Monday, June 30, 2014

Teachable moment squandered

From an interview with drummer Shannon Leto, of the pop band 30 Seconds To Mars (who are evidently inducing seizures in pre-teens the world over right now) in this month's Modern Drummer. This exchange, in which Leto tells of a “jazz workshop” audition when he was younger, jumped out at me:

SL: “...they wanted everyone to read music, and I didn't know how. So I was nervous. The song we needed to rehearse was Yes's “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” So I thought, I know this song— I got this! But when it was my turn to audition, the conductor guy, who I thought was my homey, my friend, throws this sheet music at me, and I took it personally: Man, he knows I don't read music. I looked at it, thinking I could get by on what I remembered from hearing the song on the radio, but I got all sweaty and basically blew the audition.  
MD: “You actually stopped playing for a long while after that.”  
SL: “Yeah, I did. I stopped playing because, at that time and age, I felt betrayed by someone I looked up to in a way.  
[...] music and drumming was my art, my life— it was the only way I expressed myself. I took it personally at the time, so I walked way from drumming for a while.” 

...and that's the end of discussion of the topic. No indication that he has updated his feeling that it was a betrayal of trust for the teacher to not let him skate by, unable to read. His ego got bruised because a teacher exposed a gap in his abilities, and rather than swallow his pride, accept that he had something to learn, and learn it, he quit. Remember that thing I said was my art, my life? Well, my idiot pride was more important, and I gave that up. As it turns out, my ego is my life.  

But he ended up the winner! He's rich now, and no one can make him learn anything ever again. Here's the band— only you can help them break 49 million views:

Sunday, June 29, 2014

For Casey

My girlfriend/partner Casey Scott is in Ashland, Oregon, acting and playing bass in Family Album, the new Stew Stewart play, as a part of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and they're starting their final week of previews before the opening. So, to buck her up, I made this little gif from one of our favorite movies:

Friday, June 27, 2014

More options for cheap film rigs

After the last photo post I got excited to do more film photography, and what better way to motivate myself to do that than to BUY MORE GEAR. Usually that's a bad idea; GAS, the American disease, is an ugly thing. But I haven't bought a camera in six or seven years, and part of the reason I legitimately don't shoot as much film as I used to, is that my digital camera (a late-oughts Nikon D40) is so much easier to carry around than my serious 35mm rig, an early-90s Nikon N90S— a great camera, but rather bloody heavy. The D40 is light enough that I actually take it places with me, and get pictures when the opportunities arise. So, upon consulting the oracle— photo gear geek Ken Rockwell— I discovered a couple of good late “prosumer” 35mm options that are basically dirt cheap, and lighter than the N90S.

I needed something that would be compatible with the Nikon gear I already own, so I went ahead and got an N80 body for $45, plus a 28-70mm/f3.5-4.5 zoom lens for another $45ish, for a total cost of about $100, with shipping. I could've spent another $50-100 for the heavier, slightly-more-pro F100, which I've coveted for a long time, but since weight is an issue, and I haven't been taking enough pictures to justify the small added expense, I got the N80. About this camera Rockwell summarizes:

The N80 offers features I want that the F100 lacks, and except for the slow [flash] sync speed seems to lack nothing significant. [...] 
Overall, this is an easy camera to love. It is very light, quiet, and feels like it has a shutter at least as smooth and quiet as the F100. In fact, I suspect that the N80 may have a smoother mirror and shutter mechanism than the F100, and therefore may give sharper results with long lenses on tripods. 
Unless you need the durability, fast sync speed or can write down some very serious specific reason you need a fancier camera, this is probably a better camera for most people then an F6 or F100. Why? Simple: it's lighter and cheaper. If you are on a budget then save your money for what matters: the lenses. Heck, who cares if it's plastic: you can throw one away and buy a second one and some film for the same price as just one F100. [...]
I may have gotten one of these instead of an F100 if it was out in 1999 when I got my F100.

