Monday, March 18, 2019

Pet Peeves

This instalment of Trap'd is brought to you by my assistant BartholeMEW MURRay Warren. As usual, he's working hard to make things happen around here......

Speaking of pets, I thought I would share a few of my most persistent pet peeves. One of the biggest has to be......

1. Retro Snare-y Drum Solos

I think I've mentioned this before, but there's a real tendency among current Jazz drummers to play solos that sounded better in the bebop and post-bop eras, you know, WHEN THEY WERE CONCEIVED!!!
They feature LOTS of snare drum language, heavy on a very self conscious use of rudiments, and not much tonal or dynamic variation or independent coordination. Oh, and NEVER any non-Jazz references! That's clearly a no-no! Now, let me be clear, I'm not talking about people like Philly Joe and Buddy Rich etc. who played a lot of snare drum because that's what they heard, I'm talking about current players who play a lot of snare drum because they think  they're supposed to! I find this extremely tiresome! Let's listen to Philly and use him to inspire us to play something THAT HIP, not just regurgitate it!

2. Yet More Instagram Complaints

I discussed some of the many problems with drums-related posts on my "The Drummers of InstaHAM" rant. One problem I hadn't twigged onto then was the absolute dearth of anything remotely improvised on this social media platform ( or so it appears with the posts that come up when I'm searching for drum and music related content. ) I see a LOT of people doing their moves, looking like they were choreographed weeks in advance, with the stiffness of execution that comes with trying to be impressive. Not interested.

3. Cymbal Stands That Double As Tom Stands

To be honest, I seem to be seeing this a lot less lately, but that doesn't change my extreme dislike of this "inventor who has never played the drums" proposed solution to freeing up a minuscule amount of space in one's set-up. Once I can get the tom where I want it, I can't get the cymbal within 5 feet of me. Grrrrrrr!

4. Weird Set Ups

I should probably just quit ever looking at drummers on Instagram.
Saw someone playing one of the written solos from the Rick Latham book. Great, but this person had the snare drum down by their knees!!!! Um, what if you want to play a rimshot?  If you can't get at all parts of the instrument, change something. No cymbals covering up bells of other cymbals, etc......

Okay, enough ranting. Let's end with something positive.
Here's some video of Roger Taylor playing with Queen at Wembley stadium in 1986. Between seeing the Queen biopic and playing " Bohemian Rhapsody" with a choir as part part of my Masters, I've been appreciating Mr. Taylor's unique style. Note how he often opens his hi-hat along with his backbeat on 2 & 4, making it that much fatter. I can't think of another player who does this very often, if at all. Enjoy.

Monday, March 11, 2019

What's in your back pocket?

Recently, I got to play a bunch of great music with trumpet master Jason Logue's new 9 piece band. ( BTW Jason's arrangements are KILLER and we plan to be recording and playing more gigs soon. )
Before the gig,  Jason sent us the arrangements beforehand and after checking them out myself, I decided it would be fun to have some of my students take a crack at playing them. Here's the first page of one of the charts.

Sorry, it's somewhat cut off. I will include a full pdf as well. Now Jason writes r very good charts that are very clear and don't need a lot of explanation. What was interesting is that some of the students couldn't get the first part of the chart. Not because they couldn't read, not because the chart was unclear, but because they didn't have a 12/8 beat that they could play without thinking about it.   
Granted 12/8 rhythms can be tricky, so that's even more reason to have one that's "in your back pocket' ready to go!
This got me thinking of how I often teach these rhythms. I usually get the student started on the general vibe of the beat and then give  them 12-16 variations to work on. The problem is, when the tune is being counted off with a band you don't know, a chart you don't know, you're feeling nervous , the sound is weird, etc., you don't have time to think about what you're going to do. You just need ONE thing that's reasonably appropriate and ready to go. If you don't, the attention you need to put on the 10, 000 other musical issues you're dealing will be used for trying to put a groove together you're not comfortable with. So, from henceforth ( Hear ye! Hear ye! ) I will give the student the 12-16 exercises, but I will ask them to pick one that they like the most, and they will have to have it memorized, be able to play it at at least 3 tempos and 3 dynamic markings ( Thanks Joe LaBarbera! ) and even be able to carry on a conversation with me, while still being able to play the beat steadily.
12/8 is certainly one rhythm we should be able to do this with, but what are some others? Let's make a short list.

