Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Daily best music in the world: Buck Hill

Here's a really nice 1978 recording of some 70s powerhouse bebop by Washington DC saxophonist Buck Hill. Wikipedia says about him:
Hill began playing professionally in 1943 but held a day job as a mailman in his birthplace of Washington, D.C. for over thirty years. He played with Charlie Byrd in 1958-59, but was only occasionally active during the 1960s. 

In the 70s, after age 50, he began recording as a leader. Here the rhythm section is Kenny Barron, Buster Williams, and Billy Hart— as a young man Hart actually knew Hill in Washington, and played with him. Hart says Hill gave him his first jazz records, a couple of Charlie Parker 78s.

There's nothing artificial about this:

Monday, August 03, 2020

CYMBALISTIC: 24"-ATHON

MONDAY 8/3 UPDATE: Last day, folks. Speak now or pay full shipping later. And miss out on these wonderful 24" rides, which are going back to C&G.

Hey gang, due to a fluke set of circumstances— mainly, I'm holding a group of 24" jazz rides that have to go back to Cymbal & Gong headquarters in a couple of days— I'm going to offer an END OF JULY 2020 LIGHTNING OPPORTUNITY SHIPPING SPECIAL BLOW-OUT:

If you want one of the 24" rides, I'll give you FREE SHIPPING...

Strike that— let's do free shipping for ALL cymbal purchases (USA only) through Monday, August 3rd. Why not.

Cruise over to Cymbalistic and see what I have in stock, and email me through that site or at the EMAIL TODD link in the sidebar here to make a purchase.

Sunday, August 02, 2020

EZiest swing in 5/4

Teachers' item here. In working with various beginners, younger students, and hobbyists, you have to be flexible and creative in how you show them things. At those stages, differences in how people learn are really amplified— they're slow to get some things, and faster to get others, with no consistency from individual to individual. I don't want them getting hung up if a certain part of the process is not working for them yet, and I don't need them to learn things in a specific order, so I'll try a lot of different things to help them get their foot in the door. Then they can learn the hard thing over time, while still progressing with their actual playing.

This is an easy procedure for teaching a 5/4 swing groove without the student having to read it, or even learn a new pattern. It should be simple for anyone who can play a jazz beat in 4/4, and more natural and direct than just throwing a book at them.

First, play one measure of a jazz feel, with bass drum on the first note, and stop on 1 of the second measure. With new things, I often have them play it one time only, followed by a long, unmetered pause.

Play this one time, counting out loud: 1 2 3 4 1. Swing the 8th notes. 



Do it again, one time, except count 1 2 3 4 5



Despite the written time signature, we're effectively in 5/4 now. Play the above thing repeating. At first I may have them put a long pause in between measures— without counting or tapping their foot during the pause: 



They can shorten that pause until they're just playing the repeating pattern in time. Continue counting in 5.

Of course many students won't need to do all that, and some may need more help, which I improvise based on whatever seems to be hanging them up.  

More advanced students will want some independence patterns to go with that, for which you can just go to Jim Chapin's Advanced Techniques for the Modern Drummer. Just add an extra beat one to the end of the pattern. So this: 



Through the magic of Photoshop, becomes this:


And this pattern: 



Becomes this: 



Just repeat the first beat. Or don't. You can play the book pattern exactly as written, and simply add a quarter note on the cymbal at the end.

See my series Cracking 5/4 for more introductory materials/concepts for learning to play this time signature. 

Saturday, August 01, 2020

Page o' coordination: Freddie Waits Afro

A combination groove o' the day and page o' coordination here. On MC by Andrew Hill, from his album Grass Roots, Freddie Waits plays a Afro feel with a simplified cymbal rhythm that is similar to the “Afro Blues” rhythm (my phrase) I wrote about a few years ago. It's a good introductory groove for this type of thing, and, with a stronger dotted-quarter note pulse, it's probably good if you're playing with a weak rhythm section. Or, what the hell, if you just want a cleaner groove with a stronger main pulse.

On the top line are the cymbal/feet ostinato, and the complete groove as Waits played it on the record, and the rest of it is the practice patterns:




Learn the page, then drill it while doing my left hand moves.

Get the pdf

Friday, July 31, 2020

Grooves o' the day: Art Blakey Latin

Two very similar Latin grooves recorded by Art Blakey in 1960 and '61. On both of them the bell pattern has that little syncopated move across the barline that we see a few years later in the Mozambique rhythm. There was a lot of Latin music happening in New York in the 40s-50s, but I'm nowhere near informed enough about it to try speculate on where Blakey and others got that motif; it does also happen in Cuban conga de comparsa, from which the Mozambique is derived. 

Johnny's Blue, from the Jazz Messengers album Like Someone In Love:





There's no audible bass drum on either thing. On both tracks when Blakey comes in he starts with an accent on the high tom on beat 1. Note that he swings the cymbal rhythm when he first comes in.




El Toro, from the Jazz Messengers album The Freedom Rider:




A little brighter tempo, using two tom toms, with a broken rhythm on the cymbal in the first measure.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Very occasional quote(s) of the day: consecrated and desynchronized

A couple of quotes from the pianist Ethan Iverson.


From blog post Rhythmic Folklore:

“Consecrated jazz drummers have less accurate time than rock and fusion drummers for a reason. The beat is connected to the cycle of life and playing with an ensemble. It has warp and woof and slip and slide.”


Article from The Threepenny Review, Hands & Feet:

“Magic happens at the drum kit when the four limbs are slightly desynchronized. Any truly swinging or funky drummer does not always place the articulations of the two hands and two feet at exactly the same time (even though it may look simultaneous to a lay person). These complex techniques are not covered by the European tradition of music notation; the groovy result is often simply called 'feel.' The tradition of 'feel' is at its most exalted in various hand-drumming languages of Mother Africa, the continent where most of the rhythmic motifs in American music come from. A drummer with 'good hands' may not have exceptional 'feel.' Naturally, the very greatest drummers have both.”


Monday, July 27, 2020

Transcription: more Max Roach comping

Posting lots of 50s stuff these days. Here is Max Roach playing on Infinity Promenade, from the Miles Davis Lighthouse All-Stars record, At Last! In 1953 Miles was living with his father in East St. Louis, trying to get a handle on his heroin addiction, and Max Roach and Charles Mingus picked him up and took him to Los Angeles for a few months. Max was working in LA at the Lighthouse, and Miles sat in, and the record got made. There are some good stories about this period in Miles's autobiography, about fighting with Mingus and whatnot.

