Friday, September 19, 2014

Philly Joe Jones - "Tadd's Delight"

We all love Philly Joe's Wilcoxon inspired soloing, but some of the greatest lessons I learned from listening to him over the years were not about soloing, but comping.

Beyond general vocabulary one of the best things I learned from listening to Jones was not what to play, but what NOT to play.  We all go through Syncopation, The Art of Bop Drumming books, and other such resources to practice our comping skills, and early in our training and development the temptation is there to stretch out and try all of these new ideas at once.  It's very easy to overdo.

The most obvious way to learn how to comp tastefully is listening and playing along with records.  For me, playing along with classic Philly Joe records was a great way to learn comping vocabulary.  But after awhile I noticed an interesting problem that I hadn't anticipated.  What I was actually doing was reacting to what I was hearing, which left me playing everything a beat or two behind Philly Joe.  He would play beat 1 and I would play beat 3.  He played the "and" of 2 and I'd play the "and" of 4.  Many people call this "Mickey Mousing", which is common among younger players.  So to combat this I began transcribing the comping patterns.

Here, I've transcribed Philly Joe's playing behind Sonny Clark's entire piano solo on "Tadd's Delight".  First, notice the ride pattern.  Save a few exceptions it does not change.  There are certain types of music where the ride cymbal should have a lot of variation, and that music certainly deserves our attention, but far too often I see younger drummers playing wildly busy ride cymbal patterns where they just don't belong, stylistically.  In this writer's opinion, this is of great detriment to the groove, at least in this style of music.  I also don't get the impression that these younger drummers are playing busy ride cymbal patterns because it's what they really want to play, but rather, they're playing it because they haven't put the time into learning how to comp with a steady ride cymbal pattern.

Next, let's look at the comping pattern itself.  Another common mistake younger players make is to get too busy and too loud far too quickly as a solo builds.  I like to think of a pot of water on the stove.  First there are a few tiny bubbles.  As the heat stays under it the water begins to steam and simmer.  Eventually you get a steady, rolling boil.  But what happens if we leave the heat under the pot, or turn it up more?  It's going to boil over and burn you or make a mess.  It's that rolling boil that we want to maintain, and we need to take our time getting there.  I remember Wynton talking about Miles and talking about the best jazz having a "sustained intensity".  That's what we're after.

One of the great advantages of writing out comping patterns is that it gives us a visual representation of the shape of the music.  With the idea of gradual increase to sustained intensity in mind, take a look at the chart.  Before we even hear a note, we can see this slow, controlled burn.  I've written one chorus per page to help highlight this.  If you just look at the snare drum you notice that with each passing chorus the phrases get slightly longer, busier, and closer together.  Emphasis on slightly.

You should also notice, that Jones isn't wildly improvising all over the place.  In fact, we see a select few phrases with slight variations played over, and over and over again.

They may get a little louder, he may start playing them closer together, and even connecting them, but for the most part it is the same handful of ideas.  And the comping never really gets any more "complex" that than.  That isn't to say that what Philly Joe is playing is easy, but notice that there are no toms, no rolls, no bashing of the cymbals, no crazy, over the bar line phrases.  Just a handful of ideas, tastefully placed and worked around one another while keeping strong, steady TIME.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Transcription - Edison Machado, "Meu Fraco É Café Forte"

Edison Machado is one of those figures of jazz folklore to whom we owe a lot and don't know enough about.  There aren't many pictures or video of him.  Many of the records he played on are lost, and he often times wasn't credited for his work.  He is responsible for a lot of Brazilian music as we know it despite the fact that many people are much more familiar with the names Milton Banana and Paulinho Braga.

Legend has it that he was the first drummer ever to play samba on the drum set.  Apparently a broken drum head in the middle of a tune led him to jump on cymbals and go to town.  While this may be romanticized a bit, it is widely accepted that he was instrumental in the development of the drum set samba, and therefore, the entire bossa nova movement, having played on many of the first bossa nova records; those of Antonio Carlos Jobim, João Gilberto, Stan Getz, Sergio Mendes, Elis Regina, Edu Lobo, and so on.

At one point Machado lived in Europe before spending the final 14 years of his life in New York.  He died aged only 56, and practically forgotten.  There is, however, a Ron Carter album called Patrão which features Edison on one tune during his New York days.  The album also features Chet Baker, Naná Vasconcellos, and Kenny Barron.

For now, though, I'm more interested in his Brazil period.  Machado played in a trio with pianist Dom Salvador, and bassist Sérgio Barroso called Rio 65 Trio (I guess it was hip back then to have numbers in your band name).  The trio also released an album under the name "Salvador Trio", presumably led by Dom, and served as Elis Regina's band for a time.  As a side note, Dom Salvador is alive and well in New York City and plays 3 nights a week at the River Café in Brooklyn.

Checkout Machado's playing over the first chorus of Dom's piano solo on "Meu Fraco É Café Forte".  It's really quite a different vibe to your Milton Banana's and your Paulo Braga's.  I find Edison to have a particularly raw, bombastic feel, while still grooving really hard.  Sort of like a Brazilian Elvin Jones.  Check out the way he blows through some of these phrases.  He pushes on them so hard that they're practically out of time, and then WHAM!, right back in.  I've noticed Toninho Pinheiro do that kind of thing as well on the Som Três records.  Edison also seems to be more upbeat oriented than players like Milton Banana.  Of course samba in general has that underlying "e" "a" feel but Machado seems to really lay heavy on these, playing a lot of hands together stuff with a Teleco Teco sort of feel.  He even does this at medium/medium up tempos where Milton Banana would have a tendency to ride.  Also, I really don't think there's a steady bass drum pattern in there.  I EQ'ed this track to death looking for some sign of it beyond the punctuations I have notated.  At this speed and with the bassist thumping away I'm guessing he just went with hands and hats.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Dig This - Sting, "Ten Summoner's Tales"

This album was one of my earliest influences as a drumset player.  I was just transitioning from rudiments on a snare drum to a full set when this album was released.  My teacher at the time was a rock guy who was all about Vinnie Colaiuta.  I wanted to learn Guns 'n' Roses and Pearl Jam tunes.  So we used to take turns.  He would help me work on a tune that I chose, then he'd choose a tune.  The very first tune he picked for me was "If I Ever Lose My Faith in You".  It was the first time I was forced to think about the form of a tune and what that meant; how I could help to shape it with the musical choices I made.  It was also the first time I really learned to listened for subtlety in music.  Not every note should be the same volume.  Where should I place the hi-hat lifts and why?  What happens if you leave them out for a verse? (check out the 3rd verse)  These were the kind of revelations that started my obsession with the drumset.

Admittedly, at the time, I only had "If I Ever Lose My Faith in You" on a blank tape that my teacher had given me.  It wasn't until I got into college and went on a big Vinnie kick that I checked out Ten Summoner's Tales in it's entirety and was further blown away.  It definitely goes in the catalogue as one of my favorite albums of all time.  A buddy of mine had this DVD, and we used to sit around watching this while participating in other college-like activities.  Recently, one of the gang nostalgically posted this on facebook, so I thought I'd share with all of you.  Enjoy.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Modern Drummer - October (and September 2014)

I failed to tell everyone that part 3 of my series on samba drumming for Modern Drummer was out in the September issue.  Hopefully you saw it, because it's no longer on newsstands.  You can still order it online if you missed it.

In addition, part 4 of the series is out now in the October issue.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Transcription - Jarle Vespestad, "Blessed Feet"

I've become a pretty big fan of the drumming of Norway's Jarle Vespestad.  Unfortunately, short of his work with Tord Gustavsen and a couple of other projects, I really don't know anything about him, and his internet presence is lacking.

But I've been wanting to post this intro to the Tord Gustavsen piece "Blessed Feet" as it is a perfect example of the ECM sound.

You'll notice in measures 1, 3, and 7 that there are x note heads on the snare drum line where a rim click is usually notated.  I'm pretty sure these aren't rim clicks, but I can't really tell you what they are.  Vespestad is a master of the extremely delicate, and these notes are so light that unless you're paying close attention you might not even notice them.  It sounds to me like it could be the rod of his hi-hat, or maybe the snare drum rim with the tip of the stick.

Leave me a comment below if you think you know what that sound might be.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Groove Transcription - Ernie Isley, "Footsteps in the Dark"

I can't tell you how many drummers I've heard in wedding bands, on cruise ships, etc. play this tune wrong; pretty much all of them.  So, I would be remiss as your faithful drum blogger not to shine light on this egregious error.

It'll take you 2 minutes to get it under your hands, and probably a little longer to make it feel good.  Then you can show the world that you actually took the time to listen to the tunes you're playing ahead of time rather than coming out with the same jive-ass groove that you played on that Spinners tune in the first set.

It's generally the verse that is played wrong, but while we're here, check out the chorus as well:

For those of you that complain of boredom in the aforementioned wedding gigs, or other performances of the like - which, admittedly, I have been guilty of myself - learning to play these grooves the way they were written will not only beat the boredom, but will also make your band sound better, and drastically expand your own drumming vocabulary.  So get on it, and you will definitely have a "good day" *snigger*.


