"There's always the danger of sounding inhuman. You're not obliged to take a breath before you do something. Wind players are obliged to be human, they have periods, questions marks, exclamation marks, phrases. But there's always the danger, with people who play piano, percussion, or string instruments, of not creating phrases that speak out to people."
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 doesnotchange. 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 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.
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.
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.
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.