Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Page o' coordination: bass drum variation in 6/8

Are you getting to the point that you can work these up in a few days, and then retire them, yet? We've done a big pile of these POCs, but they cover a fairly narrow range of difficulty, and once you've sort of mastered one, the remainder should come quickly. Today's YAASE (Yet Another Afro 6/8) is at the harder end of the spectrum, somewhat, with a bass drum variation which I noticed creeping into my playing during the tour. I wrote this to get a little better command over it, and introduce the possibility of some different things happening with the left hand with it:

Do the tom moves, please. I generally play them a few times with the left hand playing rim clicks on the snare, then do the moves, playing rim clicks on the notes landing on the snare drum. Add accents with the left hand wherever you are able— I just listen to the recording and let them happen naturally.

Get the pdf

Here's the track I've been playing along with:

Monday, December 30, 2013

VOQOTD: choosing cymbals

I’d go to the bin, I’d get two fourteens, I’d go to the eighteen bin, get an eighteen, then I’d go to the twenty bin and get a twenty, and that was that—none of that banging and trying.
— Elvin Jones, interview with Chip Stern

He's talking about visiting the warehouse where K. Zildjian cymbals fresh off the boat from Istanbul were kept, where all the New York players went to get their cymbals. I've read more than one account of the extreme variability of those cymbals— there were great instruments, but evidently a lot of quite bad ones, too. Elvin continues:

You know, what’s that anyway? I mean, first of all, you have to play the cymbal just as you would have to play a trumpet, and so it doesn’t really matter if it’s gold or silver or brass or steel, you know. If you’ve got a good mouthpiece you can play it. So I never did believe in going through that whole charade of listening to the vibrations and the ding-ding-ding; that seemed to me to be so superfluous, because it’s the stroke that makes the tone, and if the cymbal isn’t flawed to begin with, then the more you play it the more it becomes pliable, and of course it’ll vibrate more, and the tone grows—and once I discovered that, I quit trying. 
I used to do the same thing, although I’d get to the point where if you’d bang a couple of cymbals I couldn’t tell the difference. My ear would be completely blank; it would just be dulled to any kind of subtleties. So I concluded, “Well, the best thing to do is if I’m behind it I can tell if it sounds good or not and I can put more pressure on it to bring the tone up or hit it near the crown and near the leading edge or whatever,” and the tone changes in each position. So it’s very simple.

Chip has a three part interview with Elvin which I encourage you to go read: one | two | three

UPDATE: This quote has aroused some discussion at the Cymbalholics forum.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Sunny Murray, the bebop tradition, and Milford Graves

“Take it easy, now... there's no work in this shit, they're gonna jump on your ass...” 
— Sunny Murray to a young, interested, Hans Bennink

 Here's an interview by Dan Warburton, with one of the original free jazz drummers, Sunny Murray. It's most interesting to me as a piece of archeology into the attitudes of these players, who seemed at the time to be making such a large break with previous music, and who are often regarded as not maintaining, shall we say, traditional technical standards. But Murray clearly feels himself to be part of the same tradition as some more mainstream players (even if McCall and Blackwell were thought of as avant-garde at the time) and having less connection to another great early free player, Milford Graves, who he felt was coming from someplace else:
[...] I like Milford a lot, but basically I have the attitude of a bebop drummer regarding what I feel about music and other drummers. Milford didn't come from bebop at all. I love Roy Brooks, and Louis Hayes with those beautiful mahogany-looking hands, Eddie Blackwell that could just swing your head off, Steve McCall was the best surprise with the left hand I ever heard, Dennis Charles he'd just chug-a-lug you for ever. [...] You know, it's traditional for a drummer to be opinionated about other drummers, because there are some basics and roots in jazz drumming and there's a whole generation today that hasn't had to deal with those rules or laws, aesthetically or spiritually, or go through the kinds of pressures I had to go through, Louis Hayes, Dennis Charles, Eddie Blackwell, Steve McCall had to go through... It wasn't something unpleasant, it was an education.

