Friday, March 22, 2019

Groove o' the day: Billy Higgins - Una Muy Bonita

Some variations on a groove Billy Higgins plays on the Ornette Coleman tune Una Muy Bonita, on Bobby Hutcherson's album Stick-Up!. It's a New Orleans type thing, reminiscent of parts of Poinciana, as played by Vernel Fournier. Higgins plays hip stuff all the way through this tune, some of it related to some other things we're working on— I'll have to transcribe a longer portion of it soon.

Play with the snares off. You can play the bass drum lightly on beats 1 and 3 throughout. Check out Higgins's legato feel on the cymbal— he plays it a little straighter than most people. Much of the time he doesn't play repetitively, but these patterns happen at least a couple of times in a row at different points in the track.

This happens on the intro:

This variation occurs frequently:

During the solos he sometimes plays this variation, with a bass drum accent at the end:

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Anything at all, with energy

Why do they always look surprised.
Today there is two big pieces in The Atlantic about social media advancing some very dark ideas, and about trolling and fascism, so maybe it's a good day to post a long-form rant about a somewhat related, relatively minor irritant, which has been kicking around my drafts folder for a couple of weeks.

We've been seeing a new ilk of drumming video lately, that is the hyperactive bastard offspring of the famously terrible old “Expert Village” videos, mated with that crummy, lazy clickbait you see on Fxcebook:

“9 out of 10 can't name the capitals of three states.” 
“PERSONALITY TEST: What kind of omelette are you?” 
Answer: DENVER

That kind of blather. The drumming videos follow a similar formula, that is extremely simple:

1. Think of a dippy, urgent-sounding title.
2. Babble about nothing on video for 5-12 minutes.
3. Cut in footage of you acting funny. Edit out every microsecond of dead air. Plaster the video with text. Make a title card showing you looking surprised.
4. Make a couple of hundred of those.
5. Beg for follows and likes.
6. PROFIT$$$

Titles and concepts can be anything you can think of in one second:


The idea is to monetize people's intolerance for uncertainty, their fear of doing something wrong, and their unwillingness to trust themselves to figure anything out; so play up the consequences of screwing up:

There is frequently a subtext is juvenile insecurity. Play on these kinds of emotions:

But it is most important that you do not try. The “answers” you provide don't have to be good. You have only to offer a dim hope that you will address the thing you have triggered the target to care about, which he feels powerless to solve without the aid of a *kof* smart phone.

I'm serious: any crap idea at all that sounds like a drumming problem— take it and GO! Now! Run! Make the video. There is no such thing as being too inane. Don't try to improve it or make it good or valuable in any way. Every second you waste thinking about that nonsense, you are being denied the money and attention that are rightfully yours.

You can't worry that you are in any way unqualified to be making instructional videos, or that you lack any kind of talent as a media personality. This is about seizing attention, not about giving anything of value. Just be willing to say anything at all, with energy.

It doesn't hurt if you have a face that looks like an undisturbed plate of milk.

I hate to link to these people, but look at this once. You lose nothing by jumping ahead frequently.

Now, if you watched that and thought “Did I just give up nine minutes of my life for him to tell me to move my hand over here a little bit? Is that what just happened” you are not the target audience of that video. Your attitude is all wrong. You need to just be mesmerized by the screen for a few hours, letting the wash of drum-sounding nonsense cascade over you. Let the algorithm take you, and stop being so me focused— what can learn, blah blah blah. Sit there and be monetized.

It's pointless to criticize the substance of the videos, because that is absolutely not the point. The only point is attention. If you are interacting with them in any way— even to hate them, as we are doing here— you are serving their purpose. If you know or care anything about the subject, the videos are actually a form of monetized trolling.

This guy has made half a dozen versions of this same video:

Watching that, anyone who knows anything will observe:

1. What the hell was the point of that? What's the “lesson”? 
2. What he's doing doesn't even work. Playing an AC-DC beat badly along with a recording of Take 5... what???

The fundamental dynamic of this kind of trolling is that knowledgeable people will attempt to make an ordered statement out of nonsense, and correct it on its merits, while the troll just wants to prolong the argument and get more views. If knowledgeable people engage them and try to figure out what the hell they are talking about, and correct them, so much the better. Gives their followers someone to fight with.

