Saturday, May 30, 2015

Barry Altschul on playing melodically

This is an excerpt from a pretty amazing 1981 Modern Drummer article by Barry Altschul, in which he discusses the drummer's relation to tunes, form, and melody, and playing melodically: 

It is [...] the drummer's responsibility to know where the chord changes fall in the tune, and the song form. Knowing the names of the chords isn't necessary, but you should know where the chords change, and when a chorus is over.

Drums are a musical instrument and melody can be implied. Many drummers seem to get lost within a tune. If this happens to you, you should be able to find yourself by listening to the bass player. But, in order to know where he is, you must be familiar with the tune yourself.

Short of studying a melodic instrument, there are ways to achieve this familiarity. First, you must listen! Listen to tunes, sing them, learn the chord changes. Listen to saxophone, piano, and trumpet players. Learn to improvise around the melody of the tune by singing or whistling. Hear the chord changes while you're improvising.

A good method for accomplishing this, and one that will also help your conception and technique, is to learn a saxophone solo. Take a Lester Young solo, for example. Sing the solo away from the record. (The actual notes are not as important for the drummer as is the contour and the rhythms of the solo.) Tap the solo out on the snare drum. Then play it as if you are accompanying a band, with your right hand playing steady time, two and four on the hi-hat, and the solo between your left hand and bass drum! Interpret the sax solo as if it were a drum solo. You'll soon start to develop a melodic approach. You'll also become familiar with tunes and forms, and become aware of what the melodic instrumentalists are actually doing.

To imply melody, sit down at the drum set and make one sound. Then make another sound. Don't be afraid to be unconventional in your approach to making that sound or in the sound itself. Any sound imaginable can be used if it's used in a musical way. Do this again and again until you have explored all the sounds your set will give you. Concentrate on doing the same thing on each part of your set. A cymbal, then your snare drum, another cymbal, your bass drum. Even your stands and whatever else you use! If you want more sounds, use percussion instruments.

After you've found your sounds, utilize them when you are playing the saxophone solo we talked about earlier. Play the contour of the sax solo with your sounds to imply the melody. The only “notes” a drummer has are the high, low and middle pitched sounds. These must be related to in a melodic way with a drummer's own conception. Once this is achieved, melody can be implied. Melodies are also rhythmic, so to play in a melodic way, think that way!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Natural sticking timing exercise

This is something I'm working on with some students: a timing exercise using natural sticking, modified slightly from something we used to play in drum corps. Natural sticking, briefly, is a method of sticking hand-to-hand rhythms, in which the right hand always plays the strong side of the rhythm, and the left always plays the off beats; so with mixed 16th note rhythms, as we have here, the right plays all notes falling on the 8th notes, and the left plays any es and as. If it doesn't make sense the way I've explained it, look at the stickings on the page and figure out the pattern. I've included here a shortened version of the exercise in 2/2, since we've been using natural sticking in the half time feel funk series.

On exercises 1-3 and 7-9 the right hand will play a steady rhythm in both measures of the exercises— 8th notes in 1-3, quarter notes in 7-9; on exercises 4, 6, 10, and 12, the left hand plays an unbroken rhythm.

Get the pdf

Thursday, May 28, 2015

DBMITW: Ornette Coleman live, 1968

A little change in gears as we near the end of our little fund raising drive. A big thanks to the mighty few who have made donations and purchased books— if any of our other hundreds of daily visitors wants to show his or her appreciation, now would be a lovely time to do it. The big, special transcriptions will be up for a few more days, and I have one more big, cool, thing coming whenever I get around to finishing it.

So, while I work on some other things— two new books, a Europe tour, planting some hops, and dealing with a troublesome possum— check out this rare 1968 live cassette recording of one of my favorite Ornette Coleman bands, with Ed Blackwell on drums, and Charlie Haden and David Izenson on bass— I wish there were more recordings available of this group. One of these days I'm going to make a drums-sax-and-two-bassists album. Embedding is disabled, so click through to give it a listen:

part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | part 4

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

CSD! 2015 fund raiser happening NOW

NOTE: This post will be pinned to the top of the blog until June 1, but I'll be posting heavily, so be sure to scroll down and hit the older posts link so you don't miss any of the new, extra-special content.

OK, folks, here we go with our 2015 “I like CRUISE SHIP DRUMMER!” fund raiser, wherein I invite you to contribute some of your hard-earned money, to help us continue the flow of great drumming-related stuff.

I'll spare you an extended sales pitch, except to invite you to take a fresh gander at our downloads archive, and mention that it does take a lot of time, effort, and energy to write that stuff— for which I'm not paid directly at all. I rely on people thinking what I'm doing is valuable, and then deciding to take action and make a donation, or buy our products.

As always, one-time donations are lovely, but you can now also become a continuing member by signing up to make an automatic monthly contribution. If you approve of what we're doing here, and you have the means, this is an incredibly great way to help us do our work, for you:

Choose your recurring support level:

Or you can make a one-time donation— all amounts are helpful, and welcome:

Contribute to the blog the price of:

If you value what we do, and want us to continue, please give generously, according to your resources.

More ways to support the blog after the break:

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

What it is: being a professional

Obligatory Venn diagram 
One area where I see a lot of misconceptions is around the idea of being a professional musician. Usually, people seem to think it means that you make all your money from performing music; and that you're prospering at it. And that you're a really, really good at it. None of those things are necessarily the case, or there would be very few professional musicians out there. So here are some of the things that make you a professional musician:

Music is your main thing.
You don't have a full-time career outside of music. There is some wiggle room here: a lot of people— maybe even most, now, times being what they are— have to supplement. Some great musicians I can name took up other jobs at some point in their career; they didn't stop being professionals just because they gave up performing for a job as an accountant after 35 years in the business.