I've transcribed Max's playing during the tenor solo, starting at 1:06 in the track. Infinity Promenade is a cool West Coast-y tune by Shorty Rogers. I don't know what tune it's based on, but the soloing changes have a bright Duke-like feel. There's a nice groove happening, which is what attracted me to this track.




Max uses a few basic comping ideas here, and plays very crisp four-bar phrases without being too obvious about it. You can get a sense of what he's thinking phrasing-wise by checking out the bass drum— he plays it sparsely, mostly on downbeats, and doesn't put it in the same place in the phrase all the time. He often plays the busier things at phrase endings a little louder, acting like a conductor. 

Monday, July 20, 2020

Reed tweak: adding 16ths to a basic method

Another tweak to the same basic method we used with the tweak I posted last week: right hand plays rhythm on cymbal + bass drum / left hand fills in. That basic method is a super-standard piece of modern drumming language, useful any time you're improvising, soloing, or doing more dense, textural playing. So we want to be able to go some different places with it. The thing we're going to do today will be good for adding some texture when playing at moderate tempos.

To summarize the basic thing, we're interpreting a top-line “melody” rhythm from Ted Reed's Syncopation thusly:

• RH plays book rhythm on cymbal, plus BD in unison
• LH fills in remaining 8th notes on SD

So when reading this rhythm:



You would play this:



Here we will make some of the 8th notes in the melody rhythm into two 16ths, played on the snare drum, with a RL sticking. We'll do that on any 8th note right before a quarter note or tied note. In the above example, that would be all of the written 8th notes in the 2nd-4th measures:



Written without the LH filler for clarity, that would be:



It's not a real easy to just make that complete interpretation while reading on the fly, so you might want to approach it in steps.

Here are four rhythms from the book:



The normal RH/BD part would be:



Plus the normal LH filler:



For this tweak, voicing the plain rhythm with cymbal/bass drum, and the 16ths:



This complete tweak with the LH filler added:



You can work out for yourself (or hey, write me for a Skype lesson) how to approach learning to sight read this. The two major goals for any Reed method are to be able to apply it to the full page syncopation exercises, and to be be able to improvise a texture based on the method. It's up to you how far you want to take that for your own playing needs. 

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Alternating triplets displaced

Developing an independence idea that has been happening spontaneously in my practicing— triplets alternating between the snare drum and bass drum, with odd breaks.




Play the foot part with the bass drum or hihat. These are not necessarily intended to be played in the written time signature— that just indicates the length of the complete idea. You can play them in 4/4 or 3/4, running over the barline. You can also start them on any beat of the pattern. Add hihat and vary the cymbal rhythm however you like. 

Get the pdf

Friday, July 17, 2020

CYMBALISTIC: Five 24" rides!

Does anybody need a sweet 24" ride cymbal? I'm checking out four OUTSTANDING Cymbal & Gong jazz cymbals, plus a monster medium ride. I will have these around for a couple of days, then they'll go back to C&G, so ACT NOW if you want one. The Holy Grails (patina finish) are $520 and the American Artist (bright finish) is $495. 

These are all great. The three lighter Holy Grails really show off Cymbal & Gong's consistency, and are classically awesome; they're true jazz cymbals, with an airy complex sound, they crash well, but they're also controllable, with good stick definition and a good bell sound. I would be hard pressed to choose one for myself. The American Artist, with the squared 50s “A-type” bell handles very similarly— those tend to be a little more intense, but this one is beautifully mellow. It's also a great jazz cymbal, the equal of any of the HGs. The medium ride is quite a beast. It has a lovely overall sound and accents well, but never fully opens up when crashing. It would be a great big band cymbal, but I believe it would handle softer playing really well, too.  


I have some other new Holy Grails in stock, too— visit Cymbalistic to check those out. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Stick control exercises, mixed rhythm in 2/4

A page I'm using with some of my students, to learn to fill, and develop basic facility on the drum set. We've been doing a lot with parts of my harmonic coordination method— which is proving to be a lot more of a universal thing than a mere advanced coordination system. You could do these on snare drum as in Stone, but I think that would be a little dull. They're written to be played on drum set, en masse.




Play the exercises a few times on the snare drum, then move the accent(s) to a cymbal, with the bass drum in unison, then improvise moving the non-accented notes around the drums. Speed is not important; timing, sound, and movement around the drums is.

Get the pdf

Monday, July 13, 2020

Daily best music in the world: Tony Williams solo

I'm still having a hard time writing anything, so here's a really great open drum solo played by Tony Williams, in a concert video with Jean Luc Ponty and Stanley Clarke. This is in 1972, and he's doing his power thing, but he's not using the 24" bass drum and three floor toms yet. Later on his playing seems very “set”, here you feel like there's still some exploration going on. Tony's solo starts after 7:00.



[h/t to notvinnie @ drummerworld for this]

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Drum heads!

This. Just get this. 
Did you know that it's rather hard to write about drum stuff while your country is being dismantled and driven into the ground by a narcissistic criminal psychopath, who is certainly compromised by a hostile foreign power, and is apparently hell bent spreading disease and sacrificing the lives of hundreds of thousands of your fellow countrymen and women, nominally in a futile bid to revive the economy, and his electoral prospects along with it, but actually just a mass-suicidal gesture of fealty to his boundless, pathological vanity? It is. Hard to write under those circumstances. Or to do much productive work at all.

So let's talk about DRUM HEADS today. This is by no means a complete overview of what's available, it's just my personal impressionistic idiosyncratic list of what I've played and recommend, and for what purpose. Or what I recommend against.

Remo Ambassador
Remo's medium weight general purpose head, and the Coca-Cola of drumheads. The one correct answer that is always correct for any music, tuned high or low. These are just what drums sound like. Use them top (coated) and bottom (uncoated or coated), for all drums, including bass drum (no muffling, if you dare), and be done with it. Easy to get a sound, pleasing character.

