Saturday, July 31, 2021

Quintuplets from normal rhythms

The question of odd tuplets came up in conversation with a student recently, and again when I was working on a Jack Dejohnette transcription, where he was playing some 8th note quintuplets in cut time. In college I spent a lot of time working on this topic, via Frank Zappa's music, and Gary Chaffee's Patterns series of books— mainly volumes I and II. The whole area proved to be mostly* useless in real life— if you're not playing them fast, they just sound wrong. I'm talking about playing drumset, where you're usually interpreting a chart or improvising.  

* - Topic for another time. 

An area that is worth exploring is to make an odd tuplet by manipulating a more normal rhythm— usually by evening it out. I believe this is where a lot of naturally occurring tuplets come from— often just from sloppy or deliberately loose execution. See the Mark Beecher video here for one example of that. 

So here are some exercises for exploring that on the drum set— turning a normal rhythm into quintuplets: 

Play one line at a time, maybe either A B C, or A C B C. Set your metronome for half notes at your desired tempo. It's up to you how precise you want to get with the execution of your 5s. Unless you're playing a composed part, no one's going to come checking that your 5s for precise accuracy. We're just learning to push rhythm around a little bit while maintaining the overall groove. 

Try a few different stickings: 

  1. Alternating
  2. RH on cym / LH on snare
  3. Alternating, except with a double on the triplet— either RRL or RLL
  4. Alternating, except beats 1 and 2 will always be the RH— that's beats 1 and 3 if you count the measures in 4/4. 

Use all of the stickings you used on the A/B measures with the C measure.

At first play the regular 8th notes straight, but you could also swing them, for a fuller exploration of the interpretive possibilities. A logical progression would be to start out playing them swung, then straight, then as quintuplets.   

Get the pdf

Thursday, July 29, 2021

The demon-haunted world: jazz snobs

Here's a desperation special. When I can't write much, I pull something not-that-great out of the drafts folder, like this: a few snippets of people battering their insecurities into submission by attacking a mythical demon, The Jazz Snob. I forget where I got these. They're probably YouTube comments, possibly forum comments.

First you'll notice that these people are all very successful, while the jazz musicians who torment them are losers, forced to do very shameful work:

“I wanted to make a living. I found I had many hard jazz heads talking down to me as I was making a good full-time living doing tv shows, movies, and pop recordings. They play great and work at Walmart.”

One man was scarred by an event decades ago: 

“...about 25 years ago I was taking a long lunch in downtown Everett, Washington and I noticed some jazz people setting up. So I casually walked over and asked what they were playing... 'Jazz' he said very snobbishly... That much was obvious ..... I was planning to hang out and listen top them, but instead I cut my lunch short and went back to work... You can abuse me to a point, but you are going to pay me to do it...”

“I have nurtured a decades-long grievance over a single word spoken to me, that was directly responsive to my question, which I interpreted as intolerably abusive.”

“When I was in music school, the group of drummers asked me- a freshman - what music I was listening to and who my favorite drummers were. I said “Rush - and Neil Peart, Vinnie, Stewart Copeland, Manu Katche...” the collective disdainful gasp is nothing I’ll forget soon”

This happened. People do make exaggerated, easily-readable expressions of shock when a drummer lives up to their expectations.

“There's nothing more ironic than a term like "jazz police"

A Music genre, that was forbidden, whose interpreters were prosecuted by a society in where they dared to be outlaws... Has a "police"

Elitism kills music scenes...” 

Note: “Jazz police” are not actual police. It is not some enforcement body created and named by jazz musicians to root out heretics and unbelievers and too-creative neophytes. A made up thing fulfilling the disparaging name you made up for it is not an irony-type situation.  

“Jazz has become an orthodoxy and anyone who truly challenges that orthodoxy will get rejected. Too many years of jazz being 'taught' has created a glut of jazz musicians who don't know how to work in the modern music world but will be able to have an opinion on how you should play jazz. There is a huge difference to what Ornette and Monk were doing compared to what most modern jazz musicians are doing today. And this can be heard in how similar modern jazz musicians sound.  This video really seems blind to the real problems that exist in the current jazz ideology; It can't cope with true iconoclasts anymore....”

