Sunday, June 25, 2023

Listening to Thelonious Monk With John Coltrane

Some notes on the record Thelonious Monk With John Coltrane. I've been listening to Monk's Carnegie Hall record a lot this week, let's get into this one. I never owned it, and haven't listened to it much. I always gravitated to the Monk records with the bigger name drummers on them, and we used to be more limited to records a) that we could afford, b) that our friends owned, c) that the record stores carried... second-hand, especially...  

This record is mostly a quartet with Shadow Wilson on drums; two tracks are septet with Art Blakey, apparently from the same session as the album Monk's Music, which also had Blakey and Coleman Hawkins. 

A drummer named Chris Conrade— a very knowledgeable and rather prickly Portland character— once asked me who I thought was Monk's favorite drummer. I said Art Blakey, he told me it was Shadow Wilson. I guessed it was because he was basically a swing drummer; the only thing I knew about him I got from the Dejohnette/Perry book, which mentions him as an example of “updated swing style” playing— swing drumming reflecting bebop innovations, which became the new standard way of playing the drums, with time played on the ride cymbal, less pronounced bass drum, hihat played with the foot on beats 2 and 4, more or less independent snare drum. While generally reflecting a time-keeping, arrangement-playing, big band-like approach to the drums. 

Jon McCaslin @ Four On The Floor has written about Wilson, and given some other examples of his playing, that's highly worth reading.  

Ruby, My Dear
Very famous ballad that doesn't seem to get played as much as it once did. Shadow Wilson playing time on the hihat on the head, with brushes, then on the snare drum during Coltrane's solo, then double time on Monk's solo— notice his left hand is also sweeping the slow 4 feel during that. 

Monk's tunes are so well structured— the tunes, and the background/supporting figures, form a very distinct interlocking structure for you to work with. There'a never any question about where you are, and you always have options for what to play off of.  

Trinkle Tinkle 
There's a classic jazz sounding cymbal for you. Probably an 18" K., and he plays it beautifully. Sounds like a 22" bass drum. He is playing it as part of his time feel (“FEATHERING” it, if you insist), in a fairly pronounced way. The things he plays on the head in support of the tune are very slick— on the head he plays extremely smooth rolls going into the second A section, and the bridge. The tune is quirky, and he plays some quirky stuff in support of it. 

The cymbal is the main voice we hear from him; the snare drum, bass drum, and hihat, all of which he plays pretty constantly/actively, are balanced underneath it. 

Off Minor

Art Blakey here. The triplet thing on the snare drum is real distinctively Blakey, as is the strong 2/4 with the hihat. He's really rocking the hihat here. He doesn't play as ferociously as he does on his own records, but he's more aggressive with his dynamics than Wilson. Drummers get into a macho thing where that's automatically thought the better way to be, but I honestly enjoy Wilson's playing on this record more than Blakey's.  


Back to Shadow Wilson. Coming off of Art Blakey, Wilson plays the snare drum and hihat much more discreetly. There's this lovely buoyancy in the way he plays the cymbal. We also get a good picture how he plays the hihats with sticks— another completely classic sounding set of cymbals there. 

It strikes me here how much Coltrane was basically not about swinging. He immediately goes into double time on his solo, and plays a lot of stuff. He would play very lyrically at times, and he did play rhythm, but he wasn't really a groove guy, was he? Compare with Coleman Hawkins's solo on Off Minor. Coltrane's like listening to Bach, he's on some other kind of mission here. 


Blakey, obviously. Big aggressive drum intro, strong hihat again— the hihats dominate the time feel, the way Blakey plays the ride cymbal is fuzzier than Wilson. There's a driving quarter note pulse happening, but the articulated cymbal rhythm is not what's swinging the time. 

You hear the contrast between Blakey's and Wilson's playing here— Blakey makes bigger statements, that are more distinctively “modern”, and draw more attention to themselves. He's also not always strictly in time with some things— on the head out, he's playing some percussion/rhythm effects that are not perfectly in rhythm. You can hear what he's basically doing, but it floats a little bit. 

Some of the things Blakey plays with Monk are practically part of the arrangement of the tunes, in my mind— at least, they're distinct enough that you can refer to them when you play these tunes, and people will know what you're doing. What he does on the head out here is an example of that. 

Solo piano, a blues. Blues is more than just a 12-bar form. Learning to say something real with the form is a major mission for any jazz drummer— everybody should be listening to piano players and copying their moves— however you would make that happen on the drums. 


Michael Griener said...

