music to play along with:

Real vs. simulated
Generic playalong collections, like the popular Groove Essentials series, are fine for getting together the very basics of a style, or for getting a general sense of your readiness for the professional world. You get clean recordings which closely resemble music in a variety of (mostly) common styles, as they might be played by the best American musicians. But don't mistake them for the real act of making music, despite their similarity to it: to me they are a gutted, abstracted form of playing. They're missing the actual things you're supposed to be playing in support of, the real impetus for most of what you play: a melody, and a lead voice.

Compare the experience of playing along with some of our previous pop transcriptions: God, Anticipation, or Beauty And The Beast, with that of any of the rock/pop entries from GE— here's one:

What is missing from the naked rhythm tracks should be obvious. On the actual records, the rhythm section parts are only one element of what the drummers are playing off of; they are equally focused on what is happening in the melody; their parts are intimately connected with it, and closely track its dynamics, and overall arc. You only get the barest shadow of that with the playalongs. Being able to play convincingly to a generic rhythm track— to play blind, essentially— is a real skill, but it is not the main thing.

Much more of this after the break:

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Daily best music in the world: Barbara Song

Here are several versions of Barbara Song, from Kurt Weill's Threepenny Opera. I could try to write something about it, but what for? The content is self-evident and I see no need to flail around it with words. OK, it's very German and very beautiful— there. A YouTube commenter helpfully informs us:

"Barbaren" means "barbarians" in German[...] There is no [character named] "Barbara" in the libretto. 

First in its original form, from G.W. Pabst's 1931 film Die Dreigroschenoper:

And by Gil Evans, one of the greatest things ever in jazz:

By Tethered Moon, a trio with pianist Masabumi Kikuchi, Gary Peacock, and Paul Motian:

Those are the big three in my book, but there are couple more after the break:

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Lou Reed 1942-2013

It's a good day to give White Light, White Heat a listen in its entirety— news that Lou Reed has died is breaking all over the Internet right now. I first heard this record on a boombox in a thrift store on Clinton Street in Portland in about 1996, which seems fitting. It's the example I usually give for how something can have nothing going on technically and still be the best music in the world.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Transcription: Raymond "Monchito" Muñoz — Caminando

Here we have a Latin percussionist funking out a little bit on Caminando, a hip cha cha* recorded by Eddie Palmieri on his great album Vamonos Pa'l Monte. The drummer, Raymond “Monchito” Muñoz, brings very much a percussionist's sensibility to the drumset; almost the entire track is played on the hihat alone, with little variation, and with very sparing use of the bass drum and snare drum. The funky parts happen at the end of the first interlude, and on the outro.

There is little information about Muñoz online, and I had never heard of him before. From what I gather, he is a Puerto Rican percussionist active in New York and PR since the 60's, or earlier. Apparently he studied with Henry Adler. From his Facebook page, it appears that he was seriously ill recently.

It seens that Muñoz's primary instrument is timbales, and he plays the drumset with what I imagine to be a timbalero's touch— for whatever that observation is worth. He draws a variety of sounds out of the snare drum (and hihats, to a lesser degree), playing loosely and not very loud, blending volume of the drumset with the congas. You never get the feeling that he's playing into the drums, the way many funk drummers do. I would be tempted to approach this by just learning and playing each measure— or group of two measures— as a groove in its own right.

* — If you're better than me at IDing salsa styles, please let us know in the comments.

Get the pdf

Audio after the break:

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

2013 tour posters

All right, the posters for my upcoming Europe (well, Belgium, plus the outer tip of Germany and Luxembourg) tour are done!

Here are the shows, once again, with times:
9:00, Tuesday, Nov. 12 Hot Club de Gand GHENT, Belgium
8:30, Wednesday, Nov. 13 Jazz Station BRUSSELS, Belgium
7:00, Friday, Nov. 15 Blues-Sphere LIEGE, Belgium
8:00, Saturday, Nov. 16 Appeltuin Jazz LEUVEN, Belgium
Event starts 5:00, Sunday, Nov. 17 Hannut Jazz Festival HANNUT, Belgium
8:30, Monday, Nov. 18 Dumont's AACHEN, Germany
9:30, Tuesday, Nov. 19 LiquID LUXEMBOURG
9:00, Wednesday, Nov. 20 Le Rideau Rouge LASNE, Belgium
9:00, Saturday, Nov. 23 Lokerse Jazzklub LOKEREN, Belgium
5:30, Sunday, Nov. 24 Flamingo BRUSSELS, Belgium

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Groove o' the day: Ronald Shannon Jackson — Yugo Boy

Today we'll do Ronald Shannon Jackson's groove from the other day, Yugo Boy, from his 1984 album Barbeque Dog. Jackson was always coming up with distinctive grooves, and I don't know why I haven't shared his things before, except that I only have his records on vinyl, not digital, and they rarely come up on YouTube. I'm hearing a lot of Stewart Copeland in his playing here— definitely in his snare sound— which I never thought of before; he was paying attention to Copeland then, so it's not too surprising. Playing the snare on beat 4 only strikes me as a very 80's thing, too.

