Monday, April 04, 2022

Best books: The Art of Modern Jazz Drumming - Dejohnette / Perry

“As our mental image becomes more precise, we are better able to select muscle movements which will achieve our goals quickly, efficiently, and accurately.”

I'm surprised I haven't written much about this book already— The Art of Modern Jazz Drumming, by Jack Dejohnette and Charlie Perry. It's my favorite jazz drumming book, after Syncopation. Together with Bob Moses's Drum Wisdom, it makes up a pretty expansive 60s-70s era doctrine of creative jazz drumming, that I very much agree with.  

It includes a lot of practice materials, but also a lot of informational text, which may be the most important parts of it. There are sections on listening, the general elements of contemporary jazz drumming, a historical overview of modern drumming, improvisation, drums-band interaction and improvisation, the cymbal line, cymbal interpretation, interaction of parts of the drum set, meter-within-meter playing, song form, the rhythm section, clave rhythm, phrasing, muscular tension, and body motion. Each thing is well illustrated, with recorded examples cited. Now that all music is instantly available on the internet, I need to reread it and actually listen to the recordings I was never able to find as a student.  

It is purely a book about creative playing, for the drum set as a four limbed instrument. There's nothing in here purely about the hands. Not much about the job of playing structurally, except broadly. 

Book I deals with meter-within-meter playing— mostly, playing 3/4 ideas in a 4/4 setting. Some of the patterns are similar Mel Lewis's rubadub idea. There are a lot of practice patterns written in a very loose format. It's a very valuable chapter that nevertheless could have used some editing/polishing— that doesn't matter, you figure out what to do with it. 

Book II deals with triplet patterns with the hands and feet, played as solo patterns, and played along with a cymbal rhythm. 

Book III deals with modern feet and left hand independence with a cymbal rhythm, in triplet partials. I certainly practiced this a lot; today I feel like there may be better ways of developing the same thing. Then again, we're not supposed to be living in book exercises, you're supposed to use them as a starting place. The entire book requires you to take a creative approach— you practice the pattern a little bit, then improvise with the broad idea of it. 

My complaints/caveats are: 

Too focused on triplets. Triplets are a fairly narrow range of what happens in jazz drumming. I think it's better to have 8th notes— swung or not— and quarter notes as your primary orientation. 

The book may even over-emphasize the creative, improvisatory, interactive aspects of playing. As a feral young jazz student, it took me awhile to figure out that my job was also to provide a foundation. My education was imperfect, that's not the book's fault. 

The meter-within-meter section could have been more developed, and polished. Many of the patterns seem redundant as written. It takes some creativity to get full value from it.  

The notation style is somewhat archaic, though that doesn't wreck the book, as it does many others. 

That's all fine— I don't think it's good to be looking for complete answers from any book. 

There's a big contrast in attitude between it and the most popular jazz drumming book ever— Art of Bop Drumming. AOBD is largely a style guide— a creative framework within a pretty particular set of boundaries. AOMJD is more of an open ended map of the creative terrain. They do serve different purposes. In retrospect I could have use some of the boundaries AOBD provides; I think many more people are missing the perspective AOMJD provides.  

120 pages. 

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