Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Developing the samba suingue

There is a common, and really annoying, misconception that all "Latin" music (whatever that means) is felt in the same way.  How many times have you been on a  gig and heard someone say, "Is this swing or Latin?"  This is a pretty ignorant approach.  When we say "Latin", we're really referring to Latin America, which can mean anything from Cuba to Mexico to Brazil to Argentina.  Certainly the music of these countries aren't all going to sound or feel the same.  I suppose in a jazz setting, where we're often playing Americanized versions of these styles it's somewhat acceptable to generalize the feel a little bit, but if you really want to play the music from the aforementioned - or any other - Latin American countries it's important that you do your homework and figure out the feel.

So today I have a practice loop for you to help you get a handle on the Brazilian samba feel.  This is a very unique feel that us gringoes often have a hard time executing.  I've seen a lot of people spend a lot of time trying to notate this feel, and give it fancy names.  For me, this sort of defeats the purpose.  Did you spend hours trying to notate Art Blakey's feel?  Of course not.  You put on your head phones and played along until you FELT it.  Learning the Brazilian feel is no different than learning to swing.  The Brazilians even use the same term, swing, or suingue.

I found a video on YouTube of Mestre (meaning director) Odilon playing a basic samba swing feel on a caixa, which is a Brazilian snare drum.  Mestre Odilon is one of the best known and respected bateria directors in Brazil.  If anyone is going to swing hard, it's him.  Take your favorite samba patterns and play along with this loop.

If you aren't very familiar with the rhythms of the samba, it's OK.  Here's a little chart to get you started.  These are some of the most common patterns that you're going to see in a jazz, or drumset, samba.

Now, granted, there are quite a few differences between the jazz samba and the batucada style of Mestre Odilon and the samba schools in Rio, but this will still most certainly help to develop your feel.  Besides, the early greats who first developed the jazz samba, like Edison Machado, Milton Banana, Toninho Pinheiro, Paulinho Braga, and José Roberto Sarsano, were simply trying to capture the batucada feel on the drumset.  Be sure to check out those players, as well as today's greats like Tutty Moreno, Marcio Bahia, Edu Ribeiro, and Kiko Freitas.

It's definitely also worth digging into the batucada style of samba, but that's a whole other beast in and of itself.  I've written a series of articles on applying batucada patterns to the drumset, which I think/hope Modern Drummer is going to be printing periodically in the coming months, so keep your eyes peeled for that.  In the mean time check out some of my other posts on samba, or Brasil.  I've also got a few transcriptions in the works which will be posted here soon.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Groove Transcription - "Jabo" Starks, "Escape-ism (Part 1)"

I've been practicing with loops a lot lately.  Soon I'll be doing a post about some great tools and tips for using loops to practice, but I figured I'd keep providing some for you in the meantime.

While listening to SiriusXM in the car the other day, this killer James Brown tune from the 1971 album Hot Pants came on.  It features the drumming of the great John "Jabo" Starks.  With the exception of one fill there is zero variation in the groove.  Jabo holds it down for the full 3:20.  Actually it's much longer, as this is just a cut from a much longer take.

If you would like to download a copy of this file, please send me an e-mail


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Elis Regina drummer mystery solved!

Last week a drummer from Brazil who reads the blog got in touch with me about the Marcio Bahia transcription I did recently.  We met on Skype and, with some assistance from Google Translate (I’m still working on my Portuguese), talked about Brazilian drumming, and shared some ideas.

One of things that I asked him was if he knew who this drummer was.

It's been driving me nuts.  When I first discovered Elis Regina and was scouring YouTube for all the videos I could find this was one of the first ones I stumbled upon, and it’s still one of my favorites, but I never could figure out who the drummer was.  Shot in 1968, it features a 23 year old Regina singing the Edu Lobo tune “Upa Neguinho” at the Palais de Festivals in Cannes, France.  It was apparently her big break in Europe.  A few months later she became the first Brazilian singer to perform at Paris’ Olympia Theater.

The drummer’s name is José Roberto Sarsano.  If your Portuguese is better than mine, you can hear him talk about this famous performance here:

The other musicians in the video are pianist Amilson Godoy, and bassist Jurandyr Meirelles.  Besides serving as Elis’ rhythm section, they were also a trio in their own right called Bossa Jazz Trio.

Why his name isn’t mentioned in the same breath as Edison Machado, Milton Banana, Toninho Pinheiro, and Paulinho Braga, I’m not really sure, but I think his playing is fantastic, and once I can lay my hands on some more recordings there will be some transcriptions here for you.

Many thanks to Rafael Alexandre for his help!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Jerry Seinfeld Practice Method

Visiting my parents in Pittsburgh means - besides quality time with family and friends - TV.  I don't have a TV in London.  Not because I'm too cool for TV.  Quite the opposite.  I don't have a TV, because if I did I would watch it….instead of practicing.  So while I'm here in Pittsburgh I'm indulging a little, especially in Seinfeld re-runs.  I've seen them all before, and I don't care.  I love it.  The other night I was reminded of a simple little tool that Jerry Seinfeld uses to keep his writing on track, which we musicians could apply to our practice routine.

"Don't Break the Chain"

The idea has become really popular, as if it's some miraculous breakthrough.  There are whole websites dedicated to it, with merchandise and even an app you can buy, all of which seems a bit silly to me.  You just need a calendar and a marker.

Throw that calendar up on your wall and each day that you practice put a big ol' X on it.  If you're anything like me, as soon as you have even just a few of those Xs in row you're not  going to want a big ugly hole in the chain taunting you as a reminder that you didn't do anything towards your goal that day.  It doesn't have to be a 10 hour marathon of a practice session.  The idea is just do something, anything, towards whatever you are trying to achieve EVERY DAY, even if it's something small.

Some people have taken it to the next level with multiple calendars, accounting for sick days, etc.  How far you want to take it is up to you.  Personally I don't use the Xs.  But I do keep a practice log that serves the same purpose.  Every day I write a detailed description of what I worked on and date it.  I HATE seeing July 6, July 7, July 8, July 10.  Either way, find a way to hold yourself accountable to your work.

If this post wasn't helpful to you, maybe you can at least put this trick to use.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Groove Transcription - 4hero, "Play With the Changes"

The electronic music world, as a sweeping generalization, is somewhat of mystery to me.  I'm fascinated by it, and enjoy a lot of it, but haven't taken the massive amounts of time required to really delve into it and understand it.  At this point in the game, saying "electronic music" is much like saying "rock" or "jazz".  They are all genres that have grown so large and splintered into so many sub-genres that those large umbrella terms don't really say much anymore.

The impression that I get is that electronic music is both mysterious by nature, and also rather incestuous.  Artists release albums under aliases, and as guests, many having worked with each other, collaborating and remixing each others work.  This can make it hard to find out about an artist.  Such is the case with 4hero.  A London based duo, 4hero seem to have dipped their fingers in about every pie there is.  A Google search of them brings up a few of their albums, but also a number of compilation discs, remixes, productions, aliases, etc.  Initially getting their start in techno and house, they later became one of the biggest names in the UK drum 'n' bass and jungle scene.  They've collaborated with, and remixed artists as varied as Jill Scott and Azymuth.  In their last big studio release, 2007's "Play With the Changes", the duo quite successfully dabbled in the world of acid jazz, nu jazz, downtempo, neo-soul, whatever you want to call it.  It's a killer album that I highly recommend.

The title track features a few great grooves that translate very well to the kit.

Out of the gate we hear:

Gently tucked into the mix there's also a 3-2 cascara pattern on a cowbell:

And around 2:56 there is a very cool breakdown.  The notation at the top is intentionally arbitrary, as you can experiment with playing the 16th notes with a brush, or a shaker in one hand.


Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Transcription - Marcio Bahia, "Enchendo o Latão"

In the May 2014 issue of Modern Drummer Magazine I touched on a few transcriptions by Marcio Bahia.  Despite the fact that he's been around for a few years - I believe his first big gig was in 1980 with Hermeto Pascoal - Bahia is still one of the most modern sounding drum set artists in Brazil today.  He keeps busy with a number of projects, but the gig he's probably the most well known for at the moment is with bandolim virtuoso Hamilton de Holanda.

I recently found this live performance of Bahia performing a de Holanda composition with his own group.

As the melody gets passed around and doubled, and the tune weaves through its different sections, Bahia revoices the samba to match it.  Let's check out a few of the ways he approaches it.

Let's first look at bar 17, following the introduction.

One of the best lessons I learned from digging on a lot of Marcio's playing is to play "1e&" on the hi-hat or ride rather than "1&a".  We (in this case referring to Americans or Europeans) tend to play "1&a" a lot, presumably by force of habit from playing so much of the standard jazz ride cymbal pattern.  But as Bahia often points out, it's a bit pointless to play it this way.  There are two reasons for this:  A. Often times we are already playing that exact same rhythm in our feet to begin with.  "1" on the bass drum, "&" on the hi-hat, and "a" on the bass drum again.  Why double it?  And B.  We're missing the "e", which is one of the most important notes in a samba.  The "e" always has that slight emphasis on it, which is impossible to do if you don't play the note at all!  Also, by playing "1e&", we mimic the drive of a caixa more.  So, in measure 17 we see Bahia playing "1e&" on the hi-hat.  Another cool feature of the groove in this section is that he uses the rim click, rather than the bass drum for the "a1, a2" effect, which frees up his foot to play more like an actual surdo would in an escola de samba.  Throughout this section he also uses the rim to hint at both bossa nova and partido alto patterns.

Shortly after the first 6/8 bar, when the guitar takes the melody alone, Bahia revoices things sightly, like so:

Here he drops the pickup note on the "a" of 1 in the bass drum and instead adds a push on the "a" of 2 in every other bar.  But, generally speaking, the basic sense of the bass drum (or surdo) remains the same here.  However, he now moves the bossa nova pattern up to the hi-hat, while filling in the gaps on the snare drum.  Even though the familiar pattern is still there and we still hear the underlying flow of light 16th notes, the change of voices makes it sound unique and modern.

Finally, each time the second half of the melody comes around, we see something that is probably more familiar to most of us:

As noted earlier, the ride cymbal pattern is played "1e&" rather than "1&a", but now Bahia is playing the bass drum pattern that most of us learned when we first discovered samba.  However, even here there is a slight variation.  By simply moving the hi-hat from the "&s" to the downbeats, or leaving them out altogether (both of which Bahia does at various points in the tune), we can drastically change the character of the groove.

Throughout the rest of the performance there are a few other grooves and ideas that are certainly worth checking out.  Here is the head in its entirety.  Enjoy!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Transcription - Eric Harland, "Triumph"

Hold on to your butts!

This video of Eric Harland from the Jazz Heaven DVD, The Yin and Yang of Jazz Drumming has been floating around YouTube for a couple years now just waiting to be transcribed.  As of late I've noticed it pop up on discussions boards a few times and figured now was as good a time as any to get a pen to paper, or fingers to keys, as it were.

Marcato markings signify rim shots.  It's a habit from my drum corps days.
E-mail me if you'd like a PDF.

Upon first listening to this I just thought, "Ummmm….OK".  How does he improvise something like this?  How does a groove like that just flow out of him?  But once I began transcribing, I felt a little better.  Taken in small chunks it was actually fairly easy to write out.  And by the time I got about 12 bars in I saw it.  There is actually some method to the madness here.

I remember a good friend of mine pondering jazz soloists, and wondering how they just "made stuff up as they went".  As most of you know, it's not really like that.  It sounds cliché, but a solo really is a conversation.  Musicians have a vocabulary; a big bag of ideas and phrases from which to pull their material.  They take multiple ideas and string them together in a cohesive fashion, just like a sentence.  Harland does the same thing here.  Admittedly, I didn't notice it right away.  It was going by so fast, and voiced in so many places around the kit that it didn't even sink in.  But if you look at bars 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 17, 18, 20, 30, and 31, you'll notice a lot of similarities.  There's a pattern there.  And to a lesser extent, some of the same ideas and stickings can even be seen in some of the fills.

Now, please don't get me wrong.  I am in no way, shape, or form trying to take ANYTHING away from Harland.  I'm not saying for a second that what he is playing is easy.  He's got chops for days which he executes with the utmost finesse.  The ideas he's playing, pattern or no pattern, are incredibly well developed and musical, and his ears are absolutely massive.  What I am saying is that dreaming of playing something like this is by no means a lost cause.  There is some great material in here from which to draw plenty of inspiration.

I'm not 100% sure of the form of this piece.  It may be through-composed.  So I went up to where the head seemed to end and the tune moved to where we might have heard a soloist were this played with a whole band.  Besides, lately I've been more interested in smaller chunks of material.  Rather than taking a book and trying to systematically working my way exercise by exercise through 50 pages of similar material, I'd rather have more digestible bites.  Give me one page that I can work on right now, today.  Something that I can get handle on in a few hours, and get really solid in another day or two.  Then on to the next thing.  Much like the idea of a random practice schedule.

I once gave a master class with my trio and someone in the audience asked our piano player about his practice routine.  He said that he basically didn't practice exercises anymore.  Instead, when he heard something that he liked, but couldn't play, he learned it.  Simple as that.  Imagine how quickly you'll build your vocabulary that way rather than spending days and weeks running the same exercises.

So get started with this first page and get everything you can out of it.  Maybe one of these days I'll revisit this piece and transcribe more of it.  Then again, maybe I won't.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Transcription - Jorge Rossy, "I Didn't Know What Time It Was"

Jorge Rossy was, in many ways, my introduction to modern jazz drumming.  I had come to the jazz game somewhat late and had only heard a smattering of records by the time I had left high school.  When I was about 17 a teacher of mine gave me some Coltrane and Miles records, some Weckl, and I had a killer Eliane Elias record with Jack DeJohnette on it.  It wasn't until I began playing in a trio with pianist Tay Cher Siang a few years into college that I really started to discover all of the great music that was happening in the late 90s and early 2000s.  Siang brought a Brad Mehldau record into rehearsal one day.  I don't even remember what tune or record it was that I heard first, but I do remember hearing Rossy, and thinking, "this is BAD ASS".  I had never heard anything like it before.

One of my favorite things about Jorge's playing is that he rarely seems to use extreme ranges of dynamics, yet is somehow able to constantly build intensity throughout a piece.  He's never inaudibly quiet, and never really bashes.  He exudes a sustained intensity that just seems to simmer, never getting cold, and never boiling over.  It's a level of taste and control that I strive for.

Between 1997 and 2001The Brad Mehldau Trio released a collection of 5 albums entitled The Art of the Trio, that certainly will be (if they're not considered so already) classics.  All three musicians inspired an entire generation of players on their respective instruments.  Go to any club or jam session today and you will certainly hear the influence of these records.

One of my favorite cuts from the the Art of the Trio discs is the first tune from the first album, Mehldau's arrangement of the Rodgers and Hart song, "I Didn't Know What Time It Was".

Although Larry Grenadier's bass line and Rossy's comping sound quite syncopated and jagged, it is important to note that what really carries the time throughout is the ride cymbal.  With very few exceptions, Jorge is playing the ride on every single quarter note, driving the tune forward just as you would on a hard bop tune.

There's a lot of really subtle stuff going on in here, which is very cool, but may defeat the purpose of learning it if you dive right in and worry about every last little note from the get go.  The best way to approach this is to play the ride cymbal part for awhile first before learning the accompaniment part.  Listen to the track multiple times, play the ride cymbal along with it, and find the pocket first.  Then add the other parts.

The album version of the tune isn't on YouTube, so you'll have to Spotify it.  Or better yet….