You have been paid for it, and are oriented around getting paid for it.
Traditionally in music the bar for admission is very low: you're a professional after you've had your first paying gig. The other things here have to be true, as well, though. Your long-term orientation is that your job is musician, even if you're not very successful at it right now.

You have professional training and expertise.
You studied music in college, or are otherwise educated in music, you have field experience, you read the professional literature.

You are able to do professional jobs in your local scene.
You may or may not be able to give Thomas Lang a run for is money, but you are able to do most jobs in your city, usually with little or no preparation or rehearsal. 

You understand and follow professional practices. 
You know how the business works at your own level, at least. You get yourself to the gig, on time, properly attired, with everything you need for the job, and you perform the job capably, with a professional demeanor. You know how and how much you are supposed to get paid, you know how to do your taxes.

You are a member of trade organizations
This one is sort of optional, as a lot of people are not members of any organizations whatever. But: you have been a member of the local Musician's Union for some period of time— with the nature of the business today, most club musicians I know are not active members their entire careers, however. You are a member of other trade organizations like PAS, MTNA, NARAS, etc. You attend trade events like PASIC, NAMM, IAJE conferences, etc.

You maintain a professional studio. 
You have a workspace for doing all your non-performance musical work: practicing, rehearsing, teaching, writing, and office work. You have a collection of instruments adequate for the work you do. You have a computer with whatever software and peripherals you need for your music business. You have a library of recorded music, drumming books, and general music books. You have archives: recordings, published works, recorded masters, other written works. You have a certain amount of AV equipment: stereo, audio and possibly video recording capacity.

Professional does not mean successful
Vincent Van Gogh was a painter who happened to be extremely unsuccessful during his lifetime— his business was a total failure, to the point that it killed him and his agent, his brother Theo. But Vincent was a professional: he did nothing but paint, he had professional training, he was recognized as a peer by other professionals, and was represented by an agent for the purpose of selling his paintings. He was a professional, but he never sold a painting. And the fact that his pictures now are valued in the hundreds of millions is irrelevant, actually— he's just a convenient example.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Ed Blackwell on playing with Monk

Another choice bit from Ted Panken's interview with Blackwell— Blackwell played with Monk in 1972:

I’ll tell you what happened with Monk. During the course of the gig, after about a week… He used to give me a lot of solos. Then one night we were playing, and he gave me a solo, and I played, you know, and after he came off the stand he come over to me and he said, “You know, you ain’t no Max Roach.” [LAUGHS] And I don’t know why he told me that! He just danced away. Wilbur Ware was in that group also.

I remember a story Art Taylor told me about Monk. He was playing with Monk in Chicago, and Monk had stopped letting him solo. So during the course of intermission, he came over, and A.T. said, “You know, you cut off my solos, man. You used to give me little solos. Why don’t you let me play?” So he said when they went back up to the set, Monk went to the mike and said, “We will now hear a solo by our drummer.” And that was it!

Partido Alto practice loop and basic grooves

Another practice loop, sampled from the tune Partido Alto, from the Azymuth album Light As A Feather. Ivan Conti is on drums. As I mentioned before, Partido Alto is the name of a Brazilian rhythm, a songstyle or genre of samba using standard instruments, a tune title (more than one, I'm sure), and a fusion-like drum groove. It probably refers to some other things, too— my factual knowledge of Brazilian music is not that deep. In this case, we're dealing with the 70s fusion tune, the drum groove, and the rhythm.

I'll say it is one of the great rhythms in music, which doesn't get the same attention from north American drummers as does clave, its Caribbean relative. Clave has a built-in resolution, so it's almost like a repeating “shave-and-haircut” ending— I was embarrassed to relate clave to something so hokey, but apparently the similarity has not gone unnoticed by actual serious Cuban music people. That's where its power comes from. But Brazilian music is nothing if not about forward motion, and, especially, continuation, and the Partido Alto rhythm does not have that built-in stop, and keeps skipping ahead, forever. Come to think of it, despite its similarity to clave, the Bossa rhythm (so-called “Brazilian clave” or “Bossa clave”) is the same way.

Anyway, here's the loop:

Here's the basic rhythm as it occurs in this tune; it's easy to get lost at first, so it may help to note that (in this case) there are 4 notes on the downbeats, and three on the upbeats. The half notes are just for reference, but you can play them along with the rhythm to help keep track of the downbeats.

Also try this variation, with a couple of notes added:

Also see this page for some insight on the construction of the rhythm generally.

After the break are some basic things you can play on the drums:

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Transcription: Famoudou Don Moye — Funky Aeco

I was going to take care of some other business today, but then I saw that it's Famoudou Don Moye's birthday, and wanted to pay tribute by giving one of my favorite things of his a really close listen. He's a drummer I think about a lot, in no small part because of the quality of his backbeats. Most young jazz drummers today, even some great ones, need a backbeatectomy— major reconstructive backbeat surgery. There's not enough substance there. On the other end of the spectrum are the regular backbeat players, who all seem to be hitting them way too hard, on diecast-hooped drums, making a sound that's just brutally ugly. Then there's this, Funky Aeco, from The Art Ensemble of Chicago's album The Third Decade, which is, sound-and-vibe-wise, a perfect, slamming American backbeat:

The total drum part is pretty organic; the 16th notes swing a bit, and there are a lot of dynamics within it, with ghost notes on the snare drum and sometimes the bass drum. And there are some half-open hihat sounds, which I've indicated with a tenuto mark (-) above the note. Rather than trying to work all that stuff out, just learn a basic form of the groove, check out some of the variations he plays, and try to get the vibe.

Get the pdf

Happy birthday, Archie Shepp

While I regroup and get stuff together for next week, let's celebrate saxophonist, poet, and composer Archie Shepp's 78th birthday with Attica Blues. Play this loud:

And The Magic of Juju, with Ed Blackwell playing slit drum:

Very occasional quote of the day: Kurt Cobain

“Learn how to not play your instrument.”

—Cobain diary entry, from the HBO documentary “Montage Of Heck”

(h/t to Mark Wooley)

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Groove o' the day: Jabo Starks — The Payback

I don't know karate, but I know karazy. Here's Jabo Starks playing James Brown's classic, The Payback, which, if you don't already have the record, you may know from Lock, Stock, And Two Smoking Barrels, Dead Presidents, or Django Unchained. On the intro Starks plays very simply, with the snare drum on 2 only:

When the groove gets going for real, the snare is on 2 and 4, and he adds some small embellishments. All of those extra notes can happen on either half of the measure: the open hihat can also happen on beat 3, the ghost note on the snare drum can happen after beat 4, and the 16th note on the bass drum can happen on beat 2. Listen to the track, and mix them up freely.

Towards the end, you increasingly hear these ghost notes— or some part thereof— on the snare drum. There's a light swing to the 16th notes.

Here' the track:

Daily best music in the world: Andrew Cyrille with Grachan Moncur III

Just a nice track from a record I've never heard, by Moncur, a famous trombonist, with Andrew Cyrille on the drums:

Friday, May 22, 2015

Transcription: Tony Williams — Lopsy Lu

2021 UPDATE: See my new listening guide for this track. 

Here's the third of four big-deal transcriptions I have lined up for the fund raiser. I was going to save this for next week, but people have been slow to contribute, which, perversely, just makes want to keep dumping big, amazing stuff at you. Please help out with whatever cash contribution you can afford— this means you.

We already saw this as a groove o' the day, but here's the whole tune: Lopsy Lu, from Stanley Clarke's self-titled album of 1974, with Tony Williams on drums.

Tony is playing his big drumset here, with I believe four tom toms— where you see regular noteheads on line, those are the extra toms. I've also begun putting the hihats and ride cymbal on seperate lines; in this case, the hats are on the top line of the staff, and the ride cymbal above it.

This type of groove really wants strictly compound-meter stuff played with it— triplet-based stuff; as I noted on the GOTD, it can be really hard to sustain that while blowing. During his solo, Tony plays some duple 16ths, and they don't sit well— to my ears. I'm pretty much helpless to do that same thing when playing a similar style, and it never really works.

Get this transcription and four more by purchasing my e-book 5 TONY WILLIAMS TRANSCRIPTIONS. Only $4.95.

For diehard geeks (hopefully everyone), there's much explanation of the form after the break.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Daily best music in the world: Connie Kay swings

We don't get to hear much of Connie Kay— usually he's buried in the back of the Modern Jazz Quartet, playing very conservatively. Here, with French(?) guitarist Andre Conduant, we get to hear him forward in the mix, and sounding great. The tune is in 4, but he plays in 3 in parts of the solos— showing some contemporary influence with some meter-within-meter playing. I believe the cymbal he's playing is a 17" A. Zildjian medium-heavy; I have one of these in 20", and it has a very interesting, moderate, high-pitched wash, which you can also hear in this cymbal.

Page o' coordination: anticipations — 03

[NOTE: PDF link is working now! -t]

So, today is going to be jazz comping day, in our little fund raiser. If you haven't made a cash contribution yet, please do. Help give me some kind of rational excuse to continue creating and dumping this much otherwise-free content onto the Internet.

This is an intermediate Page o'..., designed for working on the very common anticipation on the & of 4. You'll play a lot of these in your career, so take special care learning the timing from the & of 4 to the following beat 2; it's easy to rush it. The exercises with a snare hit on beat 1 are really for helping you define that space, but maybe you'll be able to make them sound like music. You may also want to check out two previous POCs addressing a similar issue: one | two.

Swing the 8th notes. If you have any problem getting the time squared off during that space at the beginning of the measure, adding a snare drum hit on 1 will help you with that. I know we're playing jazz, and it seems like you want a “loose” feel, but your accuracy needs to be right on the money.

You could do our usual left hand moves with this page, but somehow the character of this page is different from many of the others, and that seems unnecessary to me; maybe just improvise some moves instead. Or whatever.

Get the pdf

Random Billy

For fun I've pulled at random some four measure comping phrases from recordings featuring Billy Higgins on drums. Sort of at random: I've grabbed the first thing I heard on the track that stands out as especially interesting on its own. All intermediate and better jazz drumming students should play through these, and listen to the recordings:

He's playing in a bop style here, so swing the 8th notes. The only articulations I've given are some buzzes on the snare drum— you'll have to find a shape that works for you for each of these lines. They're not meant to be played at a dead-even volume. The cymbal part is just for reference, in case you need to see it; Higgins may have played some cymbal variations on the recordings which I did not transcribe. Several phrases have bass drum parts specified, otherwise add the feet as you see fit— add hihat on 2 and 4, and “feather” quarter notes or half notes on the bass drum, or just leave it out.

Repeat each line many times.

Get the pdf

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Ed Blackwell on playing the Five Spot with Ornette

From Ted Panken's 1986 interview with Ed Blackwell on WKCR NY:

So when you got to New York, you found yourself in the midst of the scene that was shaking New York’s art community to the core.
EB: Right. Well, I’ll tell you. The day I got a taxi to the front of the Five Spot. We went into the Five Spot, and Ornette pulled out his horn, and Don Cherry, we ran over our tunes, and he said, “Fine.” We went home and changed clothes and came back to work that night. And we worked there steadily for seven months, six nights a week straight.

Six nights a week will sure make a band tight.
EB: That’s right! We were doing quite a lot of recordings, you know. And he was writing quite frequently; he was writing a lot of the tunes.

Describe the way sets went down at the Five Spot. Were the pieces similar length to the records? Did you stretch out more?
During this time most of the clubs were featuring two bands a night. There would be four sets. Ornette would play two sets and the visiting band would play two sets. This was going on for like six nights a week. We had a chance really to stretch out during our sets. Sometimes Ornette would stretch out our set, and sometimes he would just cut them a little shorter, depending on what mood he was in. But it was always intense. A lot of times we would rehearse all day and then come to work that night, and everybody was always geared up to play. The energy that flowed through that band was phenomenal.

Did people ever sit in?
No. No, not too many people were sitting in with the band. [LAUGHS]

Half-time feel funk: the “Syncopation” section — a small tweak

Continuing with my late Reed funk method here, which now has its own label— click on that link to get the whole series. It's becoming quite substantial— I see a book in our future...

If you've been working on the last entry in this series, you might have felt, as I have, that none of the interpretations is 100% satisfactory in creating a real, final-product funk feel. You need to apply your own musicianship, and transform the materials with your playing and improvising to turn them into something real. That's fine, you can continue developing the things you like, and understand that the things you don't like have a purpose as well. But we can also continue refining our method, to make the results hipper and more like a finished drum groove, without making the reading too absurdly, counter-productively difficult.

One of the things I don't like in the interpretations, is where you get into running 8th notes on the same drum. So let's break up any groupings of four 8th notes beamed together with a BSSB (when the grouping falls on beats 1-2) or SBBS pattern (when it falls on 3-4). To apply that, then:

When you see this rhythm in Syncopation:

You would orchestrate it this way when it falls on beats 1 and 2:

And this way when it lands on beats 3 and 4:

Continued after the break:

Species of ride cymbal interpretation in jazz

Following up on George Collligan's commentary on this subject: The way you play the cymbal pattern is really the center of your artistry as a jazz drummer, so let's do a little survey of the ways of interpreting it— the variations in accenting and rhythm people do to make their personal thing, and to do their job within the ensemble.

I've written the patterns in the now-standard triplet form, but swing rhythm is more complicated than that; even more so with swing rhythm on the cymbal, which can vary dramatically depending on the player, the tempo, and the style. That's beyond the scope of what we're talking about here— just don't be too triplet-fixated in your swing interpretation.

And don't overdo it with the accenting; if you listen to the music, it's fairly subtle the way the players do these things. You have to find a musical balance: if the accent obliterates the other notes of the pattern, you'll be blowing a hole in your time feel. And the cymbal is going to be making this pattern all night, and if you're hammering the 2 and 4, well, people's ears will get tired of that after the fourth or fifth hour.

50s / bop / Blakey-like
For a long time this driving interpretation was just the way you played the cymbal. This is generally played repetitively, with a moderate-to-strong accent on 2 and 4. Listen to Art Blakey, Max Roach, Kenny Clarke, Paul Motian, Philly Joe Jones, Art Taylor, and many others.

In attempting be “loose”, it's easy to play the unaccented notes sloppily, which can drop the bottom out of groove— so, articulate the 1 and 3 even as you accent the 2 and 4. This interpretation is usually supported by a consistent, strong hihat on 2 and 4, so, again, it's not necessary to overdo the accent on the cymbal.

Quarter note pulse
In recent years I've been favoring this as my default way of playing jazz time. It communicates a strong groove to the other musicians and to the audience. I've heard it be effective even when a drummer's cymbal pattern doesn't sound very swinging by itself— as soon as the band comes in, it sounds great.

I don't know if this feeling is accurate, but it seems to me that I've most seen this approach in veteran players who were young in the 70s and 80s, when big-drum Tony Williams influence was at its peak. Younger players seem to favor the other styles, and you can really sound different if you emphasize and sustain this type of feel. That's just my impression— maybe it's BS.

Accenting the “skip” note, sometimes “ghosting” or omitting the note after the accent. Everyone does this today, but it was once very special. When I figured out that it was a thing, I thought I was the only person in the world doing it. This is especially helpful in making a two feel without sounding hokey. It also tends to make the music lay back, so you can deploy this if you need to make that happen. Doing this in an exaggerated, overly-regular, over-practiced way can easily sound stylized, so beware.

This is often done in a mixed rhythm, with a strong pull towards a dotted quarter note pulse:

Listen to drummers who do this interpretation, especially Elvin Jones, and in the 1960s and later, Pete LaRoca and Roy Haynes. In his jazz playing with Chick Corea, Steve Gadd does a form of this, with a legato, tending-towards-straight-8th swing interpretation.