More after the break:

Transcription: Les Humphries — Ching Miau

In honor of Yusef Lateef, who we just lost a few days ago, at age 93, here is the thing that inspired yesterday's post: Lex Humphries playing on Ching Miau, a one-chord modal tune in 5/4, played over a one-measure vamp, from Lateef's album Eastern Sounds. The transcription starts at the beginning of the saxophone solo, at 0:29, and ends shortly before the head out:

The vamp has the rather unusual 2+3 phrasing, while Humphries's time has a 3+2 feel; I don't suppose the crossing interpretations is intentional; it seems more likely that that is the only way Humphries knew how to play in 5 at the time. He likely plays the bass drum (lightly, at least) on every beat one, but I've only notated it where it's audible.

Get the pdf

Audio after the break:

Friday, December 27, 2013

Page o' coordination: across the barline in 5/4

This is a classic situation when you start improvising in 5/4: you get a little cocky about your ability to just vibe the meter and come out OK, and in a few moments you observe that you have blasted past the downbeat several beats ago-- who can say how many?-- and you are lost, totally screwed, and destined to spend the next eight-plus measures playing very dumb stuff, trying to find beat 1 again. Anything you practice in 5 should help with that, but this POC should acquaint you with one possible landing point in the middle of the measure, and make it easier to stay oriented when you land there accidentally. Just avoiding looking stupid is a pretty low purpose, so hopefully this will turn into a musical expression thing quickly...

Treat the hihat note on beat 4 as optional, according to your taste; personally, I don't like playing two quarter notes in a row on the hihats in any jazz feel, but here I wanted the extra little coordination challenge. You should add your own accents with the left hand— really, with any jazz comping/independence exercises— don't just play all the LH notes at an even volume. And don't forget the to do the tom moves— they really multiply the value of the exercises: they make you do more repetitions, they make you concentrate more, they make your movements around the drums more automatic, and they generate some interesting melodies and cross rhythms of their own.

Get the pdf

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Transcription: Ed Blackwell solo — Tarik

Oh, what the hell, happy Saturnalia— I went ahead and transcribed the solo from the GOTD of a few days ago, Tarik, by Ed Blackwell, from Dewey Redman's album of the same name. It's a real study of hand independence, and not very readable, but at least roughing it out measure by measure or phrase by phrase should give you some insight into Blackwell's way of playing. At least into this tom tom thing of his, which you should recognize right away if you've heard much of his playing. The tune is basically just a drum groove, with Redman improvising freely on the musette, along with Malachi Favors on bass. Possibly the opening phrase on musette was composed.

Throughout the piece, there are many times when the snare is played with both hands in unison, or nearly so, which I've indicated with a B. I included them based on the sound, and haven't worked through them on the drums prior to posting this, so if you hit anything really unplayable, probably one of those both-handed notes is in the wrong spot. Definitely write in your own additional stickings where needed. Blackwell basically plays quarter notes with both feet in unison all the way through, though often one or both may drop out for a few beats. It doesn't matter— the main thing is the hands. The repeated lick at measure 36 gets a little sloppy, and ends with an accidentally dropped beat, hence the single measure of 3/4.

Get the pdf

Audio after the break:

Monday, December 23, 2013

VOQOTD: the way it was, then

[F]ifty years ago, long [running gigs] were more commonplace.

Oh, yeah. There was a club on 52nd Street called the Hickory House. I played in there for three months with Bill Evans, and for three months again with Joe Castro, a piano player. I remember playing 10 weeks with Lennie Tristano at the Half Note. Nine weeks at the Vanguard with Bill Evans and Gary Peacock. One or two weeks or more at the original Birdland. That's the way it was, then.


According to your gig book, you first worked the Vanguard maybe at the end of '56? 

'57. With Lee Konitz. That was the first time I played there. In those days, they'd have two bands. The Bill Evans Trio opposite the Miles Davis band. We played opposite Mingus. They'd have comedians. I played there with Bill Evans opposite Lenny Bruce. The place was never that full! One night with Bill and Scott LaFaro, there were only three people in the club. Now it's packed. It's unbelievable. It's quiet, and they clap when you walk on stage. That never happened in those days!