Back Pocket Beats
Rock (8ths-based)
Funk (16ths-based )
Bossa Nova
Jazz Waltz
Ballad Brush Pattern
Medium Brush Pattern
Darn it! I forgot 2 beat swing, but definitely 2 beat swing!

Play all at at least  3 different tempos and dynamics

Now, there's certainly a lot more beats it would be good to be able to do this with, but this is a good start. Remember, you just have to have just ONE of these beats together at first, but by together, I mean you have to know it inside and out, so there's no situation you can't play it smoothly and effectively in. The source material can be from books, or learning beats by ear from recordings, but you've got to have them be as second nature as breathing. :)

And to conclude, you couldn't do much better for a rock beat or two than from the great Jeff Porcaro, shown here playing, as always with great time, commitment, and taste.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Bill Evans Beautiful Love

Just stumbled onto this online. Bill Evans playing with Niels Hening Orsted Pedersen on bass and Alan Dawson on drums playing "Beautiful Love" in Berlin in 1965. 3 great artists at the height of their powers. Check it out!

This is why we play music.
This is why we listen to music.
This is why we practice music.
This is why we love music.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Ed Bickert RIP

 He was a favourite of guitarists, musicians, and just plain music fans in the know. Master musician Ed Bickert passed away several days ago, announced in a statement as understated and self effacing as the man himself. I was a huge fan of his music, and loved his approach as demonstrated here on "Easy To Love". ( Standard tunes were Ed's canvas )

Note also  the fantastic empathy and support both Don Thompson ( Bass ) and Claude Ranger ( drums) provide.

I was fortunate to work and spend time with Ed when I joined the Boss Brass in the early '90s and was always blown away by the richness of his knowledge of harmony, the economy he played with ( which frequently caused me to question the meaning behind things I did or didn't play ) and his dry wit and gentle manner. Ed didn't say a lot, but everything he did say was deep in either a thoughtful or funny way, and was frequently both at once.

Here's a cut from the album he made with fellow Canadian guitarist Lorne Lofsky.  The great rhythm section on this is Neil Swainson and another great I miss a lot, drummer Jerry Fuller.

As great as it was playing with Ed in a big band, it's a great regret of mine that I never played trio with him. I always felt like Ed was like a friend I only saw when I was inebriated and screaming at him!!!

He was also very true to what he was musically, as demonstrated in this excerpt from an interview he gave.

Like all great musicians, Ed created a sound and atmosphere around him every time he played. Other musicians always played quieter, listened harder, and generally upped their game, just by his example.

There will never be another like him.

Thank you Ed, for the inspiration and all the music.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Works in Progress

Hey! The original title for this post was " 2 Brush fills and 7 beat thingy". Not the catchiest moniker!
I don't know what it's like for most musicians, but I stumble onto fragments of ideas all the time. I often jot them down on whatever is handy, so I can remember them for the next time the drums and I go dancing. Here's a current example....

Oh yeah! There's the "natural font" for ya! I didn't say it was pretty!

Anyhow, here's some explanation. The first two things closer to the top of the page are brush ideas alternating a sweep and a "rim buzz" in the left hand. The latter technique doesn't have a name, as far as I know, and " rim buzz" certainly isn't a good one. It involves hitting the drum"s rim at almost a 90 degree angle and then bringing the brushes bristles down to the drumhead as it bounces. Way easier to see and to play than to explain. Don't worry, I made some video. The second brush idea ( sorry, both are in 4/4 but I think the end of this one got cut off ) is using the same alternating technique in the left hand except as the middle note of a triplet. Sort of a "Purdie Shuffle meets Papa Jo " perhaps? Anyway, you could use both ideas as beats, although they strike as more applicable as fills. I think it's just a matter of taste.