Friday, August 15, 2014

Solo Transcription - Philly Joe Jones, "Minority"

If I had a gun to my head and was forced to pick a favorite jazz drummer it would have to be Philly Joe Jones.  And apparently I'm not alone.  Bill Evans expressed on more than one occasion that he considered Philly Joe to be "the ultimate jazz drummer", and his "all-time favorite…"

Why, then, he didn't hire him more often, I'm not really sure, but at least we have Everybody Digs Bill Evans.  This is Evans' second album as a leader, recorded shortly after he left Mile Davis' group, and before he returned to record Kind of Blue.

Many critics argue that Evans hadn't quite reached his full musical potential when he recorded this album.  True as that may be, I feel that this is the first time Bill Evans really sounds like Bill Evans.  Maybe it's the block chord voicings, or maybe just a lot happened in the two years between New Jazz Conceptions and Everybody Digs Bill Evans, but for me this is the first time that Evans playing screams "I'm Bill freakin' Evans!"

It could also have something to do with the sidemen.  Granted, Paul Motian played on Evans' debut release, but they hadn't yet teamed up with Scott LaFaro to create the trio that would turn Evans into a jazz superstar.  On Everybody Digs Bill Evans we hear Philly Joe teaming up with Sam Jones.  The two were playing together on a number of different projects around the same time, and obviously knew each other as musicians quite well.  Also, Evans and Philly Joe had become close friends while they worked together in Miles' group.  That's one of the things that makes this record so great for me, personally; the Evans/Philly Joe combo.  Besides the fact that Philly Joe is my favorite jazz drummer, and Evans one of my favorite pianists, the two have a very obvious chemistry.

The opening track, "Minority", has Philly Joe sounding particularly Philly Joe.  Nothing too flashy but taste and style (and Wilcoxon) oozing from every note.  Check out some of the Philly Joe-isms in the last two bars of the first section, the third full bar of the third section, and the first two bars of line 3, page 2. 


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

"The Low End Theory" Exercise Routine

Lately I've been doing my snare drum/practice pad work along to records rather than with a metronome.  If nothing else, it's simply more entertaining than listening to the incessant beeping or clicking of a metronome.  But the advantages of practicing this way go far beyond beating boredom.

For starters, I find that playing along to music really keeps me focused.  When playing exercises - let’s say Stick Control - to a metronome I generally either count bars, or often times use a stop watch, running the exercise for a set amount of time before moving on.  With the music on I can ignore bar counting, or clock watching and just focus on my hands.  When the song is over, new exercise.

I also feel that practicing to music adds a certain subtlety to your playing.  A metronome (which I’m not discounting, by the way) is a blank canvas.  It’s only about tempo.  How fast, or slow, can you play Exercise A?  When playing to a record you’re practically forced to find some sort of pocket.  Even if you’re just playing something as simple as paradiddles, if you’re playing them to a groove you’re going to naturally add nuance to your playing to get inside said groove whether you realize it or not.

Furthermore - and this is my favorite thing about it - practicing this way kills two birds with one stone.  I don't know about any of you out there, but I feel as though I never can listen to as much music as I’d like.  There simply aren’t enough hours in the day.  There are plenty of great old records that I haven't yet listened to, and tons of exciting new albums being released all the time.  It’s impossible to keep up with it all.  If I’m playing along to a record I’m not only practicing, but also enjoying the record that I’m playing along with.

There’s no formula to this.  You can run pretty much anything along to whatever record you like; rudiments, Stick Control, Wilcoxon, whatever.  What I often like to do, however, is write a routine to a whole album; one exercise per song.

Recently I wrote an exercise routine to A Tribe Called Quest’s, The Low End Theory.  I tried to get a little bit of everything in there, as far as rudiments go.  There are single and double strokes, diddles, ruffs, drags, flams, etc.  I also attempted to get as many specific rudiments in there as I could without simply playing each rudiment one after another.  For the most part the difficulty increases as the album goes on and the player gets warmed up, although there are a few more relaxed patterns spaced through the routine as a breather.  I didn’t overly overly concern myself with trying to conform these exercises to the grooves, although there are a few places where I tried to emphasize the backbeat, write the accents to the bass line, etc.

I’ve been playing this one for about a week now, and really enjoying it.  The tempos on the album are perfect for these types of exercises, and the album is just the right length.  Try to play the whole thing through without stopping.

And don’t forget to enjoy the record!  If you haven’t heard it before (shame on you), it’s definitely worth picking up.  I could easily write a whole post on the album alone, but let's save that for another day.  In the meantime, enjoy, and please leave me a comment letting me know how it's working for you.  Shoot me an e-mail if you'd like a PDF.