— Paul Motian, interview by Ted Panken

Groove o' the day: Ed Blackwell — Tarik

Here's something from I think the first record with Ed Blackwell I ever bought: Tarik, by Dewey Redman. It's sort of Blackwell's tom tom thing boiled down to it's smallest essence:

It will be up to you to find a sticking that works. Though it would be very difficult for most of us, I wouldn't be shocked if his right hand were playing all of the tom notes, plus the accent on the snare drum. Or there could be a LR on the low tom; probably that's the way you and I will have to play it. The flam is pretty “flat”, almost a unison, with the right hand louder than the left. As the piece develops, Blackwell begins playing the hihat with his foot in unison with the bass drum. One day I'll transcribe the solo.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Todd's 11-note pattern: some examples in 4/4

One of the earlier things we did was a pretty exhaustive, four-page write up of an 11-note pattern which has for some time been coming up spontaneously in my playing. I've been working on it with a student lately, and have written up some ideas for fitting it into a basic funk phrase:

The main idea here is that, obviously, the plain lick doesn't fit neatly into 4/4, and I've given some possible ways of setting it up and getting out of it. You should try your own ideas for doing this, try starting the lick in some different places in the measure than I have given, and experiment with moving it around the drums. It will help to run the lick repetitively by itself, in 11/16; and to go back to the original piece, and learn to play all of page 1 of the pdf on the snare drum.

Get the pdf

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Groove o' the day: Ronald Shannon Jackson — Behind Plastic Faces

I guess I'm blogging in couplets this week. Speaking of one of my favorite records, Decode Yourself, by Ronald Shannon Jackson's Decoding Society— long totally out of print, from a not-very-collectible era in jazz— I'm glad to see the tune Behind Plastic Faces up on YouTube now. The groove for the main part of the tune uses a sort of synth china cymbal sound— probably using a Simmons SDS-5— and tom sound at the end:

He plays no fills or variations (oops, I just caught one) on this part of the tune, except that he seems to sometimes play the roll as a 7-stroke instead of a 5-stroke. It also sounds like he's closing the hihat along with most of the bass drum notes, which you can do, or not.

Monday, December 16, 2013

VOQOTD: Ronald Shannon Jackson

“I play music and I play rhythms. I play them and I work on it because I hear something, then I just go sit down and start working on it. It’s like when my wife first asked, I’d be writing music all the time, she’d say ‘What are you going to be doin’ with all that music?’ ‘l don’t know…’ I just know that I be hearin’ it and if I keep writin’ it, it’s going to come. It’s like a dream, if you don’t write it then, you won’t write it. You just keep doing that man, you know?”
— Ronald Shannon Jackson

That pretty much sums up the entirety of the life of an artist. That's from Michael Bettine's remembrance of, and interview with, the late, great Ronald Shannon Jackson, from Bettine's blog Percussion Deconstruction. It's also a nice overview of Jackson's recorded work, if you're just getting acquainted with him, and are wondering what to buy— though he doesn't mention my favorite RSJ record (after Barbeque Dog), Decode Yourself:

“Play like you play at home when there’s nobody else there. What you be hearin’ and playin’ then.”
— Ronald Shannon Jackson quoting instructions from Albert Ayler

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Afro 6/8 exercise: getting the 3/4 pull

More on this. All I can say is, my readers should be absolutely killing it with their Afro 6/8 in the next 6-12 months. This is a basic counting and coordination exercise I've been using with a couple of my students, for getting the hang of a basic concept of this feel, which is that it exists in 6/8 and 3/4 simultaneously. And it's good for just generally understanding the architecture of the feel, and coordinating it with a basic pulse in each of the limbs.

Repeat each exercise until it feels solid and grooving. Then play all of sections 2 and 3 without stopping: play each line in the order given on the page, repeating each exercise several times. Normally I would play the snare drum part as a rim click, but if you find yourself tearing through the page very quickly, you might try doing our standard tom moves with your left hand.

Get the pdf

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Transcription: Tiki intro

Hey, some time ago I promised you a new book— a collection of transcribed intros— before the end of the year. Work on that got sidelined as I was preparing for tour, and there's no way I'm finishing in the time frame I wanted. But I'll get back to it now, and see if I can't slam it out by January. You may also have noticed the style of my printed music has changed slightly; I've upgraded to Finale 2014, and the default styles are a little different than my old one. I'm trying to maintain as much continuity as possible, but some of these transitional things may look a little different as I figure things out. If there's one thing I learned from Joel Rothman, it's that continuity of style matters... you can always tell one of his books by just looking at the style of the copy...

So, here's another drum intro, from our man Tiki Fulwood. The tune is Good Old Music, from the first, self-titled Funkadelic record:

Yesterday we made big deal out of Fulwood not accenting the ride pattern on his hihat; here he does do that, accenting every other 16th note, and again, it sounds great. A good way for students to practice this would be to take make a repeating groove out of each measure, and run them many times.

Get the pdf

Audio after the break:

Friday, December 13, 2013

Groove o' the day: Tiki Fulwood — Red Hot Mama

Another GOTD by my favorite Funkadelic drummer, Tiki Fulwood. The tune is Red Hot Mama, from Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On, by Funkadelic, of course. The groove for the verse:

The song consists of a one-measure vamp on the verses, plus a two-measure chorus, played four times. As the song develops, Fulwood moves to the cymbal, and the bass drum part gets denser, with more variations. He also plays 8th notes on the hihat with his left foot when he plays the ride cymbal, which I haven't included in the notation:

The first thing young drummers learn to do to mature their funk feel, and distinguish themselves from those primitive rock & roll meatheads, is to accent the hihat, usually on the beat:

Once learned, it's easy to fall into doing this routinely, without thinking about the musical effect. But you can hear that on this song Fulwood plays his right hand dead even and strong, and it sounds great. For that matter, the ghost notes on the snare drum, the obsession du jour of Internet drummers, are entirely absent— aside from a few embellishments, and the fills, he plays the snare drum strongly on 2 and 4, with no filler. Also pay attention to the sound he's getting out of the snare drum; it's very strong, but it is definitely not the generic harsh crack currently in favor.

Audio after the break:

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


This is fun. Musicians at all levels of the business are becoming increasingly incensed at the devaluation of our work by people with money, and in the culture in general, and are becoming vocal about it. I can't copy the text of this artist's response to a TV person who wants to use his work for free, so you'll have to follow the link to read it. I highly recommend that you do.

The Abanico

The Abanico (meaning “fan” in Spanish) is the name of a stock set-up that occurs in Salsa, Afro-Cuban music, whatever you choose to call it. It is played by the timbale player— the timbalero—to bring in a new section after a stop. It occurs in two basic forms, depending on the clave orientation of the piece: 3-2, or 2-3.

Here is the 3-2 version; the top line is clave— son, in this case— whether or not anyone in the ensemble is actually playing that rhythm, the music is oriented around it. The bottom line is the percussion. Usually the figure is played on a high timbale, but since we're all about the drumset here at CSD!, you'll likely play it on a high tom, or on the snare drum, with the snares off. The accents are rim shots, played near the edge of the drum. The roll can be played open or closed, or as singles, depending on the tempo, and the personal style of the player— you have some latitude in how you choose to do it.

And in the 2-3:

As drummers in the North American mode, we're used to starting our grooves on beat 1, maybe just substituting a crash cymbal for the ordinary ride sound. But here we're ending the fill on a drum on beat 1, so you'll have to get used to coming in with your salsa grooves on beat 2, as in the case of this 2-3 Mozambique:

Recorded examples after the break:

Monday, December 09, 2013

Afro 6 basics

Man, it's tougher to get back in the swing of this than you would think. Like anything else, it's a fairly minor daily effort, but you do have to do it! I do have some passable excuses though, if that made any difference...

Today what we've got are some basic exercises, which I've been running with some students, for understanding the Afro 6/8 a little better:

There are four things we're working on here:

1 and 2: Part of what makes this style interesting and fun to play is that it seems to exist in 3/4 and 6/8 simultaneously. So we'll get the hang of counting the bell pattern, and playing it along with a quarter note/dotted-quarter note ostinato in each of those meters.

Also we'll begin to get a feel for the accents, first by playing a funk-style pattern, giving it a strong pull towards the 1 of each measure— the 'a-1' should be played strongly on both measures, with the right accenting on the second note of each double. Then, taking the right hand in isolation, we'll make those same accents, plus accents on all of the single notes. After you've learned all of the other exercises, go back and play them again, with these accents in the right hand.

