Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Five awkward conversations with Paul Motian

Here's something that's a lot of fun, from Vinnie Sperrazza, a great drummer from New York. I met him recently, when he, and my partner Casey Scott, were performing in Family Album, a new play by Heidi Rodewald and Stew, of Passing Strange fame. In the post Vinnie recounts several brutal encounters with Paul Motian, with annotated subtext. Highlights include Sperrazza daring to opine about a venue Motian says he wants to play:

Sperrazza: Oh, I don't know if you want to do that.
Paul Motian: WHAT? 

There's nothing like a good, outraged “WHAT!?”, in my book. And this response to a comment about practicing:


It goes on and on with similarly funny, punishing stuff. It is funny, but my feelings about it are very mixed. I think I'm kind of done with this thing of not giving people basic respect— of accepting that from others. I think I'm also done with feeling stupid for things I say when someone is purposefully being difficult to talk to. Being an asshole to the very few people over whom you have any influence is sort of a thing in the jazz world; but so is finding yourself 50-70 years old, and not getting any calls because you've been so successful at being intimidating. So people should check that stuff.

In the end, though, he caught Motian on a good day, and got treated like a human being, which is cool— go over and read the whole thing; you really need the context. Vinnie also has a new CD out, of burning, ultra-modern New York shit, so maybe if you're into good music, and into helping artists do their work, order a copy from him.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Holiday special on books and Skype lessons!

Scroll down for new posts— I'll be keeping this pinned to the top of the blog this month.

UPDATE: This is the LAST DAY OF THE SALE, so get these while they're a little bit cheaper. Skype lessons scheduled before the first of January get the discounted rate, so get yours now, if you're into saving money... if you swing that way...  

What the hey, let's do a little holiday discount on Cruise Ship Drummer! books for the month of December, let's say... 15% off... I was going to have a coupon code but Lulu doesn't offer them, so... everybody! Everybody wins! And, yes, that is on top of the 15% discount already in effect for the 2011 Book of the Blog.

What we have available are:

100 Grooves — $11.01 with discount
One hundred (give or take) transcribed drum grooves, with performance notes, by Zigaboo Modeliste, James Gadson, Clyde Stubblefield, Mike Clark, Elvin Jones, Ed Blackwell, and many more! Difficulty ranges from very easy to very challenging.

2013 Book of the Blog — $12.71 with discount
120 pages. All downloadable material from the blog in 2013, with additional commentary. Includes fat sections on jazz, pop, snare drum, polyrhythms, Afro-Cuban and Brazilian styles, more! There's a lot of good practicing in this book.

2011 Book of the Blog — transcriptions — $10.47 with discount
138 pages. All the transcriptions posted on the blog in 2011, including things by Elvin Jones (Big Nick, Tunji, more), Jack Dejohnette (God Bless The Child solo), Vinnie Colaiuta, Roy Haynes (famous In Walked Bud solo), Max Roach, Tony Williams, Zigaboo Modeliste, and a whole lot of other great players. The highlights of the book are two Vinnie Colaiuta transcriptions from Frank Zappa's Joe's Garage: the drumming during the guitar solos from Packard Goose and Keep It Greasey— that latter in 19/16... that's the time signature. It's insane. Neither of those are available on the blog anymore, by the way— you can only get them by buying the book.

Aaaand, since December is usually a rather slack month for the private lessons, let's offer 15% off on Skype lessons as well— that's $42.50 for an hour lesson, or 35€ for you Euro-zone folks. We do a lot of hard stuff on the blog, but I'm happy to work people at all levels of ability, so don't hesitate to get in touch! Drop me a line and let me know what you're having problems with, and what you'd like to improve on.

Groove o' the day: Al Jackson, Jr. — Crosscut Saw

Here's a sort of a blues rhumba groove by Al Jackson, Jr.. The song is Crosscut Saw, from Albert King's classic album, Born Under A Bad Sign.

Play the housetop accents as rim shots. Use the sticking of your choice— it's just the nature of this type of groove that you find your own way to do it. You might try playing the 16th notes and the tom note with your left hand, and the rest of the pattern with your right. You can experiment with accenting the 2, 4, or & of 4 to varying degrees, as well. Jackson plays the bass drum with a slight accent on 2 and 4; on the last chorus he plays the bass on 2 and 4 only. He often accents the 1 with the bass drum at the beginning of new sections, so leave yourself some dynamic room to punch that. There's no hihat on this song, but you could play it on 2 and 4 if you want to.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Page o' coordination: basic — 02

Here's another basic Page o' coordination, with left hand variations over a very common funk rhythm in the hihat and bass drum:  

Play each exercise 2-4 times, and proceed to the next one without stopping. When you can do the entire page perfectly, you can then polish it further, or try adding some accents, or you can pick a new tempo to master. For more practice suggestions, read the description for the last entry.

Get the pdf

Thursday, December 25, 2014

George Colligan sees Whiplash

Jazz educators respond to the makers of Whiplash,
who are represented by the hapless trombonist.
UPDATE: Oh, here's another one, from Jazz Is the Worst, a blog that is attracting a lot of attention in musician circles, despite only having like eight posts. The writer sort-of rips it apart, and reveals all the plot turns, and it's fun enough to read.

Here's something to brighten up your Christmas: Pianist, bandleader, Jack Dejohnette sideman, college professor, and blogger George Colligan has seen and reviewed Whiplash, the ostensible jazz film that critics and audiences agree is, God, just insanely great. I can't wait to see what a real college jazz educator has to say about it:

Fifteen minutes in, I was ready to leave.

Oh, that's... um. Well. I... yes. He continues:

I decided to stay and watch the whole movie, and not just because my wife needed a ride home.

I nominate either of those lines for the movie's poster, which currently slaps you harshly in the face with words like "awe-inspiring", "incredible", and "astounding." As a rule, your quotes should at least leave the door open for the possibility of some redeeming qualities— they should be agnostic or better in re: your movie sucking— so maybe the latter one would be best.