You can hear that there's a lot of variety in how he handles the end of the measure, though he doesn't do anything too fancy. The hihat is partly open on the 16th notes, obviously.

I've spent a lot of time listening to him, reading his words, and thinking about his playing, and I'm still sorry he's gone. There aren't many drummers who manage to create such a unique voice on the instrument as he did, and it's a tragedy one one of them dies.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Page o' coordination: 6/8 Rumba clave in the left hand

Like I said: a lotta 6/8. That feel has always been one of the stronger elements of my playing, but I thought I'd see what happens if I do a whole lot of more work on it. Just out of curiosity. Here's a nice companion to our clave-in-the-RH page-o'— we'll play clave with the left hand, and do some variations with the right.

I don't like to put up too many of these things without restating our purpose. When I originally learned this feel, and the other major feel we've been developing with these pages, I just learned a basic form of the groove, and then had a lot of fun playing it a lot, fleshing it out as I went, based on the vibe of what I was hearing on records. I did it almost completely by feel, and never worked anything out precisely, the way we're doing here. My goal for my own playing with these pages is to fill in some coordination gaps, and to introduce a different way of thinking than I am used to, to allow some new things to come out spontaneously. My basic approach to the actual playing has never changed— I still vibe it, rather than attempt the worked-out thing these pages might suggest. I think most players— those who are likely to do the amount of work necessary to master this type of thing— would also benefit from a large amount of playing by vibe.

Where there are accents given, they are played with the right hand only. Since the variations are happening with the right hand, I'm not doing our usual tom moves. You can feel free to do them, though. If you want. You might also try doubling the right hand part with the bass drum, eliminating the written BD part.

Get the pdf

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Ronald Shannon Jackson 1940-2013

Very sorry to hear that the drummer and avant-garde master Ronald Shannon Jackson died today. This would be a great time to revisit his Modern Drummer interview from 1984, by friend of the blog Chip Stern, which I excerpted here some time ago. Immediately after reading that— probably a couple of times— when it was originally published, I ran out and bought Jackson's album Barbeque Dog:

Here he is on a Cecil Taylor album— he was my favorite drummer to play with Cecil:

Here's a notice from Jazz Times.

(h/t to Larry Appelbaum)

Friday, October 18, 2013

Survival chops: cymbal and bass drum licks

Here is a collection of moderately easy, very functional, right-hand lead licks for the drum set. Normally I would arrive at these by other means— like, by playing Stick Control, Syncopation, or any paradiddle rudiment, with the right hand on the cymbal, with the bass drum playing in unison. You can make major workouts out of any of those. But I wanted to write them in “Chop Buster” format, as a single column of composed patterns, representing about fifteen minutes worth of practice, after you've had a basic introduction to them.

Play the unaccented snare notes softly, and don't overplay the accents. You should have little problem learning these quickly. They're designed to be easy to be played fast, too, as long as your doubles with your hands and right foot are together. The metronome marking of 140 beats per minute is a reasonable goal— you may be able to play them faster than that, or it may take you some time to reach that tempo.

There are no repeat signs, but assume each pattern is to be played many times. In the pdf there are some examples of ways of practice them along with any time feel of your choice, in any style, like:

Or, using a partial measure of the pattern:

Get the pdf

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

My art... on pillows!

Here's a random thing— my sister, Christy Bishop, an interior designer, is releasing a line of high-end printed pillows, and is including some of my old (c. 1997-2001) works on paper in her art. So far she's got in the collection this painting of two skulls on a red background, which was staplegunned to the wall of my painting studio above my easel for several years:

And this stylish martini glass:

And this expressionistic portrait bust:

If you must have these for your home, you can purchase them from Opal At Home.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Afro 6/8 with a backbeat

In my day we didn't have fancy drum blogs giving us near-daily pages of nicely formatted, well-thought-out drum exercises free of charge. Our teachers just scribbled something in the margin of our tattered copy of Syncopation, and we liked it! We loved it! Life was a carnival.

