Sunday, April 30, 2023

Beware of formulas

Making that Shadow Wilson transcription, I was reminded of this video fellow blogger Jon McCaslin shared with me (and Ted Warren of Trap'd), in which drummer Bernie Dresel shares his formula for comping with the snare drum in jazz: 

Basically he says:

    •  Play lots of & of 1 / & of 3
    •  & of 2 / & of 4 “doesn't swing”, save it for the end of the phrase

Now: on that Monk record, Shadow Wilson, you'll recall, plays mostly &s of 2s and 4s, all throughout the phrase. The idea that he doesn't swing or doesn't know how to comp would be absolutely ludicrous, if anyone dared to state it. 

Dresel mentions developing this formula from listening to Billy Higgins. But we just have to go to the records to discover that he plays plenty of &s of 2/4, all the time. Part of what's nice about the way he does it is that he mixes it up.

As an aside Dresel notes that accenting the cymbal on the & of 2 / & of 4 also “doesn't swing”, which... Elvin Jones famously plays his cymbal that way, as do many others following him, so case closed on that. I also recall Paul Motian somewhere saying that Monk suggested accenting his cymbal that way. I don't have more examples because I never thought it would need defending. It's an established thing. 


Certainly a lot of people are active with the snare drum around the & of 1/3— Kenny Clarke and Max Roach, for example. I've written some stuff based on the idea. For a stone beginner with no idea what to do, Dresel's formula is not a terrible place to start. 

But it's very, very reductive. Approaching jazz as a formula is a terrible idea. Jazz is not Rockabilly. It's better to do what everyone great did: practice some stuff, play a lot, listen to a lot of records, listen to the people you're playing with, play the tune, and play what you hear. In the video Dresel asks is it random?— the answer is, no, it's based on all those things. 

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Transcription: Shadow Wilson comping

A little bit of Shadow Wilson's playing on Nutty, from Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane, at Carnegie Hall. This is Monk's second solo chorus, starting at 2:33. The tune is 32 bars long, form is AABA. 

He's more active on the snare drum than you would think from a cursory listen— the ghosted notes are extremely soft. The snare drum hangs around beats 2 and 4, with many of the audible notes happening on the & of those beats. Note the triplets in bar 24, with the left foot in unison with the left hand— a clue as to how those older guys approached left foot independence...

Friday, April 28, 2023

Solo transcription: Billy Higgins - Dear John

More soloing from Billy Higgins, on Dear John, on Freddie Hubbard's record Bolivia. The tune has the same chord changes as John Coltrane's Giant Steps, which is a 16 bar form, but the drum solo here is basically open— it's 55 bars long, with a cued ending, broadly phrased in 8+7+16+16+8 bars. Shifting that one bar one way or the other, depending on how you hear it. 

A lot to learn about musical development with him. Sometimes he follows a measure to measure bop type of phrasing, like in the first 8 bars; other times he'll sit on an idea for a while, like most of the middle of this solo, first with the repeated accents on the cymbal, then with the Latin style thing. The last 8 bars is setting up the horns to come in with the head out. 

Like the last Billy Higgins solo we looked at, this is mostly about the hands— the bass drum is used mainly for accents. As always, his articulation is very legato. I've given a few stickings, you can assume the same types of things are happening throughout. Figure it out and mark it up yourself. There are some interesting things happening with flams and ruffs in the second line.

Between measures 32-44 he plays a six-beat motif that is easy to see when you write it out with three bars per line, not so easy to follow just listening to somebody solo. I don't if it's a regular thing of his, or if he just vibed it, or what. 

Get the pdf

The solo begins at 5:13 in the track, but the video below is of the entire album, so you'll have to find it— the piano and bass play through the top of the form in the first few measures of the transcription. 

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Very occasional quote of the day: too loud

Another choice item from a 1981 column in Modern Drummer, in which Scott K. Fish talks to a lot of great bass players, about drummers:  

“Faults I hear in drummers? Mainly that they play too loud. They're too insensitive. A drummer can lead whatever band he's in. He can force himself to be the leader, just by the nature of the instrument. He can play the loudest, he can cover everybody up and he can make everybody go in the direction that he wants to make the music go. But, he should be sensitive enough to realize that if he's not the leader of the band, then he is just another member of the band. That everybody else's role in the band is just as important as his is. 

Drummers have said to me 'I can't hear you. I can't hear what you're doing.' And a lot of times I do that on purpose because I want them to stop and listen. I'm saying musically what I could be verbally saying: 'I can't hear the piano player or the horn player because you're playing so loud. You can't hear me because you're playing too loud, not because I'm playing too soft.'