"Whiplash" is, to begin with, so technically inaccurate that you wonder whether the director bothered to consult with anyone about basic things like:  
What's it really like at a music school?How does jazz music work?How does one set up a set of drums?and so forth......

[...] I'm not saying that a movie about music school has to be 100 percent accurate. I'm saying that this movie is SO inaccurate that it puts in the comically bad category for me- the same category as gems like, "Plan 9 from Outer Space," "Ishtar," "From Justin To Kelly," and so forth.

After citing a litany of inaccuracies which by now would be depressingly familiar to the film makers, if they cared about what people in the field thought about their movie, which they don't, Colligan continues:

I could go on and on. I believe that these things will be obvious to most musicians who see the movie. What's telling is that non-musicians are not bothered in the slightest by these issues. When you consider how medical shows or legal shows or even historical movies seems to spend a lot of effort on painstaking accuracy, why would a jazz education movie clearly not even be bothered. If you saw a medical show where the doctor referred to the heart as part of the skeletal system, or ask the nurse to hand him a scalpel and she handed him a stethoscope, you'd be rolling in the aisle!  

Ah, like Emergency Medical Treatment:

So, there we are. Colligan's piece is a fun read, but there's nothing really new here, if you've been following this saga; throw another outraged expert opinion onto the pile re: the film's accuracy. I imagine I'll see it when it comes to one of Portland's many second-run beer theaters, and will have something more to say about it then.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

An Internet thing I like

OK, this is actually useful: I like this new YouTube thing of isolating drum tracks from famous pop/rock recordings. Recording can be a horrible exercise in self-scrutiny, and is often a question of how much inaccuracy you can stand to let remain on the track vs. the amount of time/budget you have available to you. It's a little less that way now that, with sophisticated editing technology, much more can be fixed in the mix. But these videos give you a very clear picture of the tolerances for executing a classic, great drum track.

They also help me be clear on what I really like and don't like about some famous performances— in general I don't approaching music like a critic, but playing pop music is a very craft-intensive thing, you have to approach doing it more like a composer or designer, and know critically what works and doesn't work for you. For understanding what's being played, the videos are, for me, better than seeing a written transcription. I've never been a huge Neil Peart follower, but listening to his isolated drum track from Tom Sawyer, I now understand that I like the way he handles the tom toms, but am not real excited about the way he plays time— you feel there's a total lack of R&B exposure with him:

Dave Grohl is another one who is that way, though he's coming from a different place. Rock needs R&B as a direct influence, or it just becomes a march, played loud. Smells Like Teen Spirit is a great song, but this is not groove music:

Compare those performances with John Bonham on Ramble On— here a switch has gone off, and we're actually grooving:

More after the break:

Saturday, December 20, 2014

New CSD! e-book: Bossa Nova / Samba Field Manual

UPDATE: Thanks for the review, Kenneth!

Time to unveil one of the things I've been doing instead of delivering the promised Book of Intros, which is languishing maybe 3-5 hours of work away from completion, stupidly...

...but, yes, I say, it's time to unveil a new Cruise Ship Drummer! Kindle book:

Playing Samba and Bossa Nova: a field manual for drummers

It's a concise, practical guide covering the essential information you need to play those styles on a professional job, in a jazz band or lounge band context. The format is a little different than regular drum books; in addition to the drum patterns, it tells you all of the other things that go into actually perform music in the style: your job as drummer, how to play with a band, and a lot of other important background info for playing the music creatively and authentically.

The level is approximately high school, through college, through professional who just doesn't know a whole lot about these styles (which is a lot of them, actually!). An excellent resource for teachers and band directors, too.

Right now it's only available as an e-book for Kindle, or for Kindle apps on your tablet, phone, or computer— you can get the app free of charge from the book's Amazon page. I do believe in owning real paper books, so we'll see about making it available in hard format, at some point.

Get yours now! Price is an extraordinarily reasonable $6.95.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Hell of books

This has been sitting in my drafts folder awhile, and seems timely, as I'm encouraging you to buy my new Bossa/Samba book, and am discounting my previous ones:

One thing there is no shortage of, right now, is of drum stuff to work on. On this blog, we're barfing up mass quantities of new stuff on a quasi-daily basis— more like quasi-weekly, recently— and there are hundreds of books out there, and reams of new stuff in the drumming magazines every month. It can be overwhelming for students, who feel bad because they're not learning all of their books cover to cover, or because they haven't really “learned what they already have in front of them.” And writers like me can wonder just what the hell is the point of doing more. Hasn't everything been done already?

These feelings are wrong. I own over a hundred books, and may work out of out of 15-20 of them in the course of a week, and I still need to write more stuff.

Drum books are an incredible value. If you learn one thing of real value from it, what did it cost you? Around $8-25, usually. And by “learn”, I mean you acquired something in your playing, and maybe some verbal information about music, and/or gained some kind of general understanding that actually helps you in your playing. If you're able to dedicate dozens or hundreds of hours of practice to a single book, you've really gotten value much greater than the book's cover price.

Format and organization matter. Especially when you start using your materials creatively. Little changes in format, can make big differences in what you can easily do with the materials, how productively you are able to use them, and what you learn in using them.

Remember, it's a multi-year, multi-decade process. You're going to have these books around for the rest of your life. Maybe you'll find a use for some other parts of them in five years, ten years, or twenty years. Don't think of a new book as an assignment, think of it as an addition to your library; a resource that will be instantly available if, someday, you need it.

Limiting yourself to one book you are really limiting yourself to one author's vision, to the extent that he was able to put a complete vision accurately into book form. No one is able to cover everything, and not everyone is that good a writer; nor are everyone's methods are good enough to dedicate years of your life to working on. And just because of the nature of communication, you may need to hear the same message put several different ways to really understand it. So I'm extremely skeptical of very expensive all-in-one collections that claim to cover everything you'll ever need to know and practice.

The exception to that is the body of methods associated with Ted Reed's Syncopation— an $8 book. Most players could just learn that really well, listen a lot and play a lot, and be done with it. You can become a great drummer with just that, and you'd be missing very little of practical importance. Still, it doesn't cover absolutely everything.

You're supposed to have a lot of books. Especially if you're teaching. As a professional, you're supposed to build and maintain a personal library both of books and recorded music. It's just part of your infrastructure.

Just what is the point of writing more stuff is a larger subject I may have to save for another day. I think that if you're thinking about the playing process, and the practicing process, and writing for contemporary needs, there will always be room for more materials.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Soul drumming history with Yogi Horton

Here's an incredible video which I never knew existed: R&B legend Yogi Horton talking and playing the history of soul/funk drumming— this is just the best thing ever:

h/t to my brother, John Bishop, for this one.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Groove o' the day: Ivan Conti — A Presa

Here's a funk samba groove from a drummer I've really come to dig: Ivan Conti, of the Brazilian fusion band Azymuth. When I was into fusion in the 80s, I got the impression from some people around me that they were a little too easy listening, and I never got into them until recently. But they're great. It's good to learn to appreciate deep mellow. The tune is A Presa, from the album Águia Não Come Mosca.

You can hear that he mixes up the pattern quite a bit, and fills frequently. This would be a good transcription project to get those fills, if I had the time right now. Exaggerate the dynamics; the ghost notes on the snare are very soft, and the accented notes on the hihat are very strong. The tempo is quarter note = 120.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

DBMITW: Glen Moore

Good music for a very windy day here in Portland, from Glen Moore, bassist from the band Oregon, who lives in town:

This record Nude Bass Ascending is basically a perfect album— it has held up through a lot of listening year after year. You can get it here.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Advice for beginning drummers

Obligatory inspirational picture
1. Play every day.
Consistency is the main thing. At some point in your playing career, you will need to put in many hours every day, for several years at least, if you want to become an impressive, well-rounded professional player. If you're not ready to do that now, you can at least continue to improve steadily if you play for a little while every single day, no exceptions.

2. Don't give up.
The other big thing is not to give up. As a beginner you are not qualified to judge your future potential as a musician, so, if this is something you want to do, give it a chance to happen by continuing to do it. Any person of normal physical abilities should be able to play drums functionally at a professional level given time, a considerable amount of practice, and playing experience. This means you.

3. Talent is overrated.
Playing music comes easier to some people than others, but what actually matters is interest, persistence, and a reasonable work ethic (at least when it comes to music). Declaring yourself to be “not talented enough” is not an excuse for not being able to play the drums.

4. Be music-centric.
Everything you do in drumming follows from music you love, and music you play, so listen a lot, and play with people a lot. For all of the fascinating drum junk available to look at and practice— it's boring. Without any musical context and meaning, it's empty stuff, and you're going to get bored with it. Being in love with music is what will hook you to continue playing and improving for the rest of your life.

5. Learn to read music.
It's strange to have to mention this, but this is the Internet, and everyone seems to think they can learn just by watching videos. Video demonstrations are fine, but in 2014, real drummers read. With a little bit of familiarity, you will take in information a lot faster by reading it off the page.

6.  Be around other musicians
Being around other drummers, you're always thinking about the drums, and seeing what other people are doing well, or badly; and it fills out a lot of background knowledge you don't get by just playing alone in your basement and looking at web videos. Non-drumming musicians are the people you're going to actually play music with, so you need to be friends with them to have a chance to do that.

7. Take every playing opportunity.
When you get a chance to play music with people, take it, no matter what. I don't care if it's a country gig, a church gig, a musical that looks really bad, or playing triangle in junior orchestra; it doesn't matter. If your friend who doesn't play bass very well wants to come over and play with you, say yes. Say yes to everything.

8. Playing is sacrosanct.
Treat all playing situations seriously, no matter how bad you think it is, or how much everyone around you thinks its a joke. You don't have to be a jerk about it, showing off how serious you are; just be focused on doing the best, most professional job you can, no matter what. You can joke about how messed up the situation was after you're done playing, after the gig or rehearsal.

Monday, December 08, 2014

70s west coast drum corps guys: do you remember this one?

“Have another beer, have another beer, roll another joint and smoke it, smoke it”?

It's a funny little onomatopoeic 70s thing that goes with a roll exercise, which I overheard an instructor do, once— I think it's probably a Santa Clara Vanguard thing, possibly a University of Oregon marching band thing.

I think it's a coda for a longer exercise, possibly?

Anyone remember this little piece of oral history?

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Snare drum workout in 6/8

I'm all about the one-page workouts these days, so here's another one, for snare drum, in 6/8.

The first goal is just to be able to play each of the patterns individually; probably some of the later ones will hang some people up. After you can play them all at a moderate tempo, then you can begin doing the actual drill, playing each exercises 2, 4, or 8 times, and going on to the next one without stopping, all the way down the page. You could do that every day for a week or two, upping the tempo as you feel like it, then move on to something else.

Sticking is alternating, unless otherwise indicated. Play the drags open, with two notes per stroke. Observe the dynamics carefully— grace notes should be played 1" off the drum, unaccented notes and drags ~2-5", and accented notes ~4-10". Personally, I do most of my snare drum practice with very low heights these days, with 2-4" taps  and 4-6" accents. Remember, 6/8 is a compound meter counted in 2— there are two triplet-feel beats per measure— so set your metronome to click on the first and fourth 8th notes of every measure.

Get the pdf

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Micheal Shrieve on Whiplash

I'm not going to say anything more about the new hit drumming/jazz education melodrama Whiplash until I've actually seen it, but I will let you know about another great drummer, Michael Shrieve, sharing his thoughts about it with Dave Segel, at The Stranger. Editing/commentary in brackets is mostly Segal's, partly mine. I've compressed it slightly— do go read the whole thing.

