Friday, December 30, 2011

Uptempo Jazz 5: Anthropology part 2

Continuing where I left off in the last post, here is some more advice about developing uptempo comping vocabulary based on the melody of "Anthropology".  To start off, the recording at the top from "Art Pepper +11" is a great way to familiarize yourself with this melody (the great Mel Lewis is on drums).

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Papa Jo: Dancing On the Beat

Drumming and Dance
Some of you may know that Papa Jo did some tap dancing, but finding this footage of Papa Jo playing with a tap dancer (starts at 1:48) really emphasizes how much this dance sensibility permeated everything he played.  The conversation between the the dancer and Papa Jo is so seamless it as if they are playing the same instrument.  This understanding of the relationship between the drums and dance in jazz has largely been lost, but it is beautiful and inspiring to see and hear in Papa Jo's playing!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Monk: The Melody Never Stops

Since I have referenced Thelonious Monk's music frequently in my blog, I thought it would be appropriate to do a post focusing on him. 

Monk's Melodies
Thelonious Monk is one of the best examples of a musician who erases the barrier between playing a melody and soloing.  If you listen to the "Evidence" above (sorry), you can hear the rhythmically angular melody running through everything that the band is playing.  This is what I mean when I talk about combining the two songs of jazz, it is as if the melody never stops.  Monk's melodies sound like his solos, and his solos sound like his melodies; they are always spontaneous, fresh, exciting, and so so so catchy!  

The Drummer's Perspective
Monk's melodies (like "Evidence") are some of the only ones that you can recognize just from clapping their rhythm.  Perhaps in part because of how catchy and rhythmically vital Monk's melodies are, drummers who play with him seemed compelled to interact with these melodies in really vivid ways.   You can see how beautifully Frankie Dunlop plays the melody on the head of "Evidence" in the video above.  Another one of my favorite examples of this is Roy Haynes solo on "In Walked Bud" which I posted about some time ago.  On almost any of Monk's recordings you will hear this type of interaction between the drummer and the melody, and if you have had the pleasure of playing any of Monk's music, you will feel the pull of the melody as well. 

Here is a clip of me playing a great arrangement of "Brake's Sake" by my good friend Caleb Curtis.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

No Words...

The power of this music
Here is how deep the power of the music we are learning about runs.  An elder trying to describe a musical moment that took place decades ago, is broken down by the force of that experience.  He can't describe it because it goes beyond the boundaries of language.  This is the kind of music that we are all aspiring to create. 

Thank you to Reggie Workman, Art Blakey, and all the other great elders of this music for enriching us with your legacy. 

Anyone can play like a drummer

Rhythm is the spirit of jazz
Rhythm is the spirit of jazz, its source of vitality.  Any musician who plays this music is in some ways a drummer.  Listen to how the rhythmic sense of this incredible trio brings the music to life!  Each of the individual musicians in this group, Jim Hall, Wayne Shorter, and Michel Petrucciani, has the developed rhythmic sensibility of a drummer. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Loudness ≠ Intensity

Intensity without loudness
“Never Will I Marry” from the album “Nancy Wilson and Cannonball Adderley” is a clear example of a rhythm section generating incredible intensity without relying on loudness.  Instead of loudness, Lois Hayes and Sam Jones (the drummer and bassist respectively) push the groove forward to generate a sense of urgency in the music.  If you listen to the way they are locking up on the quarter note pulse, they are playing as far on top of the beat as possible without rushing.  It is because of this ability to generate intensity by playing on top of the beat at any dynamic or tempo that they are one of the greatest rhythm sections in the history of jazz. 
As a jazz drummer and teacher, the idea of intensity without loudness is central to everything I do.   Because the drums are a naturally loud instrument, the tendency amongst beginning drummers is to use loudness as the default way to generate intensity.  Learning to control the drums dynamically and to generate intensity through controlled forward momentum instead of just loudness is something I am constantly working on with both my students and myself.  In my opinion, the ability to play this way is the mark of the truly mature drummer. 
Why does this matter?
Some music calls for drummers to rely on loudness to generate intensity, sometimes in combination with increased density of notes.  This type of playing has its own set of challenges that need to be overcome, and I am certainly not denigrating it in any way. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Uptempo Jazz 4: Anthropology

"Anthropology" comping exercise
In my ongoing quest to develop my uptempo playing, I am going to be doing a series featuring the iconic melody of "Anthropology".  In this first installment I will be playing time and translating the melody into a comping rhythm between the snare drum and bass drum.

Charlie Parker, the composer of this melody, was one of the greatest rhythmic innovators in the history of jazz.  He explained his approach to melody in this way, "I think of melody as rhythm".  This approach could help to explain why his melodies are such an excellent source of rhythmic material!

Step 1
Familiarize yourself with melody to the point where you can sing the entire thing from memory.  You can use the recording above for reference (although you may want to find a slower recording!).  Here is a link to a leadsheet for this melody.

Monday, December 12, 2011

My article in JAZZed magazine!

Hi everyone, just wanted to let everyone know that one of the exercises on my blog is now a featured article in the November issue of Jazzed magazine

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Ralph Peterson: This is also what I am talking about

Bridging the gap between rhythm and melody
Here is another example of a master drummer clearly bridging the gap between rhythm and melody.  It is fascinating to hear how clearly Ralph's voice comes through on both the trumpet (!) and the drums.  For more examples of drummers bridging this gap click here or here.

Thanks to the people on the great forum at Drummerworld for the recommendation, and the new website Jazzheaven for all the wonderful educational videos!  Also check out Cruise Ship Drummer for an interview with Ralph that adds some nice depth.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Papa Jo #3: Theme and variation

Theme and Variation
In my last post about Papa Jo, I discussed his use of call and response and gave you an exercise to develop some of this technique in your own playing.  In today's post I am going to focus on another element that featured prominently in both the music of Papa Jo's time and his own playing, theme and variation.  In the sophisticated John Kirby arrangement of "Blue Skies" from 1938 above you will hear some perfect examples of theme and variation.  Listen to how Kirby changes the each A section of the tune to give it a dramatically different feel, even though the basic melody stays the same.  The following exercise is from my forthcoming book "Melodic Syncopation" and is designed to help you develop theme and variation technique.  My thanks to Kenny Washington who directed me to John Kirby's music.  

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


In general, the place in a song where I am the most likely to make mistakes is when something is changing. Some examples of important changes in a song  include changing meter, feel, or dynamics. Working on these types of  transitions is one of the most important and also most overlooked elements of drumming.  Transitioning succefully is a skill just like anything else, and needs to be practiced and refined as such.  Some examples of transitions that almost everyone could be better at include switching between brushes and sticks, going to double time or half time, switching between latin and swing, changing meter, and changing dynamics suddenly.   

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Karriem Riggins: Soul!

In a previous post I focused on Karriem's graceful uptempo playing, but today I want to highlight a different and more fundamental aspect of his playing, his soulfulness.  Ray Brown and Art Blakey were two jazz musicians who epitomized the ideal of soulful playing.  In this clip from the 2010 Detroit Jazzfest you can see Karriem, Christian McBride, and Benny Green tap into the spirit of these great musicians and bring the song "Buhaina, Buhaina", written by Ray Brown for Art Blakey, to life.

Soulfulness is not about flashy technique or abstract musical concepts, it is about selflessly connecting with your band and your audience in order to lift everyone's spirit.  Art Blakey put it best, "Music washes away the dust of everyday life".