Continued after the break:

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Groove o' the day: Tony Allen — No Agreement

Finishing up a long Ed Blackwell transcription, so while U wait, here's a pretty classic Afrobeat groove from Tony Allen. The tune and album are No Agreement, by Fela Kuti:

The variations and fills are sparse, and don't generally happen where we might expect them. He plays with a relaxed touch and feel that is very different from the hard, tense, hyperactive qualities you hear so much of currently.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Transcription: John Guerin — Dirty Harry, Main Title

Here's a whole lot of kickass 70s stuff. The drumming here is by John Guerin, one of the great L.A. studio drummers of the era. He plays a large set here, with five concert toms, and, fairly or not— to everyone else— he kind of owns the giant 70s tom fill in my mind. The piece is Lalo Schifrin's Main Title from the Dirty Harry Soundtrack. Lalo himself is the king of burning 70s TV and movie soundtracks, and this is one of my favorites.

The tempo is pretty cooking, but the 16ths swing a little bit on much of this, which is rather difficult to pull off. There's a good amount of somewhat linear playing, with the right leading, and the left hand filling in, especially on the tom fills. Guerin has a little non-independent method for making those open hihats: he plays both feet in unison on the close notes— almost all of them.

Get the pdf

Audio after the break:

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Groove o' the day: Todd Bishop — The Secret Agent

I've got a bunch of unfinished stuff on deck, so we'll just keep doing GOTDs until I can get it together and be a writer.

And what the hell, let's do one of me. The record is Origin of Species, something my old band Flatland recorded in about 2000, in a dump of a studio in the part of Portland called “felony flats.” We got a lot of time on the cheap, and got our rehearsed material out of the way pretty quickly, which freed us up do some free playing and experimenting. This piece, The Secret Agent, was just something we improvised with no forethought at all— I had our guitarist, Matt Wayne, overdub some psychedelic textural stuff, and that finished the piece.

We find a tempo in the first few seconds, and the groove develops within the first four measures that I'm actually playing time, and then hangs on that for the rest of the piece, with fills and variations. That, and the melody spontaneously composed by Matt Wayne, our guitarist, gives the piece some unity. This groove isn't anything I'd ever played before; clearly all the parts follow from the Reed-like cymbal pattern:

The main features of the groove are that cymbal pattern, the strong bass drum on beats 1 and 2 of the first measures, and the syncopated “backbeats” on the snare drum. Everything else is detail. The isolated filler notes on the snare drum on the 'a' of the beat are unusual for me.

Here's the audio:

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Tape for sale, cut up

Need to get rid of that horrible ring in yer snayer drum? Well, these guys are selling a product that may be said to be the answer:

As the man said, that drum sounds awesome. If using one of these patent-pending, ah, pieces of tape that has been “used several times”[???] sounds THAT GOOD, take a moment and imagine what one of these pristine new ones must sound like:

Mmm! Oh yes. Now, before you say “Hey, I know how to put tape on my drum, if I ever want to muffle it, which I don't. And that just doesn't look like much of a product to me, I'm sorry.”, let's look at the science. From the manufacturer's website:

Therefore, you should buy this product. You can't disprove science.

And this is NOT some skeevy, fly-by-night operation, cutting up pieces of industrial tape, probably pilfered from someone's day job, and selling them at an unconscionable markup, so stop thinking that. In the first place, there's no markup when you steal your raw materials, idiots. But one look at the awesome resources they have poured into packaging their product should put any such doubts to rest:

That's what you get for 90 bucks DID I MENTION THE FREE SHIPPING?! !!! !!! Look at this monkey:

Don't think about the $90. 

And to show you what kind of razor-thin profit margin they're operating on: if you are stupid enough to buy one set, they'll sell you a second set for only $50— surely sacrificing all of the profit they earned with the first set, several times over. Really, they should be considered to be a charity, rather than a profit-making business in the traditional sense. Almost a holy thing, if you think about it. Not buying this product is like crapping on a monk.

So, yeah... some product... that's how my brain works on my first cup of coffee...