Okay, here's both of the brush fills demonstrated....

The other idea is related to the 2 brush fills in that it occurred to me at the same practice session and therefore ended up being written on the same page. I suspect I subconsciously was thinking about a recent Four On The Floor post on something similar. As usual with this sort of stuff, the applications are myriad. Here's me playing the 7 beat lick in triplets with hi-hat on all the upbeats. I'm singing a blues to myself, although I end the idea a bit into the next chorus. I guess you'll just have to take my word for it!

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

What is live, anyway?

Hello all,
I'd like to relate a recent experience I had while watching Netflix with my partner. As I was a big comic book reader when I was a kid, I was interested to see the "Riverdale" series to check out the updated story of Archie Andrews and his friends. Early on, whenever they made reference to music, I found it silly and annoying. Archie's supposedly a songwriter, but the only tunes we hear are wimpy, emo remakes of '80s songs. Josie and the Pussycats gigs seem to have less to do with performing music, and more about how to put young bodies into form-fitting catsuits. ( Considering these are supposed to be high school students, although I'm sure all the cast are at least in their 20s, this is disconcerting and creepy.) Fortunately, these parts of the show are mercifully  brief, and I usually just excuse myself until they're over. I get it. Most people don't know what it's like to be a musician. I'm sure most police officers and navy seals find how they are portrayed in drama laughable. So, I tried to focus on the story. But last night we watched an episode that centred on a party inside a biker bar. For some weird reason, Archie and Veronica and performing at this party. Right away the usual music drama bs marks are hit. Lame version of an 80s tune? Yep,  Tears for Fears' "Mad World". Sounds of instruments, but no sign of said instruments or players in sight? Absolutely. Do Archie's and Veronica's singing voices sound like their speaking voices? Not much, but I'll play along and assume the actors are doing their own singing. But now it starts to get REALLY weird. A & V get into an argument on stage, so they just leave in the middle of the song! The backing track keeps playing, so Betty decides to finish the number. Now, again Betty's voice doesn't seem to be any different from Veronica's, but again I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt. Now, because she's supposed to be initiated into a gang, Betty starts stripping, while she's singing!!! But halfway through this not at all salacious or gratuitous show of skin, Betty moves off-mic to continue peeling, AND THE VOCALS STILL CONTINUE!!!!!!! WTF????????????????

So, you're probably thinking I'm making a big deal about nothing. It's just a show Ted. Maybe the Betty vocal/strip show was supposed to be some sort of dream sequence ( and I can't tell you, how in this day and age, how inappropriate this feels ). But, I think it points to a larger issue of how music performance is portrayed, or even carried out, in our current pop culture landscape.

I think because of the many contest shows out there, in a lot of people's eyes ( and ears ) being a musician means singing, usually not your own songs, in from of some prefab backing track. Many "live" gigs use backing tracks, especially for vocals. One of the many issues with this "arena karaoke" is that audiences are rarely familiarized with the many variables of live singing and playing. If people go to hear KISS or Mariah Carey and don't  hear "exactly" what they hear on a recording, they will think it's an inferior performance. Performing is tough! Especially vocally. I've always said that if one hears a good live vocal on some youtube video made with a cellphone, it's probably a great vocalist. Even if one hears a mediocre singer under those conditions, they probably still  are a capable, or  great vocalist on a bad night.

This is also true of instrumentalists. So, in conclusion, here's  " So What " fromMiles Davis at Carnegie Hall. Check out the trumpet entrance after ( I think ) Paul Chambers perhaps takes the tune faster than they were anticipating. Yeah, it sounds pretty rough, but they kept it. You know why? "Cause the rest of it kills!!!

Live music is not for the faint of heart ( or ears ) folks, so let's play and listen with everything we've got and be courageous!!!!!

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

BBC drums doc

Lots of life stuff, so this is a pretty short post, BUT, you owe it to yourself to check out this drum history doc from BBC, narrated by Stewart Copeland. As with all things BBC, it's very well researched.