I was excited to see Whiplash, of course, because it's about drumming, but I had several issues with it. That approach to teaching [physically and verbally abusive, dictatorial] is something I really don't care for. I think it's more damaging than helpful. It's [fine] to be inspiring and tough, but it's gotta be done with love, a different kind of attitude. 
[...]music's not a competition. 
As far as [Miles Teller's character, Andrew Nieman's] technique and the portrayal of him working so hard that he's bleeding, that's completely unrealistic. [...] You can't get speed without relaxing. You can't get speed and control with your hands like that, getting bloody. If you're getting blisters, you're doing something wrong. It's not to say you're not going to get them when you're learning. But you're holding them too tight if you're doing that. 
[...]let's say you have [a great band director;] he's gotta be strict and tough to get a great performance like that [... b]ut all those kids loved him, you know? They're not in fear. Music is supposed to be joyous, but of course you have to work at it. And I know it's the same with classical piano competitions for kids and violins. I think that that sort of approach is probably more abusive with piano and young kids going to those competitions and going for those placements with certain schools. It's very competitive. Jazz is a personal journey, too. You've gotta love that music and work really hard. That kind of teacher is a detriment to any path of improving in a way that brings joy and life to the music. 

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Philly Joe starts a chorus: The Theme

Another micro-transcription looking at how Philly Joe Jones plays the beginning of a chorus. The tune is The Theme, from the Miles Davis album Miles (what it says on the cover), or The New Miles Davis Quintet (how it's usually cataloged). This is what Joe plays when the horns come in after the bass solo, at 1:40. The opening roll is on the last measure of the bass solo:

It's a variation on the same sort of thing he was doing last time, with a fill before the top of the chorus, a strong crash on beat 1, with accents around beat 4 of that measure, and the next measure. The accents and the comping generate a lot of momentum; it was hard to end the transcription where I did. He doesn't play the hihat consistently until the third measure after the double bar, so I left it out at the beginning; we're really looking at Joe being an arranger here, and the consistent hihat in bar 3 of the new chorus really acts as an arrangement element.

This is another record you definitely own, but here:

Monday, December 01, 2014

Page o' coordination: basic — 01

This whole Pages o' coordination series has been something of a nightmare of difficulty; they've been for advanced players, at least. I thought I'd see what I could do on the other end of the spectrum, so here's a fairly basic page of left hand independence within a rock or funk feel in 4/4.

Both measures of each exercise are the same, which may seem to be a pointless way of presenting the patterns; the reason for it is that I want you to able to read through the barline naturally, without jumping back to the beginning every measure— I've had some students put a mental break between beat 4 and the following beat 1 for that reason. And I just don't like to be exclusively thinking of music in single measures. As you practice, then, move your eye through both measures of the exercise during the first few repetitions, then memorize the pattern.

If you play your right hand on the cymbal, you can try doing the left hand moves, moving to a different drum on every note or every double (on the ones where there are notes a 16th note apart), or moving strictly on every single note, splitting the doubles between drums. If you want to do something with your left foot, in that case, go ahead— play it on beats 2 and 4, or on all four beats, or on the 8th notes, or on all the &s. Don't feel obligated to cover them all— we want to make a reasonable-length workout out of this, not grind you into the dirt covering every last possible thing in the world.

Get the pdf

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Very occasional quote of the day: figuring things out

Elvin Jones on Haskell Harr and learning the rudiments:
“I did go through [Harr's snare drum book] as a matter of fact. I went to public school in Pontiac, Michigan, so I didn't do anything extra. [...] I didn't have that advantage of being able to take private lessons, so I had to get everything that I had, at least up to that point, for myself. [...] So I got that book and that night I went home and sat over it and pored over it and read it from cover to cover, trying to make some sense out of it. Finally, all of a sudden I understood what it was. I knew exactly what it meant, what all of it (meant) from page one to the back cover. I pondered over that the next day, and so I learned how to do it. In two days, I mastered that book, and the rudiments.”

From an old interview in Percussive Notes— it now appears that you must be a member of PAS to access the archives, and I've let my membership lapse. What an excellent time to renew or join

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Survival chops: triplets and 16th notes, accented

Here's a page of stuff that should be handy, with some accented 8th note triplets and 16th notes in 3/4 time. Playing 16th notes at the end of a run of triplets is something I do a lot; it's rather an Elvin Jones thing, and it gives you a lot of forward motion into the next phrase. It's like a little accelerando.

Putting them at the end of a three-beat phrase of mostly-triplets, as we have them here, is also helpful because it lets you start and end with the right hand. On the Internet it's an article of faith that you “have” to be proficient enough that it doesn't matter which hand you use, but in real playing it takes mental energy to end with the left hand, or to start with the left hand so you can end on the right.

Use an alternating sticking, starting with either hand. On the drum set, you'll use them most starting and ending with the right hand. I've also given some optional stickings; or you can pencil in your own.

Playing the patterns on the drums, you can put the accents on the cymbal, plus bass drum:

You can also stick the 16th notes either of these ways, with bass drum on the end:

Get the pdf

Monday, November 24, 2014

Erskine on Whiplash!

If you don't know your subject well enough
to convey the real emotion of it, there's always this. 
This is fun— they've interviewed Peter Erskine in re: the new smash sensation amazingly great jazz drumming education movie which is sweeping the nation, Whiplash:

Have you ever encountered an educator like JK Simmons's band director character before?

I've played under the baton of stern and demanding conductors, as well as the critical ears of some pretty tough bandleaders. I've always experienced equal amounts of praise and criticism from the toughest of them.

That's been my experience as well, more or less— the toughness is often balanced with something else, not necessarily praise. This comment from Erskine is very significant:

I'm disappointed that any viewer of the film will not see the joy of music-making that's almost always a part of large-ensemble rehearsals and performances. Musicians make music because they LOVE music. None of that is really apparent in the film, in my opinion.

He has some similar complaints to the ones I made about the movies early promo stuff:

What did you think of Teller's performance as a drummer?

It's a movie, and the actor did a good job. The drummer(s) who did the pre-record did a very fine job. Teller is a good actor. He's a so-so drummer: his hands are a mess in terms of technique, holding the sticks, etc., and no true fan of Buddy Rich would ever set up his or her drums in the manner that Teller's character does in the film. A 10" tom? Highly-angled? With a crash cymbal at that angle? Nope, doesn't wash. Besides, that "winning" drum solo performance at the end of the film is a very passé sort of thing. If the film takes place "now," any drummer playing like that at a competitive jazz festival --especially one in New York City -- would get a cymbal thrown at their feet by the ghost of Papa Jo Jones, or I'd do it for him. Now I know how professional photographers must feel when they see an actor portraying a scene like a photo shoot where the photographer never bothers to focus any of the shots he or she is taking.

Do go read the entire interview. H/T to Mike Prigodich for the link.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Philly Joe plays an entrance: Oleo

Lots of action here this week, but here's a little something for you... the new Book of Intros is still on its way... finishing is always the hard part, and there's always more to do than you think...

Here's a very targeted transcription, to get one important piece of information: how someone comes in, and sets up a chorus of horn soloing. This is Philly Joe Jones's entrance with sticks on the second chorus of Coltrane's solo on Oleo, from the Miles Davis Quintet album Relaxin'. He plays a fill on the snare drum on the last measure of the first chorus, and plays some big accents with the cymbal and bass drum when the time starts:

The punches on 1 and 4 at the top of a chorus are kind of a universal thing in jazz, but they also seem very Philly Joe. He makes a big impression here, but he's not playing extremely loud; the accents in the last measures are lighter than the ones at the beginning. At this tempo, he plays the 8th notes completely straight on the lead-in on the snare drum, and swings them slightly when he's playing time. He does play the hihat, but sporadically, and it's not really important for our purposes here, so I left it out.

You own the record, but here's the audio anyway. The transcribed measures are after 1:50:

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Things I learned at a Billy Mintz concert and clinic, and hanging at Revival Drums

Get it here.
I already knew this, but I was reminded of how great is the distance between things we can talk about and write about with drumming, and the actual music itself. The actual music is a living, instant process, and practicing it, and studying it, is just sort of nipping around the edges of understanding it. It's like science is to the natural world; it doesn't claim to be able to tell the whole truth about everything, just about things it can say kind of for sure based on its own method. So we talk about the things we can, given the limitations of our media— language, the Internet, the software, and an imperfect user, me— and we don't talk about the things we can't. And what we can't talk about is a lot of stuff. It's almost the whole real thing.

So I won't try to say a lot about the concert, except that there was significant music happening. The players' patience was striking. They were not always in a hurry to get to the next note, and certainly not to get to some big, obvious, emotional payoff; but the music was never boring, or especially long-winded. The tunes, I think all by Mintz, were beautiful— something Monk-like about them, which was reinforced by the playing of Roberta Piket, the pianist, without anyone being overly referential or obvious about it.

It made me realize that some other music which I had been immersing myself in for another post, is total f__ing jive bullshit. Suddenly it's about as admirable to me as someone delivering a truly impressive time-share sales pitch. I can't have the music be just about the players' talent, and how much stuff they know.

Other thoughts:

Billy had a funny cymbal set up with two 70s-vintage Paiste 2002 20" sizzle cymbals— maybe one was a ride and the other a “medium”, a crash-ride. I thought he picked them out of Revival's stock, but they were his. They're not light cymbals, and the sound is a little different than you normally hear in a jazz context, but they had a nice tonal thing going on between them.

Everyone needs to buy more CDs. Can we all agree to make it a habit? Go to a show > buy a CD. Here, go order a Billy record.

I finally found a budget (well, mid-range) cymbal that not only doesn't suck, but that is actually really good: Istanbul's Xist line. The quality of the sound is somewhere between an A and a K. Jose at Revival informs me that they're actually consistently good— unlike the Dream brand, which is in the same approximate price range, and is sometimes great, but mostly not.

Revival Drums is another reason why Portland rocks. Going there really makes me feel like I need to add about $1500 per annum to my gear budget. Highlights: the cymbals below, a really perfect early-80s Yamaha Recording Custom set for $1800, a yellow-sparkle Rogers double-bass set from the 60s, a rare Yamaha floor tom with a tensioning pedal for doing talking drum-like effects. Really surprised no one has snapped that up...

Another reason Portland rocks is the company Cymbal & Gong— Revival was carrying several of their— or his, I think the company is one guy— hand-hammered, K-type cymbals. I believe the cymbals are manufactured in Turkey, and C&G hand selects the ones that get their brand, and patinas them. They also have seconds that don't get patina-ed, and are cheaper. It sounds almost like a miniature version of the old Gretsch warehouse in New York here. Jose says Matt Chamberlain, the guy from Tortoise, and a bunch of other big rock people are buying these. I smell a CSD! feature here...

Anyone in Portland who missed the show can see John Gross and Mintz play a duo concert at Revival on Wednesday night, the 19th.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Daily best music in the world: earlyish Steve Gadd

Here's some really great funk drumming by Steve Gadd, from 1975, on a fairly obscure album: Mobius, by Cedar Walton. Gadd invented or perfected much of the drumming language that is now usually just called “funk”, which has come to permeate all of pop music, and his playing is so familiar it's become too easy to think of him almost as a stylist. Then you hear this and you hear how great he is, and everything that is missing from everything else in the world that came after him.

These two tracks really cover about 90% of what you need to know about funk drumming:

Another one after the break:

Friday, November 14, 2014

Billy Mintz clinic and concert in Portland TOMORROW

I don't know how many local readers I have, but if you're in Portland, you should go see Billy Mintz give a drum clinic, followed by a concert with his quartet tomorrow evening— follow the links for details. Billy is an amazing drummer somewhat in the Paul Motian vein, if there is such a thing: very free, very... painterly is a word you could use. He will often play like he doesn't know how to play the drums, but his stuff is actually very together. He's also the author of the drum book Different Drummers, which is an out-of-print legend, like Bob Moses's Drum Wisdom.