[h/t to Bull @ Drummerworld]

Monday, June 16, 2014

Safe to buy Wilcoxon again?

They obviously don't quite get why
people are buying these books, but OK.
Here's some good news: a student of mine brought in a new copy of Charley Wilcoxon's Rudimental Swing Solos, and it appears the current publishers of Wilcoxon's books have recognized the shortcomings of the Richard Sakal editions, and have begun selling the books in their original form. The covers are new, and quite goofy, but the actual contents have their older, presumably Wilcoxon-approved layout.

As we've documented, there are several annoying typos in Rudimental Swing Solos, but Rolling In Rhythm is really just a horrible, unusable mess in the Sakal edition. I'm very much looking forward to comparing editions there— I'm guessing it will be a real bloodbath.

 I would order by phone to ensure you're not getting old Sakal-edition stock.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

A cheap portrait lens for your Nikon digital SLR

Just did a little photo job, and realized something I should've figured out years ago— well, it something I knew about, but wasn't exploiting. If you aren't conversant in basic camera lingo, you might want to review my old What All The Damn Numbers On Your Camera Mean post before reading on.

First, a few facts:

1. Every Nikon lens ever made fits every Nikon SLR body ever made, film or digital. You may lose auto-focus, coupled metering, TTY flash, or other features, but you can take pictures in some capacity. My old 50mm/f1.8 AF lens that came with my main 35mm film camera, a 90's vintage Nikon N90S, works on my main digital rig, a mid-oughts vintage “prosumer” Nikon D40, except I lose auto-focus. My older, non-AF 50mm macro lens also fits on the D40, but I lose almost all features. I just focus and set the aperture manually on the lens, and get the exposure by trial and error, reviewing the picture after I shoot it. Nikon been fiddling with that formula a bit in recent years, but it's always been their thing. That is not the case with the other major pro company, Canon, who rendered their customers' very expensive lens collections obsolete when they switched to auto-focus.

2. 50mm fixed focal length lenses are some of the cheapest, fastest, sharpest, most versatile lenses in the world. It used to be the standard lens that came with all 35mm SLRs. On a 35mm camera, a 50mm lens is referred to as “normal”— meaning that, looking through the viewfinder, things are the same size as they are just looking with your eyes.

3. Lenses for 35mm cameras have a longer functional focal length when used on digital bodies. So, a 50mm lens used on my D40 body is functionally about the same as an 85mm— a short telephoto, basically a standard portrait lens— on my 35mm camera.

So, the cheap zoom lens that came with my Nikon D40, while very nice, is slow— the maximum aperture is f3.5 at wide angle, or f5.6 at telephoto, making it of limited value in low-light situations, while severely limiting selective focus as a creative option. Basically, the lower the lowest f-stop number a lens is capable of, the more useful the lens is in low light— you can have faster shutter speeds, making it easier to avoid blur from camera shake; and the more control you have over depth of field— you can have some things out of focus, if you want.

Usually you have something like this forced upon you; everything in the frame is basically in focus. We got lucky here, and the background is a little softer, so the picture isn't real unpleasant to look at. Often, everything will be in exquisitely sharp focus, which is dazzling to the eye, but expressively limiting.

Here's the best you can usually do with the zoom lens that came with the camera; I was at least able to throw my neighbor's siding out of focus a little bit. Still, I had almost nothing to work with on my main little stage, with everything (including some mildewy gunk on my window I need to clean) except the distant background in sharp focus:

Shooting “wide open”, at f1.8, with my 50mm lens on the digital body, I have much more control. The front bird's face is in focus, but as you can see, the tail is not; that's a depth of about 1 inch that is in sharp focus:

And of course, all three pictures were taken with the same 50mm/1.8 lens, so I can do all this, and anything in between.

The cost of 35mm gear seems to rebounded a bit after cratering a few years ago, but you can still get a bargain-grade 50mm/f1.8 AF lens for about $70 at You can get a manual focus version for about $40. Since you lose auto-focus with these lenses anyway, the only additional feature you lose by getting the fully manual lens is automatic aperture control; with my AF lens, the camera still controls the exposure. But again, since you're shooting digital, and can look at your pictures as you shoot them, you're not losing much there.

