Monday, July 30, 2012

Newk The Bass Drum

Applying ideas from other instruments
As mentioned in a previous post, here is an exercise from my forthcoming book "Melodic Syncopation" that features Sonny Rollin's solo from "St. Thomas".  Just a friendly heads up, this exercise can be soul-crushingly difficult at first, so take your time! Max #5.pdf

Just for reference, here is the melody used in the exercise again:

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Brazilian Drumming For Jazz Musicians

1.  Don't be afraid to stretch
Zack Pride!
In my experience one of the biggest mistakes that drummers make when playing Brazilian music is that they get so caught up in trying to play the groove "correctly" that they forget to try to make music.  One of the really beautiful things about Brazilian music in general is how it is infused with the spirit of improvisation, so don't be afraid to experiment and go with your instincts!  

For example in the recording of "How Insensitive" at the top (with Chris Grasso on piano and Zack Pride on bass, make sure to listen with headphones), listen to how I start out with by just sketching a rhythm with my right hand during the A section of the melody, or how I go into a kind of weird Bolero on the snare drum on the vamp out.  These things aren't really textbook or correct playing, I just thought they sounded good at the time. 

Speaking of sounding good, how sick was that bass solo?!  Zack Pride ladies and gentleman. 

2.  Check out Milton Banana
My excellent teacher Chuck Redd suggested that I check out some Milton Banana to help deepen my Brazilian concept.  I have absolutely loved learning about his music, and I highly recommend that everyone who wants to learn about Brazilian drumming make this a priority.  One thing I immediately noticed about the way Milton grooves is how he uses a strong bass drum (particularly on beats two and four) and an ever so slightly swung eighth note feel to give a strong, earthy samba feel to everything he plays.  Listen:

If like me you have somehow gotten to this point in your life without checking out this fantastic book by Duduka da Fonsceca and Bob Weiner, there is no time like the present.  Here is a solid write up from Cruiseshipdrummer on all the relevant literature.  Books like this can help you get a lot of essential information fast, but it is important to remember that you need lots of listening/application/experience for all of it to be useful.  

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Food For Thought: Listening Outside Of Your Instrument

Listening outside of your instrument
In my experience, any musician can fall into the trap of only listening to their particular instrument for inspiration.  There are a number of advantages to listening outside of your instrument, particularly for drummers. 

1.  Rhythmic genius isn't drum specific
As I mentioned in another post, the jazz musicians who have made the biggest impact on the music all had really deep rhythmic vocabulary, regardless of their instrument.  My favorite example of this is the tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins.  If you haven't already, check out his classic solo on "St. Thomas" (starts around :55):

Did you hear how he took that little two-note idea through all those hip rhythmic variations?  I have a whole exercise from my forthcoming book devoted to this solo, and you can easily see how Sonny's style of playing could translate on to the drums.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Food For Thought: Rushing

Rushing isn't necessarily bad
Saying that rushing isn't necessarily bad may be a somewhat controversial opinion, but I believe we need to rethink how we use this word.  Here is a simple experiment to illustrate my point: 

The great bassist Hassan Shakur!
1.  Listen to the recording at the top (which features my great teacher Chuck Redd on Vibes, Ehud Asherie on Keys, and Hassan Shakur on Bass) straight through.  Ask yourself how it sounded and felt.  To my ear the whole things sounds pretty good and the band is swinging throughout.

2.  Now listen again, but this time skip from the head in right to the head out.  We were definitely rushing!

Here is the thing, human beings don't really experience or play music non-linearly.  We can and should only play what feels good in the moment, and in general, what feels good in the moment isn't necessarily metronomically precise.  If we go back and analyze a recording, sometimes what felt good in the moment is essentially a gradual increase in tempo over the course of a song.  In other words, rushing.  I have found that this tendency to rush seems most powerful in a live setting. 

Another more famous example from Max Roach, try doing the same listening experiment:

Again, to my ear this recording sounds great all the way through, but man are they rushing like crazy!

Thursday, July 5, 2012


One important technique that is also, due to it's nature, frequently overlooked is misdirection.  The point of misdirection is to lead your audience to pay attention to one thing so that another thing you are doing can appear startlingly effortless.  At around :30 in the clip above notice how I play a pretty bold comping figure with my L.H. while I am reaching over to switch to sticks.  This use of misdirection makes it so that my ride cymbal beat seems to just materialize. 

Make it look easy
What is the point?
The point of musical performance as opposed to say, magic, is not to confound but to move or inspire an audience.   The importance of misdirection therefore is not illusion for illusions sake, but rather to wrap what you are doing in a shroud of effortlessness.  The experience of watching a musician struggling can range from distracting to painfully awkward for an audience, so masking difficulty with some clever misdirection can remove a barrier between your audience and your music.  In other words, judicious use of misdirection can make for a better performance.

The master at work
Notice in the clip below how much Papa Jo does to give the impression of effortlessness.  Everything from his posture, to what he does with his hands, to his facial expressions seem to disguise how difficult what he is playing really is.  What we the audience are left with is an amazing show:

Monday, July 2, 2012

Soloing Over A Vamp

Tension and release in a solo over a vamp
The easiest and most effective device that you have at your disposal when soloing over a vamp is choosing when to play with the band and when to play something against what the band is playing.  This may sound like an oversimplification, but this is basically how the tension and release work in this kind of a solo.  Essentially, playing against what the band is doing produces tension that is released when you finally play something in unison. 

In the clip above notice how I would periodically release in this fashion by playing the hits of the vamp with the band.  In my experience, doing this occasionally helps keep the band together as well as the audience engaged in the music. 

Two tips
He is actually this cool.
The most important skill to develop to solo over a vamp is to try to sing or hear the vamp throughout whatever you are playing.  This idea goes back to my general philosophy of the two songs of jazz, but it is even more important in this case than in an open solo, because in this case there are literally two songs going on at the same time (your solo + the vamp = two songs).  How well you are able to interact with the vamp is directly tied to how well you can hear it in your head while you are playing.  

To practice this, try something straightforward like improvising a vamp, and then trying to sing it while you play against/with it.  You will quickly discover that this seemingly simple exercise is actual fraught with difficulty, and is something you really need to work at to develop.  

The other thing I would recommend you do is to listen to some great players soloing over a vamp.  One of the drummers I always love to listen to and draw from for this type of playing is Roy Haynes.  Check him out here with his band: