Monday, November 09, 2015

Weekly Wisdom

In 1966 Bill Evans sat down for an interview with his older brother, Harry.  The result was “The Universal Mind of Bill Evans”, an educational video in which Evans talks about, amongst other things, his creative process, and how he built himself into the player he was.  There are a number of lessons in this video that we all, regardless of instrument, can benefit from.  

Some of my favorite excerpts...

“I think the problem is that [people]...tend to approximate the product rather than attacking it in a realistic, true way at any elementary level - regardless of how elementary - but it must be entirely true and entirely real and entirely accurate.  They would rather approximate the entire problem than to take a small part of it and be real and true about it.  And I think this is a very important thing that you must be satisfied to be very clear and very real and to be very analytical at any level.  You can’t take the whole thing, and to approximate the whole thing in a vague way gives one a feeling that they...more or less touched the thing.  But in this way you just lead yourself toward confusion.  You know, and ultimately you’re going to get so confused that you’ll never find your way out.”

I couldn’t have said it any better myself.  We’ve all seen musicians trying to play far beyond their ability.  To me, this is a disservice to both themselves and the music.  Sure, we’ve all been guilty of this at times - and I’m also not suggesting that we shouldn’t take risks - but in general I feel it’s better to play something that is simpler, or more basic, really, really well, than to try ramming some poorly played “advanced” material down an audiences throat.

Bill continues:

“It is true of any subject that the person that succeeds in anything has the realistic viewpoint at the beginning in knowing that the problem is large and that he has to take it a step at a time and he has to enjoy the step by step learning procedure.”

He goes on to give an example at the piano, playing a note-y improvisation on “How About You?”, discussing players who, for lack of a better term, fake their way through a chopsy solo rather than playing something “honestly and real-ly”, i.e. confidently.

Bill's brother, Harry, who is leading the interview, suggests that the average player has to overplay simply because they don’t have the hours to put in on the instrument.  Bill responds perfectly:

“The point is, what are you satisfied with?  In other words, it’s better to do something simple which is can still be satisfactory, but it’s something that you can build on because you know what you’re doing. ...  Whereas if you try to approximate something which is very advanced and don’t know what you’re doing then you can’t advance and build on it.”

I love that idea of having something to build on.  We as musicians, have to have a foundation.  We must walk before we can run, or anything other very true cliché that you can think of.  As Bill puts it:

“The whole process of learning the facility of being able to play jazz is to take these problems from the outer level in, one by one, and to stay with it at a very intense conscious concentration level until that process becomes secondary and subconscious.  Now, when that becomes subconscious then you can begin concentrating on that next problem which is to allow you to do a little bit more.

The aforementioned foundation must be absolute second nature.  When you’re reading a book, or looking at a computer screen and want to take a sip of coffee you don’t need a mirror.  You don’t stop reading so that you can focus your attention on making sure you don’t miss your mouth.  It’s second nature, or as Bill puts it, it’s subconscious.  The more music and facility we have in our subconscious, the more we can then do with our conscious.

“I would certainly say it’s more than worth it, but I think most people just don’t realize the immensity of the problem and either because they can’t conquer [it] immediately think that they haven’t gotten the ability or they’re so impatient to conquer it that they never do see it through.  But, if you do understand the problem I think then you can enjoy your whole trip through.

Here is the video in it's entirety.  It's definitely worth 45 minutes of your time. 

Friday, October 30, 2015

Thank you, Jacques Delécluse

Jacques Delécluse, the French percussionist and composer who has caused many a university music student hours of frustration (for their own good, mind you!) has passed away at 82.

Prior to the release of his 12 Etudes for Snare Drum in 1964 there was very little in the way of orchestral-style snare drum repertoire.  Percussionists were mostly left to study orchestral excerpts and rudimental solos.  These etudes, which were inspired by orchestral repertoire, made the study of technique less about gym-style exercise and repetition and more about musicality, expression and finesse.

It would behoove any serious percussionist to spend some time with this material, no matter where your musical interests lie.

Merci beaucoup, Monsieur le Delécluse!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Happy Birthday, Bill Stewart!

I first discovered Bill Stewart circa 2002 when I saw him play with Michael Brecker and Adam Rogers, and he's been one of my favorite drummers ever since.  So on this, his 49th birthday, I thought I'd post up a few things that I've had sitting in the drafts folder for awhile.

Bill has been playing in an organ trio with Larry Goldings and Peter Bernstein for the last 25 years.  They release material as "The Larry Goldings Trio", "The Peter Bernstein Trio", and "Peter Bernstein, Larry Goldings and Bill Stewart".  But regardless of what name they play under, when these three get together general bad-assery abounds.

First, here is some trading on the tune "Metamorphosis", from the Peter Bernstein record Earth Tones.  Bill has such a grasp on independence, and internalization of time and form that he can take ideas which, when seen on paper, are actually quite clinical and scientific and give them an incredibly raw and earthy, almost Elvin-y vibe.

Trading starts at 7:00
E-mail me for a PDF

Next is the intro to a Meters-esque tune from The Larry Goldings Trio record called Moonbird.  Here Bill channels his inner Ziggy but in his own, unique Bill Stewart way.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Groove Transcription - Donald Bailey, "Back at the Chicken Shack"

I finally caved and joined the "vinyl revival".  I don't have room for it, but it's too much fun.  The very first thing I got (well, my wife bought me, knowing how much I'm listening to and playing organ trio music lately) was a copy of a classic Jimmy Smith record from 1960 called "Back at the Chicken Shack" with Kenny Burrell, Pittsburgh's own Stanley Turrentine, and Donald Bailey.

On the title track Bailey plays a shuffley variation on the groove that I've always called "strollin'" - though lately I'm starting to wonder, because no one else seems to call it that.  Some people call it "the conga beat".  You know, this one:

Guitarists sometimes tap it out on muted strings, ala Ray Crawford with Ahmad Jamal, and it can be reversed as well, like so:

Here's Donald Bailey's take on it.  It's a great groove to stick in your bag for the next time you find yourself playing a shuffle.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Groove Transcription - Kiko Freitas, "Vento Bravo"

After a few weeks away working in Ireland, Scotland, and Iceland it's high time I get back to posting.

Just before I left I was working on this very cool groove by Kiko Freitas on the tune, "Vento Bravo", which is a well-known Edu Lobo tune covered by Freitas and company in Nosso Trio.

Kiko Freitas, Nelson Faria, and Ney Conceição are, or were at least, the rhythm section for another famous Brazilian composer and performer, João Bosco.  The three of them then created Nosso Trio, which translates to "Our Trio".

The underlying rhythm here is a fairly common 12/8 bell pattern, what most of us would call Bembé.  Most of us also think of this as a pattern found in Cuban music, which it is.  However, it's important to remember that in the case of Bembé we are talking about Afro-Cuban music.  Music from Cuba, of African descent.  But, Cuba is certainly not the only place that Africans ended up.  The slave trade brought millions of Africans throughout Central and South America, as well as the States.  It's no wonder then that although the music evolved differently in each of these places, the African roots can not only be clearly heard, but there is a lot of overlap.  In Brazil, the rhythm that is most often called Bembé is referred to as "Vassi".  The rhythm and its name come from Candomblé, which is Brazilian sacred music of African descent.

Both Bembé and Vassi descend from the Yoruba people.  The largest populations of the Yoruba are found in Benin and Nigeria, but there are significant numbers throughout west African, including Ghana, Togo, and the Ivory Coast.  The Yoruba have had a huge influence on the music of Africa, and subsequently Cuba and Brazil.  If you've played in West African ensemble before, chances are that a lot of the music you played is of Yoruba descent.

If you are at all interested in the evolution of rhythms and African diaspora, you should definitely check out Billy Martin's book Riddim: Claves of African Origin.  It traces many Brazilian, Cuban and American rhythms back to their African roots.  The notes are very cool, but the reading and suggested listening is worth the price alone.

What I was most intrigued about in this arrangement of Vento Bravo was the placement of the bass drum on beat 2.  When I first heard this I just assumed that it was a Brazilian thing.  They place the low sound on beat 2 in samba, frevo, and many other styles, so why not this one?  But I was recently able to ask Kiko himself about the groove, and he explained that it was just something that he came up with for this arrangement of the tune.  Either way, it's pretty cool.

I haven't been able to find a streaming recording of this tune, so I guess you'll just have to go buy the record.  There are quite a few live recordings, one of which is below, but he plays the groove slightly different in each of them.  On the original recording, which is what I've notated here, the triangle at the top of the staff represents a cowbell, and the triangle above the staff represents some sort of block.  But play around with various sounds.  As you'll see if you check out some of the live recordings, there are tons of options that all make for pretty cool sounds.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Transcription - The Amen Break

If you listen to or create jungle, drum 'n' bass, breakbeat, hip-hop music, etc., you owe G.C. Coleman a beer.

Well, you would if he were still with us.  Mr. Coleman bestowed upon us "The Amen Break".  Whether you realize it or not, you know this break.  The song from which it comes, "Amen, Brother", was originally recorded on the B-side of a pretty successful record called "Color Him Father" in 1969 by a band called the Winstons.  However, the four bar break in the middle of the tune turned out to be more successful than the song itself as it became the backbone of jungle and drum 'n' bass music, and one of the most sampled breaks of all time.  It's been sped up, slowed down, pitch changed, chopped up, EQ'd and anything else you can think of probably a thousand times over.

You can read more about the background and influence of the break on Wikipedia.  The BBC also did a piece on it recently.  Both worth checking out.  But we're here for the notes.

If you ever find yourself in a situation where you're asked to play a drum 'n' bass, or even a hip-hop groove, this break is probably a really safe place to start:

You didn't think I'd leave you without some practice loops, did you?  First is the original:

If you need some time to get in under your hands, here is a slower version.  I left the analog locked for that fat breakbeat sound.

Once you've got a really good grasp on things, try it at a DnB tempo.  Again, analog locked for authenticity.

And lastly but not leastly, here is the whole tune, in its entirety:

Friday, July 17, 2015

Right Hand Samba Speed

I recently received an e-mail from a former student with whom I worked on a lot of Brazilian music.  He was asking about some of the break-neck speeds that many Brazilian drummers get out of their right hands.  It turned out to be a rather lengthy response, so I thought I'd share it with you all.

There are a few different approaches to that kind of right hand speed:

I once interviewed Cuca Teixeira, who is Maria Rita's drummer, and asked him a similar question.  He said that many Brazilians, simply from years of doing it, and the style of music they grew up playing, have really fast wrists.  Some finger is surely used as well, but in general, many of these guys just have really fast hands.  I realize that's not much of an explanation, but that is to say that I think this approach just takes a LOT of time to develop.

Check out how firm Cuca's hand is in this video:

This one isn't nearly as fast, but you can get a better look at his hands:

This is what I use the most.  French grip (ish), with all of the speed coming from the fingers.  Technically, as you may know, French grip is a three point fulcrum where the thumb sits in between the index and middle finger.  I once heard a symphony timpanist say that if you lost your ring and pinky fingers you could still be a great timpanist.  So it's not really French grip in that I'm using all of my fingers.  Also, rather than a typical fulcrum where the thumb and index finger are directly across from each other, my thumb actually sits a little bit in front of my index finger so that I can use all four fingers to move the stick.  This is just my personal approach.

Edu Ribeiro, who is probably the fastest guy out there, uses this technique, although he seems to use more of a standard fulcrum - thumb and index finger directly across from each other.

Here is a video of him talking about this technique (starting around 6:30):

There are a lot of great videos of Edu playing with this technique on YouTube.  Search his name with "bateria", as there are other Edu Ribeiros out there, and also check out some live videos of Trio Corrente:

You've probably heard of this before.  There are a million videos on YouTube about it.  Jojo Mayer gives a nice breakdown of it on his Secret Weapons DVD, and Gordy Knudtson has some good videos about it as well.  In short, you play a stroke with your wrist/hand and allow the stick to rebound with your fingers relaxed.  Then, as you are lifting your hand in preparation for the next stroke you close your fingers, creating another stroke.

If you are going to use this technique in a samba setting I suggest inverting the strokes.  Play the downbeats with the fingers, and upbeats with the wrist.  Because the wrist strokes tend to be stronger it will fit the samba style more, and you will feel the emphasis on "e, a, e, a" more naturally.

I just recently discovered a video of a Brazilian drummer talking about this technique.  He also talks about a three note grouping idea which seems pretty cool.  If you use the "Moeller pumping motion", as it's often called, you can achieve a string of rapid 16th notes, albeit with an accent on the first of every three notes.  It actually fits the samba feel quite nicely.

*This Other Thing
I have no idea what this is called, but I've seen more than one Brazilian player use it.  The fingers remain pretty stationary, while the stick is moved laterally, catching the cymbal in each direction.  I've seen players use a sweeping kind of motion, while others do it with more of a twisting motion.

Here is a video of Cesar Machado (no relation to Edison) using this technique:

Marcio Bahia, who previously played with Hermeto Pascoal, and currently works with Hamilton de Holanda uses this technique quite a bit with brushes.  Bahia is left-handed, so if you're a righty and trying this idea you may want to flip the hands.  Start around 7:10.

I asked Marcio about this technique once and he said:
"It's a very good tool to increase speed playing 16ths on hhat on medium/up, or fast tempos...I really don't know [where] or [who] came first playing like this.  We've learned just watching street smarted drummers doing, [which] I love it!  And works so cool!  Just relax your wrist and bounce it from side to side with sticks on a loose grip, not [tightening] them."

Friday, July 03, 2015

Solo Transcription - Larry Bunker, "Israel"

As promised awhile back, here is a transcription from the great (and often overlooked) Larry Bunker trading with Chuck Israels and Bill Evans on the British television show Jazz 625.

I'd have to say that Larry Bunker is my favorite drummer with Bill Evans, which I realize is a bold statement, given that he's keeping the company of Paul Motian, Philly Joe, Jack DeJohnette, Marty Morrell and Joe LaBarbera, amongst others.  To my ears Bunker contributes to the most cohesive ensemble sound of any Bill Evans trio.  Don't get me wrong, Philly Joe, Paul Motian and Jack D are some of my favorite drummers, but I can't help but hear Philly Joe, Paul Motian and Jack D more as their individual selves with Bill Evans.  They have such strong musical personalities that they really stand out, intentionally or not.  To be fair, the fact that I don't get that vibe from Larry Bunker could be due, in part, to the fact that he is not as widely known as the other drummers I mentioned.  Either way, Bunker tucks himself right into the ensemble, not standing out too far, but certainly not disappearing to the background to be overshadowed by Evans.  

Apparently Humphrey Lyttelton, the host of Jazz 625, agrees with me:

"Larry Bunker also studies piano and vibes which is, perhaps, why he contributes such subtle musicianship to a trio in which every instrument is of equal importance"

Check out the full show here.