Dahlgren & Fine workout in 3/4

Here's a triplet workout in 3/4, using 4-Way Coordination by Marvin Dahlgren and Elliot Fine. The idea is fairly obvious, and has certainly occurred to a lot of people, but it might help for me to suggest some parameters.

The complete workout may not be immediately attainable for everyone, and you certainly won't be able to do it exhaustively in one session, but any part of it you complete— even just a warm-up— at any tempo, will be an accomplishment.

Using 4WC, play each four-8th note pattern by itself, repeated, from these lines:
p. 4, lines 7 and 8.
p. 5, lines 3, 4, and 9.
p. 6, lines 1, 9 and 10.

These are the lines that work the best for me with this exercise. But you can use any set of two lines of your choice: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, or 7-8, and so on. Doing the exercises this way covers all of the inversions, so there's no need to do all of the exercises in each section. And don't work yourself to death covering every last variation I suggest here— if you just make a reasonable-length workout out of it, and do it consistently for a reasonable period of days or weeks, you'll get what you need out of it.

The exercise:

Play each four-note pattern in a triplet rhythm, in 3/4 time. This pattern from page 4:

Becomes this:

When you can play one exercise this way 2-4 times perfectly at your chosen tempo, move on to the next pattern.

There are a whole raft of warmups and practice suggestions after the break:

Thursday, November 13, 2014

NAKED CLICKBAIT: ten pieces of drumming equipment you should throw away TODAY!

I don't know, I just felt like writing an inane Buzzfeed-style listicle a few weeks ago, and I'm tired of looking at this in my drafts folder. Please don't be offended if one of your favorite things is listed here:

Don't do this.
Budget/student quality cymbals
I've pointed out many times that old, filthy, pro-quality A. Zildjians and early Sabian AAs are now dirt cheap. The only excuses for buying student cymbals are embarrassingly horrible: you like the metal to be shiny, you like for all the logos to be the same, or you are a disturbing virginity fetishist, and cannot use products that have been touched by human hands.

Double-bass pedal
Nobody wants to hear that noise, unless you're in a Metal band. Which you should quit if you're in. Go join a Buddhist monastery, find a shaman to lead you in an ayahuasca session, exorcise whatever demons are causing your pain, and learn to love. Especially, learn to love music the sole purpose of which is not to arouse feelings of intense negativity. It all starts with the pedal. Get rid of the pedal and you break the spell. And Cruise Ship Drummer! becomes a little more openly anti-Metal...

Third, fourth, fifth tom tom
Once the band is playing, people just hear a high sound and a low sound. This isn't the 70s— nobody is leaving spaces in their arrangements for big melodic tom fills. So let's end this charade. Special note: Wanted: 13" Sonor Phonic tom tom, or 16" floor tom, black wrap.

10" tom tom
Steve Gadd called, and he wants his personal thing back. Gadd is, of course, wonderful, and his distinctive, punchy little 10" tom tom won everyone's hearts back in the late 70s, but it really is a specialty sound. And the way you set up the drums, the 10 is always right there, so you're always playing this extra-high, bongo sound; and I am not adopting some weird-looking set up just to keep me from playing that drum too much. Just lose the thing. Special note: Wanted: 10" Sonor Phonic tom tom, black wrap.

See, yeah... no.
Second, third China-type
It's extremely rare that anyone remarks on the absence of a Chinese cymbal on a gig. So what are you doing with three of them? See the above thing about the double-bass pedal.

Vic Firth SD-4 Combo drum sticks
Every jazz drummer in the world uses these, but for my taste they deliver a thin tone, and they're too short—  playing above mf, they make you wave your arms around, and use more force than I would like. Try larger maple sticks— you can still play quietly with them. [2020 UPDATE: my views on smaller sticks have moderated somewhat since this post. I still don't like the Combos.]

Piccolo or “popcorn” snare drums
The sound of your snare drum should not send your recording engineer lunging to figure out which piece of outboard gear has just begun spewing random digital artifacts. Play a 14". Or a deep 13". And tune it normally. When in doubt, go to your record library, listen to your Police albums, and if your drum sounds significantly higher and lacking-in-substance than Stewart Copeland's, and you are not making a Reggae album, you are way out of lineSpecial note re: piccolos: the year 1990 called, and it wants etc etc... Special note re: popcorn snares: the year 2005 called, blah blah blah...

Drum rack
What are you still doing with that thing? Racks went out with mullets, wine coolers, and Winger. Call the dump and have them tow away that IROC Z-28 Camaro while you're at it.

Goofy, specialty hardware in general
If it's not covered by the cheapest end of the Yamaha line, you don't need it. With very few exceptions. They don't make a flat base cymbal stand, so, OK, if it's not also covered by the next-to-cheapest Gibraltar line (their dead-cheapest stuff is real swill), you don't need it. And no building clever things with multi-clamps! What matters is what you're going to play, and how.

Just get something
that looks like this.
That goes for extra-ridiculous bass drum pedals, too
Aside from a few new gimmicky things for playing Metal, which you should not own— or play— all pedals are the same today. Two posts, vertical spring on the side, little swinging cam, possibly chain drive? Sometime in the early 90s, everyone just said eff it, people, we're all going to sell slight variations on the Frank Ippolito/Al Duffy Gretsch Floating Action pedal from the 40s— that's the pedal that became the Camco, which became the DW 5000, and then everything else. For years all companies used a variation of that design for their crappiest pedal, until customers realized that their fancier, proprietary designs totally ate, and stopped buying them, which led to the great, late-80s fancy, proprietary bass drum pedal design die-off, after which the only thing left standing was the Floating Action design. Now everything from First Act to Axis uses the same mechanism. Pass on the Axis, or whatever is the boutique pedal du jour, and just buy the cheapest Yamaha pedal.

