Monday, April 22, 2024

On Effortless Mastery

Service announcement: the next couple of months will continue to be very busy for me, so I'll be posting irregularly for awhile longer. Quality of language will be unpolished, wisdom coarsely hewn, logic poorly articulated, as I dash these things off in order to post some damn thing. Maybe the site will get a lot better, who knows. This is a great time to write me with questions. 


When Effortless Mastery, by the pianist Kenny Werner, was published in the late 1990s, it was one of the first books to talk seriously about the inner game of being a jazz student and musician, getting into some lurking personal issues a lot of us have, or have had, in that pursuit. I got an advance copy at the time of its release, and digested it off and on for a number of years after that. More recently Werner released a follow up book, Becoming The Instrument

The title, Effortless Mastery, does not mean “becoming a master quickly without working at it.” It means “becoming effortless in the mastery you beat your brains out obtaining.” In BTI he clarifies:

Here’s what I didn’t say in my first book: It takes a lot of effort to become effortless!

I wish I had because many misinterpreted that book to mean that one did not have to practice to acquire virtuosity.


Dealing with the creative neuroses and inhibitions you develop while practicing eight hours a day trying to be great. The first 75 pages address the subject of fear related to the creative and learning processes— playing, listening, composing, practicing, and teaching. That part is quite useful. The remainder of the book gets into some pretty airy stuff, with a lot of affirmations, breathing exercises and long meditations on repetitive themes like “I am great, I am a master.” 

And he writes at length advocating an approach to technique involving total release— maybe a legit thing to study at the hands of the master who taught it to him, but a technical experiment for people self-teaching it via a book. Putting in the amount of time he suggests would be a pretty speculative venture. 

Becoming The Instrument goes a lot further into a quasi-religious/self-help zone. You can tell when a musician bought one of the books, because they suddenly become God guy for awhile, taking on a forced kind of mystical air. We've all done silly stuff in the course of figuring things out. In processing it I think it's good to keep Zen master Shunryu Suzuki's advice close at hand: 

Do not be too interested in Zen. 


It gets quite heavy, and you get a sense of the intended audience, in the negative, as if he's addressing a kind of spiritual void, or void of purpose. Maybe he sees a lot a type of younger player, that is talented and driven, but is without a real visceral emotional center, without real meaning, with no great reason for doing any of this, beyond a desire for recognition. He fills that void with a kind of religion of playing, or of a particular state of being when playing. From here that resembles an extreme level of self-absorption— which is fine, but I don't believe it's a substitute for substance. And it doesn't provide it. I don't come away from it feeling I know more about what's real about myself.    

The book was very welcome when it was published, but there was a limit to how far I can go with it. I don't get much from affirming my greatness and mastery, the words aren't real motivating to me. I gained more confidence from real instances of me playing good than I was by the meditations. You learn detachment through playing more— burning out playing way too many gigs would be preferred. You hear yourself recorded enough times— on occasions when you hated what you were doing— and realize, after you forgot what you were trying to do, that you sound fine. Good even. You can play the drums, and your judgments about your playing are not your playing. I'll have to get into my ideas of what musical substance is, and where it comes from, another time. 

Both books are worth having in your permanent library. I included links above where you can preview the books quasi-legally, but you should buy them. Don't screw around, buy hard copies of everything. 

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Reed tweak: filling in 16ths

Another in this endless series of tweaks to a basic RH lead system, commonly associated with the book Progressive Steps to Syncopation, by Ted Reed. Perhaps you've heard of it. 

Let's be clear, I am not screwing around daydreaming about new drum patterns here— this is about taking things we've worked out as isolated licks or patterns, and getting them into our playing by working them into an ongoing texture... which is provided by the Reed system. Learning any pattern or lick in isolation, the hard part is always how do I get this into my playing naturally. This is it, baby.  

Or it's one of the its. Today's thing extends and connects with a paradiddle inversion tweak we did a couple of years ago. And it's slightly different— here we're busying up the cymbal rhythm— or the bass drum rhythm— by filling in some more 16ths.

 


In playing the normal RH lead system reading from Syncopation, generally there will be one, two or three notes of left hand filler. Parts A, B, and C above show possible ways of handling them. At the bottom of the page there is a three bar excerpt from Syncopation Exercise 1 on p. 38, written out the way it would be played with the first cymbal option. 

