Friday, February 26, 2021

Transcription: Art Blakey - This Is Life

From maybe the first jazz record I ever checked out on my own, Golden Boy by Art Blakey. Kind of an obscure record on the Colpix label, that I dug out of my dad's record collection. Along with that Charlie Parker recording I mentioned the other day, and a Jazz At The Philharmonic album, and Kind of Blue. Anyway, Blakey does an extended solo at the beginning of This Is Life, and it was the first idea of jazz drumming I ever got from a record. I think all I knew about Blakey was the rough looking picture of him in the Zildjian cymbal guide, and my brother mentioning that he played really loud. 

The tempo starts around 192, picks up a bit to about 210 by the end of the solo, and is about 178 after the band comes in.

I wrote the bass drum part as accurately as possible in measures 19-22, but if you're going to play this solo, do not mess with trying to do what I've written— listen to the vibe of what he's doing and copy that. Basically he's flailing it in there, and his foot wants to do quarter note triplets or straight 8th notes. 

He “feathers” the bass drum through the first part of this, but that seems the wrong word— some old guys say “pats”, and that's really what he's doing here. It's a dry leathery sound, barely a tonal sound. 

By the way, the cymbal he's using here is squarely in the middle of Cymbal & Gong-land. The first 20" Holy Grail video I pulled up is damn close to it— except that HG is a little heavier. I quickly found a couple more that were close. Of what I have in stock right now, “Amos” is the closest match to this cymbal.

...have I mentioned there is a sale on cymbals going right now! 10% off Holy Grails purchased with a 30% off Leon— and I never give discounts on Holy Grails. 

On the Cymbalistic blog I mentioned a different Blakey cymbal, the one used on The Big Beat and Indestructible, and also found a good match in my past stock of Holy Grails. I've only sold about thirteen 20" Holy Grail Jazz Rides since I've been doing this, and at least 4-5 of them are reasonably exact matches for something Art Blakey played. The rest of them are right there in the same family. What I'm trying to communicate to you is that these cymbals are it— there's a reason I'm so excited about them.   

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Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Cymbal sounds: Tony-like

I was rooting around in my music listening to ride cymbal sounds, and was surprised to find, in pretty short order, a number of things similar to Tony Williams's famous cymbal— similar to it, or flanking it somehow. Let's check them out. 

To me the definitive recordings of Tony's cymbal are Nefertiti or Four & More, with the Plugged Nickel recordings revealing a wilder edge than the other records. The prettiest, most intimate recording of it is on Charles Lloyd's Of Course, Of Course: 

I was just listening to older records where the drummers would be using original Istanbul K. Zildjian cymbals. Or possibly old A.s— my ears aren't perfect. At least it should be instructive to listen closely to some records and make the comparison. 

Dexterity - Charlie Parker / Dial Masters - Max Roach

One of the first jazz records I ever heard— dug it out of my dad's record collection. Recorded in 1947, this big cymbal sound was surprising to me— I expect everything happening in the 40s to have one foot in the swing era, with everyone riding on little cymbals or on their hihats.   

This is like the proto-Tony cymbal, with a rougher, deeper sound, close to a Cymbal & Gong cymbal (22" Holy Grail “Richard”) I sold to a guitarist friend, Ryan Meagher. Max moves to the ride cymbal at 0:30:

MC - Andrew Hill / Grass Roots - Idris Muhammad

Probably a 20" cymbal here, you could call this a baby version of the Tony cymbal. Higher pitched, without the big body; there's a brighter edge to the attack (possibly due to a crude digital remastering job?). Something about catches my ear as being Tony-like— the big spread up in the same pitch range as the attack? He hits a big accent with it after 3:00 which should tell you a lot about the cymbal; I find that aspect pretty un-Tony cymbal-like, for what it's worth. 

I've heard a lot of Joe Chambers, and I don't know why this distinctly Tony-like cymbal never caught my ear. His touch is quite different. I'm pretty sure the same 22" K. Zildjian is used on all of these records. Now I'll go comb his interviews to see if he's ever made mention of it. Or maybe somebody out there knows him...

Total Eclipse - Bobby Hutcherson / Total Eclipse - Joe Chambers
This cymbal is lovely. He's got some really nice hihats too, while we're at it. Listen after about 3:00 especially. Recorded at Plaza Sound by Duke Pearson and Francis Wolff in 1968. 

Subtle Neptune - Bobby Hutcherson / Oblique - Joe Chambers
I'm pretty sure this is the same cymbal as on Total Eclipse. Recorded at Van Gelder by Alfred Lion exactly one year earlier— and again, who knows what they did to it in remastering. You can hear a more piercing attack here.

Black Heroes - Bobby Hutcherson / Now! - Joe Chambers
Almost certain to be the same cymbal recorded live at the Hollywood Bowl in 1969. Does anyone out there know Joe? 

Spiral - Bobby Hutcherson / Medina - Joe Chambers
Recorded at Van Gelder in '69. Again there are some rather piercing highs that I believe are the result of the digital remaster.  

Lester Leaps In - Lee Konitz / Peacemeal - Jack Dejohnette
Jack Dejohnette early in his career playing another baby Tony cymbal, probably a 20" K.? Pretty dry, but with all the handling properties of Tony's thing— great accents with the shoulder of the stick— on a smaller the scale. 

Finally let's check out what Tony himself was playing a little later. 

Lawra - Herbie Hancock / Third Plane - Tony Williams
Kind of an awful-sounding 70s recording, this was recorded before the new American K. Zildjians, so this is a Turkish cymbal. Sounds like a jazz cymbal getting a little overwhelmed by some big sticks. Still an interesting sound, wilder than his old cymbal, slightly exotic.

I think a main feature of the old cymbal is a big, sustained, controlled wash— here the wash is splashier; you can hear it building quickly and falling off with every stroke. A few thinner C&Gs have this sound— I never felt I could use it, but it is intriguing. I've seen a number of Agop Signatures with this quality in an extreme way. 

I encourage you to comment with your impressions— perceptions can be very slippery, and I know some readers will just have better ears and more experience listening to cymbals than me. 

Saturday, February 20, 2021

From the zone: Zappa transcription project

 Daniel Bédard in Montréal did a really cool project: 

“I challenged myself in trying to transcribe one FZ song a week for a year. That year came to an end last September and due to covid, I've been slowed down big time but still managed to reach my goal of 52 songs in a year.” 

I love his copying style. Here's the whole pile:

Thursday, February 18, 2021

The three bloggers: the left foot, the hihat

New series: Fellow drumming bloggers Jon McCaslin (Four On The Floor), Ted Warren (Trap'd), and I are colluding on a series of posts, in which each of us independently write about the same topic. Whatever drumming-related subjects we can think of, where we have common experience, and where it's worth hearing from three guys about the same thing. Hopefully it will be a regular monthly thing. Obviously I'll have to get used to the deadline aspect, as I'm already late with my first post. 

The first group post is broadly about the hihat, and that odd member that plays it, the left foot. It can be a problematic element. I don't consider myself to be any kind of hihat visionary, so I'll talk about it broadly, hopefully inspiring some ideas for developing it beyond ordinary uses, while respecting its limitations. 

Here are Jon's post and Ted's post— I didn't read them before writing this, because I would probably feel bad about how much better they are, and not be able to finish. Anyway, here we go: 

The Hihat
 What is it, why is it? Why? What? Is it?

Ordinary uses

[UPDATE] All right, I read the other guys' posts and got embarrassed for including this. You know what a hihat is. 

What's the problem? 

It's a sluggish instrument; the normal foot stroke is a dead stroke, and it's not easy to develop a lot of dexterity with that. The rebound is entirely mechanical— it comes from a mediocre spring lifting up the 2-3 pound bronze plate, with zero assistance from gravity or physics. 

Maybe we could play complex things more easily using a splash sound, but I think most of us don't attempt that. The technique for that is problematic, too— the impact part of a splash stroke is soft. It's like playing in the air. 

The hihat's normal placement on the left side of the drum set creates a problem for some people; they don't like crossing over to play the it with the right hand. To the point that they'll spend many hours relearning everything backwards just to avoid doing it. Even for those of us who accept that crossover as one of life's little tragedies, it's an inescapable fact that you can't hit nearly as much crap with the left hand while crossing over it with your right. It's true.    

Finally, I have a little difficulty determining a musical role for very advanced uses of it, beyond what I described above. I don't hear much beyond that. 

Concepts/methods for developing it as a musical voice 

Simple awareness. There is a tendency to regard the drumset as a piece of scenery, and our job is to play stuff on it— I sympathize with that. But every part of it is also a musical voice on its own, and each part's presence or non-presence in a piece of music has an effect. As my playing matures, I want to be better at orchestrating effective percussion, as well as just playing the instrument.

So it's good to ask What is this sound? What is this thing? What am I doing? There's no way to work this through except through a lot of playing and listening. Start by with your own ordinary uses of it, and be able to not always do them. Be able to add them or take them away in the course of playing. 

Tone control for the cymbals played with the hands is possibly an underrated use of it— it is a purely personal musical thing, and somewhat difficult to talk about, and to “train” for. The cymbals are very sensitive to foot pressure on the pedal, and varying it can be very expressive— the difference between a mechanical, drum-machine sounding performance, and one that sounds human, and very engaged with the music in the moment.    

Both feet in unison. Either a dry sound or a splash sound. As coordination and as orchestration it's very fundamental, and I like being very fluent with fundamentals. Don't be afraid of things that are this dumb, and work them in occasionally when you don't have other grand designs for the hihat. You might try playing this page with a jazz cymbal rhythm, playing the melody part with both feet together. One other notable recent thing was in the ongoing Chasin' the Trane transcription, where we see a lot of HH/BD or HH/SD unisons from Elvin Jones, on the & of beat 1, or & of 3.  

In unison with the left hand. I don't have a particular musical concept for this, it's more a practice technique using the left hand to discipline the left foot. Some forms of my harmonic coordination system are good for developing this; or you can simply play Stick Control patterns as R=RH/cym+RF, L=LH/SD+LF. 

Choke effects are very useful and effective, but a little mysterious to a lot of students. You can improve them by focusing on the timing of the close, rather than the open. The close is coordinated, the open is typically finessed, and out of time. Practicing both feet in unison improves closes with the bass drum, praticing LH/LF in unison improves closing with the left hand. See my “Funk Control” series for practice methods for each of those— any exercises involving an open hihat.  

With linear solo patterns it can replace the bass drum, for a different texture. Try it with RLF, RLLF, FRRL, or Gary Chaffee's linear patterns. Practicing it in unison with the bass drum on this kind of thing should open up some other possibilities. Given that it is a more technically challenging instrument to play, I think it's a good idea to practice a lot of easy, obvious single-note things with it. 

A big area for exploitation in a funk idiom is to play mixed rhythms with both hands, most famously done by Zigaboo Modeliste with his groove on Cissy Strut. Also done by D.C. Gogo drummers, and Omar Hakim on a John Scofield record. Using natural sticking is the best way to do this, as it easily converts to alternating accented singles, with short roll/drag passages, like what Omar Hakim did this groove with Weather Report.

There we are, now I get to go read what Jon and Ted wrote! 

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Service announcement

 Sorry for the lack of posts-- I have a ton of stuff lined up, including a big sale on cymbals, but there's a massive internet service outage in Portland thanks to an ice storm. And blogging from a pad via wireless hotspot SUCKS, if I may be blunt. 

Back soon...

Saturday, February 13, 2021

New rudiment: Swisscues

New rudiment time: a flam rudiment combining a Swiss Triplet and a Flamacue. It's so basic I can't imagine it doesn't already exist somewhere, but I'm not digging through the lists of 50,000 hybrid rudiments to check it out. They just started happening when I was hitting the practice pad, and I stopped to figure out what they were. We'll call them Swisscues, or Swiss Cues if you prefer— though calling it “Swiss [thing]” is misleading, because it's not a legit Swiss rudiment as far as I am aware.  

...I wanted to call them “swissamacues”, just to make it extra-embarrassing to say. Decided against it. 

Anyway here it is, with some exercises to develop it, plus a solo, adapted from Haskell Harr (Drum Method Book 2, p. 80, “Harold Pitcock”):

You can see from ex. 4 that we've simply doubled the right hand, and changed the rhythm to a sixtuplet. You can substitute these for regular flamacues found in Harr, or Wilcoxon, or the NARD collection. Have fun. 

Oh, there's a little typo in measure 15 of the solo—the release of the roll on beat two should be a right hand, as it is throughout the rest of the solo. All of those rolls are 7-stroke rolls starting on the left hand, ending on the right, with a 16th note triplet pulsation. 

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Thursday, February 11, 2021

CYMBALISTIC: Leon Collection specials coming soon!

NEWS: Cymbal & Gong is blowing out a little bit of old stock from their master smith's personal line of cymbals, the Leon Collection, and so, my humble dealership CYMBALISTIC will soon be offering some big specials on them.  

The general character of the Leon Collection is bright, light, airy, musical, lush— for an ECM-type sound in jazz weights. At a cymbal meet in Berlin, the consensus among drummers was that they were “like 602s, but better.” 

New cymbals, all jazz weight, and personally selected by me, include: 

Two 22" light rides - These are both quite light, bordering on crash weight, but they handle well as rides played with light sticks. 
One 19" crash ride - Excellent solid left side cymbal. 
Two 17" thin crashes - 17 is the new 18. These are quick, for getting a nice accent at moderate volumes, while still handling light riding well. Mount them on the left, Tony Williams-style, or on the far right. 
One set 15" light hihats - light cymbals with a solid foot sound. 

I'll be posting videos of those next week. If you're looking for other sizes, for the moment there are a few other Leons still at C&G HQ— crashes from 16-21", and lighter 15" hihats. Let me know right away if you have any interest in those, they'll be gone soon!   

And I have two other Leons currently in stock: a beautiful, delicate 20" flat ride, and this remarkable ultra light 20" ride:  

What I will probably do is offer rapidly escalating discounts when buying more than one Leon— or a Leon together with another line. And probably a smaller discount on other lines of cymbals purchased with one or more Leons. 

In short, this will be a great opportunity to save hundreds filling out your collection of cymbals.   

I'll announce the discount schedule when I post the videos of the individual cymbals next week. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Transcription: Elvin Jones - Chasin' the Trane - 07

I'm finally half done with this. This project is definitely streamlining my transcription methods. I use the program Transcribe, and loop two measures at a time, usually starting with the playback speed at 75%. Everything is basically audible on this track, and I haven't had to mess with the EQ. 

Because I'm using Finale, I first sketch in the combined rhythm for the full drum set— I'll put in the first sound I hear on every note of the combined rhythm. Cymbal, snare, whatever. Then I'll use the speedy entry tool to fill in everything else that's happening in the measure, using the keyboard. It's a pain poking around adding a lot of notes with the mouse. Then I add all of the articulations— accents, ghost notes, open hihat and whatnot. Finally, once I've completed a twelve measure chorus, I'll go back and loop the entire chorus and listen for mistakes in all four parts— cymbal, snare, bass, hihat. It's easy to miss things at the beginning/end of each two measure portion you looped.  

 So here is part 7, minutes 7:00-8:10, the 37th-42nd choruses of Elvin Jones playing Chasin' the Trane, from John Coltrane Live at the Village Vanguard: 

Things are getting slightly wilder; there are a couple of big fills, and a couple big accent passages. We're seeing more tied notes on the cymbals, more activity with unisons between the snare and bass, more multiple triplet rate notes played with the left hand. That thing with the bass drum in the middle of the triplet was no fluke, because we see it several times here. Lots of hihat on the & of 1/3, as well. Often the execution of those is slightly fluffy, with the hihat slightly late, so it's landing between the & and the following downbeat. I hope it's obvious what to do with the big 16th note fill in the second page— you don't play exactly what I wrote, you play the idea. Obviously he's playing in a kinetic kind of way, and every single note of the idea didn't connect with the drums. 

Through all of this the tempo is holding steady— maybe it picked up a few BPM, or maybe it's just a sampling error. I'm just letting the software tell me the tempo, based on my markers.    

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Monday, February 08, 2021

Page o' coordination: grocery store hemiola - 01

So-called because I found myself unconsciously tapping this out in the grocery store parking lot while waiting for them to bring out my groceries. 

...incidentally, for the sake of limiting your exposure to COVID-19, I highly recommend the curb side service when getting your groceries, if your store offers it. Right now the Fred Meyer where I get my groceries— a Kroger market— offers the service free of charge. 

So I was tapping pattern 1 with my RH/LF while waiting for the guy to bring out my stuff, and for fun I wrote up a PAGE O' COORDINATION for it. 

There are independent parts for snare drum and bass drum, but you can/should play them all on either drum. Use the stock tom moves when playing these with your left hand. 

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Sunday, February 07, 2021

Griener on stick selection

Here's a forum comment by our friend Michael Griener in Berlin, which I wanted to preserve on this site. Michael is an excellent, very active drummer in Germany and throughout Central Europe, in jazz and avante-garde music, and also an active teacher in Berlin and Dresden. He's also been a big supporter of Cymbal & Gong cymbals, and very helpful in getting the cymbals to Germany. Michael has several Cymbal & Gong Mersey Beat and Leon Collection cymbals

UPDATE: I posted some video of Michael playing on Cymbalistic.

Here he gives his personal journey with stick selection, and how it reflects performance concerns and cymbal selection for jazz drummers. I recognize a lot of my own experiences here, except I never settled on an acceptable solution on my own. The comment is in context of a conversation about looking for a jazz stick other than the very common choice, the Vic Firth SD-4 Combo. 

Here's Michael: 

I used to play Maple sticks for years, although I went for SD2 (Bolero style) instead of SD4 Combo. I ended up with the now discontinued Gregg Field [coincidentally, my old teacher at USC- tb] endorser model, which was a maple stick in between a SD2 and a SD4. But as nice as Maple sticks feel, those sticks tend to make a darker sound which is pleasant for you as a drummer listening to yourself, but the cymbals tend to get buried in the mix.

The Bopworks Birdland model [one of Michael's favored models] was built after an old Roy Haynes model, and all the older sticks I came across had a long taper which was the reason why sticks started to break after drummers had to match their volume with amplified instruments.

So stick design changed in the early seventies. I think Pro Mark was the first company to make their sticks thicker around the taper, but that threw off the balance of the sticks. Drummers had to work harder to play a fast ride pattern and played louder as a consequence.

I found that drummers with bigger sticks (more mass, not necessarily more weight) tend to play louder and overpower thin jazz ride cymbals. That's probably one reason for those unlathed cymbals came into fashion a couple of years ago since you can't overpower them. They have an in-built limiter and my students used to like them when they weren't able to control a cymbal.

When I met with Pete La Roca, he used small Regal Tip 7A's with nylon tips, because he wanted his cymbals to get heard without overplaying.

I had Frank Kincel of LA Backbeat make me a special stick model which is .505 thick with a very long taper and I haven't broken one of them yet. Great sticks, especially for piano trios.

When I need a bit more beef, I use LA Backbeat's JBX 535 (J=Jazz= lighter wood, B=Bounce= longer taper, X=extra length=16"), but then I usually play with acoustic instruments only. But with those sticks I can control lighter cymbals and don't need to hold back.

I want a clear sound to make my time be heard in the band. I never could understand why people liked nylon tips at all, but now that I don't break sticks anymore the wooden tips wear off after some months. I now use clear finger nail hardener to convert my worn tips into nylon tips temporarily, but that needs to be redone every couple of weeks. The only problem is that my sticks now last so long that I'm afraid my favorite stick companies will go out of business since I'm not buying enough.

So, people, please seek out people like Frank Kincel of LA Backbeat and Chris Bennett of Bopworks and buy their sticks! Keep them going!

Todd again: See also my jazz stick roundup and Bopworks stick reviews. To get a further idea of why the Bopworks sticks are special, also see this interview with Chris Bennett, shared with me by Michael. 

Friday, February 05, 2021

Velocity stickings for Syncopation, Lesson 10

For a couple of my students I've written a set of velocity stickings to use with Lesson 10 (pp. 22-23) in Syncopation. They're designed to be played fast, hey? These will be a godsend for everyone trying to do that hyperactive contemporary thing with the super fast embellishments— like if you have your eye on some hihats with giant holes in them, and are really digging super high, dry, white noise-like percussion sounds... what every single drummer in the world under ~ age 30 is into right now.     

This should really be expanded into a new e-book, so I won't overdo it writing a maximal number of patterns. I've given my suggested release note(s), but any sticking ending with a single R or L can release on either hand; stickings ending with a double should release on the opposite hand. Some stickings will start with the same hand every measure, others will switch lead hands every measure.  

Play the 8th note portion of each measure however you like. I suggest starting with all R hand, all L hand, alternating starting with R, and alternating starting with L.

To simplify the first measure of each drill, on exercises with 16ths crossing the barline (lines 8, 12, 13), I play 8th notes until I hit the first full two or three beat run of 16ths, starting on beats 3 or 4. Or just use my example rhythms below. Interpret these in cut time, so the 16th notes function as 32nd notes— the eight-note subdivision.

1. One beat of 16ths - lines 1-4, 14-15


2. Two beats of 16ths - lines 5-8 




3. Three beats of 16ths - lines 9-10, 12-13




4. Four beats of 16ths - line 11

I'm skipping this for now. Try repeating any of the two-beat stickings that release on the same hand they start with. 

Perhaps we'll see a new e-book on this topic in the coming weeks/months! In the meantime see my e-book 13 Essential Stickings, which is designed around this basic premise of stickings that are easy to play fast, as well as my page of velocity stickings in 3/4 and 12/8

Monday, February 01, 2021

Transcription: Elvin Jones - Chasin' the Trane - 06

Part 6 of the Chasin' the Trane transcription project. Elvin Jones playing on that eternal classic track from John Coltrane Live at the Village Vanguard. My head isn't fully back into this series, so I don't have a lot to say about it. Perhaps we're getting a little bit wilder, seeing more triplets? The transcription runs from 5:49-7:00, so we're nearing ~45% completion. 

Keep an eye out for the the bass drum in the middle of the triplet lick— it happens several times. See how much of what follows it is similar, or the same. It's not like it's a major lick, it's just a little emergent pattern of the kind that develops when you play a lot. 

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