Bonus for drum corps people: Kevlar heads
They sound like garbage, and have stolen your balls. Break into the Ludwig warehouse and steal their remaining stock of Silver Dot heads. Tenors, get Remo Pinstripes. You will instantly have triple the power of every other drum line in the world.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

VOQOTD: rudiments just made up by a couple of guys

Well, not exactly: many or most of them have been in use for a couple of hundred years at least, but the 26 Standard Drum Rudiments as a thing... read this letter to Percussive Notes by William F. Ludwig, Sr. (1879-1973), written a few months before his death, 41 years ago— he's writing in response to an opinion on updating the rudiments, but that's not important:

When I [!!!] established the 26 Rudiments as a standard system of drumming for the American school drummers in 1923, with Sanford A. Moeller [!!!], I did not imagine that they would last forever. But the system has held up very well all these 48 [!!!] years,  and it has proven itself by building the world's best drummers. I believe this is quite a record and naturally would like to see it continued. In the early 1920's no one was around who was even interested in establishing a uniform system of drumming and I felt it my duty, knowing what rudiments had done for me. It took many years to establish the 26 Standard American Rudiments and it was expensive [!!!] but the leading percussionists of that day stood by me.

The exclamation points are mine. As with a lot of things that seem carved in stone by God, with the beard, robes, and everything, it was really just a couple of guys deciding on an idea, and then marketing it to the point that everyone accepted it. I'm also always amazed at how compressed the history of American drumming is; in the 48 year span he mentions, we go from Baby Dodds to Jack Dejohnette— about the first decade of either of their careers.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Reed method for 16th notes in jazz— reading 8th notes

Continuing our previous Reed interpretation for comping with 16th notes in jazz, this time using the 8th note section of Syncopation— pp. 10-11, or “Lesson 4” in the new edition.

The written rhythms on those pages are 8th notes and quarter notes; we'll be giving the 8th notes a dotted 8th/16th interpretation:

Just so we're clear, that is not a normal way of playing swing 8th notes; as a rule they should have a more rounded, triplety feel most often. If a horn player played a Charlie Parker tune interpreting the 8th notes with that dotted 8th/16th feel, he would sound unbelievably hokey, and you would fire him. So we're really using this interpretation only to generate drum ideas to go with the swing cymbal pattern, which may have that 16th note feel, at certain tempos, or where a certain vibe is called for; or for accompanying soloists using 16th notes. It's a fairly fine distinction. I just don't want you going into your next lesson with Joe Chambers and saying “Cruise Ship Drummer! told me to play swing 8th notes as a dotted 8th and 16th!”

We will be using that cymbal rhythm, more or less strictly. Play it accurately, but try to keep a legato feel:

To walk through the steps of the first interpretation, then: when reading the first exercise in Reed, p. 10:

We'll ignore the bass drum line, and play that main rhythm as follows:

In fact, the exercises are written in this form on pp. 12-13 of Syncopation, so you can use those pages if you want. But the next step of this method will require you to translate the 8th notes that way, so you may as well get used to it now, while the reading is easy.

We'll be orchestrating that on the drums as follows: play the exercise rhythm on the bass drum, and fill in the inside notes of the dotted 8th/16th rhythm— the e-&— on the snare drum. Fill out the written quarter notes as we did in the previous entry— in this example, the es and as:

Add the cymbal pattern, and hihat, as above [There is a typo here— there is a missing snare note on the a of 2.]:

More examples and another exercise after the break:

Friday, November 07, 2014

“Whiplash“ reviews coming in

The Keanu firing his gun up in the
air and going AHHH scene of the movie.
Well, the sensational jazz education/drumming melodrama Whiplash is now in theaters at last. You'll recall I abused it pretty severely before its general release, based on what most people would consider to be thin evidence— the howler-laden advance clips and photos, and the things people were writing about it. The reviews are starting to come in, and if Rotten Tomatoes's “Tomato-meter” is to be trusted, the thing is a SMASH HIT with the critics. In how it actually handles its subject matter, it is, to all appearances, living up to my expectations.

In case you haven't heard, it's a movie about a young drummer with the modest artistic vision of being as big as Buddy Rich, a jazz drummer the filmmakers have heard of.  He spends most of the movie on the losing side of a battle of egos with an abusive jazz studies professor.

People have sent me a couple of reviews which are worth reading. First, from Richard Brody at the New Yorker (h/t to Ed Pierce for the link):

The movie’s very idea of jazz is a grotesque and ludicrous caricature.

That's... not a good start.

In “Whiplash,” the young musicians don’t play much music. Andrew isn’t in a band or a combo, doesn’t get together with his fellow-students and jam—not in a park, not in a subway station, not in a café, not even in a basement. He doesn’t study music theory, not alone and not [...] with his peers. There’s no obsessive comparing of recordings and styles, no sense of a wide-ranging appreciation of jazz history—no Elvin Jones, no Tony Williams, no Max Roach, no Ed Blackwell. In short, the musician’s life is about pure competitive ambition—the concert band and the exposure it provides—and nothing else. The movie has no music in its soul...

Like, I'm pretty that firing his gun up in the air
to express raw emotion is one thing a highly-
trained FBI agent would never do. It's pretty much 
the last thing he would ever do with his weapon.
Brody addresses a scene I commented on before:

The core of the movie is the emotional and physical brutality that Fletcher metes out to Andrew, in the interest (he claims) of driving him out of self-satisfaction and into hard work. Fletcher levels an ethnic slur at Andrew, who’s Jewish; he insults his father, smacks him in the face repeatedly to teach him rhythm, hazes him with petty rules that are meant to teach military-style obedience rather than musical intelligence. [...] 
To justify his methods, [the abusive professor] Fletcher tells [our young egomaniac drummer] Andrew that the worst thing you can tell a young artist is “Good job,” because self-satisfaction and complacency are the enemies of artistic progress. It’s the moment where [the director] Chazelle gives the diabolical character his due, and it’s utter, despicable nonsense. There’s nothing wrong with “Good job,” because a real artist won’t be gulled or lulled into self-satisfaction by it: real artists are hard on themselves, curious to learn what they don’t know and to push themselves ahead.