The one thing this page doesn't address is when there are two or more BD/cym notes in a row— in the example you just play them as 8th notes, but you could fill in between them with the left hand to make them 16th notes. That would give you an unbroken 16th note texture. 

I associate all of this type of stuff with Jack Dejohnette, Jon Christiansen, Bob Moses, but it's all over current drumming. 

Get the pdf

Friday, April 19, 2024

Just throwing it out there...

A quick observation, during this period of light posting:  

A pattern I've noticed when I see people selling off their boutique cymbals: they rarely include any Cymbal & Gong. Every other hip brand of boutique item, but no Cymbal & Gong. It's not because they're not out there. There are a lot of them in circulation. 

It's because most people who buy them use them forever. A few of them I've sold have ended up getting traded to another drummer, who loved them and they used them forever, but they're not just getting them and dumping them. In the case of one drummer on this last Germany trip, Cymbal & Gong was what he was dumping the other cymbals to get.  

This year has been a little slow, so I haven't been acquiring a lot of new stock, but these cymbals I have hanging around are great. People have to get excited to make a purchase, but how's this for exciting: I'm holding your career cymbal, that you're going to be happy taking to every gig, recording session, and rehearsal you do for the 10 years at least. I was excited at that prospect when I started buying them for myself. 


End of random sales pitch. More erratic posting of drum stuff coming...

Monday, April 15, 2024

Tresillo unit - 02

Here's an addendum to a set of stuff I posted back in January— the “tresillo unit.” That was basically a set of variations on a New Breed system. This is a loosely organized collection of things to further develop one of them, that was suggestive of a samba groove.

With these heavily constructed kinds of grooves, every small move and variation you learn becomes kind of a big deal. Changes in dynamics, articulations, and orchestration become a big deal. You can get by with them doing relatively little in terms of actually varying the parts.  


Pattern 1-2 are the plain system, with the right hand moving between the cymbal and the floor tom, and that system with a left hand part to use for the complete stock groove. 

Patterns 3-6 give some accents you can play with the left hand. 

Patterns 7-8 have the left hand doing a partido alto-type rhythm. 

With the following you can work through some of the reading in New Breed, playing the book rhythm with the left hand:  

9-12 show some right hand variations.

13-18 show some bass drum variations. 

Play the hihat where you like for a samba; I play it on the off beats. 

Get the pdf

Daily best music in the world: Louis Hayes with Cannonball

Here's an item from jazz writer Mark Stryker, which caught Peter Erksine's attention on Twitter. Cannonball Adderley playing a fast tempo with Louis Hayes on drums, on an Adderley record I've never owned, Nippon Soul.

Stryker says: “This duo with Louis Hayes is prime Cannonball, and one of the best examples of Louis' distinctive cymbal beat and how he's the link between Philly Joe and Tony Williams at this tempo.” 

You can hear what he's talking about, even if it doesn't work exactly that way— it's burning:

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Very occasional quote of the day: form

“It is easy to forget that the man who writes a good love sonnet needs not only to be enamored of a woman, but also to be enamored of the Sonnet.” 

-C. S. Lewis

Friday, April 12, 2024

Reed tweak: BRL linear fill

Fun little item here, modifying the straight 8th right hand lead system commonly applied to the book Syncopation.

Where there are two or more 8ths of left hand filler, we'll play 16ths, starting with a BRL pattern (B = bass drum). On two 8ths of filler, play BRLB; on three 8ths of filler play BRLBRL. 


I've put all the fills on floor tom and snare drum to help make the sticking clear, but use any drums you want of course. Practice the warm ups, then do it within the right hand lead system while reading from Syncopation pp. 30-32 and 34-45.

Monday, April 08, 2024

Genre rant

A small complaint on genre in music, that has been hanging around my drafts folder a long time. Whenever I'm slow to write any new stuff, and am desperate for content, I dump one of these on you. 

So, genre: I hate it. I'm not given to hyperbole, but the word and concept are death.  

Genre = stereotype
It's a terrible way to think about music. Normal people are happy and comfortable thinking in terms of stereotypes, and will judge an entire field of music based on half-hearing a few examples of it, but musicians need to deal with specifics. 

