Friday, July 29, 2016

Ted's Loon-ar obsession

Hello all,
On a recent trip to visit family I picked up Tony Fletcher's excellent biography of Keith Moon. While much of Mr Moon's life is a cautionary tale (alcoholism, domestic violence, and anti-semitism to name but a few issues) it does offer some insights into how he developed into such an exciting and unique player. Naturally I've been listening to and watching him a lot. Perhaps more than I ever have.
Here's some footage:

Some observations:
Well, first of all, no hi-hat. I think for Keith Moon it just didn't make enough noise for him!
Even in this clip, he has a hi-hat but plays it on his right side and as this pre-dates any cable remote technology, it was most likely permanently closed.

This has led me to practice one day each this week omitting one limb. Yesterday I let my left foot rest. Today it was my left hand etc. I think I've mentioned this before, but I realized a lot of the coordination work I've done in the past meant I was trying to "prove" I had done the work by using all 4 limbs when it would have been better orchestration to leave something else out.

I think also worth mentioning is how Moon "dances" between his various cymbals, often in the middle of a phrase. I believe Stewart Copeland, among others, was influenced by this approach.

Well, there you have it. Like a lot of great players, Keith Moon was a school of one. Let's use his musical example by all becoming as individual as we can.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Musicians and the art of self flagellation

Hey folks, quick post today.
A recent FaceBook post got me thinking about how hard musicians are on themselves. We work, we listen, we hustle grants and gigs, we write and record, and above all we practice, all the while telling ourselves we're "not good enough". Sound familiar? An even more perverse aspect of this attitude is the idea many people have that this negative self-talk is "good for us" and "keeps us humble"!

Excuse my language but.......BALONEY!!!!!

Like many of us, when I was a young musician I would repeatedly tell myself I sucked. When I was playing and practicing, as well as any other activities I attempted. I made slow progress on my instrument and writing, was miserable, and eventually developed tendonitis.
Eventually, I started doing work on myself and my self image, both on and off the drums. I read many books, recited positive affirmations to myself, and started working on loving and accepting myself.       ( I'm still working on it. Like music, it's a lifetime process!)
Lo and behold, after a while, I was making way more progress even though I was practicing less, I was having way more fun playing music and living my life, and MY TENDONITIS DISAPPEARED!!!

Don't get me wrong, we still have to work hard and dispassionately assess and work on our weak areas. We would do this like we would kindly help a friend or anyone we cared about. But not being as advanced as so and so ( another fool's errand, believe me) DOES NOT MAKE US A BAD PERSON!

In short, yes, absolutely strive to be the best musician ( and human) you can be, but do it in a gentle and loving way!

Now, what are you going to do today to celebrate yourself and your musicianship? You have a great gift and you are creating more beauty in the world! Try thinking about that before you practice next!

Friday, April 29, 2016

2 new brush patterns

Here's a couple of new brush patterns. You know, being devil's advocate, I will ask the question someone of might pose to me, mainly "Why do you have so many brush patterns that are variations on the basic Jazz ride cymbal beat?" Ah, Ted. Excellent question. I will answer by reminiscing about my time in Montreal, studying at McGill, many moons ago. I was fortunate to see a gallery exhibition of Leonardo Da Vinci's inventions, created from his original blueprints. What I saw was devices like a pulley system to draw water. The fascinating thing was though, he didn't design just one pulley, he would create blueprints for TWELVE pulleys all that served the same function, but with tiny variations. He obviously didn't need to do that, he was just working out all the possibilities. Let me be clear, I'm not comparing myself to Da Vinci, just recognizing creative thinking. Paul DeLong's drum books employ the same " Here's the first way of doing this, now here's 20 variations" type of thinking.. If you employ this sort of thinking in your practice, it will bleed into your performing as well.
 Anyway, on to the patterns.  The first pattern is called "Rattlesnakes 2" and has the hands alternating quarter note trill/vibrato strokes (which you can play around with the speed of) and the right hand tapping the skip beat.

In the second pattern, we're doing the same thing on the downbeats but we're staying on the drum the whole time and on the skip beat,  we run then brush over the other, as we have done in the "Brush flam" patterns. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

If I had a drum festival

Further to my post several days ago complaining about the amount of spectacle in the drumming world, I started think about the kind of drum festival, no.... music celebration I would have.

Firstly, all the guest artists would be players know for their time playing. Genres wouldn't be important, so Jim Keltner would be just as welcome as Jimmy Cobb. I would love to see Dennis Chambers and Vinnie Colaiuta there as well, because as wonderful soloists they both are, they both can really play time.