I think that the greatest drummers had the ability to really burn with intensity while still playing soft. I don't say that a drummer shouldn't play loud. I remember listening to Elvin Jones with John Coltrane! To an extent it's volume but it's also space. A lot of drummers are just so busy that they don't leave spaces for other instruments.” 

- Carol Kaye

Monday, April 24, 2023

CYMBALISTIC: videos are up!

4/24 UPDATE: Bumping this— I have the other two 22" Extra Special Janavars now— I just played them and, yeah, I'm not hyping them, they're great. I may keep one for myself, my birthday is Thursday.   

CYMBALISTIC: It took me awhile— hey, it's tax time— but the videos of the new cymbals are up! 

I now have these cymbals available to purchase, all from Cymbal & Gong: 

Two 22" Extra Special Janavar Crash-Rides 
This is a new item, custom made at my request— Janavar series cymbals with K-type hammering and lathing, with a heavy patina, and three rivets. We did a first round of 20" cymbals in this style last year, which are a nice variation on a regular Holy Grail Jazz Ride. 

I decided to go lighter with the new 22s, and they are awesome— archetypal jazz cymbals. I didn't at first think they were particularly Tony Williams-like... the Nefertiti cymbal everyone wants... but comparing especially with that cymbal as recorded on the Plugged Nickel album, that's a good way to describe them. 

[Update 1 hour later: one of these, “Samantha”, has already sold.]

[4/15 update: ...and the second one, “Charlotte”, has been sold.]


20" Holy Grail Hammered Bell Jazz Ride
[4/27 UPDATE:
This cymbal sold— more coming in the summer!] 

Another custom item at my request, made with a hammered bell, which changes the cymbal in some interesting ways. As a jazz cymbal, it's pretty stout at 1824g (we could call that a “jazz medium”, maybe), but it acts a lot lighter than that— it opens up nicely, and feels soft under the stick. Overall the sound seems to decay quickly. The crash and bell sounds are lovely, and a little bit subdued.

The pitch is low and the crash has a sort of bend to it that reminds me of Art Blakey's cymbal on Big Beat and Indestructible. It's a genteel cousin of that cymbal.

17" Special Janavar Crash and 16" Holy Grail A-type Crash with heavy patina
Just a couple of great crashes that will go well in the Tony Williams spot on the left side. Both light enough to crash easily, but great for light riding. Check them out

I'm not saying a lot about them, but both are great. It's easy to not think much about the smaller cymbals, but I have a 17" that is one of my favorite cymbals, and I never gig without it. 

14 and 16" Custom Wide Chinas
Cymbal & Gong's “wide” Chinas are a unique design that, for me, makes the perfect Chinese cymbal. They are very thin, with a wide flange and small bell. My concept of a Chinese cymbal comes from the 70s, from Billy Cobham and Weather Report, and these cymbals make it possible to get that effect at sub-Weather Report volumes. 

That's the problem with Chinese-style cymbals: they can be very obnoxious, and get way out of balance with the rest of the set. A lot of them you have to play very loud to get the right sound; at combo volume they sound like a gong. The Wide Chinas give you the sound through a full range of dynamics, and none of them that I've played hurt your ears with wild harmonics. 

These two small Chinas remind me of something Ed Blackwell would use: 

Check them out, along with the other cymbals I have in stock, at my site

Whither the hihat foot

What does it do?
Right up front: in playing the drums, the left foot is basically subservient. A lot of people vaguely suspect they're not doing enough with it. Some go on to become fixated on made up ideological goals like the four limbs are supposed to contribute equally— seeing the drums as a four co-equal limb operated apparatus.  

Which it is not. The drum set was first a snare drum and bass drum instrument, which became a cymbal and snare drum and bass drum instrument (plus some other junk). And it still basically is. In some periods and styles of music, the hihat was the main cymbal sound in that equation. It doesn't matter. Hihat = cymbal. 

But the fact that it takes a dedicated limb to control it makes people think that it has some role beyond just cymbal. It's not about appendages, however, it's about the musical instrument they control.  

The hihat device itself controls two vertically clapping cymbals, and is not conducive to finessed technique. To get a dry sound we have to do essentially a dead stroke, which is hard to do fast. It's easier to play open sounds quickly, but then you lose definition— the ringing cymbals negate whatever intricate thing you were trying to accomplish. 

And to what end? What are the musical functions of its available sounds? If this is going to be a musical instrument, we have to be thinking about that. We don't just play whatever because it's a drumset and the stuff is there, and we practiced it. 

Tone control
When playing the hihats with your hands— holding the cymbals varying degrees of closed and open. There's a lot of very nuanced expression possible here, not limited to the obvious choking effects.  

Simple rhythm
Playing the 2 and 4, or quarter notes, or 8th notes. Supporting the cymbal rhythm, or providing a grounding rhythm while doing looser stuff with the rest of the set.  

Accents and color - splash sounds

Splashing the cymbals with your foot is a particular kind of sound, used to best effect on ballads, or where you want a raucous vibe.

Alternative comping/texture voice

This is where people get really active with it— playing independent comping statements, or playing as part of a rhythm texture with the snare drum and/or bass drum. Occasionally, or as part of the main groove. The sound of the instrument itself is just a little strange in that role. It's not real expressive played with the foot— the sound itself, and the difficulty of doing much with it.    

In that role it's really acting as an occasional contrasting sound to the snare drum. Some drummers will develop one big gratuitous show stopping lick with it— that seems to be a thing. 

Part of a composed groove

For example that shuffle groove we've seen on a couple of versions of Midnight Special. Or in a semi-repeating way as Elvin Jones did on a waltz or Latin feel, or as in Steve Gadd's well known 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover groove.

Complex ostinato

Clave rhythms, most notably, or repeating rhythms with open and closed sounds. The clave rhythm may be a necessity if you're playing Latin gigs where there's a shortage of percussionists, and you're having to cover multiple people's jobs. That's the reason for that. The ostinato with splash sounds is more a showy solo item. 


Multi-pedals, other percussion instruments, feats of independence, etc etc. We're entering the world of people whose entire job description is to be amazing. We're not talking music any more— maybe quasi-music. Some people don't see the distinction.

But Jack Dejohnette is often amazing, isn't Joe Blow the amazing clinic/YouTube drummer just an extension of that?
No, he isn't. This is something to think about and figure out. 

Still: there are real possibilities for people to develop a real personal musical thing with that, for music where the percussion is centered. If you're the person to do that, you already know who you are— everyone else, don't sweat it, you're not obligated. 

It's good to have clarity on stuff like this. It's just inherently a second order, supportive item, and it's fine. It's not just another thing we have to worry we're slacking on being amazing with.    

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Very occasional quote of the day: futuristic

“A lot of drummers try to be futuristic and more modern, but they lose the groove and find themselves nebulous instead of in contact with what it really is. 

So all of the interesting things that are happening, all of the intricate things that are happening in their percussive playing or music making, don't have the same significance because they lose the groove.”

- Reggie Workman, Modern Drummer, July 1981, piece by Scott K. Fish

Friday, April 21, 2023

EZ rock in 5 - 3+2

Extending this EZ fast rock / rock in 3 series, with quarter notes on the cymbal: here are some beats and ideas in 5, phrased 3+2. I wrote this series to illustrate the difference between 4, 3, and 5, using similar materials, for a younger student who asked about it. 

Learn the beats, then combine them? That may be a more difficult problem than we're generally dealing with here— most of my students for whom this is intended will be preoccupied with staying oriented just in one measure of 5.  

Get the pdf

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Ralph Humphrey in hospice, RIP Ivan Conti

Not great news in music this week. 

Ralph Humphrey, who had been undergoing cancer treatment, has entered hospice care. He's one of the first drummers I ever knew the name of, from Frank Zappa's album Apostrophé. I was about 7 years old, and my brother had the record. Later on a learned of his book Even In The Odds (he left a comment here on my review of it), and when I was looking for a school in LA, was considering studying with him at Cal State Northridge— ended up at USC. As a San Jose State alumni, he's definitely extended family— many of my teachers and peers also went there. 

You can go to his Facebook page and send him some love.

And Brazilian drummer Ivan Conti has passed away. Best known for playing with the fusion group Azymuth, bringing that beautiful Brazilian spirit to fusion, playing it with a lot more soul than is normally associated with it. I've transcribed a number of his things since I've been doing this site, learning about his playing is very worth it. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

It's about records, it's about records, it's about records

I'm noticing— online, and to a lesser degree with some students— a lot of people approaching the drums mainly in terms of drumming media. Books and videos, and the drumming concerns they promote, are the main things they think about. 

Promoting that is a deliberate project with YouTubers. And people are comfortable with it, and bring that attitude to, for example, John Riley's excellent book, The Art of Bop Drumming; the book is 100% of their experience of jazz, and they make a doctrine out of it. There are other examples, I don't feel like thinking about it to list them.  

Think of that manufactured laundry list of drumming concerns, and then put on a record, and listen to the whole thing:

That is what we're doing, that is the musical act, that is natural motivation.

The list of concerns just vanishes. You can't listen to that and be thinking what's his finger technique? Would that have been better if he played open handed? Was that a herta? Was he feathering the bass drum? The categories of things the Joe Blow YouTuber advertised are totally, obviously, made up and irrelevant.  

That's what records are all about, forming an idea of what music is, what kind of musician we want to be, how we want to play the drums. There's actual joy, love, and art in it, which are ultimately the only things that can sustain you for decades of being a musician. 

Now my Generation X self also believes that actual hard media are important— putting on a record, CD, or tape, and running it over and over— because changing the record takes some effort, and because you've been drawn into the world of the album. No shuffling, no skipping. You have the cover art sitting around the house, you don't have to go through an interface to read the liner notes and credits. It's tangible and immediate and it's part of your life. 

The false abundance of the digital age has to go. You're one human, you cannot process infinite free music. 

What you do is: be with one thing, now. And keep doing that. Pay the $4-18 for the record, pay it respect and form an attachment to it. That guides your progress as a musician, and is the foundation of an identity.  

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Reed tweak: yet another uptempo method

Minor tweak to an ordinary right hand lead Reed system, making an approach to playing jazz at fast tempos. I've probably written something like this before, I can't be bothered to check. This way has some stages so people can tailor it to their current level of development. Hopefully between the different systems I've shared, people will have some tactics for approaching this difficult area better than just brute force “play your bop stuff really, really fast.”

For the examples we'll use this rhythm from Syncopation, p. 34: 

Play a straight 8th right hand lead interpretation— play the rhythm on the cymbal, with bass drum in unison, fill in the spaces with the left hand on the snare drum. Add hihat with the foot on the &s: 

Then you can then double the last of any run of 8th note spaced notes on the cymbal: 

Note that we're making the jazz time as a double time feel, implying this two measure phrase in a fast 4:

I recommend spending of time with just that, at increasing tempos, and not going straight for the following denser options. But from there you could double any single left hand notes (which is all of them, in this example):

From there you could fill in any remaining 16th notes— notice that the hands are doing a paradiddle diddle sticking here: 

Here we're playing the RH doubles on the bass drum as well, and taking away the single notes: 

Or you could take way the bass drum altogether. Try some different things. 

I don't know how useful it would be to play the full page exercises this way. Not all the one line rhythms in Reed will work equally well as actual playing texture— consider them more as calisthenic drills than literal playing vocabulary. Actual tempos for the above could be 120-200, making implied tempos of 240-400 bpm. 

Monday, April 10, 2023

Groove o' the day: Billy Higgins Latin

Addendum to yesterday's Billy Higgins transcription— here's the Latin groove he plays on the A sections of the head on Moose the Mooche, from Joshua Redman's album Wish. 

More or less— it takes a couple of measures to settle on it, and he moves his hands around a little bit. This appears to be the core groove:

You can see it's a kind of simplified MozambiqueIdris Muhammad used the same bell rhythm on a Melvin Sparks record. Billy Higgins does the same hip move between the high and low toms that I picked up from Portland drummer Ron Steen years ago, that has been a basic feature of this rhythm the way I play it ever since. 

Sunday, April 09, 2023

Transcription: Billy Higgins trading

Some uptempo trading 8s and 4s on Moose the Mooche, from an old favorite album, Wish by Joshua Redman, with Pat Metheny and Charlie Haden, and Billy Higgins on drums. I used to play along with this track a lot. 

Tempo is a little over 300 bpm, and trading begins at 2:17: 

Virtually all the activity here is with the hands— there is a little feathering the bass drum in half notes in the last 4. Maybe there's more than that, I didn't check. Distinction between accents/non-accents is not extreme, though notes marked as ghosted are definitely ghosted. Obviously there are paradiddle-type stickings happening on the tom tom activity. 

Get the pdf

Monday, April 03, 2023

EZ Rock in 3/4

Working on my EZ Fast Rock page, a younger student asked a question like what's the difference between playing in 3, 4, or 5? Well, here we go, some similar stuff written in 3/4. 

I like this format— one page with a lot of easy patterns, that all together = pretty OK baseline vocabulary for a basic style. 

Learn each measure, then combine measures in two measure phrases. 

Get the pdf