True genre music is niche music, subculture music— Surf, Chanson, Gypsy Jazz, electric Blues, Rockabilly, etc. They have their charms, and some legitimate works of art, but continued exposure to them leads to a feeling of sameness. What attracts people seems to be a vibe, rather than any memorable or unique musical moments. 

Example: listen to Blitzkrieg Bop by The Ramones— it's a lot of fun, and a great song. But getting deeper into the rest of the album it's on, boredom sets in. It's all a variation on a formula— and there's not enough substance to the formula to sustain interest over a 29 minute album. Every song can't be Blitzkrieg Bop. They're not good enough writers. 

Here, listen to this one, all of it: 




That mild boredom you're experiencing? That's genre. 

You get something similar checking out some surf music on the strength of the Dick Dale track Misirilou, as used in the movie Pulp Fiction, or checking out 1960s French pop after hearing Francoise Hardy's nice little song Le Temps de l'Amour. In junior high school some friends had some Ted Nugent records— they liked hearing power chords on the guitar, and you could get the records practically free through Columbia House. We got bored with that fast, and we were 14 years old. Genre. Bad writing.   

Maybe the highest expressions of genre is in world music, in the music of local cultures. You'll find areas of music where everything by one artist basically sounds the same. It may be great music, but they're doing one narrow thing. Carlos Embale in Rumba, and Luis Gonzaga in Baiao are examples of that. As an outsider it can be hard to listen to a lot of that just via recordings, without the live social aspect. 

Movies
In Barton Fink a writer struggles dealing with genre— he's a theater writer who moved to Hollywood to work as a screenwriter, and has been assigned the job of writing a “rasslin' picture”, which he has no idea how to do. He can't write formula, and nobody around him can comprehend that:


You could watch Akira or Ghost In The Shell, and think, hey, I could get into this anime business. Then you try to watch literally anything else in that world, and it's absolutely the worst, most insipid, repetitive, formulaic, boring crap product in the world. You have just moved from the world of specifics, which is the world of art, into the world of genre. 

Now go onto whatever streaming service you use and search for any real movie: Taxi Driver, Apocalypse Now, Dr. Strangelove, Repo Man, Down By Law, The Limey, Robocop, The Long Goodbye (yes, all Gen X guy-favored movies). Since they probably don't have the movie you want, they'll suggest some things “like” it, and notice how bloody wrong they all are. You have just witnessed the impossibility of algorithming art, of genre-ifying it.

What's not genre
Think for a moment: how many songs are there that are anything like Happy Together, Time After Time, Tax Man, When Doves Cry, Tears Of A Clown, Chain Of Fools, Pinball Wizard, Mexican Radio, Shock The Monkey, Sympathy For The Devil, I Wish, Sweet Jane, Don't Worry, Be Happy? Compare that Ramones records with Q: Are We Not Men? by Devo. They all go in the “rock” bins or the “R&B” bins, but they're unique works.  

The strength of American and British pop music is that within a basic framework, there's an attempt to be unique. Maybe they hit on a universal aesthetic as well, but mainly the music is not simply genre. The mission of pop craft is to hammer out a track that is instantly catchy and compelling, that demands repeated listening, that is also unique enough to stand out from everything else bombarding people's ears. 

The same is true of American Songbook tunes— the ones that are still played have something unique about them. The not-good ones are the same stock ii-V-I thing, and seem thin and not real satisfying when you play them. I can't think of any titles because I never thought about them ever again. Sonny Rollins is kind of perverse about playing bad tunes, so you could look in his catalog. 


Jazz is not genre

Jazz is the subject of a lot of genre thinking, but it is not genre— it's a field, a community, a lineage. When someone says I don't like jazz, or I like jazz, the correct response is, which jazz, what artist, what record? That's the only meaningful conversation to have about it. 

Duke Ellington is not genre, Miles Davis is not genre, Weather Report is not genre. There's only one Kind of Blue, Out Of The Afternoon, Out Of The Cool. You'd think, OK, most records are just 3-5 dudes playing tunes, then why is there only one Lester Young Trio, Milestones, Nefertiti, Real McCoy, Three Quartets, Trio Jeepy, Time On My Hands, Live At The Pershing?  

There are a few people who have recorded so many records you start to feel some of that genre type of boredom through over exposure, and maybe they didn't have a real special plan for any one record. I'm not naming names. Maybe they were on a European label that was excited about them, and they were touring a lot, and put out way too much. Can't say. I'm thinking David Murray. 