Remo Renaissance Ambassador
A hazy medium weight head, with a slightly textured, matte finish. They handle well in a range of tunings. Sort of a “natural” look and sound. Possibly slightly lighter than regular Ambassadors? They “play” a little lighter, more responsive, slightly less body. Since about 2000, these have been the tom heads on my Gretsch set, and have been excellent tuned high or low. I used them more recently on my Sonor set and they didn't work so well.

Remo Pinstripe
Drumhead of the 80s, for that full-on post-Gadd fusion sound. They have a particular timbre that sounds quite dated. But they also have a promising full sound tuned high, and I do know one or two jazz drummers who still use them. I used them on my Sonor set recently, on a lark. In the 80s they were the standard tenor drum heads in drum corps, and sounded great tuned extremely high.

Remo Emperor
A two ply head in case you need more durability, but you don't want to go full Pinstripe. Similar sound, with less of that Pinstripe character, and less character overall. It's a blunted sound. Bass drum head is acceptable, if you want a semi-live sound, without going for the full unmuffled Ambassador experience.

Remo CS Black Dot 
For an edgy 70s sound. Like the Pinstripes they have a distinctive sound that is dated— see mid-period Tony Williams— but it's been quite awhile since they were popular. Standard head for concert toms, if anyone is still using those. It's not a pretty sound, but it has an energetic edge to it. Right now I'm using one on my bass drum with a felt strip, and I like it a lot. I probably would not use them on regular toms, definitely not on the snare drum.

Evans coated medium single ply
The RC Cola of drum heads. They're fine, they sound pretty good, but characterless. Characterless as the name they gave the line, which I can never remember, and am not going to look up. Acceptable, but to me not a great sound in any tuning.

Evans coated single play bass drum head with the changeable muffle rings
Again, give your heads a name I can remember, please. Excellent head, with a nice tonal sound; they sound too pretty to me. It's a mannered sound. Younger jazz drummers will love them. I need more edge. I'm sure it's an easy head to record. Comes with three sizes of muffling rings, I never used any of them. The ring holder alone muffles the drum enough.

Evans ST Dry
You know these muffled heads don't sound to the audience the way they sound to you, right? Specialty snare drum head, with an extra ring around the edge on the inside, pinholes around the edge. I normally don't muffle my drums at all, but I have this on one of my drums, and I liked it for low volume playing. Good for maintaining definition if you play a lot of dense stuff on the snare drum. Probably great for recording, once again.


Not recommended

Remo Fiberskyn
These came installed on my first drum set back in 1982, and I've tried them a few times since then, and they just don't make it. They have a stiff feel, and I could never get a deep sound with them, or a good high sound— any good sound at all. It's a very surface sound, with a funny slap, and a strange kind of papery roar.

Remo Diplomat
The thinnest general purpose head by Remo. They don't quite handle the way you expect them to. Strange trebly, papery sound, they choke easily. It's a choked sound generally— lighter weight does not equal more resonance. Some potential as a snare drum top head if you're doing a lot of brush playing, and use light sticks— they have a very bright, edgy sound. If there's any funk in your touch you'll kill it. I've had one on my hammered bronze Ludwig drum for about ten years. I don't like the Diplomat snare side head— again, a thin, papery sound.

Powerstroke bass drum heads
And their copycats— that is most “modern” bass drum heads. Anything multi ply, anything with built in rings. I hate 'em. It's a “thick”, long sound that people interpret as “full.” A lot of lows, I guess, and mediocre attack. People hear them as having a full, “funky” sound, but they're mediocre. Poor response, difficult to produce much volume.

All other heads
I've gotten to use Aquarian heads in various settings since before they were even commercially available, and I've never been particularly impressed. I used one of their vintage-style heads a few years ago, and did not dig it. Multi-ply Evans heads never made much of an impression on me— basically they're flavorless Pinstripes, even-more-flavorless Emperors. The no-name heads that came with your mid-line drum set suck, replace them with Ambassadors. There are some new calf/goat/???-skin heads being made I would like to try, but the manufacturers never respond to my requests for free stuff.

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Very occasional quote of the day: Roy on time

“Mingus use to say the damndest thing about me years ago. He'd say, 'Well, Roy Haynes. You don't always play the beat, you  suggest the beat!'

I didn't know what the heck I was doing. But I know that the beat is supposed to be there. If I leave out a beat, it's still there. If I'm playing 8 or 12 bar fills and I play four and a half bars then leave out a bar and a half, that doesn't mean I don't want it to sound like that! But if I'm playing with a horn player sometimes they may get confused. They get hung up because I didn't fill in that bar and a half.

You've got to use a little imagination in there. That bar and a half still counts. I'll come out in the right place, where it should be to make the fill even, and the other players are somewhere else at that point. I didn't always play the beat, which I thought was very good. You don't always have to say ding ding-da ding ding-da ding, you know. It's there! So, if one of those saxophone players has to depend on that, then you know he's not right.

You've got to have that ding-ding-da-ding within yourself. Coltrane had it! Pres had it. Miles has it. So, it's beautiful to play with them, but there are so many other people who don't have that thing and you've got to carry them. How you gonna be inventive and create when you're trying to lift them up?”

— Roy Haynes

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Reed tweak: adding flams to a basic method

This is a small tweak on a common funk practice method for Ted Reed's Syncopation, adding flams to the method in which the right hand plays the book rhythm on a cymbal, and the left hand fills in. To me it's a 70s funk flavored thing, and brings this method a little closer to my Heavy Funk Drill, and my harmonic coordination-type methods.

For the examples we'll use line 7 of the well-known full page exercise on p. 38 in the new editions. As always with Reed, we're interpreting the top line rhythm, ignoring the bottom line rhythm.




The basic funk method we're using is: play the melody rhythm on the cymbal with your right hand, with bass drum in unison, fill in the 8th notes on the snare drum with the left hand. Which gives us this:




So, today's tweak: where there is more than one left hand note in a row, add a flam on the last one:




In the p. 38 exercise there is that situation where there is a quarter note followed by a quarter rest— that happens in the first, sixth, seventh, and eighth lines. When that happens you could alternatively put the flam on the middle left hand note— that will be on the 4 or on the 2. Another musical possibility.




I do the flams left-handed— that means the right hand plays the grace note, and falls first. Usually the grace note is only a little softer than the main note; I don't try to make them correct concert snare drum flams. The left handed flams convert easily to RH-lead 16th notes, with a small adjustment to the timing.

