Friday, November 4, 2011

Max Roach: Comping as soloing

Comping as soloing
In an earlier post I discussed Max's approach to soloing in a general sense.  In today's post I am going to zero in on a particular solo technique that Max used very frequently, and to great effect.  The technique I am referring to is using comping as a vehicle for soloing.  Essentially for Max this meant soloing using his left hand and right foot while keeping the time going in his right hand and left foot. 

In "Parisian Thoroughfare", the song at the top of the page, you can hear a fantastic example of this type of soloing starting at around 3:59.  Here is a transcription of what Max plays:

Max Comping 4's

Note: The last four bar solo is not an example of comping as soloing, but I included it anyway as it is beautifully played and segues so nicely into his chorus long solo.

Application exercise
To develop this technique, start relatively simple.  Pick a straight forward melody, for example "I've Got Rhythm" and sing the melody while playing time.  Once you feel comfortable doing this, break each eight bar section into two parts.  Sing the melody and play time for four bars in the first part, and then respond with a four bar comping solo in the second.  Play what comes naturally, make sure that whatever you are playing doesn't break up the groove of the ride cymbal, and use the above example (and whatever else you are listening to) as inspiration.  I will try to post a video of myself doing this exercise some time in the near future.

The big advantage to this technique is that it keeps your focus on maintaining the groove while you are improvising a solo.  This is a good habit to get into no matter what context you are soloing in.  Since it is easy to forget about the importance of groove when you are trying to execute complicated ideas, it is a good idea to practice this exercise to counteract this tendency.

Historical perspective
Max, along with Kenny Clarke, was one of the pioneers of bebop drumming.  The elements of bebop drumming that were the most radical departure from the previous swing style were using the ride cymbal to keep time, as well as playing highly syncopated comping rhythms on the snare and bass drum.  These comping rhythms, particularly on the bass drum, were referred to initially as "dropping bombs" because of the element of surprise and drama they added to the music.  So the fact that Max would use his soloing space to highlight some of these radical, new comping rhythms makes a lot of sense.