More regular blog stuff coming— I'm very busy with unrelated things, but I've also got some exciting new stuff brewing. Stick around. 

Sunday, April 07, 2024

Straight 8ths in funk Afro 12/8

Something I'm working out, that needed to be written out to do it: straight 8ths on the bass drum within a funk-style Afro 12/8 groove. I work a lot with this whole area of groove. This is worth working through even if you don't have an application for it, it makes you put a fine point on your accuracy with your bass drum. 


Play the accent like a backbeat and ghost the rest of the snare drum notes. At first omit the circled notes on the cymbal with patterns 3-4 and bass drum with patterns 5-16, if it helps you get them. 

Get the pdf

Saturday, April 06, 2024

Solo transcription: Billy Higgins - Third World

Here's a drum solo by Billy Higgins, from the tune Third World on Freddie Hubbard's album Bolivia. 

I've never played this tune and didn't count out the form. It starts with 8 bars of an ensemble figure with drum fills, which also occurs at the end of every solo chorus. The transcription begins with that section at the end of the piano solo, then Higgins's actual solo begins at bar 9. And you hear Higgins play the figure in the last 8 bars of his solo, then the band comes in with it on the head out. 


Snares off. 8th notes are swung, or half-swung. The bass drum is feathered through a good part of this; also there are some random hits I didn't notate. The hihat really isn't used at all, maybe one or two random notes I didn't notate. Look for places to add doubles when moving around the drums— like in measure 11, the first two triplet partials are played with the same hand. 

At measure 41 there's a little rhumba part that is difficult to notate There are a variety of sounds happening, and changes in pitch— which I didn't indicate. The regular Xs are rim clicks, the alternate Xs are played on the rim (possibly with the R instead of the L indicated), and the house top accents are rim shots. 



The sticking I've given should help you do something with it. Your left hand should be in rim click position with your palm resting on the drum, muffling it, and the right hand playing the head near the edge of the drum. I think the pitch changes result from moving the left hand across the drum— not from putting pressure on the head and changing its tension, but from changes in harmonics, from changing the position of his hand muffling the head. Experiment.  

Get the pdf

The solo starts at 5:18 in the track, or at - in the video of the full album below:

Tuesday, April 02, 2024

Very occasional quote of the day: Joe gives advice

“When I was playing the Vanguard with Freddie Hubbard, I went back to the kitchen and Philly Joe was there. He said, 'You're playing good. You gotta kick Freddie's ass, make his lips burn.' All the while Freddie was telling me I was playing too loud.”

-Lenny White, Modern Drummer interview by Aran Wald, 1977

Monday, April 01, 2024

Beats to fills

Here's a connecter idea, using some rock beats written normally, a la Funky Primer, but playing them as cymbal accents with fills, as in this rock fill drill— hitting accents on the cymbal/bass drum, and filling in 8th notes on the snare and toms. 

That latter thing has been a regular part of my teaching for several years, usually starting with the 8th note accent pages in Syncopation. Those pages are a little dull though. This way will be better because a) the rhythms are more interesting, and b) it will give students some ideas about where to take an ordinary written-out rock beat. 

It's quite simple. For example, with beat number 4 from p. 13 of Funky Primer: 


You hit the bass drum/cymbal notes as crashes, supported with the bass drum, and hit the rest of the 8th notes on... some drums. Snare or toms, TBD later: 
 

With beat number 8: 



You would play: 


As exercises, you'd play those fill measures some different ways: 
  1. Right hand only 
  2. Left hand only
  3. Both hands in unison- two cymbals, two drums (or flams on one drum)
  4. Right hand on cymbal / left hand on drums
  5. Right hand on cymbal / both hands on drums
And the drum part could be played:
  1. On the snare drum.
  2. Moving around the drums in a set pattern you make up. 
  3. Moving around the drums freely.. 

Here's how you could play those in a two measure phrase— one measure of the written beat, one measure accents/fills:


Students get way too hung up on what cymbal or drum they should hit— in the second measure you can take the snare line to mean any drum, and the cymbal part to mean any cymbal. Keep it simple until you can play it, then get creative. You can follow sticking systems 1-5 above at first, then wing it.