Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Art Blakey in a nutshell

Play it strong.
Hard at work with new record stuff and next-tour stuff this week, so we'll be on light posting for a moment. But here's a little something from the Art Blakey web site: a brief style analysis of Blakey's playing, written by Chip Stern, and originally published in Modern Drummer in 1984 along with Stern's Blakey interview.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Groove o' the day: Elvin Jones Latin

We want to get a sense of the texture of this groove, and just writing out one time through of it would be misleading, so here's the whole intro from I Wish You Love, from Grant Green's Street of Dreams album, on Blue Note. Elvin Jones is the drummer.

There was an Afro-Cuban style somewhere in this groove's ancestry, but now it's just Elvin Jones Latin Jazz. He puts a little bit of a swing feel on it, and plays it very loose— not all of the notes written as unisons land exactly together. Listen, and try to cop the feel. Elvin tends to lean on the &s a little bit, or a lot, throughout his playing. Here he plays the bass drum strongly and the floor tom lightly.

Audio after the break: 

Friday, January 24, 2014

2013 Book of the Blog now available!

Now I remember why it takes me so long to do these things; it's a lot of work, even when 98% of the content is already written. But! The 2013 Book of the Blog is finished, and now available for purchase.

It's 122 pages long, and includes all of last year's downloads, including a very robust set of Pages o' Coordination, in 3/4, 6/8, 5/4, and more; transcriptions of Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Frankie Dunlop, Philly Joe Jones, Al Jackson, and others; and just a ton of other good stuff dealing with odd meters, polyrhythms, metric modulation, jazz, funk, Afro-Cuban, and Brazilian drumming. It's a prodigious volume of stuff that should keep you (and your students) busy for a long time.

Now, it's true, you could just download them and print them yourself, but where's the fun in that? It will probably cost more than the book in just printer ink, and you won't have this sweet-looking book on your stand. Plus, purchasing the book supports the blog, and helps us continue doing what we do. Be a participant— get your copy today.

By the way, the original, 2011 BOTB is now discounted 15%— get it along with the new book, and save on shipping.

Oh, I don't know...

Probable dialogue: “Come on, swing,
So, I hear the big hit at this year's Sundance Film Festival was Whiplash, a movie about the tumultuous relationship of an abusive, hard-driving jazz drum teacher and his student, and the shatteringly emotional, high-stakes world of jazz education... 

Now, I've been... ahm... I... gaha... yeah. Let's everybody settle down... try to keep it together. 

I guess any mainstream acknowledgement of the existence of jazz, and that playing music is a thing people do, is a good thing, but I have to say, I am cringing from the get-go here. I look at the still, and all I see is a very sympathetic drum teacher understandably screaming at his student for not knowing how to set up his drums, and for having just rotten-looking technique. (Alternate probable dialogue: “You play like an actor who picked up the drums four months ago for a role in some crummy made-for-cable-melodrama!!!”) 

This is a muscular and accomplished work of kinetic cinema built around two tremendous acting performances, and it’s really about teaching and obsession and the complicated question of how to nurture excellence and where the nebulous boundary lies between mentorship and abuse. 
Chazelle [the director] clearly understands the intensely competitive world of music schools in general and jazz education in particular,

Italics mine. College was intensely something, but I don't know if competitive is the first adjective that springs to mind. There was a little bit of that, and there was always some judging of abilities going on among the students, but mostly everybody was just really into music. Maybe I went to the wrong schools.   

but “Whiplash” is about jazz in almost exactly the same way that “Black Swan” is about ballet. Miles Teller (of “21 & Over” and “The Spectacular Now”) really does play the drums, and that’s where his character, a socially awkward 19-year-old conservatory student named Andrew, is most at home. (I’m pretty sure a professional drummer is used for the most difficult passages, but Teller’s pretty good.)

No, he's not. I saw the photo.

The musical performances in the film are intensely compelling, and drive the drama forward to a large extent, just as the big game drives a football movie or opening night drives a backstage musical. Chazelle also captures the fact that music is always a physical endeavor, a fact exaggerated by the demands of the drum kit; Andrew literally sheds blood, sweat and tears in his pursuit of greatness.

Well, Andrew is an asshole. If he's in this for “greatness.” Maybe I could stand to watch a real musician beat some decent artistic and human values into this kid for 90 minutes, after all...

More after the break:

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Lighting round: four new books

New to me, anyway— I think these have all been around awhile. I thought I'd give my rapid-fire opinion on some things I just got in the mail:

Daily Drumset Workout by Claus Hessler
We'll see about this one. It came highly recommended by a good professional drummer friend, so I'm going to give it ample opportunity to prove itself, despite my feeling a little mixed about it on first glance. It nominally consists of about 100 two-page workouts (one page exercises, one page notes); I see that many small differences which could be explained verbally are given their own fully-written-out workout, so I call it quite a bit fewer than that, actually. Many of the entries appear to consist of written-out versions of things normally done with Syncopation, which may be good for some students, but which I ultimately do not dig. But the book is broken down into manageable portions, and appears to stay oriented in musical reality. Initial verdict: You could probably do worse than to let this command 20 minutes of your practice routine every day.

Odd Time Stickings by Gary Chaffee
An extension of Vol. 2 of Chaffee's Patterns series of books, and I daresay more useful. Gives practice phrases for his seven usual sticking patterns, in 3/4, 5/8, 5/4, 7/8, 11/8, 13/16, and 15/8. Even if you don't anticipate playing in many of those meters any time soon, with a little creativity, you can adapt the exercises to whatever meter and subdivision you choose by making the exercise part of a measure. For example, you can play an exercise in 3/4 as the least three beats of a measure of 4/4, and so on. Chaffee's stickings are few, and easy to play fast, making this an ideal book for getting your “Gospel chops”-type blazing fills together.

Understanding Clave and Clave Changes by Kevin Moore
Part of the Beyond Salsa series of books, which I was not familiar with before stumbling across it on Amazon— it looks like a pretty heavy series, and I'll be checking it out further. This book is a supplement aimed at musicians and non-musicians, explaining absolute beginning to advanced clave concepts, using conventional rhythmic notation, and a couple of varieties of “tabs”, and many recorded examples— both its own accompanying tracks and references to commercial recordings. I haven't had much of a chance to sit down with it yet. Looks good for fleshing out ideas that typically get covered in a page or two of other books, for learning the correct terminology, and, especially important to me, for learning what will get you into trouble with actual Salsa cats.

Mastering the Tables of Time by David Stanoch
Stanoch is a former student of Eliot Fine, who wrote the introduction here, and at once, this does look like an extension of Dahlgren and Fine's books— the format and ideas are very similar to things found in Four Way Coordination, Accent on Accents, and Dahlgren's Drum Set Control. Though I'm using their books on a daily basis these days, I do have reservations about using their stuff as the foundation of your playing— their logic is a little alien to a player's mental processes. MTTOT is maybe a little better than their books in that regard, and is especially good for helping students get the most out of an idea— it will help many to just recognize the idea in the licks they play in the first place. It's certainly more approachable than the other books I mentioned, and I do like that it takes some creativity to figure out what's hip about it.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Too triplety

Just a some thoughts on a few lines from the introduction to Ari Hoenig's book Systems

“In jazz or other triplet-based music, melodies which are written as eighth notes are often swung (played with triplet subdivisions). In this interpretation, the melody can fall only on the first or third triplet, but never on the second. After a while, this approach can create a limitation in your idea of swing. There was a time when the second note of the triplet was rarely played in jazz. Recently, however, it has become a more common part of the language and can be effectively used to build tension in the music. A large part of this book concentrates on hearing the second note of the triplet and understanding its correct placement.”

I would dispute the idea that jazz is triplet-based music, and that swing interpretation = playing a triplet subdivision. I would say it's triplet-compatible in a certain range of tempos, and interpretations, but that the triplets are incidental to the swing 8th notes. You can read more on that here.

