Monday, February 26, 2024

15th anniversary at Revival Drum Shop

I had a nice time hanging out at Portland's Revival Drum Shop last night— an excellent, unique drum shop featuring mostly vintage gear, with a lot of interesting new percussion instruments, and new and vintage cymbals. They helped Cymbal & Gong get going early on, and still have their proprietary Revival line of cymbals with them. It's a great store and I send all my students there. 

It's owned by José Medeles of the band The Breeders, and it has become a real Portland institution. Last night they had a running party with friends of the shop playing, including: Dave King (Bad Plus, Rational Funk), Dave Elitch[!!!] (Mars Volta, Miley Cyrus), Spit Stix (Fear), Stephen Hodges (Tom Waits), Janet Weiss (Sleater Kinney) and others. I had to leave before the great Mel Brown played— naturally, he was playing a regular gig somewhere, and had to go last.   

Dave King, if you know of his Rational Funk series of videos, was completely hilarious, and of course played brilliantly. 

Dave Elitch played great, hitting some real LA style backbeats that had me plugging one ear, because I was ~ five feet away. His recent mini-to-do involving a rash comment on the value of rudiments was mentioned, and he got a thank you from the audience for being relieved of the task of having to learn to play them. 

Spit Stix (aka Tim Leitch) did a mini-clinic on the 3:2 polyrhythm and on orchestrating rudiments on the drums— which he has worked out in a really effective way. He said the polyrhythm was really the primary beat he plays off of, which is a really central concept for me. As a drumming concept it's a big deal, it's the central thing in most jazz drumming since Elvin Jones. 

Stephen Hodges played a brief solo, then played duo with José, which was really lovely, getting into some quite amazing sounds within an atmospheric swamp groove, including Hodges dragging chains on the drums— missed getting video of that part, I was too transfixed— and José playing I think a 26" Wuhan cymbal.

I got a little video: 

It was cool and interesting to see how much of the old rock & roll thing is still happening with people, like it hasn't gone anywhere. You could have gone to a clinic with the guy from Paul Revere & The Raiders and he would have been playing much of the same stuff, and it's great. It's a thing. 

Everyone was winging it, with several admitting (or claiming) to feeling nervous about it, and it was loose, rough, and good. You can't help but notice that not everyone's real job is to be amazing playing a solo in a clinic. Like watching Stephen Hodges you think well I could basically do that, that must mean I'm a happening guy, except: he's the guy on Rain Dogs, Swordfishtrombone, and Mule Variations. He's the person who got in a position to be asked to make those records, and then made them what they are. That's a whole different thing. That's a whole different kind of artistic life than just getting ready to sound amazing in a drum shop. 

Or, I can listen to Dave King play his stuff solo, and it's on a very high level, but it's on a continuum with what a lot of other good drummers do, including myself. So just taking it in terms of playing solo, you could get a little cocky, like hey I'm not that different from him, I'm a happening guy! Except his job is to be headlining jazz festivals, and blowing the audience away after they've been listening to other world class acts for three days. To be good at that you have to be really comfortable doing hard music, and have a couple of gears above normal good players for generating intensity within music. So no. That's not the only way to do music, but no. 

And it's funny— even at his level, he's worrying about the parts that felt off to him, afterwards he was thanking the audience for listening to “the bad along with the good”— “the bad” being virtually undetectable to anyone listening. 

Ultimately you come away from the event feeling like there's room for everything— that obvious, explosive kind of talent, along with more traditionally simple and direct heavy playing, and some more mysterious creativity, reaching into a deeper living history with Mel Brown. A very cool scene. 

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Ruffs, drags, and general correctness in snare drumming

The correct way to play ruffs (or drags if you prefer) on the snare drum is an extremely attractive topic for repeated, endless debate. Evidently. I've seen it again and again, people going nuts for the topic. 

The major burning issues seem to be: 

a) What they should be called— ruff or drag.   
b) How to play the embellishment— double stroke, multiple bounce, or...?