There also would be NO fastest drumming competition. This would be replaced by events ( not competitions) where drummers could....

-Try playing extremely SLOW tempos in front of an audience.

-See how to best interpret a drum chart.

-Work on how quickly and effectively they can memorize a piece of music

- Do an " gig obstacle course" where they see how well they play when faced with such impediments as running late to the gig, a drunk bass player, a club owner who has an idea the drums are too loud before the drummer has even played etc.

Perhaps ending with some drum duets where the point is to make as a complete musical composition as possible.

In closing, I don't know how popular my drum festival, oops, music celebration would be as it wouldn't be very flashy, but perhaps there's some sort of balance point in the middle between what's generally currently being offered and what I've proposed.
Something to think about anyway. See you soon!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Billy James, and the threat of ego

Just the other day, a friend of mine posted a track of music from the great saxophonist Sonny Stitt.  The tune was called "Donny Brook" and the drumming was great! A nice clean cymbal beat, and a snare drum "bark" that was reminiscent of some of Joe Chambers' work. The drummer, I found out, was Billy James. Another great player I'd never heard about! Here's some brief biographical information about Mr. James....

Billy James's career began at the tender age of 15 when he began to gig with the Lionel Hampton band. The Pittsburgh-based drummer is best known for his collaborations with keyboardist Don Patterson and Sonny Stitt as well as his flawless technique at rapid tempos that was complemented by his signature shuffle.

Billy was part of the Prestige label's house rhythm section during the 1960s and 1970s, earning him many record credits as a sideman, although his longstanding collaborations with Don, Sonny, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Eddie Harris, and Houston Person are his greatest legacy.

So I started checking out some recordings. Sonny's Stitt's aforementioned "Brothers Four" and Sonny Stitt/Gene Ammons "Boss Tenors in Orbit" are particularly strong. Here is Mr. James doing a great job on a straight 8th backbeat thing. Playing just what the music needs!

Another thing to note about Billy James is that he evidently didn't particularly like soloing and preferred the team effort of creating time with the rhythm section. This was of great interest to me as the day before, I started watching a documentary about a drum "camp" and I could only get about 10 minutes in before I had to shut it off because I was getting so depressed. It really was the same old story, the celebration of chops, no musical context, and circus style visuals. Now, I'm no stranger to soloing, and I think it's an important part of playing any instrument. But I think if that's your main love, drums probably aren't the instrument for you. I think of players of the past such as Billy James, who dedicated their whole lives to playing time, and I think that puts into perspective what's really important.
Now, I'd promise I won't play any fills or solos on my gig tonight, but I'm only human!!!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

What we can learn from Prince.....

By now, anybody with an internet connection, a radio, or a newspaper knows that the great songwriter/performer/producer/multi-intrumentalist Prince has passed away at the young age of 57.
Like the recent passing of David Bowie, I wouldn't call myself a huge Prince fan. I certainly owned some of his recordings, but there was a lot of his music I hadn't checked out and I never had the privilege of seeing him live. That said, like with Bowie, I found myself quite despondent of the news of his untimely death. I think one of the main reasons in both cases is that the world lost an artists, with a capital A. Let's examine some of the elements that made Prince so special, and what we as artists can learn from him.

1. Follow your own muse.
Prince always did things his way. He wrote the songs he wanted to write. He put out recordings as often as he wanted to. he dressed the way he wanted to etc. Ultimately, how we present ourselves and the music we make is our choice. Prince always exerted this control, whether what he did was popular or not.

2. Make it about the music
Again, like Bowie, but even more so, Prince was very private and really didn't volunteer much information about his personal life. He wasn't at fancy parties and premiers in New York and Los Angeles. As a result, after he passed, people are talking about his music rather than scandals. I don't think this was any accident on his part.

3. Make the presentation of your music interesting
As great as a songwriter and musician Prince was, he was also a completely captivating performer. ( As I said, I certainly never saw him live, but have seen a lot of concert footage over the years).
I can't pretend that the presence he had onstage isn't a rare thing, but I think we can all learn things from the mystic and drama he created onstage.

4. Keep exploring
Like all great artists, Prince didn't stand still. He kept evolving and trying different things. In fact, I very much liked his latest work with his all female backing band ( including great Toronto guitarist Donna Grantis). That music seems to have a bit more of a rock edge than I'd heard from him in a while, and it sounds great!

In closing, I'd like to quote myself on FaceBook. (What an ego!)

What do you do when a great artist passes on? You create more art! Let's get busy folks!