Continued after the break:

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Transcription: Vinnie Colaiuta — Beat It With Your Fist

It is law that I must do an ultra-hairy Vinnie Coliauta transcription every time I do a fund raiser [Have you contributed yet? Please do. -tb], so here's Beat It With Your Fist, from Frank Zappa's album Return Of The Son Of Shut Up And Play Yer Guitar. It's one of the harder 29 measures of music I've attempted in a while:

The really big sketchball lick is in measures 15 and 16— which I've chosen to write out as a single measure of 8/4— otherwise the barline is in a really messed-up place. The lick is septuplets— seven 16th notes in the place of four— against even 8th notes in the left foot... and the septuplets begin on the & of each beat. I would play that lick as running doubles— a few of the doubles will be split between two drums. You can learn that lick like this:

Play the repeated measure many times as written, then improvise moving your hands around the drums. When you can do that, trick yourself into thinking the downbeats are the &s: say “&” where it's written in the example, and then play the written ending with the 16th note triplet and crash on “1”.

If it's any consolation, with all of this crazy stuff happening, there is a little bit of variance in the length of the measures— the time does stretch a little bit, as low as 65 bpm, and as high as 72, averaged over one measure. Vinnie Colaiuta is, apparently, a human being.

This is another pdf that will only be available for the duration of the fund raiser.

Get the pdf

Daily best music in the world: Don Pullen

This is wild; a melody composed seemingly entirely of wrong notes, alternating with a groovy pentatonic vamp. That's actually a hallmark of Don Pullen's thing; bright, happy tunes, and a whole lot of playing the piano with his forearm. With Ricky Ford on tenor, and Beaver Harris on drums:

Here's another all-time favorite thing by Pullen, from Kele Mou Bana, by his band African-Brazilian Connection. I got this record in 1992, when a famous (male) theater writer hit on me in the art section of a book store on Hollywood Blvd., and invited me to the Capitol Records building to meet the west coast president of Blue Note Records. I was in a funk/rap group with Rashied Ali's son at the time, so I was able to make it sound like I was doing something, even though I wasn't. Anyway, the Blue Note guy gave me a bunch of CDs at the end of our little meeting.

Linear phrases in 5/4, mixed rhythm — 02b - inversion

Moar Chaffee phrases in 5/4! This is an inversion of the last set: we're offsetting the phrases, so the listed phrase starts on the second note of each measure. The attraction there is that it puts the bass drum on the downbeat. I don't know about you, but I'm finding this way of practicing these patterns much more rewarding than the way they're presented in the book— vol. III of Gary Chaffee's Patterns series.

Use an alternating sticking, move your hands around the drums, do whatever you like with your left foot. If you want to put these into 4/4, just start playing the pattern on beat 2.

Get the pdf

Monday, May 18, 2015

Groove o' the day: Terry Bozzio with Group 87

This is not the Bozzio thing I was talking about in that last post— this is just a teaser for the big-Bozzio thing yet to come. This is Sublime Feline, by Group 87— a band Terry Bozzio joined after leaving Frank Zappa. This was the cutting edge of techno-fusion then, around the turn of the 80s. For a time, in drumming, it was a thing to make up distinctive grooves, and this is a very 80s form of that thing— it really couldn't be more 80s, unless he played it on some Simmons drums.

This groove uses snare, bass, two toms, hihat, and a bell sound:

He talks about the bell sound, and his philosophy on cymbals (at the time) in that same 1981 MD interview:

TB: ...I found that since I'm not playing jazz anymore, the only thing I want a cymbal for is to sort of have a click or a white noise kind of crash, or a ping like a cymbal bell. I don't use the normal ride sound. I don't want that. I found that I sort of OD'd on that in my years with Zappa and I don't really like the way it sounds when you play it back. I don't think it fits into a modern approach to music. I use a lot of hi-hat, and try to be melodic with my sounds and with the beats that I do. Sort of like what I did with U.K. on "Rondevous 602," and what I did with Group 87. 
MD: You have the bell of a cymbal that's been cut out? 
TB: No, it's what Paiste calls an 8" bell cymbal. It's quite thick, and if you hit it in just the right place, it sounds very close to a cymbal bell, especially when you're playing live. Through the PA it's close enough. And that way it eliminates having this huge 22 inches of metal that I'm not using there, and which I'm very tempted to hit, but which washes everything out.

This music may be difficult for you— it is for me. As someone who grew up in the 80s, the vibe here triggers some feelings about the unpleasant aspects of that period. But if you can listen past the slick vibe and Aldo Nova haircuts, it is actually great music, and there's a lot to be learned here. If you got really into his playing, you would sound like no one else playing today. At the very least, he plays some cool tom tom fills...

Transcription: Billy Higgins — Shimmy Shewobble

Let's start the fund raiser with something amazing I never knew existed: Billy Higgins and Ed Blackwell playing Mississippi Delta drum-and-fife style, performing Othar Turner's classic Shimmy Shewobble, on Stanley Cowell's album Regeneration. You may have heard Turner playing the piece on the soundtrack of the movie Gangs Of New York. On this recording Higgins plays snare drum, and Blackwell plays a tenor drum. Nigerian singer Aleke Kanonu plays bass drum, and free jazz saxophonist Marion Brown plays fife. Blackwell's part isn't easy to hear, so I've transcribed just Higgins and Kanonu. If I were in school I'd be preparing this as a jury or recital piece— this is as worthy of serious study as anything in Portraits In Rhythm or any other snare drum book.

Higgins plays a lot of “flat” flams— unisons between hands, basically— which are indicated by the circled note heads; you can choose to play them, or not. I'll be playing them as actual flams. What flams are notated in the transcription are generally played pretty closed, but not quite flat. The drags are played open, as doubles, and rolls with an 8th note duration are played closed, as 5 stroke rolls. Xs in the snare drum part indicate a rim is being hit, and housetop accents indicate a rim shot. There are a few other types of articulations here and there, but don't let them hang you up. Don't be too regular in your execution— just because there are a lot of accents in a row doesn't mean they should all sound the same.

Kanonu plays the bass drum, likely using two mallets. There are a lot of open and muffled tones, which are too complex to notate accurately; but likely one hand is doing most of the playing, and the other is mostly doing the muffling. There is more dynamic shape to the bass drum part than I've indicated; I've only put in the biggest accents. On all the parts there is a light swing, and organic quality that is not captured in the notation— you'll have to listen closely to the music to attempt to capture the feel.

This is a really special piece I should be submitting to Percussive Notes, so the pdf will probably only be available during the fund raiser. Get it while you can...

Get the pdf - [This was a special feature only available during the blog fund raiser— to get it now, purchase the 2015 Book of the Blog.]

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Bozzio's Roto-Tom set

Remo Roto-toms, Tama Fibrestar bass drums,
Tama snare drum, Paiste cymbals, Camco pedals,
surely a Synare in there somewhere
The calm before the storm, here— there are some big, cool, things coming starting Monday, as I pester you for $ to keep this boat afloat. Something I'm working on made me think of this picture of Terry Bozzio in Modern Drummer magazine, from 1981. I think this is the first copy of the magazine I ever actually looked at, and I thought this picture was really cool. The discussion of his drum set in the interview is sort of funny, and of-its-period— not only for the seriousness accorded to the Roto-toms (and elsewhere in the interview, to Syndrums)...

Zappa wanted me to use a full set of Roto-toms so I could be seen more. After the first tour with him he said, "Hey, check these new things out." And I said "Yeah, these are great." But at the time I didn't have the mentality or the people to build me some sort of tom-tom holder where I could get them set up in a way that was comfortable for me to play. They were very flimsy, and I had no idea how to really engineer the whole thing. But by the time I got with U.K., and after hearing how good they sounded with Bruford on the first U.K. album, I said, "Yeah, definitely I want to get into this."

I had an excellent roadie by the name of Graham Davies, and he is sort of a race car mechanic and what not. So I would give him these ideas, and he would realize them for me with different knick-knacks and what-nots. Mainly, he used that Roto-tom adaptor and little pieces of steel rod. We got a 360-degree flexible type of Roto-tom holder. And I used all Rotos and I continue to do that. I'm now using Tama drums though; fiberglass bass drums and their chrome snare drum. I use Paiste cymbals, and I continue  to use the Camco pedals. I use all Remo black-dot heads, and the Pro Mark drum sticks. I use the 808s or the 707s, whatever is available 

MD: The Camco bass drum pedal. Is that the chain pedal?

TB: No, I had the chain for awhile, around the time of the "Black Page" with Zappa. I did that while I was on the  road in New York. I had them all converted because I thought they would be great, but to me they weren't right. I have a way of playing where I'll sort of hit once and the bass drum will rebound twice, and that's how I get a double stroke. It isn't actually my foot going "boom boom" two times. I couldn't make the chain drive do that. I had to do it with my foot two times, and it was very uncomfortable for me. So I switched back to the nylon straps. And I use those Rogers black nylon beater balls. I use those because I like the attack they have. You know how the fiberglass and wood beater balls are really destructive to heads. I couldn't use one for one song without ruining the head. What I do is, I cut out a piece of a broken drum head, about four inches square, and tape that onto the spot where the beater ball hits. You can get a little more mileage, and also it adds a little more to that clicky attack sound which is good for live. 

The Rotos are great for live too, because the microphone just can't hear the depth of a tomtom. What really gives the depth to a tom-tom is a room, and unfortunately you're in too big of a room for it to be effective. The only thing that really cuts through in a live concert situation in a big arena is the attack. You can sort of EQ in the bottom and the depth to a Rota, on the board, whereas you can't really get the same attack out of a two-headed tomtom to compensate for the presence that you need. So that's my main reason for using the Rotos—they have a ton of attack.

MD: Do you feel that the stick response is as good on the Rotos?

TB: Not as good as a double-headed tom. But I also have kind of gotten away from the little notes, you know what I  mean? I use mainly single strokes for everything, and a lot of flams and stuff. I never use a lot of fast sort of hand to hand combinations, or anything that could be lost with the use of a Roto-tom. And they usually don't come through when you do that kind of thing on a tomtom anyway. But in most electronically boosted situations, the Rotos are much better, I think, than the regular toms

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Milton Banana

Here's a video of Milton Banana, one of my favorite Brazilian drummers, performing near the very end of his life. I don't know how much he was slowing up chops-wise at this point, but the fundamentals of his musical approach are all seemingly intact. It's a great lesson in how to play form, and how not to get locked into just playing a Bossa Nova beat when playing Brazilian styles.

You can't really hear what he's doing with the bass drum— the very open, hands-oriented things he's playing certainly don't feel constrained by having to fit with the standard repetitive bass drum rhythm.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Half-time feel to regular 4/4

We'll be marking time a little bit this week, saving up the big, good stuff for our fund raiser, which is going to be next week. As I mentioned in our last half-time feel funk entry, you want to keep in mind that you're also going to be playing these same ideas in regular old 4/4, with the rhythmic values doubled— to make 16th notes and 8th notes, mainly. That's usually how you're going to use them, in fact.