Around here we call them ruffs, and my concept of correctness playing them came from a kind of Charles Dowd / Tony Cirone / Fred Sanford axis. Mainly, most of my teachers and corps instructors, and many professional acquaintances, were students of one or all of them. Dowd and Sanford both studied with Cirone. Dowd and Cirone both studied with Saul Goodman— primarily known as a timpanist, but played and taught all orchestral percussion instruments. He's as important a figure as anyone in modern percussion. All four of those individuals taught many thousands of professionals over many decades, so there's a sizable community of players for whom this is part of their frame of reference, at least. 

Summarizing my views, and what I teach, this is from Cirone's book Orchestral Techniques Of The Standard Percussion Instruments

Except: in drum corps, we played them multiple bounce, not double stroke, with the buzz very tight against the main note. I believe that way of playing them in that setting was likely Fred Sanford and Bob Kalkoffen's innovation. More traditionally they were played with a double stroke. 

Also in corps: in practice, the term drag didn't refer to a specific rudimental pattern, but to a single metered open double played as part of an ongoing rhythm, which might be referred to as a drag passage, like: 

A real traditional rudimental geek could analyze each of those phrases as a series of named rudiments,  and I'm glad I never learned that way. For me this was always just a continuing rhythm with some of the strokes doubled. In fact there are some passages from traditional rudimental solos that could be interpreted that way, with the drag strokes metered. This line from Charley Wilcoxon's Roughing The Single Drag:  

Could be played: 


Continuing with the common ruff (or drag) here's another excellent description from Percussion For Musicians by Robert McCormick, edited by Cirone: 

So McCormick and Cirone are talking about interpreting that notation, and performing it on the snare drum in orchestra, wind ensemble, and other concert snare drum settings, and that is my baseline standard for how to do things. There are other reputable professionals who say they should be played with a double stroke— they are amply represented on YouTube— all you have to do is think the word ruff and you'll be presented with a lot of videos telling about that. I think they are offering incomplete information if they don't mention anything about the performance context. 

Friend/friend of the site and excellent drummer Ed Pierce (and author Alain Rieder) has pointed out that there is a Porcaro/Igoe/Henry Adler/Al Lepak lineage of players who refer to any three note single stroke pattern as a ruff. Ralph Humphrey as well. That's different from what we've been talking about— you would not read a snare drum part, or etude, with the above ruff notation and automatically play them as single strokes. In fact I don't know how that interpretation would be applied to written music, other than to assign a rudimental name to a written rhythm (calling a 1e& 2e& rhythm ruffs, for example). With this usage we're just giving that name to a simple rhythm structure, a cluster of three notes. 

There is an exception: you do play ruffs as alternating singles when you encounter that notation for most other percussion instruments— timpani, for example. 

This all may beg the question: what even is the purpose of doing it one way or another? Why does doing it “correctly” according to a certain school of thought matter? Who decides what's correct to begin with? 

I don't believe there's any real technical or hand-conditioning benefit to doing it one way of the other— it's purely a question of convention, taste, and musical effect and expression. 

If you're involved in concert snare drumming, you'll be working with conductors, band directors, other percussionists, professors and other teachers, and miscellaneous judges— via competitions, juries, auditions— each of whom may have opinions or demands about how you should play, which may be difficult to ignore completely.   

In rudimental drumming it is decided by the individual organization— marching bands, drum and bugle corps, other drum lines, will each have their individual style standards that players need to follow. Much of the rehearsal process is about learning those standards, you don't necessarily need to have them prepared in advance. 

As individual players, we're generally free to do whatever we want—  hopefully guided by some kind of sound idea, and a good musical ear. Generally it's best to to have a baseline of ability that fits with what the rest of the drumming world is doing, doing things the way other good players do them, until you're experienced enough to form a different idea about it. Someone doing something in a grossly unconventional way in a formal performance setting is most often taken as evidence the player doesn't know what he or she is doing. 

Postscript: In the comments there's a good question about diddles as distinct from drags. 

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Groove o' the day: Elvin waltz by Kenny Washington

Here's Kenny Washington playing an Elvin Jones-type of waltz groove on Simple Waltz, on Clark Terry's 1991 record Live at the Village Gate. It's kind of an obscure item now, I bought the record then to check out some Kenny Washington. I used to play along with it a lot. 

It's actually really Elvin like, though Washington has a different way of playing time from him— and sound, and touch. See my groove o' the day and transcription of John Coltrane's Your Lady. There's also a page o' coordination based on it. 

On the intro he plays the ties, when the band comes in he plays the straight cymbal rhythm as written, no ties. 

CYMBALISTIC: Oh, what the heck...

UPDATE: Bumping this to the top of the blog. 

CYMBALISTIC: Oh, what the heck, business has been a little slow lately, so let's goose this thing a little bit, and do a special on cymbals

I'll give the FIRST THREE PEOPLE who want to buy a wonderful Cymbal & Gong cymbal in the month of February an extra special deal— we're a tiny, tiny business, and normally the specials we can afford to offer are in the nature of free shipping, or 10-15% off, but we'll do something better than that. Contact me for details. 

The cymbals have all been individually selected by me as ones I would want to own and use— there are no dogs. And as I've ranted about endlessly before, the cymbals themselves are consistently the best available for a traditional sound— a 50s/60s sound. The other jazz professionals who play them know this, and go nuts for them. 

Right now I have a number of Extra Special Janavars, with regular patina— making them big and lush— and heavy patina— making them more dry and funky. These have been a very hot item. I took several to Germany in October and they all sold before the real meet even started. 

I also have a few great A-type Holy Grails— Cymbal & Gong's best selling cymbal. The 20s are a little stouter, and are great light-mediums. The 22 is thin with a heavy patina, for a big, rather rough Tony Williams type of sound.

And there are a few random items, on which I'll be inclined to make you an extra special deal: 

18" Turk “Rin” - Great cymbal, it's just been in stock awhile. Lovely, rather delicate Turk for combo playing.

16" Holy Grail “Bobby” - 16" cymbals used to be a left side mainstay, and this is a very worthy, versatile cymbal for that. Give it a shot. I just got a 16 very similar to this, and love it. 

14" China “Chi” -  Really cool effect cymbal. C&G's Chinas are excellent, with the real Chinese sound, but not obnoxious, and not too loud.


OK, visit CYMBALISTIC to pick, out your cymbal(s), and then contact me through the form on that site.  

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Max Roach / Stan Levey duo transcription: Milano Blues

Here's a composed drum duo played by Max Roach and Stan Levey, on their album Drummin' The Blues. They trade off on some parts, and play in unison on others. I believe the whole thing is pre-written— by Roach, from the sound of it— maybe the trading portions are improvised. 

Begins at 3:03 in the track, tempo is 127 bpm. 

They didn't just breeze in and do the session, they took some trouble to tune their drums the same, and select cymbals that sounded similar, and their execution is very tight— no flamming between players on the unison parts.

If you're able to loop the first four bars, you can hear that bars 1-2 are one player, bars 3-4 are the other, mainly from the pitch of the cymbal. As best I can tell, they're trading twos— soloing two measures each— in the first 8 bars, then playing together. This would be a good recital or jury piece for somebody. If I were going to perform it, I'd look into some creative ways of splitting it up between players, fill it out with some actual improvised trading. 

Get the pdf

Duo begins at 7:51 in the video below: 

Friday, February 16, 2024

Very occasional quote of the day: getting fired

“There’s been times when I was fired from gigs because, lets say I had the ability to get my foot in the door, but wasn’t living up to the expectations that people had. In that process I’d go through a lot of reassessment and then address my weak points and make them strong points. That’s a situation that happens to a lot of musicians. 

Psychologically you can’t let that get you down. You have to use those situations as learning opportunities, not to develop attitudes about people, but to develop a perspective of your strengths and weaknesses. At those times I did a lot of deep analysis of my playing and tried to be as objective as possible. I’ve tried to address my weaknesses and really work hard to develop them into strengths. 

Over the years I’ve been let go for not having good time, not being able to play with a click track, not being a real asset as a guy on the road that has a good attitude, you know any number of things which I’ve learned from and developed my playing and developed my personality to be easy to work with and professional as a musician on tour and in the studio.”

- Steve Smith in The Psychology of Drumming by Chris Peacock

You can download a pdf of the book on Scribd— though I don't know if it was posted with the consent of the author. I believe Peacock is the author of the Drum Ninja site, so maybe you can get it through him, or at least make a donation for pirating his book. 

Monday, February 12, 2024

Practical comping lesson with Rothman

Joel Rothman's books don't get a ton of attention in the jazz drums-learning world, but they're good. I like the comping materials in his book Basic Drumming (duplicated in his book Drumming And All That Jazz). They cover the practical basics, bridging into more modern*, filled in, Elvin Jones-like textural playing.

* - Yes, Elvin Jones died 20 years ago[!!!] at age 76, but his playing is still modern; everybody who plays gets into him in a serious way, and he did drumming as art, not simply accompaniment (I think he would have disputed that). Modern doesn't just mean contemporary.

The other usual books tend to deal more in pure rhythm/independence/reading problems, and I've never found them to be totally satisfactory for getting to a realistic comping texture with new jazz students. Rothmans' stuff is friendlier to my teaching purposes that way. 

They're notated as just a snare drum and cymbal rhythm, written as triplets, with the swing interpretation baked in. It's assumed we'll add the hihat on beats 2 and 4, and maybe feathering the bass drum if you swing that way

You'll notice that the first two beats of each pattern are the same— hopefully that teaches you the first idea really well, and teaches you some places to go with it. 

One thing I do— not necessarily first, but first now— is add some bass drum. I'll circle some notes or rests in the student's book, and have them add bass drum there. For example: 

Most of the snare drum part should be played softly, with usually one or two accents per measure. I'll also pencil in some accents to give an idea of how to shape the measure: 

The problem here, as with almost all comping materials, is we're dealing with one-measure ideas repeating on the 1. We're too 1 oriented, too single-measure oriented.

There are some ways of making a musical phrase out of this, more like how drummers realistically play, with some space. For the examples below, we'll use pattern 4 above, with the added bass drum, and hihat on beats 2 and 4: 

First, obviously, play 1 measure of jazz time, one measure of the exercise: 

That's a good way to learn the patterns in the first place, as part of a continuity, not just as an isolated measure. If a student is able to read the patterns correctly the first time, that's how we'll do it. 

We can also get off the 1, and play the pattern across the barline, a couple of different ways. 

First, just play the pattern as written, except starting on beat 3 of the last measure of the phrase: 

Or play beats 3-4 of the pattern on beats 3-4 at the end of the phrase, and beats 1-2 at the beginning of the new phrase: 

If that seems weird, it's not, it's what you were playing on the repeat of the one measure pattern: 

Here's what a four measure practice phrase would look like, playing that way: 

Obviously there are other possibilities. It's not necessary to take it too far faking a drumming performance from book materials, we're just giving people a sketch of how you might actually play. The next step turning book patterns into music is to play music— with people or with recordings.  

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Ndugu Leon Chancler with George Duke

Here's a cool video of Ndugu Leon Chancler in the studio with George Duke, playing Dukey Stick, which ended up on his record Don't Let Go. They start playing after about 1:45. The way Ndugu counts it in is hilarious: 

That's Napoleon Murphy Brock, best known from Zappa's band, doing background vocals here, and Sheila E. (Escovedo at the time) on percussion. The guitarist (“Goin' surfin baby!”) is Charles Johnson who much later became a well known blogger, writing the Little Green Footballs blog— which was very pro Iraq war during the Bush years, and has since become much more politically liberal. 

Monday, February 05, 2024

Very occasional quote of the day: religion

“This is my religion. I take long breaks now when I don't perform and I am not myself when I am not performing.”

- Roy Haynes

h/t Sheet Music Library 

Sunday, February 04, 2024

Antonio Sanchez on drumming in movies

From Anzonio Sanchez's twitter feed, here's a video of him commenting on some drumming performances in movies, including School of Rock, Sound of Metal, Whiplash, and some other things. 

Most of the examples don't have much in them for actual drummers, but he's very businesslike about it. It's funny to bring in one of the top drummers on the planet to point out, OK, there's no bass drum there, here's how you hold the sticks

This is all just an excuse to share that screen shot, which I thought was hilarious. It is funny when they get to the movie Whiplash