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...

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