Normally when I criticize drumming videos I feel a little bit bad about it. I care about the quality of the information, so I'm going to make my criticism, but often the videos are made by well-intentioned people just overstepping what they know. I usually hope they don't see my responses.

Not so with these exploiters. I want them to know. I want them to know that I want them to know. This puts me in the category of being a “hater.”

Now: you never hear ethical people calling others haters. It's always people doing something indefensible, basically running a scam, and they can't be fielding criticisms on their merits. They have turn it into these people are jealous of my youth, good looks, and success. There's also a primitive amoral egoism at work, that says I am me so I am good so what I do is right, and people against me are bad.

Happily, you can only run a business on vapor for so long. YouTube is rigorously managed by very clever people who are rabidly jealous of every cent they have to pay out to people making the actual videos. They frequently burns video makers by changing the rules on monetizing, collapsing their businesses overnight. I don't begrudge anyone a living, but if you're going to pretend to teach people about the drums, make an effort not to suck, and don't be a scumbag.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Page o' coordination: Cinquillo

Here's an easy page o' coordination based on a basic bell rhythm, known in Latin music circles as “cinquillo”— which basically means quintuplet. It's not a quintuplet, it's the indicated 5-note rhythm, but that's what the word means. It's a good rhythm for a variety of Latin feels, or pseudo-Latin feels, especially for bright tempos, R&B situations, show music situations, or situations where the other players aren't real sophisticated, and get thrown off by more complex bell patterns.

Learn all the patterns with your hands only, then add the right and left foot parts, one at a time. Then you can combine the different feet parts. You can move your left hand between the snare (rim click) and high tom for most of these. If you want to get deeper into it, you can do the stock moves I always do with these POCs, and vary your articulations and dynamics— rim shots, dead strokes, buzzes, whatever. Play the right hand on a cowbell, cymbal bell, hihat, or the rim/shell of the floor tom. Play it as rim shots on the snare drum (snares off) for a pseudo-calypso feel.

Get the pdf

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Tune list for sessions

This is the tune list for a weekly session I play. We go through a lot of material, most of it kind of unusual, and many things that are rather challenging. I shlep this big pile of paper to every rehearsal.

There's really nothing here you would be expected to walk onto a gig and definitely already know. I have starred the things most likely to come up, either in conversation or on an actual gig. Lead sheets for most of these can be found online through a variety of sources if you want to play them. 

*A Felicidade - Antonio Carlos Jobim
Ambrosia - Kenny Barron
Ana Maria - Wayne Shorter 
Angeles Crest - Larry Koonse 
Aquarius - Joao Donato
Aunt Alice - Rob Thomas 
Backyard Groove - Kenny Garrett
Bananeira - Gilberto Gil/Joao Donato
Bicycle Ride - Toninho Horta 
Big Red - Tommy Turrentine
Black - Cedar Walton
Black Five - Gregory Fine
*Black Narcissus - Joe Henderson
Black Nile - Wayne Shorter 
Christina - Buster Williams
Compulsion - Harold Land
Con Brio - Jerry Bergonzi 
Dance Cadaverous - Wayne Shorter
*Dear Old Stockholm
Debonaire - George Colligan
Del Sasser - Sam Jones 
Desert Moonlight - Lee Morgan
Dhyana - Tina Brooks
Different Places Together - Jerry Bergonzi 
Dual Force - Buster Williams
East of the Village - Hank Mobley
Edda - Wayne Shorter 
Everybody's Song But My Own - Kenny Wheeler

Continued after the break:

Monday, March 18, 2019

Rudiments in 5/8

A page of snare drum rudiment practice phrases, written in 5/8, in a 3+2 phrasing. Keep this with your copy of Haskell Harr (book 2) or Rudimental Swing Solos.

These can all be played at normal rudimental tempos— quarter note = 105-126. You'll probably have to set your metronome to give you 8th notes at 210-252 bpm for that. Or you can set it to give you downbeats only, at 21-25 bpm. The closed 7 stroke rolls are played with a 16th note triplet pulsation; the other closed rolls are played with a 16th note pulsation.

Get the pdf

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Groove o' the day: Lex Humphries - Abana

Back to posting drum stuff after a shocking, depressing last week, with the massacre of a lot of innocent humans in New Zealand. Here's some music for anyone still struggling to find their equilibrium.

I was thinking about what the space alien said to the main character in Stardust Memories

“You're not the missionary type. You’d never last. And incidentally, you’re also not Superman; you’re a comedian. You want to do mankind a real service? Tell funnier jokes.”

So back to drum stuff. 

Here is Lex Humphries playing a very functional Latin groove on Abana, by Yusef Lateef, on the album Jazz 'Round The World. It's a modal jazz tune with a Latin flavor; the cymbal rhythm is a common one used in Cuban music. Only the hands are audible on the recording. Tempo is around half note = 125. 

To add some feet and make this into a full drum set groove, start by learning it with the hihat on beats 2 and 4. I've encountered Latin players who don't like this, but many jazz musicians will expect it.

These are some different things with the bass drum, ordered from “more functional in a jazz combo” to “more authentic”:

The bass drum on 1 and 3 way is very north American, but also more useful in a jazz setting than any of us want to admit. Play the bass drum very softly if you're going to do that.  

It looks like I chose something for which there is not a convenient link from the usual site. Looks like you'll have to buy the album if you don't already own it.  

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Daily best music in the world: Oval

You know what I'm tired of? Music that sounds like it was created with a free Android app. So here is one of my favorite albums in the late 90s: 94 Diskont by the German electronica group Oval. Created using some novel manipulations of digital media— marking up, damaging, and generally messing with CD surfaces, and remaking the resulting screwed up audio into music. A lot of electonica suffers from being made by people who never went through the discipline of learning to play an instrument, but these guys are real artists.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

From the zone: brush things

A little item from Ted Warren, author of the excellent Trap'd blog, who is clearly not suffering from any kind of OCD, having written this upside down on some kind of assignment sheet. I post so much stuff on this site that it's easy to forget that most of what you actually play centers around relatively few basic ideas (actually, what I write also centers around relatively few basic ideas, in different contexts)... so when you get one or two things from a source like this, you should actually spend proportionally more time playing them, and experimenting with them. They're going to be very useful and/or fertile.

Ted gives some explanation of this here.

Definitely also see his series of brush videos— those, plus a lot of playing with people are all you need to learn to play the brushes.

Please send me (see the sidebar) any practice room artifacts you would like to be featured in a FROM THE ZONE post. Don't worry about it looking good, making sense, or being finished.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Mike Clark gig and clinic

A few thoughts and observations relating to a Mike Clark / Donald Harrison gig and clinic in Portland on Sunday and Monday:

First: It continues to impress me that everybody knows that same stuff. Whether it's Mike Clark, or John Riley recently, or any of 50 or so excellent professional drummers I know in Portland and Seattle, or me, it's all the same information. People with long careers playing with famous players will have better stories, professional educators and clinicians will have a worked out presentation, someone like me will have spent time learning to write about it and express it. And individuals will have their own emphases, and pet theories. But it's all the same stuff. There's always an instant recognition that somebody is telling you something you knew, or that you didn't know you knew.

Mike Clark is best known for playing with Herbie Hancock's funk/fusion group Headhunters in the 70s, most famously on the album Thrust, but he clearly considers himself to be a jazz drummer— a modern player in the post-Tony Williams, Elvin Jones mode. The band did a funk tune on Sunday, but you got the feeling it was for the audience. He said of his funk playing in the 70s that he just learned the style to keep up with the times so he could keep working.

He played fairly forcefully, really digging into the ride cymbal— there is a different kind of groove happening with these older players, who did a lot of funk/R&B gigs. They dig in more, and play with a whole lot of bottom, even when they're not playing anything different. Clark didn't necessarily use more bass drum than normal, definitely didn't feather the thing, but his overall sound was coming from deep in the instrument. Even as he was playing pretty strongly, you could still hear the unmiked bass and upright piano— of course they were expert players who are able to make themselves heard.