That's today's groove— a funk-style Afro 6/8— as presented to me by Tim Stodd, my teacher back in 1983, along with my own primitive scribbling. The right hand was to be played on the hihat, and the circled notes had bass drum with them; I was left to make my own variations, and turn it into a fully-realized thing on my own. Here's how we do things now:

Start by learning the hands part alone, observing the dynamics— the notes in parentheses are played very softly; also play the right hand part in isolation. The groove is felt in 2 or in 1— two beats per measure of 6/8, or one. Once the hands are together, the bass drum parts should come pretty quickly.

The first four lines give the normal bass drum parts associated with this style. Lines five and six give more of a sixtuplet funk feel, and the last two lines are given as coordination exercises.

Get the pdf

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Kerrigan syncopation exercise in 6/8

I guess there's no getting around it: we're all about the 6/8 these days— there's a whole bunch more of this on deck. This is a Chuck Kerrigan syncopation exercise, from his very useful Syncopated Rhythms for the Contemporary Drummer, originally written in 3/4, but transcribed into 6/8 by me.

Get the pdf

After the break: a full page of things to do with this.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

How to play Jordu

About time I did another one of these: here's Jordu, by Clifford Brown, as played on the definitive recording, Clifford Brown & Max Roach, on EmArcy. It gets played a lot at the high school and college level, and at jam sessions, and it's an easy tune to play wrong.  Per our usual format, I've given here the recorded rhythm of the melody, along with a sketch of the drum part, along with a few notes. Print the pdf, find the lead sheet in your Real Book, listen to the recording, and proceed.

First the roadmap: the tune is 32 bars long, AABA form— an A section played twice, followed by a B section (or bridge), and then a final A section, with each section being 8 bars long. On the pdf, the first A runs from the beginning of the piece to the first ending, the second A runs from the repeat through the second ending, the bridge runs from the double bar to the end of the page, and the last A runs the DS at the top of the page through the first ending.

The major issue people have with this tune is how to handle the figures and stops on the A section. The standard thing done at jam sessions is to play the figure in measure 2, three times. But originally, that figure starts off the beat the first time, on the beat the second time, and off the beat again on the third time; and on the second time they aren't actually playing the figure at all— they just play a measure of time with a stop on the & of 4. People also tend to be unclear on what to do in measures 6 and 7— often they'll try to fit the previous figure in again. Max and the bassist just play time.

On measures 1-2 and 5-6 of the bridge Max plays a little set-up on the floor tom which might be a little hokey in modern playing. Listen closely to what's going on there, and see what you think about it, and how it works as an arrangement element. At the end of the bridge there is a bit of a subito mp as the horns do their pickups in to the last A, so you have to set that up gently.

Max fills with crescendoing 16th notes on the floor tom on the second ending, and on the last measure of the form before the solos.

Get the pdf

Lead sheet and audio after the break:

Friday, October 11, 2013

2013 Europe tour

Hey, my 2013 Europe tour, my fourth, is coming up in November— exactly four weeks from now. We'll be playing music from my record Little Played Little Bird, the music of Ornette Coleman, and some other things. The band will include the Brazilian pianist/composer Weber Iago, and Brussels musicians Jean-Paul Estievenart, and Olivier Stalon.

Here are the dates— if you're in the vicinity, come on down!

Tuesday, Nov. 12 Hot Club de Gand GHENT, Belgium
Wednesday, Nov. 13 Jazz Station BRUSSELS, Belgium
Friday, Nov. 15 Blues-Sphere LIEGE, Belgium
Saturday, Nov. 16 Appeltuin Jazz LEUVEN, Belgium
Sunday, Nov. 17 Hannut Jazz HANNUT, Belgium
Monday, Nov. 18 Dumont's AACHEN, Germany
Tuesday, Nov. 19 LiquID LUXEMBOURG
Wednesday, Nov. 20 Rideau Rouge LASNE, Belgium
Saturday, Nov. 23 Lokerse Jazzklub LOKEREN, Belgium
Sunday, Nov. 24 Flamingo BRUSSELS, Belgium

If anyone is interested in getting a lesson or two, I'll be based in Brussels from November 11-24, with a full day in Luxembourg on the 19th, and three days in Berlin from the 25th-27th. Hit the “email Todd” link in the sidebar to reach me about that.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

DBMITW: Rumba in Havana

Preoccupied with tour-related stuff this week, so here's a Rumba group playing in the street in Havana:


Monday, October 07, 2013

Drum intro: Art Blakey — Straight, No Chaser

Every part of this is just so classically Art Blakey— except maybe his touch, which is somewhat gentler than usual. This is his intro on Straight, No Chaser, from Thelonious Monk's album Genius of Modern Music, vol. 2, on Blue Note. This will be included in our upcoming Book of Intros, which will be ready to go hopefully before my tour in November:

At the beginning and end there are big accents played on the open hihat with the left hand, along with the cymbal. All of the snare drum notes are played as rim clicks, and Blakey feathers quarter notes on the bass drum up until the hihat lick in the last two measures. A figurative gold star goes to whoever finds the missing rim click— that will be corrected when the book comes out...

