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.