To illustrate how that works, here again is our source idea as it appears in the book Syncopation. It says 4/4, but in playing half-time feel, we're really playing 2/2— “cut time.”

Here is the same line of music with the values doubled, which will reduce each two measures into one measure. I've added dotted barlines in the middle of the measure so it's clear where the original barlines were:

So here's the basic-form half-time feel funk groove from our last entry, as you play it reading out of the book. There's no key, but the top line is the cymbal, the middle line is the snare, and the bottom line is the bass drum:

Here's that same thing with the rhythm doubled:

Since you will mostly be playing these grooves in the 8ths-and-16ths-in-4/4 form, you might think we're making extra work for ourselves by developing them in 2/2 this way. But I've concluded that's actually a strength of this method; it gives you a commonality between your funk vocabulary and your jazz and clave-based playing— playing which is based largely on 8th note and quarter note values, at all tempos.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Very occasional quote of the day: reasons

“Where did the ride cymbal pattern come from? Why does ding-dinga-ding exist? Where did that come from? Why is the hi-hat played on two and four, and not on one and three? Why was the bass drum played on four beats? Why was it played on one and three? And why is it not played either of those ways anymore?

There are reasons for all that. Why did guys start playing drums with single heads? Knowing the reasons for all that is how you find direction in your own playing.”

—Ed Soph, interviewed by Scott K. Fish

Do make Fish's blog a regular stop, if you're not already. He made a major contribution to the literature of drumming as editor of Modern Drummer in the late 70s-early 80s. For a lot of famous players who are now dead, the only place in print where they seriously talk about playing the drums is in that magazine. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Daily best music in the world: Bennie Maupin — Ensenada

Here's a beautiful piece, Ensenada, from Bennie Maupin's 1974 album The Jewel In The Lotus, with Billy Hart on Drums and Freddie Waits on marimba:

Saturday, May 09, 2015

George Colligan on playing the ride cymbal

THAT cymbal— listen and copy the sound.
Some good advice from former-New York/now-Portland/Jack Dejohnette-sideman/pianist/(and drummer, too) George Colligan, on the importance of your ride cymbal interpretation in jazz. The context is that he was judging student combos at the Reno Jazz Festival:

The ride cymbal is the most important part of a jazz beat. I would say that almost every other group I listened to in Reno had the same issue; on a swing beat, the ride cymbal was being accented on 1 and 3, rather than 2 and 4, and the hi hat was being used as a crutch to keep the 2 and 4 prominent. 
Now, I'm not saying that 2 and 4 have to be super loudly accented on the cymbal, and that you should never play the hi hat on 2 and 4. It's more subtle. To my ears, a strong accent on 1 and 3 on the cymbal sounds less than optimal( i.e. not swinging). Every jazz drummer from Max Roach to Jimmy Cobb to Billy Higgins to Ralph Peterson to Bill Stewart has a different way of riding on the cymbal. But I believe in all of the great jazz drummers, the ride cymbal beat is what makes them distinctive, and what makes the music flow the best. We can identify jazz drummers by their solo vocabulary around the kit also, but the great jazz drummers were and are in demand because of the feeling they gave the groove of the music, not because of their solos! 
I was on the road recently with Bill Stewart, and I think we were talking about rudiments, and Stewart said something like, "You might know all the rudiments but if you don't get the ride cymbal together, nobody is going to call you! So the point is, the ride cymbal has to feel good. Don't worry so much about the rest of the kit; I would rather have the ride cymbal be good than having someone play all around the kit without good time.

There's more good stuff on other subjects in the post, and I suggest you head over to Colligan's Jazz Truth blog and give it a read.

It's probably time for a little in-depth discussion on how to play the ride cymbal. It's not the 50s anymore, and we don't have the luxury of just being in the present and doing our one thing; we have to be able to cover ~50 years of history like we invented it. There are a number of popular cymbal interpretations, all of which I may use in the course of an evening's playing. Coming soon...

“How do I become a successful musician?”

From an Ask Andrew W.K. advice column in the Village Voice: 

Reader: “Since I was very young, I've always wanted to be a successful musician. I have practiced and played in many bands and done everything I can to get my music out there, but the dream of making it big just seems to get further away and more impossible. I feel like I should just give up, but I love music so much and want to succeed at it. How can I get there? How can I be a really successful musician?”

Andrew: “This is an excellent question and I'm going to answer it as simply and as directly as I can, with the hopes that it makes the point as clear and as helpful as possible.

The traditional modern concept of success — being the measurement of monetary income as the primary indicator of effort and mastery in a certain field — is essentially a scam, a con, and a lie. To equate success with an amount of money earned, or an amount of fame achieved, is at best an unfortunate miscomprehension of the very nature of success. At worst, it's a malicious distortion.

To truly succeed at something is to devote oneself to what one loves, and to allow that devotion to bring out the best and most admirable qualities one has inside of them, so that in the end, one ultimately succeeds at the only effort that really matters: Becoming a better person than you were.

The musician whose efforts in music only add to the size of their bank account is a really just a business person — a successful banker, and not necessarily a successful musician. If music is the means to an end, and that end is money, than the music might as well be real-estate investment, or commodity trading. Individuals whose primary interest in music is positioning themselves to impress others with their style and wealth may be successful marketers and salesmen, but they're not successful musicians, or even successful human beings. They're just rich.”

Continued after the break

Friday, May 08, 2015

Half-time feel funk: the “Syncopation” section — 01

Here's a new chapter to our recent half-time feel funk series, using Progressive Steps To Syncopation, by Ted Reed. Here we're going to get into the “Syncopation” section of the book— pp. 32-44 in the old edition, the part of the book where we start seeing jazz style notation, with ties and quarter notes written on the & of the beat.

Keep in mind through all of this, we're focusing this much on half time feel because it's the best way of deriving funk-type rhythms from this book— which I like using because everyone owns it and is familiar with it. Everything we're practicing with this series is portable directly into normal playing in 4/4.

The first thing we'll do is just make an inventory of some possible orchestrations based on those pages of Reed. With the last series entries we were using the written rhythm to make a hand part, to which we added some stock bass drum parts; this time, we'll use the written rhythm to make our snare drum bass drum parts, and add a basic cymbal part to that. As in normal funk/pop/rock style, play the ride cymbal or hihat with your right hand, and the snare with your left— we won't be doing the right hand move between snare and hihat which we were doing before.

For the examples, we'll reinterpret the top part of this very familiar line from Reed— we will ignore the stems-down part written in the book. If anything is unclear, there's another set of examples in the pdf.

1. First, play the snare drum on 3, and the bass drum on everything else. When there's a rest on 3, play the closest note to 3 on the snare. You can use any cymbal part you want, but a good one to start with is quarter notes, which I've written here:

2. Play the first half of the measure on the bass drum, and the second half on the snare:

3. Then alternate between the snare and bass, starting with the bass:

4. Alternate again, but start every measure with the bass:

Now we'll divide up the parts based on short notes and long notes. Short notes are 8th notes. Long notes are everything else: quarter notes, dotted quarter notes, and tied 8th notes— those are the only values that appear in this section of Syncopation.

6. First play the short notes on the snare drum, and the long notes on the bass drum:

7. Then play the short notes on the bass drum and the long notes on the snare drum:

8. Then start each measure with the bass drum, which will determine which drum plays the long and short notes. If the first note is a short note, than the bass drum plays the short notes on that measure; if the first note is a long note, the bass plays the long notes on that measure.

Playing through the exercises, you will find plenty that sounds pretty cool, and plenty that doesn't, but don't worry about that; just play through pp. 32-44 with each of the orchestrations, and familiarize yourself with this way of reading the rhythms. There's more interesting/hipper stuff to come.

Get the pdf [PDF is fixed!]

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Linear phrases in 5/4, mixed rhythm — 02b

Here's another set of Gary Chaffee-style linear phrases in a mixed rhythm, in 5/4— a continuation of part 2, which has four beats of triplets and one beat of 8th notes. I've found this to be a fun and productive way to run these things.

Again, I start the hand parts with the right hand, and alternate, moving the hands around the drums. Try to get these in a medium to bright tempo, covering a lot of patterns— move through them quickly.

get the pdf

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Ornette live in '58

Here's something remarkable: Ornette Coleman recorded live in LA in 1958, just before his big national exposure in New York. The band includes the musicians in his famous quartet: Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, and Billy Higgins, plus Paul Bley on piano. They had all been playing together a lot at this point, but like the album from '58, Something Else!, it does sound on-the-cusp; after the famous, long-running gig at the Five Spot in 1960, the band just sounds bigger and more confident in their thing. Or, hell, maybe they sounded amazing in '55 and just started getting recorded better. Don Cherry sounds great here.

Tunes are:
1. Klactoveedsestene
2. I Remember Harlem
3. The Blessing
4. Free
5. Ramblin' (possibly my favorite Ornette Track ever, from Change of the Century)
6. How Deep Is The Ocean?
7. When Will The Blues Leave?
8. Crossroads

Service announcement

Be advised that posting will be spotty for a couple of days while I undergo, and recover from, a lovely big ol' dental procedure.

On the up side: we're going to have a fund raiser coming up shortly, which means you'll be getting lots of special content as I attempt to prove my worth, in the hopes of making you happy to make a generous donation.

Stay tuned...

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Groove o' the day: Tony Williams — Lopsy Lu

This is a super-classic bit of 70s fusion, from Stanley Clarke's first self-titled solo record, with drumming by Tony Williams. I got this album used for 3 bucks around 1985, when I was buying everything I could afford with Williams's name on it. Our tune, Lopsy Lu, has a triplet groove with a strong 4 feel, the type of which people don't play much any more, but which is similar to some other things from the period, like Stevie Wonder's Higher Ground and Isn't She Lovely. There's a lot of improvising here, but Tony settles on these grooves for extended periods:



The beats are easy enough by themselves, but the tricky part is playing your face off on the whole rest of the tune, the way Tony does, without having the groove fall apart. A combination of things— I haven't thoroughly analyzed what they are— make it difficult to blow on this feel. Mainly, the dotted quarter note pulse is difficult to play off of, and you really get married to the triplets— you have to play them strongly, which gets to be a burden. It's easy to lapse into a duple subdivision when you're improvising, which to me is a groove-killer in this style. This feel and tempo can feel really unstable, and want to drift badly, but this track starts and ends pretty much exactly at dotted-quarter = 131.

I did do a complete transcription of the drumming on this tune; I may try to send it to Drum! or Modern Drummer, or maybe I'll post it here as a special feature when and if I do a fundraiser. It is a substantial piece of work.