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