And I should mention, if you're at all into photography, 35mm gear is so cheap that there is really no excuse for not having a film rig. It can be very hard to forgo the convenience of digital, but film really is a different, very special animal.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Page o' coordination: Elvin's waltz in 4/4

It could look an awful lot like I'm phoning it in with all of these Pages o' Coordination— well, I am phoning it in, a little bit, but that's not to say the pages aren't useful. Each one serves a special purpose, and I play through at least two of them every day.

Today's entry is just a little addendum to the original Elvin's Afro-Waltz page, which started this series. If you learned that page well, your learning curve here should be very shallow indeed. Here we're making the shortest possible meter-within-meter phrase out of if, playing the ostinato over two measures of 4/4. Remember, what we are doing with the jazz-oriented POCs especially, are just calisthenics, approximating the densest playing you may do during a piece of music. Hopefully we're laying the groundwork for some interesting and unexpected things to happen during those very dense parts of the music.

Blah blah blah do the tom moves. I do them about half the time. Treat all the POCs as page-at-once exercises— play the entire page every time you practice them, and don't get too hung up on any one pattern.

Get the pdf

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Groove o' the day: more Public Enemy

...aaand another rocking groove from The Bomb Squad, this time on Bring The Noise, from Public Enemy's It Takes A Nation Of Millions... album. Again, this is a composite of programmed and sampled grooves, which is mainly reflected in the bass drum part. What really makes this one is the accenting on the hihat, so be sure to nail that:

This fill happens several times throughout the song:

The audio:

Rik Mayall 1958-2014

Very sorry to have lost comic legend Rik Mayall yesterday. He was best known in the US for The Young Ones and small parts on Black Adder, but my favorite thing of his was The Dangerous Brothers, with Adrian Edmondson:

Monday, June 09, 2014

Stick Control on the drums: RLRL and LRLR

UPDATE: The link is now working.

All reet, I've gotten my hallway and kitchen painted, and finished getting my teeth and gums viciously probed, if only for the time being, so let's get back to the drum stuff. Here is a set of linear exercises for the drum set, based on the first exercises in Stick Control. The application is so basic it's almost not worth taking the trouble to write it out, except, as you'll see, we'll take it to a slightly different place.

Doing this for Stone exercises 1-13 will take up quite a few pages, so we'll have to take these a couple at a time; first, Exercises 1 and 2, RLRL and LRLR:

As you can deduce from looking at the page, we are basically playing the right hand on the cymbal, doubled with the bass drum, playing the left hand on the snare drum, and adding hihat on 2 and 4. We'll swing the 8th notes; that, plus the added hihat make these “jazz” exercises, but you can adapt them to any style you want, of course. Looking at the second line of each part, the connection of my exercises to the source pattern may be a little obscure, but you should be able to grasp it intuitively as you play the exercises as a group. Note that on the quarter note triplet exercises, the hihat is still on beats 2 and 4.

Get the pdf

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Groove o' the day: The Bomb Squad — Night of the Living Baseheads

There was a period in time when hip hop really rocked. This is the groove from Night Of The Living Baseheads, from Public Enemy's album It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back. I've credited the production team The Bomb Squad for the drum groove, which is a composite a programmed part and at least one sample. There were trade-offs to make human-playable beat; there are some additional unaccented notes on the snare drum, which you might be able to pick out and play, if you switch to a straight 8th note rhythm on the hihat.  

This fill occurs several times throughout the song— the programmed hihat part isn't normally playable, so you can figure out something that will work based on what you're doing with the main groove:

The song— play it loud:

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

DBMITW: Bernard Purdie

Posting will continue to be a little light this week, as I'm occupied with other projects, so here's an obscure track featuring Bernard Purdie, recommended by Rick Marotta:

[h/t to Geoff Gil]