Get the pdf

Audio after the break:

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Snare studies for developing some Afro-Cuban bell patterns

There is so much heavy coordination involved in learning the Afro-Cuban styles that it's easy to neglect simply getting the bell patterns right— which is a lot like playing jazz without spending any time working on your ride pattern. So what I've done here is make some snare drum exercises which will help work on one aspect of that: conditioning the hands to consistently hit the right accents. In the left hand column there are some stock salsa bell patterns, and on the right are the matching exercises:

That looks like a lot of heavy mixed stickings and flams, but the difficult part of each of them uses this one flam pattern:

It may help to see the same thing written in 6/8— count each of these out loud when you work them up:

After you can play those warmups, learn the patterns for the Chacha, the Songo, and the Abakua, and then the rest of the patterns. It may be helpful to exaggerate the dynamics at first, being especially careful not to accent the flammed notes. Don't fixate on attaining absolute, mechanistic, precision; the end result we're after is a nice, grooving, bell pattern, with a little bit of that special Afro-Cuban swing, if possible— playing and listening to the music will get you to the correct interpretation.

Get the pdf

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Page of Guaguancó

Lately I've been whittling away at my ignorance of Afro-Cuban/Salsa drumming, and here we'll look at Guaguancó (say wah-wahn-CO), or Rumba Guaguancó, a very distinctive and popular style I first became acquainted with via a great drummer named Jeff Falcone back in 1989, when I was a student at the University of Southern California. As it normally happens in the US, I learned the thing very one-dimensionally: just as an isolated beat. But I think the one groove : one full page format we used with the Page of Mozambique is a better first state for the Latin styles, and we'll do that again here.

A few things to know about the style: 
  • The drum groove is extremely popular, and you'll recognize the melody of the tom part instantly.  
  • It's a folkloric Rumba style which has come into wide usage in commercial, non-traditional settings. 
  • It traditionally uses 3-2 Rumba clave, but in modern/commercial settings Son clave may be used, and/or it may be oriented as 2-3. 
  • It's easy to hear the clave backwards— at first the melodic part sounds like it falls on the 3 part of clave, but it doesn't. 
  • It's felt in 2, or in 1— with two or one primary pulses per measure. 

Learn each two measure pattern, and play it along with a moderate-tempo recording— the first one after the break, by Carlos Embale, would be good. Since the clave orientation can be tricky, also play just the clave rhythm along with the recording, and pay attention to how it interacts with the drum melody. When you are generally familiar with the pattern, proceed to doing a longer workout, as described at the bottom of the page of exercises, using all combinations of hand and feet parts. As always, learning the version with the clave in the left foot is the lowest priority.

Get the pdf

Several audio examples after the break:

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Additional tom moves

If like me you've been working the hell out of the pages o' coordination (me, I've been hitting the Afro 6/8, the 6/8 Rumba clave, and the page of Mozambique) you may be getting a little bored with the old Joe Cusatis-sourced tom moves I always tell you to do with them— to me they can begin to feel a little formulaic. To take things in another direction, I've started doing moves based on patterns from the beginning of Stick Control, playing the Rs on one sound, and the Ls on another, so this Stone exercise:

Could be played like this (or on any two drums, in any order):

So revoicing the snare part from this pattern, from our original Elvin's Afro-Waltz page:

Would look like this:

It would be easy to take this way too far: on Stick Control pp. 5-7 there are 72 patterns × 3 sets of drums to play them on (snare/high tom, snare/floor tom, high tom/floor tom), × 2 drums to begin the pattern on. So, you have to use some restraint if you're going to get through a page of exercises in a reasonable amount of time; there's no need to go through every mother-loving pattern on every combination of drums. I usually just do all of our old moves, on all combinations of drums, plus 2-4 Stone-derived moves, played between two drums only. Whatever moves you do, it shouldn't take more than half an hour to work through one of the pages— assuming you can already play it just keeping your LH on the snare drum, that is.

You can probably safely limit yourself to these four-note patterns:


And maybe these eight-note patterns:

And you could also do these Stone-like three- and six-note patterns:

Those alternate patterns might sit a little more-interestingly on the drums than their formers.

Of course, you can always just improvise the moves, but the point of doing these abstract patterns is to make you play some things you might not otherwise play. The moves can also form some long counter-melodies, which definitely forces you to concentrate, and opens some mental doors.