4: Getting into slightly more complex coordination, we'll add the rumba and son clave rhythms, and then clave plus dotted-quarter notes in the feet.

Play all of the exercises many times without stopping, preferably along with a recording (a selection of good tracks for that is coming).

Get the pdf

Monday, December 02, 2013

Tour wrap-up

After our first gig, at Hot Club de Gand, in Ghent.
The tour went quite well, by the way— the shows were all well attended, audiences were very appreciative, we got some good press, and we are well situated to expand our reach next year. And we actually turned a profit this year; the gigs paid well, and I sold all of the CDs I took with me— 60 of them, I think. This was my fourth trip to Europe leading my own group; the first one lost a lot of money, another one made a little money, and another roughly broke even.

There's a gallery of photos from the tour here, and our updates from the road are here.

Earlier I posted the tunes I was including in our book— we ended up playing:
Mothers Of The Veil
Feet Music
Strange As It Seems
Mob Job
Lonely Woman
Owl of Cranston
Empty Boat
Valse de Melody

And less frequently:
Comme Il Faut
Check Up
Las Vegas Tango
Olhos de Gato

Here's the group playing Mopti, by Don Cherry, at the Jazz Station in Brussels:

The musicians there are: Weber Iago — piano / Jean-Paul Estievenart — trumpet / Olivier Stalon — bass / Todd Bishop — drums

It's funny, this was the second gig of the tour, I was feeling pretty jetlagged, and felt that the group was under-rehearsed, and that we were kind of hacking out a performance; with a little distance from it, though, you forget what you were feeling, and what you were trying to do, and you can see the thing for the respectable performance it is. That's become one of my rules: the gig was always better than you think it was. I can't promise that holds for everyone at all times— it most certainly doesn't, in fact— but time and time again I have heard recordings from what I thought was a really off night, and they are inevitably totally fine, or even good.

So, now it falls on me to make a new record fast— which is how I like to do them— and get booking the November '14 tour in January/February... onward...

Sunday, December 01, 2013

On playalongs, pt. 2: play exercises

Stuff like this. Anything. Why not?
Back from tour and easing back into blogging, here, with part 2 in this thoughts on practicing along with recordings series. Today we'll discuss the value of not just playing the tune or drum part, “drum cover” style, but also playing technical exercises. For example, these days I like to run my Dahlgren & Fine and Gary Chaffee linear patterns along with tracks from Maggot Brain. In fact, just about the only way I can practice that book, and certain other very dry materials, is along with music.  

Broadening your hearing
Doing this gives you a chance to hear how the technical patterns sound in the context of real music, and will help you move them into your actual playing— which is a major issue nearly everyone deals with. Since you'll be forcing these things into a musical setting where they don't necessarily belong, you're going to hear a lot of things happen—good and bad— which you never would have played on purpose. You'll be surprised at how often random things actually work together, though. It's a crash course in the Rubber Shirt principle— random musical ideas tend to work together because you put them together.

What and how
You can use anything that will work with the tempo and feel/rhythmic grid of the recording. You can decide for yourself how much you want to conform to the song: you could follow the form or phrasing of the song, changing exercises along with song phrases or sections, or not. You could also alternate exercises with playing time in the style of the track. On the more advanced end of things, if you're learning how how to play meter-within-meter, you could run exercises in 3/4 or 6/8 along with a song in 4/4, and practice improvising resolutions of the resulting polyrhythmic phrases to match the phrase endings in the song.

A musical standard
Often when doing your technical exercises in isolation with a metronome, you have no external reason to play them with some shape, so you play them with a “neutral” phrasing and dynamic level, and your one standard of progress tends to become simply more speed. Playing them along with music, suddenly the problem becomes how to make them sound and feel good with what you're hearing— which is the whole name of the game in actually playing music. For me, anyway; music is nearly always a process of making whatever you're playing feel good based on what you're hearing; it is almost never just a process of just rendering patterns perfectly. For me. That's not to say there's nothing to be gained by learning to render patterns precisely in a neutral, non-musical way, but that is a different process than the one you will use in actually making music.

More coming soon...