...oh, I remember, these are comments from the 80/20 guy's  “authenticity” video, which I wrote about, to which he responded in another video, without naming this site or linking to it...   

“Jazz” didn't necessarily cope that well Ornette and Monk at first, either. Iconoclasts are never welcomed by everyone, and having iconoclasty be an expected thing is not necessarily good. You get a situation like in the art world— a certain attitude in it— where every new thing has to wipe out what came before it, and nothing gets developed. It becomes a form of commercialism. It would be great if people were more accepting of individual voices, and were more original in their creative work— we'll have to take that up with the human race. 

As for jazz being an orthodoxy— I think somebody probably was told to do some homework and didn't like it, and couldn't respond to that person at the time. Or the authority figure didn't validate the commenter's objections. 

“Jazz cats are among the most insufferable jackasses on the planet. And this is coming from someone who’s worked in two different music stores and attended three different schools of music. I once asked an unruly jazzer 'why are you knocking yourself out to make elevator music?'”

Note: I shall not comment on a music store guy calling other people insufferable. Equating jazz to elevator music is evidence of a thorough and deep understanding of a world wide field of music spanning a >100 year period.  

“Jazz is that ugly place where all the toxic mistakes of history ferment.”

This I could not have said better. Finally someone gets it. yeah. These are all basically the notes from a story-writing session for the movie Whiplash

My theory: I blame this type of thing on the South, and the southern diaspora. Sorry, South. There seems to be some kind tribal instinct to demonism and mob frenzy down there, where you identify an enemy, and then make things up about it, get good and mad about that, and everyone piles on more made up things, and everyone has a good homicidal wallow. There's also a particularly American kind of self-defeating belligerence towards moral, intellectual, scientific, professional and artistic authority— any non-violent authority— while being slavishly submissive/worshipful to the punishing kinds of authority. 

And there are a lot of very fragile egos. Many folks seem to be mostly concerned with building some kind of fraudulent appearance of status, and with cocooning themselves in self-delusion about their abilities, and they get very angry when someone doesn't help them with that project.  

Most jazz musicians I know, and I, are painfully aware of their/our real and imagined shortcomings, and spend many years learning to deal with that— not by BSing, but by working really hard at learning to play. So by the time we are done(?) being beaten up by our insecurities, we're pretty solid about what we know and do not know, and we don't concede points of music to just anyone who wants to disagree. This also makes some people very angry. 

The thing to do, instead of what these people did, is to get serious about learning. All that requires is to have some humility about the task ahead of you, to stop the BS, and to learn to listen and take in information— all the time, from any and all sources. And not get mad at people who outperform you, or that know more than you, or that don't stroke your ego and self-delusion. Those are all learning opportunities, and only the biggest losers in this game pass them up for the sake of their ego. 

Friday, July 23, 2021

Tony Williams interview

A nice 1983 interview with Tony Williams in Downbeat magazine, by Paul De Barros. Shared on Twitter by Richard Scheinin of SFJazz.

Tony talked a little bit about his time studying with Alan Dawson: 

What I basically got from Alan was clarity. He had a lot of independence, but so did other people. I get this question about independence a lot, even from drummers, but they can’t even be clear about their ideas. I mean you hear them play something, and you say, “What was it that he played?” Or if they hear themselves back on tape, they say they thought they played good but that it didn’t sound like that. So the idea is that when you play something for it to sound like what you intended, not to have a “maybe” kind of sound. So that’s what I got from Alan, the idea that you have to play clearly.

And there was an exchange about playing jazz vs. other kinds of music: 

[J]ust because it’s jazz, doesn’t mean it’s going to be more complex. I’ve played with different people in jazz where it was just what you’d call very sweet music. No type of music, just because it’s a certain type of music, is all good. A lot of rock ’n’ roll is not happening. And a lot of so-called jazz and the people who play it are not happening. Complexity is not the attraction for me, anyway—it’s the feeling of the music, the feeling generated on the bandstand. So playing in a heavy rock situation can be as satisfying as anything else. If I’m playing just a backbeat with an electric bass and a guitar when it comes together, it’s really a great feeling.