As a practical matter, tempos are often too fast to be thinking about the whole triplet, and conceiving swing that way tends to bog down the time. Oh, hell, Bob Moses can say it better than I can— from his book Drum Wisdom:

“Perhaps some people have heard that jazz is based on triple meter or triplets, while rock and Latin music are based on duple meter or 8th notes. I think this distinction is a mistake and actually misleads people. The music I call “American groove music” is, for the most part, based on [8th notes]. There is a place for triplets, but [...]they're generally used on slower tempos.  
[...] Thinking of it as triplets clutters the bar; the more subdivide the beat, the more tendency there is to make the music slower.  
 [...] The tempo tends to come down a little when people play a lot of triplets, and the same thing can happen if you try to keep triplets going in your mind. [...] Even if you are not playing triplets, if you are thinking triplets, you are filling each beat with too many notes. By thinking 8th notes, be they [swing] or straight, you are leaving the music more open. You can still play some triplets if you want to; however, I advise you not to think triplets.”  

The large part of what I've been about with triplets is to be able to play them without stating them, if you can dig that. If you look at the common Syncopation methods, the goal is not to make perfectly-articulated triplets, it is to fill out the texture while playing a swing melody line consisting of quarter notes, 8th notes, and dotted and tied notes.

The middle of the triplet, in jazz, is a filler note, or part of a quarter note triplet. It also has some special functions: at certain tempos you could base a modulation to a Mingus double-time waltz on it. Or it can also act like a deliberately late-sounding hard shot in the ribs— a pretty harsh tension-builder. I once played with a Dutch Dixieland saxophonist who used that one a lot, and it was an effective device, but you don't want to hear it all night. And it can be used to take the groove into an African-sounding direction— the middle of the triplet is more of a felt thing in that music. But in general it's subordinate to the 8th notes, and I would be wary about making it a permanent feature of your swing conception. To me that creates a very artificial swing feel.

And finally, for all the time we spend working on triplets— and I do work on them a lot— I can't help but notice how much of what I (and the players around me) play is not triplets, and does not sit on a triplet grid. Listen for it.

[h/t to AA for inspiring the conversation, and post title.]

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

From the zone: The Wizard, by Albert Ayler

I've been preoccupied the last few days whipping into shape the 2013 Cruise Ship Drummer! Book of the Blog (available for order next week), so here's a quick little something from my old notebooks: a transcription of the tune The Wizard, by Albert Ayler, which I made in 1999 or so:

Here's the original audio, if you want to check my work. The album is Spiritual Unity, with Sunny Murray and Gary Peacock— if you're going to play free jazz, you need to have a smoking bassist with some classical chops:

Saturday, January 11, 2014

HFS III: the book reviewening

NOTE: This is something I started writing some months ago, never quite finished, and was unsure I even wanted to post it if I did. I'm putting it up now just to share some thoughts with a Drummerworld forum member. Please forgive its half-bakedness; maybe there's some entertaining reading here: 

A student loaned me his copies of both volumes of Mike Mangini's book Rhythm Knowledge, and they have rather blown my mind. Mostly not in a good way, I'm sorry to say. I hate to be critical of another drummer's work, but I also hate for drum students to get what I think is unhelpful information, so I'll go ahead and give these a frank review. I'm not trying to be negative, I'm really just trying to understand my reaction to this product, and the philosophy behind it.

I'll start by saying that, if you don't know who he is, Mangini is a rock drummer, and one of the leading guys in the current absolutely insane technical monster field of players, and likely has as much facility as any drummer who has ever lived. I am aware that he won the “World's Fastest Drummer” event at some point in the last few years. As a musician, he is probably best known as the current drummer for the prog-rock band Dream Theater. He also taught at Berklee for several years. Most of what I know about him as a musician I learned from watching this video, from the “WFD” event:

So: The books are unlike anything ever written for the drums, and are extremely ambitious in scope; he's basically attempting to rewrite the methodology of the instrument from scratch. Since there is a good amount of material dedicated to explaining fundamentals of rhythm and meter, including arguments in favor of things as basic as learning to read music, I assume that the books are geared towards novices, which is a good deal of my problem with them.

First: He is in dire need of an editor. There is a lot of text in these volumes, delivered in a frenetic style. He gets so far out into the weeds with parenthetical statements, explaining the meanings of ordinary words, and addressing his readers' presumed misconceptions, that points are completely lost. I'm all for people being exposed to far out concepts that seem incomprehensible on first exposure, but what is here is largely just incomprehensible, full stop. I know this subject well, and recognize most of the concepts he is attempting to communicate, but I have to work hard to grasp his explanations. One example:

To a Musician, especially a drummer, counting is the least intrusive method of connecting yourself to the otherwise intangible concept of time (something tangible is something we can physically feel). Since we use the muscles in our throats to count, we can feel, or be physically connected to, time. Counting also has the advantage of being a very accurate way to keep time. This is because of the relationship between effort and control. The more effort it takes to do something, the less control we have (try touching your nose with the tip of a pencil, then try touching your nose with the tip of a 100 bl. iron bar). Moving our throat muscles requires much less effort than moving our arm or leg muscles, so we can count more accurately than we can play. 

Communication issues aside, I don't know if agree with his premise, completely— most humans are well practiced in moving their arms and legs rhythmically, maybe not so much the voice. The voice connection is very important, not because the voice is better at rhythm, but because it is expressive; we want to make our playing more vocal, less mechanical. It's a small point, but the there are many more of these just-slightly-wrong-to-me things.

More after the break:

Thursday, January 09, 2014

DBMITW: my fat bass drum

Just sharing a little piece of my own development here. From the early 90's, until I finally submitted to the too-soft, you-don't-really-want-drums-on-this-gig-do-you craze of the mid-oughts, I played a 20" Gretsch bass drum with Remo Ambassadors on both sides, tuned wide open. In the 80's I had seen Art Blakey play with an obviously unmuffled drum, and Steve Smith came to the University of Oregon, with his shockingly wide-open 24" Sonor drums— he was still with Journey at the time, and had them tuned that way with them. But it was these two recordings that really got me using that as my thing all the time.

First, Roy Haynes playing with McCoy Tyner on an almost-lost tribute to Coltrane album from the late 80's— I used to listen to this track on cassette over and over walking from the practice annex on Figueroa to my apartment on Adams, when I was at USC:

And then the opening track on Where In The World?, a masterpiece Bill Frisell album from 1991. Coming at the end of the fusion era, Joey Baron's sound here, produced by Wayne Horvitz, was pretty extreme. Frisell had just moved to Seattle, and the Pacific Northwest was forming up in my mind as actually being a place, and as having some kind of regional aesthetic, and I gave up on LA, and moved to Portland:

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Another list of standards

On George Colligan's Jazz Truth blog there is a group email sent out by a student who sounds nearly as dickish as I was in college, with the heading:

The George Colligan Standards List...LEARN THEM IN ALL 12 KEYS!

1. Stella By Starlight
2. All The Things You Are
3. Autumn Leaves
4. What Is This Thing Called Love
5. There Will Never Be Another You
6. Tune Up
7. Cherokee
8. Beautiful Love
9. Alone Together
10. Body and Soul
11. Confirmation
12. Someday My Prince Will Come
13. Footprints
14. Bye Bye Blackbird
15. On Green Dolphin Street
16. There Is No Greater Love
17. I Love You
18. How High The Moon
19. Just Friends
20. If I Were A Bell
21. Night and Day
22. Au Privave
23. Moose The Mooche

It's a fair college-level list. Traditionally in Portland we would substitute Scrapple From The Apple for Moose, and possibly Blues For Alice or Cheryl for Au Privave. I would get Softly As In A Morning Sunrise in there just because. And I guess they're assuming that everyone learned Blue Bossa, Recordame, Song For My Father, Stolen Moments, All Of Me, Billie's Bounce, Solar, Caravan, Take The A Train, and things of that ilk— only slightly more chestnut-y than the things they've included— in high school, because they still get played a lot, too. If you're plotting a move to Portland, you should also learn Milestones (old), Stablemates, The Night Has A Thousand Eyes, Invitation, I'll Remember April... well, call me...

More after the break...

Monday, January 06, 2014

Groove o' the day: Tony Williams — Footprints

Here's a Latin-style groove Tony Williams plays at one point in the odyssey of jazz percussion that is Footprints, a tune by Wayne Shorter, from Miles Davis's album Miles Smiles. The tune is in 6/4, phrased like a waltz, as 3/4+3/4:

But Tony's groove at around 2:20 in the track is in 2, based off of a dotted 8th note, or 4:3 (four quarter notes played in the space of three) pulse:

You can read more about how this 4:3 polyrhythm works, if you'd like, but it's not strictly necessary here, and may actually slow you down a bit. Just be aware that he is playing off of a four note pulse, floated over the waltz feel of the bass line.