Exercise 4 on p. 41 of Reed is a good one for this method. Also use these linked reading exercises of mine. And my book Syncopation in 3/4, for that matter.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Todd's methods: accents to funk

This is an item for teachers, I suppose. It's good to have more than one way of teaching things. There's no reason for a student to have to struggle with something just because your preferred way of teaching is difficult for him or her right now. Find a way to teach it that they can do in the lesson, so they can take it home and practice the content.

I don't like teaching rock and funk beats in the standard Funky Primer-type format of one measure, fully written out grooves. I prefer using an interpreted method, using the regular parts of Syncopation. Some students have a hard time picking that up, so I have another way of doing it, using the accented 8th notes in Syncopation— pp. 47-49.

It's quite simple: play 8th notes on a cymbal with your right hand, add bass drum on the written accents:




I don't accent the cymbal on the written accents. And we are of course ignoring the quarter note bass drum part written in the book.

Then: add snare drum on 2 and 4 for rock:




 Then add snare on 3 for a funk feel in 2/2:




Tempo for rock should be quarter note = 60-150; for funk, half note = 50-96.

Often when teaching rock and funk, I'll avoid unisons between the snare drum and bass drum. With this method, you can go ahead and do them. It seems well-suited to working on that. But you could eliminate the bass drum whenever the snare drum is being playing if you want.

When teaching this, I'll work the students through the most normal-sounding patterns, and let them work out the rest of them on their own. For rock, that might be lines 1, 10, 11, 14, 24, 28. For funk, lines 1, 3, 8, 24, 25, 27, 28.

Students should be able to play exercises 1-28 straight through without stopping, plus the 28 bar exercise on p. 49.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Painting is a psychological game

I'm a painter as well as a musician— I work in what's generally called an abstract expressionist style. I'm not making pictures of things, I'm painting until I have something that looks like a painting.

It has become a sort of psychological game for me— I can't just lash away and come up with something keepable. I don't know how I was ever able to do that, and produce 15-20 new paintings every 12-18 months and show them. Maybe it was because I was on a deadline, or maybe my standards were just lower. Now I'm more deliberate in my process, and have become very slow at actually finishing works. I've got a studio full of probably 50-60 things in progress, and about 10-12 small things I consider finished.

Working is a continuous process of playing around, managing desperation, fear of losing something good, and using whatever acquired skill I have to improve a thing and finish it. Ideally it would be nice to have the same kind of acceptance of loss that I have with music; most of what I do on the drums is not preserved in any way. Why can't painting be the same? Do it, and if it goes away, fine.

So these are some things I think about to trick myself while working:

Is it finished now? 
Maybe it's not what you wanted, but is it something? Is it already a painting and you don't know it? Almost always the answer is no.


Unfinished painting = piece of crap
It has no value. You can't approach it like you're it's “almost finished” or “pretty good if I just...” Quit hanging onto it. There's nothing there worth preserving.


Work while the paint is wet
Oil paint dries slowly, so you have to either keep working on it, or put it away for a couple of weeks or more. Working with a wet painting is a chaotic battle against encroaching muck— paint degrades in appearance very quickly when you start mixing it up on a canvas. And working over a dry painting just kind of sucks. You're fighting the old image, and it's hard to get the new paint to blend with the old paint. Learn to be comfortable with the chaotic wet thing and to finish paintings that way.


Paint over your favorite part first
Advice from Picasso. You can't preserve your favorite thing. Other things will happen.


You can only clean it up so much 
You can improve it a little bit with some careful polishing, but at some point it stiffens up and dies. The best paintings finish open.


Take the time to get the color right
Don't just put any old crap on the canvas just because it's on your palette, and you just loaded up a brush.


Take the time to make the right mark
You can't just blindly lash at the thing. Fit the mark to what's there. Don't leave a lot of trash between the new mark and the thing it fits with.


Waste some paint
Being stingy with paint is bad. What are you saving it for? Run up your paint bill.


Mess it up 
I've taken to dragging a scraper across the canvas as I work— the whole thing or some part of it— to keep it open, and to get rid of extraneous detail. To make it not look so deliberate and nice.


Scrape it down
After awhile the canvas accumulates so much paint that your new marks just get subsumed in the muck. Maybe you used too much of a really strong color and it's permeating the canvas. Wipe the whole thing down with mineral spirits and start over.


When in doubt look more
De Kooning did ten minutes of looking for every one minute of painting. There's no timer on this thing.


When really in doubt turn the thing around and do something else
Your eye stiffens up after awhile of looking at the same damn picture. Put it away until you forget what you were trying to do with it, why you liked it, and what you were trying to preserve.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Practice loop: Oregon - Fall

New practice loop, sampled from the tune Fall, by the band Oregon. The bassist here, Glen Moore, is one of my favorite musicians in the world— look into his records with the vocalist Nancy King if you haven't. It's in 4/4, and the tempo is 160 bpm. If you're having any problem getting oriented, the loop starts on beat 1, and the accents after that are on the & of 4.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Transcription: Connie Kay - Cosmic Ray

A melodic drum solo with mallets by Connie Kay, on Cosmic Ray, from the Milt Jackson / Ray Charles album Soul Brothers. Kay is kind of a mysterious player to me, so I'm always on the lookout for anything he does where the drums are featured. The tune is a blues, but the solo is 52 bars long; in effect he plays four choruses, with a four bar tag.

It's extremely clean— everything is exactly in its place. There's very little activity with the feet, except at the beginning as he switches from sticks to mallets, and at the top of the second chorus— bar 13. It's not real exciting, but I don't know if Kay sees exciting drumming as his job. He's more about swinging the band, making the arrangement, and being an ensemble player. You feel like he was asked to play an intro and solo on the tom toms with mallets, and he's giving them that.




The tempo is a bright 234, and he doesn't really swing the 8th notes. There are five tom tom sounds here: snare drum with the snares off, the drum set high and low toms, plus a doumbek, and a large African drum. The doumbek/African drum can easily be played on the regular drum set toms; the pitches are very similar, only the timbre is different.

It sounds like Kay is playing his famous 17" A. Zildjian Medium-Heavy ride on this tune, though he doesn't really hit it during the solo.

Get the pdf

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Listening to Ray Bryant

“I used to be a free jazz drummer, now I just want to play tight arrangements.”
— me a few years ago

That's not 100% true, but I've learned a lot of respect for the craft of arranging. Slow Freight by Ray Bryant is essentially a trio record made to sound like a larger ensemble with some good arranging, and the addition of a miniature brass section with Art Farmer and Snooky Young on trumpet and flugelhorn. And the right mix— the horns are mixed 60s pop style, in the background, in one channel.

It's not the type of record musicians get excited about today, but it's extremely solid. I don't know what's up with people, if they're too hip to write things that will go over with a general audience, or if they think there's no market for it, or what. The strength here is in the tunes, the arrangements, the groove, Bryant's voice, and the great rhythm section. No extended solos, not a lot of improvisation— there is not a lot of development that isn't written into the arrangements themselves. Freddie Waits and Richard Davis aren't playing anonymously, or uncreatively— they're just playing in support of the arrangement. Davis has the big solo on the record, on Satin Doll.



Programming-wise, there's an extended dance number (Slow Freight), one jazz standard (Satin Doll), five pop arrangements— one gospel (Amen), one soul (Prodigal Son), one quasi-bossa (Fox Stalker), and two Francophone-composer tunes (If You Go Away, Apple Tree). Everything but Slow Train and Satin Doll are under five minutes long.

Throughout the record you hear Waits being strategic about using a shuffle feel, or a backbeat, or a snare drum accent on 4. Except on Slow Freight, of course— it's not intended to develop. I personally always want to have a concept when I play a shuffle. The arrangement has to support it, and help you get away from it. Or there's a strong leader whose playing just demands it. I don't like doing a jam session-style endless shuffle, just because somebody said he let's play a shuffle. It's a mediocre groove for that kind of playing, and it just ends up being restrictive.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Mel Lewis intro - One for Pat

I'm just taunting myself now— I've got this book of intros sitting around, almost completed, and I keep finding new things that should probably go in it, but I don't have the nerve to open it up and add them it because it will mean reworking the whole thing. That's probably what's going to have to happen.

Whatever. Here's a little intro by Mel Lewis, on the tune One for Pat, from Got 'Cha, Lewis's first record as leader, released in 1956. I never saw or heard the record before, I just saw it listed in Chris Smith's book on Lewis, The View From The Back Of The Band— it's out in paperback now, so there's no excuse for not buying it.

The tempo is around quarter note = 250, and it's a funny little thing— as Paul Motian said about Max Roach, “not-so-correct”: 




The main attraction is the rubadub passage from the middle of the second measure to the middle of the last measure. Just move your right hand to the tom tom in the third measure; left hand stays on teh snare drum. The hihat is played open all the way through.


Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Counting the grid

It's a *mechanical* tool, from way back.
I had a conversation with a student about counting subdivisions when you practice— “the grid.” It's a common thing to do, that I don't recommend— not all the time. It's an execution aid for playing rhythms accurately, that I find to not be great for general musicianship. My students who learned it from someone else have been prone to reading errors— they often don't seem to know what rhythm they're playing.

General principle: open your copy of Syncopation, turn to page 34— each of those repeating one measure rhythms is a piece of language, a clave. Particular rhythms like that are our point of reference for everything we do on the drums.

The grid is not a rhythm, it's a pulse. It's shapeless. If you tell your brain to think of everything as 1&2&3&4&, you're not really learning rhythm, any more than reciting the alphabet teaches you words. Thinking primarily in terms of grid, and being shaky on your basic fluency with rhythm, you're giving up creative awareness and control.

Some thoughts and guidelines:


Count the rhythm 
Be able to count the rhythms in Syncopation exactly, without saying any syllables that are not sounding in the written part. Count them in 4/4, and also in 2/2, using the syllables 1e&a 2e&a. If counting e&as with Syncopation is weird, do it with the 16th note exercises in Louis Bellson's reading book, or the reading exercises in The New Breed.


Set ups and anticipations 
Implied additions to syncopated rhythms, with special meaning for drummers, that help the other musicians play their part, and help maintain accuracy. On ensemble rhythms starting with an 8th rest, drummers will typically set up the rhythm by playing a note on the rest— that's an absolute nutshell description for playing big band style kicks. On anticipations— long notes on an &, or the equivalent with a rest (again, an extreme nutshell definition)— we want to know where the following downbeat is, for accuracy.

Two single measure examples, with the set up added, and with the downbeat after the anticipation:



Note that the second example would be problematic if you played it as a repeating rhythm, as in the one line exercises in Syncopation: on the repetitions there would be no room to add the set up on 1.


Locking parts
Grid orientation is more useful if you think in terms of interlocking parts. There is still a primary rhythm, but we are also aware of the rhythm of its gaps; together they form an interlocking grid. It's a useful way of thinking in funk and rock drumming; in jazz it sets up a rubadub type of feel.




Count before you play
Generally, I'm just not a proponent of always counting while you're playing. In music listening— even to yourself— is as important as anything else, and it's not easy to listen while you're talking.


Count beats, measures
This is a normal skill, that appears similar to counting a grid, but that actually serves a different function— counting quarter notes— 1234— while you play. Or counting 1234 2234 3234 4234. The purpose of this is just to stay oriented in 4/4, or within a larger phrase. Counting a grid is an aid for playing grid notes accurately. It's a different purpose.


“Think like a horn”
A standard piece of advice for playing the drums more musically, less like a drummer. Horn players don't typically count a grid. It's not conducive to lyrical phrasing. When counting the Syncopation rhythms, I suggest that you sing them with a horn like phrasing, with the correct note lengths— drummers will tend to sing the rhythms with all staccato sounds.

For another approach, see Dave di Censo's Rhythm And Drumming Demystified. He has developed what appears to be a very effective method for grid playing. See also my related post from last year, Time and Whatnot.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

CYMBALISTIC: New cymbals are in!

Just acquired some new Cymbal & Gong Holy Grail series cymbals for sale: there are two 18" crashes, two 20" jazz rides, a 22" jazz ride, and two sets of 15" hihats. All excellent jazz cymbals.

Here's the 22, “Hassan”, a classic of its type— this will compare favorably with any 22" Turkish K you're likely to find:



In  case you haven't visited my cymbal site, Cymbalistic: I personally select the individual cymbals I'm going to sell, and give them names for easy identification. Cymbal & Gong produces small quantities of cymbals, made in Turkey, to traditional specifications. Almost all of them are multi-purpose cymbals in the Mel Lewis tradition— everything's a ride, everything's a crash. They are the true 50s sound.

I did some videos of some nice pairs of cymbals too:



Go to Cymbalistic to check them out. The pairs are just on my YouTube channel right now.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Unearned info

A long, wordy post with extended quotes from a forum questioner, who felt that the knowledge in drumming books may come too cheaply, and from drummer and author John Riley, who showed up out of the blue to give an answer. 

The user made these comments:

Is there too much information just handed to us drummers on a plate? When I read all the stories and interviews of all the greats (Tony, Elvin, Philly Joe), all I hear about is them putting on records of music they love, and assimilating their favourite drummers. Building technique with just Stick Control, Rudiments and Syncopation (Alan Dawson), and using a bloody good ear. 

... and mostly they played— a lot.

I get worried with so much great material about in book form, that people (including myself) are finding it all too easy to just pick up Art Of Bop Drumming and work through the comping in that, rather than do what all the greats did, just use their ears. [...] [E]very time I pick up a book (one of many!) I just think to myself deep down...This is too easy. This can't be right. Just reading through this book, repeating the patterns, manipulating them, trying to internalise what's already been given to me. John Riley's done all the hard work. 

I've talked about something like this in a previous post, Riley'n Me.

It just doesn't seem as...noble...if that's the right word? I can't help thinking that maybe there's a direct correlation with the amount of books and info that's handed to us today, and the fact that there will never be another golden era. 
[...] I just often wonder what will help me develop my own tasteful voice more efficiently. A lifetime worth of study for 10.99? It seems fishy. And I know it's easy to say do both. But you get like 8 lifetimes worth of studying in 8 different books and it's not easy to turn your back on that.

Now, the thing is: you don't actually get a lifetime worth of study if you don't learn what's in the book, and do the complete process suggested by it. And have a complete, dedicated life as a musician. Which most people do not. The books just move the baseline a little higher. Maybe the worst consequence is to make it easier for some people to fake expertise, and misguide their students. Drumming enthusiasts like creating gospels

John Riley's response is after the break.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Roy Haynes intro - Alto-itis

I'm being very slovenly about posting as things continue being politically crazy. It's a little distracting. So here's something easy: a four bar drum intro played by Roy Haynes on Oliver Nelson's tune Alto-itis, from his record Screamin' the Blues.




It's very straightforward. Roy Haynes accents aggressively, in unusual ways, which gives his playing a lot of energy, and makes him sound non-obvious. I would probably stick the 16th note figures RLRLR or RRLLR— both of them starting with the right hand. Note the presence of our little Philly Joe Jones connective lick in the third measure.

This whole thing is actually just a trick to get you to listen to the SUPER-HIP way he plays on the horn riff that happens several times during the solos— after 1:30 and 3:15:

Thursday, June 04, 2020

EZ stock beats for all music

This is a page I'm using with some younger students this week— a variety of stock beats that can be used in most playing situations. We get so involved with technical improvement, it's easy for students to get confused about what to actually play when playing music. We don't want them sitting down to jam and thinking uhhh page 11 of Funky Primerrr...

I've given a few of the beats names for easy reference— some are common, some I made up. You'll notice I can't bring myself to say “money beat.” I hate that. I should have gotten “polka” in there for number 7. I'll probably have to update this page soon.




Students should know these from memory, and be able to play all of them really well in the suggested tempo ranges. They should also be able to make crashes on 1, stops on 1, and simple fills— I'll get into that on another post.

Get the pdf

Monday, June 01, 2020

Listening: Art Blakey groove number

Let's do some more guided listening. Here's Art Blakey playing a little Quincy Jones groove arrangement with a nine piece ensemble: Plenty, Plenty Soul, from the Milt Jackson album of the same title. The form is 12-bar blues. I'm surprised to see that it's 9 1/2 minutes long; it feels like a little four minute radio number.

Put on the headphones and give this at least three close listens:



It's a clean, understated performance, with none of Blakey's trademark ferocity. At no point do you feel he's playing louder to compete with the five horns. I might say it's a professional performance, meaning he's playing it like a hired studio drummer, rather than like a featured show performer, which is more the vibe of his Jazz Messengers stuff. That's not to suggest that his playing there is “unprofessional.”

He plays a backbeat most of the time; it's deeply grooving but not at all loud. Most of the time he's playing the little shuffle pick up before it. He's playing a strong (not loud!) quarter pulse with the cymbal rhythm, typically with a dotted-8th/16th rhythm. The snare drum rhythm has a similar, very tight timing— it's not a triplet. You can hear at the points where he does play triplets in a fill, it's a very different rhythm from the main groove of the piece. No doubt he's playing quarter notes or half notes on the bass drum through most of this, but you never hear it except where he's making a deliberate accent or punctuation, or on the tutti sections.

There's some air between the bass (played by Percy Heath) and the drums. Generally sounds like the attack of the ride cymbal is a little ahead of the bass, and the snare drum is behind everything— playing the shuffle rhythm the way he does is a way of getting that behind-the-beat feel with it. At some points it sounds to me like the bass is more on the front of the beat. Your ears can fool you. It's worth it to give a very close listen to the timing of the major events on this track— everything is not perfectly squared off. That's not a flaw.

Blakey does a double time groove a few times— after 5:00 for example.




Mostly he does it with a straight 2 and 4 on the snare drum— no extra little shuffle note. He often comes in with that in the last two bars of the chorus. He may double times just those two bars, or continue it through the complete following chorus, or he may goes back to regular time on the turnaround— bar 9 of the form. Where things happen in the form is important information for playing blues. We're not just punctuating randomly.

There is no bebop-type comping activity at all. Instead he makes big statements here and there; usually at the end of a solo, leading into the next solo. He may do his crescendoing press roll, a Blakey trademark, or triplets on the tom toms. At the end of the trombone solo he does a pitch bend thing on a tom tom.

His playing on the arranged passages is simple, with simple one or two note set ups for the horn kicks; he'll keep playing the 2 and 4 until the end, when he hits the big figure in unison with the horns. He does a ruff on the toms/bass drum during the horn fall at the end of the short ensemble interlude passages— he lands on the 1 of the second bar of the new chorus with that.

At first I thought he was using two cymbals— but I think he's using one 20" sizzle cymbal and varying his playing area and touch. Listen closely to it— there is no more classic jazz sound than that, and it's very similar to the Cymbal & Gong cymbals [PLUG PLUG PLUG— tb]. The accent sound at 2:00 is exactly the explosive crash sound we look for in a ride cymbal. People call this a “dark” sound, but it's more accurate to call it complex; there are trebly elements to it.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Tootie Heath brush lesson

True old school guys approach things a whole different way from the modern technocratic thing. Here's Tootie Heath giving a brush lesson:



h/t to Larry Appelbaum

Friday, May 29, 2020

Daily best music in the world: 1-5 of ten albums

Reprinting this from my Facebook page— I encourage you to head over there and add me as a friend. There's a thing going around where musicians list ten albums that were most important in their development. The idea of narrowing it down to just ten albums is absurd, so I'm not really trying. Mainly I was trying to do things other drummers had not already listed. These are all very, very important records to me, but there are 100+ more albums that are equally important. Here are numbers 1-5:

1. George Duke / Reach For It
My brother gave me a bootleg cassette of this that I listened to all through high school. It's got Ndugu Leon Chancler on drums.  Great 70s LA Latin/fusion/funk, with a couple of soul ballads. High points are Omi, a high energy Afro 12/8, which began my very long engagement with that type of groove, and Watch Out Baby!, a sort of quasi-pornographic funk epic featuring Stanley Clarke— here's my transcription of Chancler's playing on that.

Here is Omi— I made a loop of the bulk of this tune, which is included in my massive zip of practice loops, which is still available to download free.



2. Bill Frisell / Before We Were Born 
Got a cassette of this in a mall in Puerto Rico. I knew about Bill Frisell from the Marc Johnson Bass Desires record, but it was the first I heard of Joey Baron. Includes a pretty radical 13 minute John Zorn arrangement, and Arto Lindsay on one tune. I played these gigs in central Oregon, on the other side of the mountains, and would crank this driving home through the Cascades at 2am.




3. Thelonious Monk - Trio 
Knowing individuals inform me that this is a weak, poorly performed album. The vibe is casual, but I don't know what's WRONG with it. Like, tell me what you want. We'll go to the British Museum and rate the Constable sketches. Settle some accounts.

To me it's a perfect record. This is what jazz is supposed to be. There are ten tracks and ~35 min of music total, so it's tight; the tunes are featured a little more than the soloing. Everybody sounds engaged, people are trying some things, and the total package is like walking in on a Leonardo sculpture— you already knew the whole thing before you even saw it.



4. McCoy Tyner / Blues For Coltrane
I posted about this one before: Blues for Coltrane. I think it's considered a McCoy album. With Roy Haynes, Cecil McBee, Pharoah Sanders, David Murray. At USC I used to listen to this on my way to combo rehearsal with Dwight Dickerson, and arrive ready to kick ass. Pretty sure I made a lifetime enemy out of a bass clarinetist. I never understood why everyone didn't want to play this level of energy all the time.



5. Miles Davis / Water Babies
I only just figured out that I liked this record a few years ago— like 10-12 years ago. It's outtakes from the Nefertiti and In A Silent Way sessions. Compared to Nefertiti and Filles de K they really sound like ensemble sketches. It sounds unfinished, the tunes are not really strong in a normal way, but that's what I like about it. It still sounds like a record. Especially love Wayne Shorter's playing all the way through this.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

2/4 rhythms to triplets

Companion to the late three voice / four note patterns page, in case it wasn't challenging enough for you. This is to aid in playing those patterns as triplets in 4/4— as you play through, you can figure out how any particular part is supposed to lay in the triplet rhythm:




Get the pdf

Monday, May 25, 2020

Very occasional quote of the day: Jimmy Cobb

“Miles could tell me the things he wanted from the drums but I didn’t let him tell me how to play them.”

— Jimmy Cobb, 1979 interview by Rick Mattingly


Sunday, May 24, 2020

Practice loop: slow blues

A new practice loop sampled from Blues at Twilight, from Milt Jackson's album Plenty, Plenty Soul. Horace Silver is on piano here. Tempo is 75 bpm, so this is a good one for getting your triplet coordination together— with my recent pages of triplet patterns, for example, or Gary Chaffee's pain-in-the-neck jazz materials.

Be sure to download my practice loop archive (it doesn't include this) while it's still available.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Three voice / four note patterns

Continuing in the vein of the recent three voice/three note patterns item. Let's call this series “things I have always been against writing that I am now writing.” I've been playing around with an online combination generator, making some Stick Control-type patterns for the drum set, including combinations of limbs. I'm trying to do it in a rational way; it would be easy to produce an insane collection of patterns that would be totally unusable.

This is a practice-able collection of four-note patterns, written for three drum set voices, including single notes and RH-LH and RH-RF unisons. It adheres to my usual rules for what makes something very playable: no more than two SD or BD hits in a row, and no more than three cymbal hits. It's similar to things found in Dahlgren & Fine, and Chaffee, but different.




So: what is this good for, and how do we practice it?

1. There are 120 patterns, so you have to move as quickly as possible. Try to cover all of the patterns in 15-30 minutes.

2. Use to develop an ECM-type texture, or as conditioning for breaking up a normal funk texture. Could also be played with a swing feel, addressing some possible coordination/timing gaps.

3. The patterns are written as 8th notes in 2/4, but you can play them on a four note or three note subdivision, as 16th notes or triplets. Doing them as triplets, it helps to know how the cymbal portion of the pattern lies in 4/4— a separate cheat sheet for that is coming soon...

4. Try these moves:
• Play the written cymbal/snare unisons as snare/tom unisons, or as flams on any drum— I suggest doing them left-handed, meaning the right hand lands first.
• Play cymbal/bass drum unisons on a different cymbal than the plain RH cymbal notes.
Doing those moves makes this very similar to what I do with my harmonic coordination improved system, except with more potential for speed.

5. Add hihat in unison with the left hand only notes, or the right hand only notes, or the bass drum only notes. Or add hihat in any basic rhythm suitable for the style you're playing.

5. Combine patterns from different sections to make linear funk grooves. Play patterns starting with a bass drum first, and patterns starting with a snare drum second. I arranged them on the page to make that fairly easy— sections A and B combine well, and C and D combine well. You can also do A/D and C/B. Section E could come first or second. That creates a vast number of combinations, which... there may be better ways of working on that sort of thing. I'm not a proponent of endless systems. But it's a possibility.

Get the pdf

Friday, May 22, 2020

RIP Thee Hippy Slayer

Sad news, Portland drummer Steve Hanford, aka Thee Hippy Slayer, has died. Best known for playing with iconic Portland punk band Poison Idea. I'm not a follower, but I have a lot of fondness for them; my friends and I, in our Iron Maiden shirts, saw them play in a basement in Eugene in 1983. We were not the coolest kids there. That was my first serious rock & roll experience.

In the late 90s Hanford produced a demo by my rock band The Raging Woodies— originally a very aggressive acoustic guitar-led project, it took a Black Sabatthian turn under Hanford's direction. He was having substantial drug problems then, but he was a skilled rock producer, and a fun, hilarious guy to be around. At about that time we saw him play a great show at The Satyricon with a short-lived band called Pink (formerly Slowface). He was a great rock drummer, and played with a lot of power.

Here's a groove o' the day from 2015, from Poison Idea's Marked For Life.

Here he is playing with Poison Idea in 1988:

Monday, May 18, 2020

Favorite albums: Trio Jeepy

Records that were important in my development, that might be in yours, too. Should be a major recurring feature, but very difficult for me to write. My problem is I don't have much intelligent or glib to say about most of these albums. Everything there is to say is on the record itself. I'm not into history, scene, or writing plaudits, or speculating about players' psychology, or grading performances. So this is just a way of directing you to the thing, and saying spend a lot of time with this, if you haven't already.

So: Trio Jeepy by Branford Marsalis, released in 1989. With Milt Hinton (and Delbert Felix) on bass and Jeff Watts on drums. I bought a cassette of this because Wynton Marsalis's Standard Time and Live At Blues Alley records were very hot then, and I wanted to get more of Watts. Most of us who were students in the 80s were trying to find a voice somewhere between fusion and the neo-classic thing, and at this time neo-classic was where most of the energy was. Fusion was declining into fuzak, but its major artists were edging away from that, towards a more acoustic conception. See Michael Brecker's first solo record, Chick Corea's Akoustic Band, Scofield's Time On My Hands, Metheny's Question & Answer.

This is a nice, loose little recording with a lot of blowing and a lot of great featured drumming. They included some outtakes and talking in between tracks, which adds to the spontaneous vibe. Marsalis is doing his Dexteresque thing that is nice to listen to. The record introduced many of us jazz neophytes to some tunes we would play a lot in coming years: Doxy, Makin' Whoopee, UMMG, Three Little Words, The Nearness of You. Now I realize that it took some nerve to put Doxy on a record in 1989, and present it with an attitude of THIS. IS. THE. SHIT.

There's always an element of doctrinal pronouncement in recordings by any Marsalis; you come away feeling like you've been told how you're supposed to play. I don't know to what extent mainstream jazz was actually dead when the Marsalises came around— but they needed to declare it so, so they could bring it back. There was still jazz education, and a professional culture where people were still playing old tunes. But maybe all the big records were in the fusion arena, before they came along. 

Jeff Watts is fantastic of course. He has a much deeper, more muscular sound here than we're accustomed to today. Similar to post-60s Tony Williams, but less outrageously aggressive. Listen to Watts if you want to find a sound different from the current twitchy, trebly thing. There's also a great example of “melodic” drumming, with his playing on Housed From Edward— hearing that was an unavoidable instruction to get a concept of playing blues.

On that track he does a big time displacement thing, which is a pretty audacious move. It doesn't add anything, and is kind of crass, showing off his fearlessness of blowing a take— and also Milt Hinton's unshakability. I wrote a page on how to do it. Good luck ever finding musicians you can do that with, or on having the courage to actually attempt it in a critical situation.

Here's Housed From Edward— listen to the video, but the proper way to do this is to buy the physical record, and play it many, many times.

Friday, May 15, 2020

What's with resting the sticks on the drum?

Item just in from the pet peeve department: there's an extremely slovenly practice, apparently done by half the drummers in the world: resting the sticks on the drum head before playing. I have students who do it, and I see it done in many drumming videos by players of all levels: they're getting set to play, and before they start, they let the sticks go drzz on the drumhead.

It's very strange— like resting your hand on a basketball on the floor before dribbling it. It doesn't compute. It's not an organic component of playing the instrument, or of being at rest at the instrument— it puts an unnatural pressure on your hand, and you have to grip the stick harder to hold it there. Can you imagine a violinist dragging the bow across the strings when getting set to perform— screet. What? Does a pianist push the keys down before playing? 

Where I come from, the sticks never touch the instrument unless you're playing it. Standards are looser on drumset, but generally, anything you do with the sticks that is not actually playing the instrument should be done silently, or at least discreetly. In all of concert percussion, and in drum corps, silence and no contact is an absolute rule. Yet I still see those guys doing it in their videos. 

Look here: a student of Buster Bailey, king of the world in concert percussion, doing it (in an otherwise very good video):



Here's an old school rudimental guy doing it. And technique god Bruce Becker— granted, he appears to be doing it silently. In a video I can't re-locate, Gordy Knutsen does it— also with delicacy, like Becker.

Often you see people doing it on a practice pad— it's silent, so maybe they're just not aware of what they're doing. But here's a pipe band drummer doing it on a drum.

Here is how it is done: not only does Shaun Tilburg never touch the sticks to the head when he's not actually playing, when he sets the sticks on the drum, he takes care to do it very discreetly. With his demonstrations here he makes some preparatory motions very close to the head, but never touches the head:



If you're Bruce Becker you can do whatever you want— well, everyone can do what they want— but if you're any normal person, try to break this habit. It suggests a lack of performance discipline, and may well bite you on the butt if you do it unthinkingly in a sensitive situation.