Do follow the link and read the full review.

After the break, Brooklyn drummer John Colpitts, aka Kid Millions, has some things to say about it:

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

The useful from the useless

Here's something I've been meaning to get to. This question— edited slightly— came up on the Drummerworld discussion forum today:

I keep finding tons of new material on line, YouTube in particular, and am constantly practicing different things that I almost always forget (is it just me being thick?). How can I organize everything? Do people really assimilate all that amount of material and move on? Most of it seems to be— or is presented as— fundamental for your drumming. How can I discern useful from useless?

Great question: what are we supposed to do with all this drum crap, with which the Internet is literally teeming? Let's take this in parts:

A) Be working on your basic thing.

This is your foundation for judging if materials are any good for you, and for making sure you can get through them.

1. Learn some fundamentals. For novices, understand basic rhythm— like, be able to count and play pp. 4-31 of Syncopation on the snare drum. Be able to play moderate-speed alternating singles, doubles, and paradiddles. Be able to read basic things in 4/4, 3/4, and 6/8. Get a few lessons, and buy a beginning snare drum book, and a beginning rock book, and try to figure them out. You may be able to find similar things on line, but with a published book at least you know the author was compelled to give you some kind of coherent, progressive vision. No online product is a substitute for an in-person lesson with a competent teacher.

2. Be playing music. If you are already playing, it's easier to tell if certain given practice materials are going to help you with that. If you can play a rock beat without falling off the drum throne, you are ready to play music with people.

3. Also be watching music in person. Fifty guys on YouTube showing you the couple of flashy things they are actually good at is not a realistic picture of being a drummer. Hell, neither is a video of a good or great drummer showing you whatever. Going to a show and seeing how the drummer— any drummer— plays all the music in a 60-minute set is a realistic picture of being a drummer. Then you can judge better what materials are going to help you do that thing.

More after the break:

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

VOQOTD: Dejohnette on chops

The first of many valuable things I'm sure we'll be mining from the Percussive Notes archives. Here Jack Dejohnette, interviewed by Charlie Perry, says something we hopefully already knew, but which bears repeating:

P: You have an excellent technique. Did you devote a lot of time to developing it?

D: Let me put it this way: When I practiced, or played a gig, I tried for musical ideas. I wasn't out to be just a good technician but a whole drummer, a musician. My technique grew along with everything else.

P: In other words, you developed the appropriate technique and drumistic skills that were necessary to execute your ideas and function as a musician.

D: That was the idea.

P: Too bad more drummers don't follow that line of reasoning. Some of them, particularly the younger drummers, the students, become so involved with technique that they lose sight of the music. They function as technicians rather than musicians.

D: Yeah. Well, some cats use technique for an ego trip. You know, they play a lot of freaky things just to stand out. That's because a lot of people (audiences) are floored by “flash.” They say, “Wow, ain’t that something!” But sometimes it’s really nothing.

P: Just a bunch of notes played fast without rhyme or reason.

D: That’s about it! Another thing is that some drummers think the faster they play, the more they say. It’s like a cat who talks real fast and uses a lot of fancy words but talks nonsense. What the drummer, or any musician, has to say, should fit into the musical conversation. If it doesn’t, it shouldn't be said.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Percussive Notes archives online, and FREE

Well, the Internet just got a whole lot smarter about the drums, and percussion in general. I'm very excited to see that the Percussive Arts Society is now posting the archives of their quarterly publication Percussive Notes free online— you can download pdfs of their old articles. For many years, Percussive Notes and Modern Drummer were basically the only periodicals with any serious information about actually playing the drums, PN coming from a professional/academic perspective, and MD being geared towards amateurs and students, as well as pros. This is a sizable chunk of the total available literature of drumming, and it's now a) available, and b) free.

All professionals and serious students should be eating this up. In just a few minutes of browsing I found a bunch of great stuff:

An interview with Kenny Clarke, and discussion of his career by Norbert Goldberg 
Developing Snare Drum Rolls by Sherman Hong 
Max Roach's drum solo on Jordu, transcribed by Paul Garretson 
Interview with Elvin Jones by Anthony George Bravos 
Polyrhythms: Triplets in 4/4 Jazz Time by Peter Donald

...and much, much more— we'll be seeing a whole lot more of them in the future...

Sunday, November 02, 2014

A Reed method for 16th notes in jazz — reading the quarter note sections

Over the course of a few posts I'll break down my method for developing jazz comping with 16th notes, using Syncopation by Ted Reed. 16th notes are used a lot in jazz, and drummers neglecting them can lead to fairly one-dimensional playing. In jazz this rhythm needs to be legato; if you articulate your 16ths the way you do in other kinds of music, they will sound quite bad. Play them the way the horn does on Confirmation:

First we'll look at some things you can do with the quarter note sections of Reed. We'll be ignoring the written bass drum part— the stems-down part— so any of the three two-page quarter note lessons will do. We will play the ride pattern with a dotted-8th/16th rhythm; again, don't play it too staccato. Try to make it flow. It looks funny when you see it written; this used to be a standard way to write and play the pattern, but you don't see it much any more:

The first two interpretations are straightforward: play the above time pattern along with the written melody line (the stems-up part in Reed) on the bass drum, while filling in a couple of different 16th note rhythms on the snare drum. For the examples, we'll use this written exercise in Reed:

In the book that's one measure of page 4 (Lesson One, in the new edition), line 7. Reading that exercise without playing the left hand, the time feel plus our bass drum part would look like this:

First, fill in the &-as on with the snare:

Then fill in the es and as:

Much more after the break: