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".  

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Papa Jo #2: Call and response

Call and Response
Papa Jo and the music of his day were rich with examples of call and response. If you go to 2:15 in the wonderful video above you can see Papa Jo really having fun with this idea by having the two sides of his body talk to each other.

The following exercise from my forthcoming book "Melodic Syncopation" is designed to help you start to cultivate this technique in your own playing. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Beginning Improvisation Part 3

Two new elements
In the last post in this series we discussed using in eighth notes and dynamics.  In today's exercise we are going to be dealing with two new elements, sixteenth notes and orchestrating rhythms around the drums. 

Uptempo Jazz 3: Ulysses Owens

This particular post is more for inspiration than a specific exercise.  That being said, there are some big lessons to absorb from Ulysess's fantastic uptempo playing.  

1.  Clear brush sound
First, his big and clear brush sound at this absurd tempo.  This brush playing is reminiscent of Kenny Washington, another drummer who I plan to feature in the uptempo jazz series and someone who everyone should definitely check out if you haven't already!  

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Getting Into A College Jazz Program: Part 1

Demystifying the college application/audition process
For any student going through the college admission process there is always going to be a great deal of uncertainty and anxiety.   But one of the most daunting of college admissions processes has got to be the jazz audition.  Because I have gone through this process myself, and because I have helped many private students through this process, I want to start demystifying the application/audition process for those of you out there who are going through it now. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Moeller Stroke: Jeff Hamilton style

The original inspiration for this technique comes from a fantastic Ray Brown trio album called "Black Orpheus" featuring Jeff Hamilton and Gene Harris.  On the the opening track "The Days of Wine and Roses", Jeff plays some phenomenal rolls around the drum set.  There is a similar sort of roll at around 1:50 in the video above.  The following exercises will help you work your way towards this technique using a variation of the Moeller stroke. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Space: The final frontier

Letting the music breathe
Music is all about timing.  It's not just about the notes you play, it's about when you play them.  The key to timing is leaving space in your playing, because space lets the music breathe.

In an earlier post I talked about how successful drumming was similar to successful speaking.  In that case I was talking about dynamics, but the same can be said of leaving space.  Leaving space between words or phrases when you are speaking emphasizes what you are saying.  Similarly, leaving space in music emphasizes what you are playing. 

Lewis Nash: This is also what I am talking about

This video, just like the last post about Ari Hoenig, is an example of a master drummer with a really clear melodic concept.  This time it is Lewis Nash accompanying his own singing.  Although the ability to be able to do a vocal performance of this caliber is impressive, the main point is that Lewis is really able to really hear these lines and can respond to them appropriately. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Ari Hoenig: This is what I am talking about

Soloing over form
This is an excellent explanation of some of the techniques of melodic drum soloing architecture from the earlier Max Roach post.  It also means a lot to hear this from Ari who is a real master of this type of playing.   

For more lessons from drummers like Eric Harland and Ralph Peterson check out jazzheaven.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Should all jazz musicians learn how to play the drums?

I originally started this conversation on the All About Jazz forum, and was surprised at the consensus that all musicians would benefit from learning some drums.  Here is the original question that I posed:

"So most jazz musicians agree (myself included) that drummers should learn some piano in order to better understand what is going on around them, and have a more well-rounded approach to music generally. It is easy as a drummer to succumb to a kind of rhythmic tunnel-vision, and piano can help mitigate that by forcing drummers to focus on melody and harmony.

So here is my question, couldn't the same thing be true for other instruments? That is, shouldn't other instrumentalists learn some drums in order to better understand what is going on around them, and have a more well-rounded approach to music generally? I think that everybody intuitively agrees that rhythm is of particular importance in jazz music, "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing".  So why do so few other instrumentalists learn how to play drums? "
What do you guys think?  Should other instrumentalists learn some drums?  If yes, what are the benefits?  If no, why not?   Post your answers below.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Beginning Improvisation Part 2

Two new elements
In the first post about learning to improvise, I introduced the basic idea of improvising simple rhythms in time.  In the following exercise we will start to deal with two new elements.  The first element is the eighth note which will change the density of the rhythms you are playing.  The second element is dynamics which will allow you to change the volume of your rhythms.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Essential books for jazz drummers

This is a list of books that I consider essential for anyone who wants to learn jazz drumming:

This book is a classic reading text that I recommend not so much for the book itself, as for the curriculum that has been built up around this book over the years.  "Syncopation" has been used as the basis for innumerable exercises for developing jazz coordination, most successfully and famously by Alan Dawson in the following book on this list. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

jazztruth: Jam Session Etiquitte; The Obvious

jazztruth: Jam Session Etiquitte; The Obvious: I've been going to jam sessions off and on for easily 20 years or more. (Yeah, I'm older than you might think. I actually got carded the ot...

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. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Beginning Improvisation Part 1

One of the most frequently asked questions that I get from students who are starting to learn to improvise is "What do I play?".  This post will be the first of series where I will give you exercises to start to answer this question for yourself.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Loving the bass

One of the great benefits of playing the drums is that you get to sit right next to the bass and soak up its beautiful sound all night.  Drummers, if you do not love the sound of the bass you have a hard road ahead of you.  In order for the music to really work, you and the bass player are going to have to create a strong, musical partnership.  This parnership between the two of you is the rhythmic foundation for the entire band, it's engine.  All the great bands in the history of jazz have relied on this partnership. 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The two songs of jazz part 2

In the Tony Williams post yesterday I touched on the idea of the historical evolution of the drum set.  Here is a longer explanation of that concept from the introduction to my forthcoming book "Melodic Syncopation":

In addition to being designed around melodies, the exercises in this book are further categorized into seven sections, each devoted to an important drummer.  These drummers represent the evolution of jazz drumming and are all worthy of study and emulation. The exercises in each drummer’s section develop an ability that corresponds to a significant element of that drummer’s sound.

The drummers are arranged chronologically by date of birth, and as you proceed through the book you will see how each one both explores new ideas and techniques on the drums and also refers back to earlier drumming styles.  In general, the trend in jazz drumming moves from a relatively strict supporting function, with a limited focus on specific parts of the drum set (Papa Jo), all the way to an almost continuously improvised leading function, with a nearly equal treatment of all parts of the drum set (Tony Williams). 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Tony Williams: Developing your own voice

Tony Williams is famous for contributing massively to the expanding role of the drummer, from sophisticated time-keeper to "emotional energy center of the band" (Beyond Bop Drumming).  He has one of the most immediately recognizable voices in the history of jazz drumming.  Here is a taste:

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Art Blakey: Using groove to drive the band

There isn't a drummer in the history of jazz who could drive a band harder or with more fire than Art Blakey.  Listen to how he relentlessly he pushes the band on the song "One By One":