"bigger name drummers"?
It doesn't get much bigger than Shadow Wilson, or name me another drummer mentioned by Tom Cruise in a Mission Impossible movie.
His ride beat is a direct predecessor to Elvin's with that slight accent on the skip note.
It also took me a while to get into Shadow, but when this recording of Monk Live at Carnegie Hall came out, I was hooked.
Monk's favorite groove was the Lunceford band with its almost two beat feel.
And of course Shadow's fill on Queer Street is legendary. Simple but very effective.
He's a great drummer.
Lately I've been digging all the less "spectacular" drummers like Eddie Locke, Al Harewood, Candy Finch and Ben Dixon.
After 40 years with this music there's still so much to discover.

Todd Bishop said...

You're right, lol-- I thought twice about whether I should phrase it that way. Bigger names in my mind as a student anyway, bigger playing personalities-- Blakey and Roy Haynes, and later on Frankie Dunlop and Ben Riley...

The only record I ever had with Wilson on it was Monk's record with Gerry Mulligan, from my dad's record collection, but I wasn't able to pick up what was happening with him.

I'm really digging Al Harewood, I need to get more of those early George Benson records he's on. Mickey Roker is the other guy in that camp I love right now. Getting to hear a lot of Dizzy's swish knocker with him.

Michael Griener said...

I met Mickey Roker once when he used my drum kit for a gig with Milt Jackson (it was a Rogers in silver sparkle at the time).
What a nice guy he was! He's also one of my favorites. Unfortunately, I didn't know about the Dizzy Swish then, or I would have asked him about it.

The older I get, the more I like drummers who don't draw attention to themselves all the time.
"Just do your job and make everybody sound good" and those guys were perfect examples of that.

By the way, my comment about Monk and the groove of the Lunceford Band was in reference to Shadow Wilson also creating almost a two-beat feel with the way he plays the ride cymbal.
Nobody plays like that anymore, and yet it swings so tremendously.
Only Frankie Dunlop had a very similar beat to Shadow, but a little heavier.

Todd Bishop said...

Roker just had the deepest groove, it's incredible. I'll look out for that Shadow Wilson thing, I thoroughly enjoyed the way he played the cymbal here.

Somehow I always think quarter notes with Frankie Dunlop-- like it's a big band thing? I hear it in Buddy Rich, and Joey Baron-- they play more, and bigger, quarter notes than some other people...

I think when I was younger I got an idea that the only people doing anything were the explosive history-making guys-- it takes awhile to realize, everybody's doing something-- the people you peg as being mainstream or old fashioned-- they're not boring, they're all bringing it. And I also just came to understand the job better, and appreciate it when it's done well in a non-featured role.

I'm curious about your thoughts about what I said about Coltrane here-- that never occurred to me before. I have a hard time accompanying people who play like that-- it's hard to get on the same grid rhythmically. Leaving aside that they don't leave a lot of room-- I don't mind people who don't leave space if I can punctuate their lines and we land together.

Michael Griener said...

I've never thought of Coltrane as a saxophonist who locks in with the rhythm section.
He achieves his intensity in a different way than, say, Sonny Rollins, who plays the horn more like a drummer.
But also Johnny Griffin, who plays a similar amount of notes as Coltrane does with Monk, always connects more concretely with the rhythm section.
It's interesting to compare them playing the same tunes with Monk.
And Monk at Five Spot with Griffin and Roy Haynes is one of my favorite records of all time.
But for me as a drummer, both approaches are interesting, it's just my way of interacting that changes.
And I'd rather have a horn player who plays over my time than one who has a different sense of time than mine and tries to lock in.
Coltrane plays a lot of things that go from one point to another and don't necessarily all resolve in the beats in between.
A lot of saxophonists today play their subdivisions so precisely that you could transcribe them directly with very little doubt on the rhythmic side, everything is clear.
A Coltrane transcription has so many septuplets and quintuplets that Coltrane himself said he could never play it when he was confronted with one.
Saxophonists today tend to play all the subdivisions as precisely as possible, but leave no room for anyone else.
I'm afraid that's a side effect of practicing too much and playing too little, and I find that pretty boring most of the time.

Todd Bishop said...

“a side effect of practicing too much and playing too little”

That's the modern curse-- I think I avoid it by just being an animal, and being unable to just execute things I've practiced. I always revert to my natural baseline when playing.

This reminds me of a story Jeff Johnson-- Seattle bassist, plays with my brother a lot-- had about playing with Philly Joe-- he was focused real intently on locking with him, and Joe said "Stop it! Find your own time!"

Like, that explains the time on the 50s Miles records, which I never fully understood....