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The center of my practice is playing along with "Surrey With A Fringe On Top" from the Ahmad Jamal album "Live at the Pershing". This track is perfect for playing along with because the recording is very clear and concise, the tempo is strong, and Ahmad Jamal's drummer Vernel Fournier is an absolutely killer brush player (despite the fact that he said he never played brushes before being in Jamal's band!).
The strategy I have been using is attractively simple, I just play along with this track five times a day every day. Within this basic framework I have some additional recommendations:
- Focus on your right hand first. Always try to maintain focus on your right hand "spang-a-lang" and getting a clear sound while staying relaxed. This really is the most challenging thing about these tempos, more on this in a moment.
- Then focus on your left hand. If your right hand is feeling good, try get your left hand sweep pattern as clear and focused as possible. As I mentioned in an earlier post, like Kenny Washington I really am thinking of my left hand as a slightly rounded line that sweeps across the snare on every quarter note.
- Learn the arrangement. Once your hands are feeling good throughout the track, start focusing on learning the arrangement and the specific comping ideas that Vernel plays. Pay particularly close to attention to how he plays the bass drum. Vernel is originally from New Orleans, and like most drummers from New Orleans he has a very particular and very hip way of using the bass drum, even at this fast tempo.
- Record yourself! At first, listening back to these recordings may be discouraging. Use these recordings to identify specific problems that you need to address. As you correct these individual problems, you will have recorded evidence of your progress. The video at the top, although it does still have a couple of noticeable mistakes, represents a lot of progress for me. I am much happier with my sound today than I am when I started this process!
Don't worry about accenting two and four with your right hand
My great teacher and mentor Chuck Redd is a masterful brush player and shared the following insight with me. Although it seems heretical, at these fast tempos it really helps to not accent beats two and four of your spang-a-lang. Instead just aim for relaxed, clear, and even eighth notes and allow the hihat to do the accenting. Playing the spang-a-lang this way helps your right hand to play more nimbly and goes a long way towards clarifying the groove. Try it for yourself!