...I like to think I play that way, but I have probably moderated my touch to adapt to the prevailing Pacific Northwest thing of playing very softly. I try to get that kind of intensity at a low volume, but was also disappointed when the guitarist John Stowell once told me to play “More New York, less Portland.”

Incidentally, I use a lot of the same licks as him— much of the dense stuff I do here is from the same post-Elvin bag as Clark's stuff. A lot of it is standard vocabulary if you worked through Syncopation the normal ways, some of it I can't recall having deliberately worked out. Most of it easy stuff to do fast.

In the clinic Clark remarked that he sacrifices a lot of his chops in favor of playing directly in the moment— he plays instinctively, and does not try to put his worked-out stuff into the performance.

Solos would be long, with consistent energy. Sort of a Chasin' The Trane vibe. Dynamics tended to be fairly static over the course of a solo— at least relative to the current introspective thing, where dynamics are a primary featured element, and it takes a long time to build up to actually hitting the instrument. Overall it was less climax-oriented than is common now, though there was some of that. I see that climax-seeking way of playing as a crowd-pleasing thing— virtually a device.

Since I think a lot about cymbals now: He used Istanbul Agop cymbals, 22/20/14, I'm not sure what line. They looked similar to Turk and 30th Anniversary series. Very dark and dry. My usual complaint about that type of cymbal was borne out at the gig: they sound great from the playing position, but they're rather insubstantial out in the room. Maybe that's what enables him to play strongly without being overbearing, but you do sacrifice on sound, and to some extent, energy.

Quotes that jumped out at me, from Clark, and from Donald Harrison:

“Swinging is an addiction.” 

That's an idea that comes up when you speak to Brazilians about samba: “like a drug.” They are talking about groove— an infectious, consistent (though not without push and pull), unrelenting pulse. It's a very different thing from what younger musicians think is groove today— either as an arena for displaying your abilities, or as an optional thing that you have to actually be cool to get. You don't have to be cool to understand samba.

“Music is always about vibe. Always.”

Some students played a bossa nova, the same way people always play bossas: routinely. Harrison started his critique with a very immersive story about being on the beach in Rio with a woman, and ended with that line.

Harrison was a very interesting guy, very knowledgeable, and a charismatic personality— a very relaxed, quiet and slow speaker. It was sort of like listening to Monk speak, except that speaking was maybe not Monk's bag, and it is definitely Harrison's. An extremely captivating personality.

One thing he remarked on was call and response in bebop. Usually that idea is illustrated very literally as players repeating each other's motifs; Harrison was talking more about filling in the gaps in a bop line— either a tune or a solo. I've never studied this specifically— I've noticed it more in Brazilian music than in jazz. I'll be looking into it.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Hemiola funk series - basic logic

I want to walk through the logic of this hemiola funk series of posts— at least the logic of one part of it, which may be difficult to see on playing through the materials. I feel I have to explain myself if I'm going to post a lot of pages developing an idea live on the blog like this. Here are the basic steps I am doing on those pages, with a little explanation:

Start with a basic 3:2 polyrhythm, written with 8th notes representing the 3 side. Notated here for cymbal and snare drum:

The native */4 meter for this is 3/4— that's the shortest */4 meter that can hold the uninterrupted pattern in a single measure. We get that by playing that pattern twice:

To be clear, this is not necessarily about a literal 3:2 polyrhythm, with three pulses played against two pulses. It's about fitting a running dotted-8th note rhythm into */4 meters— mainly 2/4 or 4/4. The 3 side of the polyrhythm, the 8th notes, just represent the context— the implied subdivision of the time signature. Our main interest is the dotted 8th notes:

As these rhythms occur in nature, they don't always start the same way. Here's the above pattern starting on its second beat:

Extend the pattern one more beat to put it into 4/4. The dashed “imaginary” barline divides the measure in half, which will be significant in a moment.

Now the weird/interesting part— reverse the pattern to start with the second half first:

...we see that same type of move in clave-based music, with 3-2 and 2-3 clave orientations, and we see it in Brazilian music. It's not so weird if we think of the rhythm as two measures of 2/4 rather than 4/4; I use a single measure of 4/4 only because it's common in modern North American music. The idea of reversing the parts may seem strange in the first place, but it certainly must have evolved organically. I think it's only seems strange because we're imposing a “1” on music that isn't as 1-centric as we are accustomed to— at least in the musics where these rhythms first came into common usage.


The rhythms resulting from the above system turn up everywhere in nature. Two quick examples, using that last rhythm: it is the same as this common bossa nova rhythm, frequently mislabeled “bossa clave.” Here it is in a complete groove:

And it occurs in DC Go-go music— it's the bass drum rhythm that is the foundation of the entire style:

Now, the end game here is not to theorize about rhythm. I'm more interested in developing a fairly complete funk drumming vocabulary with a few simple drumming ideas, based on these concepts. The vocabulary already exists— I just want to turn it into a method. It's also good to understand the extent to which this 3:2 polyrhythm is truly the life blood of African-American music, and Afro-Latin music, and all of their derivatives. Without this, we would all be playing marches.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

CYMBALISTIC: Describing cymbal sounds

This is a new post on the Cymbalistic blog. I do post good stuff there (I think) which I don't share on this blog, so I encourage you do scroll through and check in regularly.

Here is a glossary of words I use to describe cymbal sound and performance. It's a funny thing about cymbals— even people in the business aren't that great at talking about them. There seems to be an irreducible element of mystery about them.

These are mainly for describing the general sound of a cymbal, or its harmonic profile. They also pertain to the ride sound, crash sound (strong accent on the edge of the cymbal), accent sound (shoulder of the stick on the ride area) and bell sound. Also for describing definition and response, which are qualities of riding, accenting, and crashing.

If you have other words you use, I invite you to share them in the comments.

Higher harmonics are emphasized generally.

Lower Harmonics are emphasized generally. An over-used word; I may use it to describe a very broad category of cymbal, or to mean, with specific individual cymbals, very dark, compared to warm or smoky.

Mid and lower harmonics subtly emphasized, generally harmonious profile.

Lower harmonics moderately emphasized. Many Holy Grail cymbals fall in this category.

The cymbal crashes with a bwah sound; in my mind suggesting a low sound. Can be a pleasing quality, or it can be a flaw.

Suggests an unusual Chinese cymbal or gong like sound or pitch bend.

Suggests a cymbal that is very responsive to crashing, possibly with a high sound.

Focused, harmonious profile.

Harmonics de-emphasized relative to the direct stick sound.

Excessively dry or muffled, lacking in expected overtones. Not always a negative quality.

There's more...

Saturday, March 09, 2019

Groove o' the day: Hot Rod

Update: There is some dispute as to whether the drummer here is actually Idris Muhammad, which would not surprise me at all, because this is the kind of stuff he plays.

This is from a drummer I had never heard of: Tommy Derrick. Apparently his main gig was playing with the organist Reuben Wilson, who I never listened to. But he's great, and here he's playing a cool groove that is very relevant to a current topic of conversation— the 3:2 polyrhythm, or hemiola, in funk drumming. The tune is Hot Rod, from Wilson's album On Broadway, released in 1968.

In the first measure Derrick plays this— he doesn't actually play the hihat on beat 1, but I've added it to make a normal groove out of it:

For most of the tune he plays this:

Play that ghosted bass drum note very lightly, or omit it.

If we isolate what he does at the end of the measure, you can see he's doing the same pattern we've been using with the rub-a-dub:

And at the end of the first measure he's doing a three note pattern we know from Chaffee... and from everywhere else in the world, because it's a very fundamental drumset pattern, RLB:

This integrated three-limb thing is a very modern, drumset-istic way of playing; very different from the old way of stomping out a rhythm with your foot while playing a march on the snare drum. 

I'll put both of those ideas through the hemiola funk series treatment soon—hopefully refining that concept as I go, and eventually rewriting the entire mess. I'm shooting for some kind of unified theory for funk here.

Be sure to check out the entire tune— he has a cool way of playing fills, and he plays a lot of them:

Friday, March 08, 2019

Transcription: Tony Williams - Time of the Barracudas

From the Miles Davis album Quiet Nights, with conducted and arranged by Gil Evans. The tune is a Miles/Gil classic, and appears as a bonus track on the 1997 reissue of this album. The version I know the best is on The Individualism of Gil Evans. The transcription is of Tony Williams playing the slow section of the tune starting at 6:28. This was recorded in October 1963, a couple of months before his 18th birthday.

...I'm not trying to awe you with that statistic, by the way. I don't care about anything being awesome, I just want to see some artistry. However old someone is, and how ahead of the time or behind the time, the product is the product. What we have here is a nice intelligent creative performance, that is still very modern. You could say it's an impressionistic interpretation of blues accompaniment.

Tempo is 72 bpm. 8th notes are swung with a triplet feel; there are a couple of spots where I wrote a dotted 8th-16th rhythm, where he disrupts that consistent triplet feel a bit. There is also a double-dotted 8th-32nd rhythm, where he plays a big accent right before the downbeat. He plays a little bit of double time, also with a swing feel— swing the 16th notes where indicated. Approximately like 16th note triplets with the middle note left out.

Dynamics are very subtle throughout. Indicated accents are generally light; housetop accents are rim shots, but not played extremely loud. The hands are played in unison a lot of the time, with a lot of left foot activity. I believe there's more hihat played on the 2 and 4 than I put in the transcription— he plays it very softly at times, and I can only hear it sporadically. I'm probably missing a little of the bass drum, too. There is also a lot of mixed triplet activity, and you often hear a quarter note triplet rhythm on the cymbal (always starting on beat 1 or 3)— either alternating with the left foot, or with the left hand playing 8th note triplets.

This is a long piece, and there are cool sections in 3 and 4 which I'll try to get to transcribing soon.

Get the pdf

Thursday, March 07, 2019

CYMBALISTIC: new videos are UP

Cymbalistic news: I have posted videos for the latest batch of new Cymbal & Gong cymbals on the Cymbalistic site.

We've added:

• 22" Holy Grail Jazz Ride
• Two 20″ Holy Grail Jazz Rides
• Two 20″ Mersey Beat Crash-Rides
• 19″ Holy Grail Jazz Ride
• Two 18″ Holy Grail Crash-Rides
• 18″ Mersey Beat Crash-Ride
• 18″ Leon Collection Crash
• Two 18″ Custom unlathed “Krut” Rides
• 14″ BARGAIN light hihats – light

Videos for three more very cool cymbals are coming— there are pre-holds on all of these, but they may become available if the reservees pass on them:

• 14" Holy Grail hihats - light-medium
• 20" American Artist special medium ride - ECM-like! Will add rivets for a Billy Higgins-type sound
• 20" Leon Collection crash-ride or light ride with patina

You can also check out the selection video for more options— you may still be able to get some of those if you act fast. Send me an email with your best description of the cymbal: time in the video, and where it is in the lineup of cymbals played— left, right, or middle.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

I played with Coltrane when Elvin couldn't be found

This is fun— Uncle Paul's Jazz Closet, the extremely cool web site sharing recordings and other items from Paul Motian's archives, has scanned and shared Motian's business calendar from 1965-66.

It has all his gigs, finances, and personal business for that year and a half. Some fun items in there, like the thing about Coltrane, and playing with Mose Allison at Birdland from 8:45-2:30 am, then playing with Sheila Jordan at Cafe au Gogo from 4-8 am for $10. Plus buying “plastic drum heads”, dental bills, jury duty, unemployment checks, and his address, so you can see where he lived at the time.

The site has been going since 2016 and they have shared a lot of music... I don't have to tell you to follow them... on Facebook too. In addition to the other things, they have published some volume's of Motian's tunes, which I need to buy because my transcriptions of them probably suck.

Saturday, March 02, 2019

Hemiola funk series - SB-BS

I like this series. It's a little half-baked, and I'll probably have to rewrite it eventually, but I feel we're closing in on something. A theory of rhythm and playing the drumset not based on marches? That will take another couple of generations of development. For now we'll just settle for a thorough understanding of this 3:2 compound pulse fit into common meters, along with a basic, powerful piece of drumming coordination.

This is the inverse of the last thing, where we started with the bass. Now we're starting with the snare.

See the last entry for comments on practicing this. Play the patterns, preferably in a context, and count the quarter note in the meter of the exercise, out loud. 

Get the pdf