Sunday, February 05, 2023

Transcription: Mel Lewis comping

On Chess Mates, from a 1985 Joe Lovano record, Tone Shapes & Colors— a live recording with Mel Lewis on drums, and Kenny Werner on piano. A lot of what I'd call “non-independent” drumming here, lots of examples of his rubadub thing. A good example of how to play bright tempos economically while still sounding like you're doing something.

The YouTube video won't embed, so hit this link to hear it.

The form is short and unusual, I guess we'll call it ABC: 

A - 12 bars  |  B - 4 bars 3/4 + 1 bar 4/4  |  C - 8 bars  

That B section is not a trap— it has 16 beats total, same as four bars of 4/4, so on the blowing you could miss it and not get lost. He probably actually wrote the whole thing in 4/4— on the solos Mel plays it like it's a figure in 4/4. Playing the head it would be easier to count it in 3/4; I'm writing it 3/4 to outline the figure, which is played pretty strongly even on the solos.   

Here are a couple of choruses of Mel's playing during Kenny Werner's piano solo, starting at 4:32. Tempo is 258. 

He plays the hihat pretty softly— not necessarily quiet, but with a soft foot, not a lot of force, with some splash sounds, and the volume is irregular. He's mashing the stick into the snare drum a bit, so a lot of the notes have a wide attack, not quite a buzz stroke. All of the tom tom notes are played with the right hand. Any time the bass drum is played on an offbeat, it's not played strongly.

There's a little more happening with the bass drum than I notated, but I'm not hearing any evidence of regular “feathering”, that he talks about so much. Maybe he's doing it, it's up to you how much you want to struggle with that. 

Bars 3 and 4 have the fundamental rubadub lick he plays throughout this. Maybe the best individual phrase of that is bars 30-33. Also note the fills in bars 25 and 46— sticking is RRLL RRLL both measures.

Also look at the way he phrases the last four bars, 47-50— he does that kind of phrase often: 

First bar: big accents on 1 and 4. 
Second-third  bars: nails down time, brings the hihat in. 
Fourth bar: fill / end of phrase

He does that most of the time here, actually.

What he's doing is modern, but this is definitely night club drumming, an evolved texture from playing in clubs, doing that job. There's nothing contrived about it, none of our usual jazz student worry about ideas or creativity or being interesting or using our technique.      

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