DB: Sometimes so much of that music seems very insensitive.

TW: It depends on what you’re saying the Ramones are supposed to be sensitive to. Just because it’s jazz doesn’t mean it’s going to be sensitive. You’re trying to evoke a whole other type of feeling with the Ramones. When I drive through different cities and I look up in the Airport Hilton and I see the sign that says, “Tonight in the lounge, ‘live jazz’”—I mean, what the hell does that even mean? I’m not saying everybody’s like this, but I can see a tinge of people saying, “This is the only way it was in 1950, and we’re going to keep it that way, whether the music is vital or not, whether or not what we end up playing sounds filed with cobwebs.” When John Coltrane was alive, there were all kinds of people who put him down. But these same people will now raise his name as some sort of banner to wave in people’s faces to say, “How come you’re not like this?” These same people. That’s hypocrisy, and I find it very tedious.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Transcription: Jack Dejohnette - Climax - drum solo

Another drum solo from a Jackie McLean record. Jack Dejohnette early in his career, soloing on a fast tune from McLean's album Jackknife. The tune is Climax, tempo is about half note = 160. We looked at another tune from this record awhile back.

If you ever worried about not being able to solo at fast tempos, check this out. It's fast but very simple, using a few basic “non-independent” patterns, with hands in unison opposite the bass drum. He's not panicking about not throwing in enough stuff, or changing ideas fast enough. 

The solo begins at 6:55 in the track. 

Listening closely, Dejohnette's execution is quite loose— the unisons between hands are pretty wide flams. 

That measure of 9/8 near the end is nothing, ignore it. Just an extra 8th note seemed to work its way in there. 

Get the pdf

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Lead hand

From Mike Clark's Twitter feed, a graphic illustration of what I mean when I talk about a lead hand, or mention the drums being a predominantly right-handed instrument: 

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Transcription: Roy Haynes - It's Time - drum solo

Here's Roy Haynes's drum solo from the title track of a Jackie McLean record we visited a few months ago, It's Time. The solo begins at 5:31.

Pull up my Cliché Control page and start comparing this with things found in this and some other solos. I feel like I'm seeing a lot of the same stuff. This also contains a lot of patterns in 3, so there's some conceptual overlap with my Roy Haynes waltz lesson.

The tempo on the tune overall moves around a little bit, all within natural tolerances. The last three solos are Herbie Hancock, Cecil McBee, Roy. Herbie's solo starts at ~266, Cecil's solo ends at around 248, Roy's solo ends at around 280 or above. After the horns come in with the head out the tempo settles a little bit.   

Get the pdf

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Marking up Reed

You know, I think we should all own multiple copies of Syncopation— first because they tend to get destroyed through use, second so we can pencil in our own changes without turning the book into an unreadable mess. And copies are cheap, so why not. 

Here are some possibilities. Some you can just do mentally while reading, others you'll need to actually mark in the book. Many of them will create duplicate patterns, and some can be applied to more than one part of the book. I just whipped this thing out, so I'll probably be revising it over time. Most of these I've done at some point, some I've never done, but there's no reason not to do them. 

 Lesson 4 - 8th notes and quarter notes 

1. Add tie to last 8th note before a quarter.

2. Rest on the remaining quarter notes. 

Lesson 6 - triplets and quarter notes

3. Add tie to the last quarter note before a triplet. 

4. Add tie to last triplet partial.

5. Rest on remaining quarter notes. 

Lesson 7 - triplets and 8th notes 

6. Add tie to last 8th note before a triplet. 

7. Add tie to last triplet partial before an 8th note. 

8. Add 8th rest or triplet 8th rest on beat 1, or on beat 1 and beat 3. 

9. Add tie on last note before the beat 1, and/or the last note before beat 3. 

10. Rest on first partial of every triplet. 

Lessons 9-10 - full beats of 16ths, quarters, 8ths

11. Substitute any broken 16th rhythm not found elsewhere in the book for 16th notes: 1e, 1e-a, e&a, e&, e-a, e

12. Tie the a of the 16ths (or substitute rhythm) to the following quarter or 8th note.

Lesson 11 - mixed 8ths and 16ths

13. Play in 3/4: first three beats of each measure

14. Play in 3/4: phrase marks every three beats. 

Lesson 12 - 8th rests

15. Tie 8th notes to a following quarter note

16. Add tie on last note in measure to first note in next measure— only if no intervening rests. 

17-A: Play in 3/4: play first three beats of the line

B: Play in 6/4: play first six beats of the line

18-A:. Play in 5/4: play first five beats of line

B: Play in 7/4 (4+3): play first seven beats of line 

C: Play in 7/4 (3+4): play first two measures of the line, skip first beat

Entire syncopation section, p. 34-45 : 

19. Add tie to last note in measure to first note in next measure— only if no intervening rests. 

Get the pdf

Monday, July 12, 2021

Reed interpretation: alternating triplets, no left on cymbals

Interesting, unusual little tweak streamlining a standard Reed triplet method, that should be good for fills, and for creating an easy, open triplet texture with a strong foundation in the bass drum. Probably helpful for generating some flexibility with an Afro 6 feel. Or any other triplet feel. 

It's based on the following method: play alternating triplets on the snare drum, hit the cymbal and bass drum along with the melody rhythm (with swing interpretation) in the book. 

What to do here: simply drop out the left hand whenever it's supposed to hit a cymbal. Bass drum continues playing the complete melody, right hand hits the cymbal whenever it normally would. 

It's a little weird to work out, so I've written a very detailed key. Left column is the melody rhythm as written in the book, middle column is how you play it with the foundation method, right column is how you play it with this method: 

As you practice you'll notice the right hand plays quarter note triplets all the way through this method. In fact you could warm up for it by playing a quarter note triplet with the right hand, over the suggested book rhythms, played on the bass drum. Play the whole quarter note triplet on the cymbal at first, then move any notes not in unison with the bass drum to the snare drum. 

The feel of this is very different from the foundation method, which has both hands jumping up to the cymbals in a soloistic way. It has a more relaxed, quasi-linear flow, which just the right hand making an easy move to the cymbal.  

You can practice this with pp. 4-5, 10-11, and 30-45 of Syncopation. It can be extended by reversing the sticking, and/or by keeping the left hand cymbal hits from the original method, and dropping out the right hand.   

UPDATE: I've continued working with this, and I like it. It does get easier to make the interpretation while reading, and I was able to play straight through all of the pages above the second day of working on it. I play all the parts at a roughly even volume, solid but not too strong, especially the cymbal. It creates a nice relaxed groove centered triplet texture driven by the bass drum— makes me think of Mickey Roker or Jeff Watts or Keith Copeland— people who play the bass drum. 

Thursday, July 08, 2021

Transcription: Elvin Jones - Chasin' the Trane - 09

Continuing this project, here are the 49th-54th choruses of Elvin Jones's playing on Chasin' the Trane, from John Coltrane Live at the Village Vanguard. Transcription begins at 9:20 in the recording. 

I see there's a typo— it says part 8 when it should say part 9. I'll correct that whenever I get around to it. 

Get the pdf

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

RIP Carlton Jackson

Portland drummer Carlton Jackson died last weekend, he's been such a pillar of the jazz community, a knowledgeable authority, and one of the handful of top drummers in the region for so long I was surprised to learn that he was only 60. I first saw him play with Tom Grant, in the late 80s. A few years later he made a big impression when I was to sub for him with Dan Balmer's trio with the bassist Jeff Leonard. Seeing him play then really impressed me, for the first time, that you have to be able to burn at a low volume. It's taken a long time to get a handle on that, but that was a big lesson. Years later I mentioned how intimidating that was for me, and mentioned something about “needing a barf bag” in that situation— it was a feeling he related to. 

What do I say? He was a professional artist in the fullest sense of both words. RIP

Playing here with pianist Gordon Lee on the album This Path

Gordon Lee on Facebook:

Carlton was a great friend and a great musician. He was a musical soul mate. I played with him two weeks ago and had gigs coming up with him. He was also a musical scholar knowing all styles of music. And he knew movies like no one else. I miss my buddy.

Bassist Jeff Leonard

I have to add my voice to the chorus of all who are mourning the untimely passing of Carlton Jackson, a true legend of the Portland music scene. Between gigs with Tom Grant and Dan Balmer (among others), I would estimate that I played north of 1500 gigs with Carlton over the years, and am a better musician for having done so. Carlton had the most encyclopedic knowledge of music of anyone I know, as evidenced by his unparalleled versatility as a drummer as well as his incredible music curation on his KMHD radio show. His drumming was authoritative, powerful, uncompromising, and deeply sensitive, regardless of the gig or genre. He also had a great voice, in every sense that word implies: singing, playing, speaking, teaching, etc. His loss leaves a huge hole, but I am grateful to have known and played music with him.

RIP Carlton.

Pianist George Mitchell

While taking a walk with my lovely wife Terri yesterday, got a call from drummer Brian Foxworth to tell me that Carlton Jackson had passed away. I was in shock and disbelief the rest of the walk. Didn't want to be the first to post anything and hoped maybe it was just a rumor or a false alarm. 

The thing I always appreciated about Carlton was his love for music of all styles! Whether it was Rock, Blues, Country, Klezmer, R and B, Jazz, Hip Hop, Big Band , Small band, Carlton loved it. Hell we even backed up Joanne Castle once at a retirement home in Gresham!

Mostly we played together in Dan Balmer's various bands where his versatility was greatly appreciated, as Dan's music covers many styles. Because they played so much in Tom Grant's band, they had a strong musical relationship.

The last times I played with Carlton was at Clyde's with John Mazzocco (bass), and either Alan Hager or Neal Grandstaff (Vocals/guitar). That was a blast and was hoping to play with Carlton again in that band.

I'm sure Carlton has reconnected with Linda Hornbuckle and Janice Scroggins playing Gospel and Blues or perhaps Thara Memory playing some Funk and Jazz. Maybe he's playing with Don Alberts, Rick Crittenden and Rick Green in a creative jazz group.

Perhaps Mel Lewis is having him sub in the Mel Lewis/Thad Jones Big Band, one of Carlton's favorites. Wherever he is, Carlton's making the music sound  great! 

I'll not only miss his drumming, but his friendship. RIP Carlton and know that down here on earth, we love you.

Drummer Gary Hobbs:

Very sorry to say that Carlton Jackson has passed on. He was a fine drummer and a very important part of the Portland music scene. He just celebrated his 60th birthday. I don't know any details but will share anything that I find out. Rest in peace Carlton. 

Trombonist Stan Bock

I’ve had to wait to try to find words that express my deep sadness and yet deep gratitude to have known Carlton.  So many wonderful gigs playing music with him.  So many great conversations with him.  

I first saw Carlton while I was still on active duty with the USAF Band at McChord AFB.  My friend Scott and I saw the Tom Grant Band at Cafe Vivo in Portland and I was so impressed with his playing.  All the fellas played so well but CJ seemed to be so effortless. 

Fast forward a few years and I met Carlton when I played with Sammy Epstein’s band; then later with the Jackson/Mills Big Band.  It didn’t matter what kind of music, Carlton always did what was needed.   I miss the Big Band because we played great music with great players and CJ led it all from the drum chair. 

At the Blues Festival one year, I was walking with Thara Memory when Thara stopped to listen to the act on the other stage from where we had just played.  “I wish my students could hear this; That’s a professional drummer!”  Carlton was backing an out of town blues artist playing exactly what was needed. 

There were 20 years of working/hanging with CJ at the Mel Brown Jazz Workshop.  Lots of music, conversations, and laughter with him and I will miss him.  He was the real deal.

Saxophonist John Nastos

Carlton Jackson was such an important part of the earliest and most formative moments of my musical upbringing in Portland. Some of the first live jazz I remember seeing around town was Dan Balmer’s band. That was, and is, some of my favorite music, and Carlton’s sound was a huge part of that music.

Throughout middle school and high school, I went to the Mel Brown Summer Jazz Workshop every year, which was, by far, the most important part of my musical education. Carlton was a *presence* there, not just because of the wealth of musical knowledge that he brought to the table, but because of the unyielding kindness and passion that he always brought.

As I got stronger on my instrument, I got to start sitting in with some of the professional groups around town. The Carlton Jackson/Dave Mills Big Band was playing at a club called La Rumba and they were kind enough to let me play my first notes with a real big band when Warren Rand let me sit in on a few tunes. The things I remember most vividly about that band at the time are Douglas Peebles’ bass trombone sound, Warren’s alto sound, and Carlton driving the band from the drum chair. Years later, I got to play in this band during its tenure at Secret Society. Carlton, of course, was still leading the band from the drums masterfully. He was always enthusiastic about sharing a new recording he had just dug up, always excited to play, , and always so genuinely happy to be with other musicians and friends.

The last two gigs I got to play with Carlton were at Gordon Lee’s house, playing porch concerts. I’m struck now by how in every important way, Carlton was *exactly* the same last month when I got to play with him as he was 20+ years ago when I heard him with Balmer’s group and was being taught by him at Mel’s camp — he was always a friendly face, and unrelentingly nice person, and had an excitement about both playing and listening to music rivaling anyone I’ve ever met.

We'll all miss you, Carlton.

Drummer Ji Tanzer

I’m in shock about Carlton Jackson’s passing. The man was a TRUE music lover, and a beautiful drummer. I have so many memories of watching him at Opus and the Bra and being in absolute awe of how quietly he could play with maximum intensity and sweetness. I just can’t believe it…

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

EZ set ups and partial filler

I'm working through this with a student. It's an easy reading item for the drum set, with a narrow set of parameters, using my tresillo inversions page (lines 1-8 only), my tresillo inversion combinations page, and one of my full page reading pages— the one comprised of all notes at two- and three-8th note intervals.

The idea is to become familiar with some basic ways a drummer fills out a rhythm, adding set ups to the syncopated hits, and adding a little more filler to create a rhythmic flow, almost in a rubadub style. In this same unit of stuff I'm also having the student fill out the complete 8th note grid, which we don't need to talk about here. 

Start by printing out the pages above, and playing through them, with the entire rhythm part played with your right hand on a cymbal, plus the bass drum in unison. Ignore the stems-down “bass drum” part. Then add the left hand the following ways: 

Adding set ups
A set up is something a drummer plays to help the band catch a syncopated ensemble hit or figure. For example, if the horns play an isolate accent on an &, the drummer may set it up by hit a single note on the down beat before it.  

So anytime a note on an & comes up on these pages, set it up with the left hand on the snare drum on the downbeat before it: 

If there are two or more closely-spaced &s in a row, set up only the first one: 

So this line from the full page exercise above: 

With set ups added, would be played like this: 


More filler
You'll notice that on all of these pages, the notes are spaced at two- and three-8th notes intervals. The parts are 100% quarter notes or dotted-quarter notes— or their equivalents using ties and rests. To develop a more flowing texture, we'll add a left hand note at the end of every dotted quarter note or equivalently-spaced note. So the plain tresillo rhythm, which starts with two dotted quarters, would be played like this: 

Play this equivalent rhythm the same way: 

So, reading these exercises you have to be able to distinguish between a quarter note spacing and a three-8th note spacing: 

With the extra filler, play that line like this:

Another line with the three-8th intervals indicated: 

And how you would play it: 

Here's how you would play that same line, playing only the set ups, according to the rules above: 

Play this entire method with the right hand on the cymbal, left hand on snare drum. You could reverse the hands if you choose. I would also play it entirely with the right hand, and entirely with the left hand— and possibly with both hands in unison, playing two different cymbals, and unisons on two different drums, or flams on the same drum.  

This is not really a natural reading situation, of course— I narrowed the parameters to just those two rhythm intervals for the sake of overall simplicity, and for establishing a flow. This has been partly a reading/interpretation exercise, illustrating the way you might actually interpret rhythms on a chart or lead sheet; and partly a way of generating a certain type of improvised rhythmic flow. 

Friday, July 02, 2021

Transcription: Elvin Jones - Chasin' the Trane - 08

When in doubt, keep doing what you're doing. Let's actually continue and complete my beginning of the year project, transcribing all of Elvin Jones's playing on John Coltrane's Chasin' the Train, from the Live At The Village Vanguard record. I think I got demoralized when I completed part 8 and realized I was only about halfway done. 

These are the 43rd-48th choruses of the performance— 8:10 to 9:20 in the recording. I have part 9 on deck, and then I'll only have six more installments to complete. Then some kind of analysis will be in order. 

There is a lot of repetition— how can there not be? It will be interesting to see what this all boils down to, in terms of total actual content, when this is complete. 

Get the pdf

Thursday, July 01, 2021

What are we doing

Been having a minor existential crisis in the last week or so— I played my first session in over a year last week, was feeling really unpracticed and generally out of touch with music... and went in and played well, and creatively, and a fine time was had by all. Any time I play in a situation where I play well, I feel like it's a unique situation— something very special has occurred. I'll feel like I learned something, and often will feel like it is the best I've ever played. I wasn't playing at the cutting edge of my technical abilities, but I was very happy with what I accomplished musically in the session. It was a jazz session, by the way; five players in someone's living room, with unamplified piano and bass.

So, good news— musical abilities are persistent, they don't vanish simply because you're feeling out of touch with them at the moment. 

But it triggered a minor crisis of wait a minute, what am I doing with all of this other stuff, then? I accepted in the last few years that a lot of very advanced snare drum practice was largely a waste of time— subject to diminishing returns, at least. I've worked through it, but I use very little of that in my actual playing. I don't have any statement to make sitting down playing complicated snare drum stuff. 

This was a level beyond that— I needed very little of my normal drum set stuff— all of which I designed to teach us to be a great improvising and reading drummers, in the most economical way possible. Most of that stuff was not a factor. What I was playing was more like on the level of the absolute simplest things found on this site— my EZ methods, maybe some items from the Cliché Control page. As economical as I thought my materials were, the real reality is even simpler than that. 

If you listen to real music, and check out many of the transcriptions on the site— even though they are selected for their drumming interest— most of it is not bleeding-edge-of-difficult drumming. Usually someone is playing in a way that is exciting for its musicality, where we feel some creative energy happening, and I'll write out their playing to try to get an idea of where that energy comes from.  

So I don't know how constantly working on greater volumes of stuff is helping that. It may be that playing through that hard stuff, or even my normal-easy stuff, we're actually learning something else, that goes towards reinforcing all of the actually-mostly simple things we do in real playing.   

I don't think you can get there by just working on the easy stuff, however. I don't feel like a highly-practiced player, but I probably do take for granted how much stuff I've actually practiced in my life, and how it affects what I do now, even apparently simple things. 

Obviously playing a lot has something to do with learning to play, and listening a lot, being sensitive and personally engaged in your listening. I think I'm at a place of being very engaged with time structures: execution of rhythm, groove generation, and meter, phrasing, and form. There's a lot of actual stuff that goes into being fluent in those subjects, and being able to handle them intuitively without getting lost, while also listening closely to what the other players are doing. 

There's also something happening with my touch and dynamics that I had to develop on purpose— so when you play something simple it still sounds like music.  

We're meddling in the realm that lies between practicing the drums and being a playing artist, here. Usually this gets figured out, or not, in the field, by individuals, and is rarely actually spoken about explicitly. We're all just supposed to figure out how to make it happen. We'll talk more about it.