I've been working up a practice method for learning what Mel Lewis called rub-a-dub— I hate to use his term, because I only just saw it explained for the first time in Chris Smith's video. I don't know enough about how it applies to Lewis's playing to claim I'm doing his thing. But I've used the same basic idea for many years, usually in the context of a modern, ECM-type feel. I can write about that, and work out a way of applying it to ensemble figures, and maybe approximate Mel's thing as explained by Smith. Or maybe it will just be something different, but still useful.
Basically it's a simple all-purpose idea for playing and filling around big band figures, and I'll be exploring some ways of working it up using the syncopation exercises from Progressive Steps to Syncopation (pp. 32-44 in the old edition). This will certainly evolve as I continue working with it. For now I'm trying to develop a very basic interpretation so we'll have some hope of executing it on the fly with the full page exercises in Reed.
Here's the basic rub-a-dub lick, played with the left hand on the snare and the right hand on the cymbal:
The snare and bass rhythm without the cymbal:
That rhythm written as one voice occurs throughout Syncopation, so that will be our main place for introducing the rub-a-dub:
Here's the rhythm in Syncopation— we most often see it starting on beat 1 or 3, less frequently as an equivalent rhythm starting on beat 2 or 4:
A basic way of playing that figure rub-a-dub style would be:
That ending quarter note could be played on the snare or bass drum.
In other instances that 8th-quarter-8th rhythm includes rests, which could be played by just dropping snare drum hits to match the written rhythm:
The 8th-quarter-8th rhythm repeating give a clue on how to handle running 8th notes:
This is only a beginning, of course. We're reconciling a few different concerns: doing the rub-a-dub lick, designing a system that will be readable with the long exercises in Reed, while making sense in terms of playing big band figures. Somewhere on the radar should be the idea of suggesting a standard time feel— jazz, funk, or samba— for when there is no obvious rub-a-dub type interpretation for a rhythmic passage, or when we need some variety.
Playing out of the book will be challenging, especially with the full-page exercises; interpretation is very dependent on the context. The way you play a rhythm will depend on what comes before and after it, so you may play a rhythm differently in the full-page exercises than in the one-line exercise. You can use a simple long-note/short-note interpretation with the cymbal in unison to get through parts where it's not obvious what to do.
Anyone actually playing around with this rub-a-dub idea should also check out Jack Dejohnette and Charlie Perry's book— they outline a method very similar to what Smith describes, that will be very helpful in working it up.