So here's Tony's groove in its “native” 2/2— you can also think of it as 4/4, like in the second example below. Learn it this way, then we'll figure out how to fit that with the 6/4:

If he plays any bass drum on it, it is irregular and/or inaudible. He plays this hihat part for a few measures, then goes to straight “quarter notes” (thinking of it in 2/2).

Here you can see how Tony's groove lines up with the bass line, and with the “downbeats” within the 6/4. The only notes that will line up exactly are the dotted half notes in 6/4— beats 1 and 4— which correspond with the 1 and the 3 in the groove in 4/4:

We could write out Tony's rhythm literally in 6/4 by dotting all of the notes in the 4/4 pattern, but what would be the point? You can play it as cleanly as Tony does by just learning the pattern in 2/2 or 4/4, and then fitting it together with the strong beats in the bass line— the 1 and the 4, in 6/4.

Finally, the recording. Tony starts playing this groove, and variations on it, at about 2:20. You can hear that it's rather loose. None of this was pre-planned, and I don't believe the players have the mathematics and internal coordination of the rhythms fully worked out. Just the way I like it:

Sunday, January 05, 2014

How to play Dear Old Stockholm

Dear Old Stockholm is the English title of a traditional Swedish song, which, you are probably aware, has become a jazz standard. I don't know who first started playing it as a jazz tune, but Miles Davis's version (arranged by Stan Getz, according to Wikipedia) is to me the definitive one. Recorded by Davis in 1952, and again, with embellishments, in 1955, the arrangement has some bells and whistles, and tweaks to the tune's very basic original form, which is why we're talking about it today. So go ahead and download and print out the pdf, and let's begin:

Go ahead and give the recording a few listens-through with the printed pdf:

After the break we'll get into this for real:

Friday, January 03, 2014

VOQOTD: Elvin's advice to young drummers

“PRACTICE, and play. Play any kind of music anywhere, weddings, carnivals, dances, circuses. Play and make sure that you give it your best. Be the best out there. I've played burlesque shows and recently I played a parade, right down Broadway in New York. Get a job, take it, be there on time.”

—Elvin Jones, 1974 clinic Q&A

The Joe Brazil Project blog has shared the entire interview, which is worth reading.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Doubling up a ballad feel with Syncopation

Happy new year, everybody. I'm practicing a lot of slow tempos lately, so here are some Reed interpretations that will be familiar to all jazz students, written out to suggest double time during a ballad. You'll be using sticks to play the exercises, but once you've gotten these together, you should be able to render something similar with brushes. First, without getting too much beyond the scope of a little blog post, we should clarify a few things about this feel. Give a listen to this recording of Dexter Gordon playing Body & Soul:

The tune is in 4/4, with a quarter note pulse of about 57 beats per minute, using what I call a compound subdivision of both triplets and straight 8th notes— any musician may play off of either subdivision at any time. You can also hear that at different moments, they may generate a swing feel based on the even 8ths, as if they were quarter notes at ~114 beats per minute. You can hear that most clearly during the piano solo after about 4:58.

Reading out of Syncopation, then, the slow quarter note pulse of our imaginary original ballad feel will fall on the half notes in Reed. So one measure of ballad 4/4 will equal two measures out of Reed, using this time feel:

To further muddy the waters, if we forget about the ballad thing, and just play Reed at a medium tempo (say, oh, 114 bpm), with the above time feel, we're actually making a half-time feel out of it by putting the hihat on beat 3, and playing half notes (plus the skip note) on the ride cymbal. But that's rarely done in jazz— virtually all of the time you play this feel, it will be because you are doubling up on a slow tempo. So we are learning vocabulary for an implied time feel, and you should not expect to see this exact feel, with the hihat on 3, “in nature.”

Now that we've settled that, on the examples, we'll be using the first four measures of the long exercise on p. 37, which should be very familiar to you. We'll be orchestrating the melody line— the top line— with our time feel, and ignoring the bottom line. You'll be practicing these applications while reading pages 32-44 of Reed.

See how we'll apply this to our ballad feel after the break: