Friday, April 17, 2015

Staircase of Independence

This is an exercise I typically give to my students who are fairly early on in their jazz drumming journey.  But lately I've also been giving it to more experienced students as a bit of a brush up.  What I've found is that every single one of them finds at least a few of the bars difficult.  The reason for this, I'm guessing, is that fact that most of us work out of books like Syncopation and The Art of Bop Drumming, which presents pre-composed musical ideas based on common jazz vocabulary.  However, many students don't take the time to learn to place notes in every crack and crevice.

I once got into a bit of a debate with a reader of this blog, who, after seeing another exercise I had posted told me that "Life is too short to waste time on such 'exercises'".  That made me stop and think for a minute.  Could he be right?  After all, we're trying to make music.  Everyone seems to be obsessed with technical aptitude nowadays; sometimes to the point of detriment to the music.  Why bother with hours of patterns and exercises?  We should be expressing ourselves!  But my doubt was very short lived once I remembered my own advice that I give to all of my students, which is to remember that music truly is a language and all of these exercises that we work on are part of our vocabulary.  The larger our vocabulary, the more effectively we can articulate what it is that we would like to convey.  It’s no different than speech, really.  As toddlers we could point and bang things and shout to get what we wanted, but as we get older and develop a fuller vocabulary we can be more specific and convey our feelings with eloquence and style.  By working exercises like this we further our ability to take the ideas that we think and feel and release them through our limbs.

OK, on to the notes.  You can apply this to any number of styles, but as I said, I generally use this with students who are learning to play jazz.  Swing time in the right hand, read the exercise with the left hand, right foot and left foot.

I’ve notated it so that makes sense to read it both across and down.  By reading across you shift horizontally, one note at a time.  By reading down you start in the same place every time but add two notes, then three.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Dig This - Sammy Davis Jr. on the skins

Well here's a great video for a Monday morning.

Apparently, not only was Sammy Davis Jr. a phenomenal singer, and one of the coolest cats ever to wear a suit, but he could actually kick a band as well.

Friday, March 27, 2015

3, 5, 7 Exercise

Here is a versatile coordination concept that I often use when working on new groove ideas.  For lack of a better name I simply call it 3, 5, 7, because what we are essentially doing is implying 3, 5 and 7 (8 or 16) over 4/4.  By implying odd time signatures we can play over the bar line and build longer phrases with a more fluid sense of improvisatory time playing while also strengthening our coordination over a new ostinato or grooves.  In general I try not to think of this exercise in terms of one time signature being implied over another.  I’m not trying to see how many mathematical permutations I can achieve.  I’m simply trying to further develop coordination and facility in improvising.  Remember, music, not math.

There are a number of different ways you can use this concept.  As I’ve been doing a lot of samba stuff lately let's start with that as an example.  Say you’re working on some of the patterns from the Jazz Samba Builder.  You’re comfortable with many, or all of the combinations, and now you want to start playing longer phrases and improvising.

Try, say, the second ride cymbal pattern, with the first bass drum pattern, and upbeats on the hi-hats, which would look like so:

With the left hand, then, try each of the 3, 5, and 7 exercises (the note values will be cut in half).  You can orchestrate them as a rim click, or lightly on the snare.  As with the Four Limb Warm-Up exercise, these will naturally resolve after an odd number of bars, but you should work in more common phrases, like 4, 8 and 12 bars.  The best way to do this, of course, would be to play along with music rather than using a metronome.  Each of them would look like this:

Once you’re comfortable with each of them, you can thicken things up a little bit by adding a “skip” note.  Any time you have note followed by two 8th note rests, play two notes instead of just one, which will look like so:

Applied to the previous exercise:

We can also achieve some great textures by applying this to the ride cymbal.  Use the same feet patterns as before and play the 3, 5, and 7 patterns on the ride cymbal.  With your left hand you can fill in the gaps:

Or for a sound with a little more depth I like to play the snare drum on all of the 16th note upbeats (this fits the samba feel particularly well), like so:

If you’re feeling a little more ambitious, you can try to play some of the left hand patterns from the Jazz Samba Builder sheet while you play the 3, 5, 7 ideas on the ride.

You can also apply this concept to your feet, and any number of different types of grooves.  Use it to develop coordination, longer phrases, soloing ideas, etc.  Once you’re comfortable with whatever way you try to orchestrate these ideas, start improvising with them by stringing them together and mixing and matching.

Although I have notated some examples for you here, I recommend that whatever you apply this concept to you do so without reading.  Learn to feel these ideas rather than trying to think of one time signature over another.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Philly Joe Jones - "How About You?"

Well, after a busy first part of the year it's high time for the first Philly Joe Phriday of 2015!

After the great response I received from the last PJP, where we looked at comping, I decided to do another; this time from a lesser known, but killer record by a bari sax player named Serge Chaloff.  Chaloff played bari in most of the great big bands (Ellington, Basie, Jimmy Dorsey, Woody Herman) and is considered the first bebop bari sax player.  Unfortunately, like so many jazz greats of the time, Serge died young.  He, like Jones, battled heroin addiction, but was able to get himself clean before dying of spinal cancer.

In this recording of How About You? we again hear Philly Joe teamed up with Sonny Clark and bassist LeRoy Vinnegar.  Check out the last PJP post for some notes about Philly Joe's ride pattern, shaping, etc.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Solo Transcription - Antonio Sanchez, "Jackalope"

So, I finally got around to watching Birdman the other night, and besides being a very cool movie, the score is everything it's cracked up to be.  This led to me pulling out a bunch of Antonio Sanchez stuff to listen to during all the driving I've been doing lately.

One of my favorite projects that Sanchez has been a part of is the New Gary Burton Quartet.  I saw this group a few year ago at Ronnie Scott's and was blown away.  Gary Burton is, of course, Gary Burton.  Not much else needs to be said there.  Rounding out the group is Julian Lage - who is still only 27 years old yet plays with the maturity of someone far beyond his years - and bassist Scott Colley.

So, in honor of Sanchez being snubbed by the Oscars, here is a transcription of his solo on the tune Jackalope from the NGBQ album Guided Tour, which, if you don't have it yet, is totally worth checking out.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Escola de Samba Patterns for Drumset

If you visit the blog often, you'll know that last year I had four articles in Modern Drummer magazine concerning the adaptation of samba batucada rhythms to the drum set.

Seeing as how the issues have been out for six months or more now, I figured the guys at MD wouldn't mind if I posted a little preview of the articles here; especially as carnival was last week.  This is certainly not all of it, so you should definitely check out the May, August, September, and October 2014 issues of Modern Drummer for lots more.

Many of us gringoes tend to think of samba (or other styles with which we are less familiar) as nothing more than a pattern, rather than music.  It is also common to think that there is one "right" way to play samba.  This simply isn't the case.  Samba just like jazz, rock, etc., is a style of music, within which there can be numerous variations.  Sure, there's a specific feel, and characteristic elements, but there are many different ways that we can get this point across.  Nearly all of the samba schools in Brazil have their own way of playing samba.  In the MD articles I go into a lot more detail about each, but here I have a little sample sheet for you containing some of the characteristic sounds of Rio.

On this sheet an x on the snare signifies a rim shot

The ideas on this sheet will produce quite a different effect than your typical jazz samba, and can be a refreshing change of pace.  These approaches are good for those of you that prefer a more folkloric sound.  And they are particularly handy when you encounter break-neck speeds.  If your right hand isn't quick enough for that steady stream of 16th notes, and you don't want a heavily syncopated sound a la "Meu Fraco É Café Forte" you can attack your snare drum with one of the above rhythms.  They work really well with brushes too.

Also, bear in mind that although each school has their unique way of play samba which they pretty strictly adhere to, there is nothing wrong with mixing and matching the caixa pattern from one school with the surdo pattern from another.  In fact, newer groups will often do just that as they develop their own style, much like you would combine various ideas from your favorite drum set players to create your own unique sound.  Play around with numerous different combinations of hand and foot patterns.  To create the surdo effect we often need to use the floor tom in conjunction with the bass drum, so it may be necessary to alter your stickings to make certain combinations work.

While you're at it, check out this year's carnival champion, Beija Flor:

Friday, February 20, 2015

A few pictures from the studio

Wow, this year is going by quick already.  I've been really busy with lots of playing and teaching which is great for the hands and the bank account, but not so great for the blog.

A couple of weeks ago I was in New Jersey, just across the Hudson from NYC to record a new organ trio record with Pat Bianchi and Dan Wilson.  I'm currently in the process of mixing it down and working on some cover art.  With any luck at all it will be available come spring time.  I'll keep you posted.  In the meantime, here are a few pictures from the session.

On the right is my new 22' K Constantinople Medium Thin Low, which, when recording a bit at home on a little digital recorder, I was starting to have my doubts about.  But the with real mics in a good room it sounded phenomenal.  I really wanted some sizzle on it, but just didn't have the heart to drill into it, so I put a chain on it.  In the past I've tried one of those Sabian chains, but the links are just too big and have a clunky sound rather than a gentle hiss.  So, I went to my local hardware store, and bought a pull chain for a ceiling fan.  Perfect!

On the left is a 20' K Left Side Ride that I picked up on ebay a few years ago and just never had the chance to take into the studio.  It, too, did not disappoint.

The rest of the cymbal setup includes 14' Istanbul Agop Sultan hats and a 20' Sabian Jack DeJohnette flat ride from before it was called the "Encore" series.

Friday, February 13, 2015

You Be the Drummer - Nat King Cole Trio, "After You Get What You Want You Don't Want It"

I've recently been getting back into the habit - and encouraging my students to get in the habit - of playing along with drummer-less recordings.  Playing with records is one of the best ways we can learn the idiosyncracies of music that can't be notated or, in some cases, even explained.  And while transcribing, and playing along with, other drummers is a fantastic tool, it can be extremely beneficial to play along with records that have no drummer at all.  When there is no one there to which you are trying to conform you're free to try new ideas and work on developing your own sound.  Sure, if you don't want to hear a drummer you could always just use a metronome, Band in a Box, or a Jamey Aebersold track, but why, when you can mimic the experience of playing with the greats?  Someone who can really teach you the aforementioned idiosyncrasies.

There are, of course, a number of drummer-less groups with varying instrumentation that we can check out, but if this is a new concept to you, I'd start at the beginning with the first great drummer-less trio: that of Nat King Cole.  Nat, along with bassist, Johnny Miller and guitarist, Oscar Moore, don't need no steenking drummer.  These are some of the swingingest recordings of all time.

Here's one to get you started, but I recommend just trying to lay your hands on as much of this stuff as you can.  Even if it's just one of those greatest hits records that you can snag for 3 bucks.