Friday, April 16, 2021


What's the first thing we hear when a drummer (or any musician) plays for us? We experience their sound, of course! Yet many teachers, myself included, do't talk about sound on the drum set very much. Why? Well, in a pedological environment, sound can be a tricky and subjective thing to evaluate. I also feel many people think that because sound production on a drum or cymbal is a relatively simple thing, (after, all, don't you just hit the thing?) that there's not much one can say about it. But say about it I will! Let's look at ways we as drummers can improve our sound.

1. Listen! 

This may seem pretty basic, but many drummers don't listen to the sounds they're making. That's why I don't recommend practice pads when an actual drum set is available and practical. It doesn't matter what fancy and impressive things are achieved on a pad because we don't play pads in performance! Also, only play the sounds you mean. Many "accidental" sounds on drum set can include:

- cymbals and/or drums hitting each other after we have played them.

-playing on an odd part of a cymbal or drum out of physical habit, rather than musical need or concept. This can include playing near the edge of the cymbal when riding it, playing toward the outer rim rather than the centre of a drum, hitting rims often, missing intended rimshots frequently, etc. Let me stress that ANY sound of a drum or cymbal is fair game and will be appropriate at times, it's just they have to be intentional! 

2. Tune!

Now, this will mean different things to different people. I would recommend listening to drums and cymbals of players you like and try to determine things you would want in your sound.. Does the player you like have theirs snares tight or loose? Do they tune high or low? What relationship between the top and bottom heads creates the sound you like?  Do they even have bottom heads on their toms and bass drum? Are the drums muffled or ringy? Do you like the toms to dip in pitch? Cymbals bright or dark? Thin or thick? Do you like your drums sound with brushes but not with sticks and mallets? Some of these things will also depend on the type of music you're playing and the sonic environment the style tends to have. In all cases, don't be afraid to experiment with tuning, muffling, and cymbal choice, and if one plays a lot of different styles, they may need for more instruments to be purchased or compromises made. The more you listen and experiment, the more you will develop your personal appetites of what the drums should sound like.

3. Listen Part 2 (in context) 

This is also style dependent. How loud of soft should you play with the band you're with? How does your sound mix with the rest of the ensemble? How does your sound change when you go from playing with a distorted guitar to a muted trumpet, for example?

In conclusion, developing own's sound is easily as important as anything else we practice on the instrument. We ignore it at our peril! 

Now go develop your sound! :) 

Monday, April 12, 2021

Jack DeJohnette - John Scofield - Larry Goldings - Trio Beyond 2006

What is there to say about this? Except that in the current "look Ma, I'm doing circus tricks on Instagram" world we're in, it's beautiful to see high caliber musicians playing improvised music in a completely, honest way!

Friday, April 9, 2021

Andy Newmark: Reflections and current music

Although the internet is a strange place, it undoubtedly has made the world smaller. I recently read a piece that Andy Newmark had written about the great Jim Gordon, which I've reprinted here….

 I sat 5 feet away from Jim Gordon, in the drum booth at Trident Studios in London, as he recorded Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain in 1972. I was Carly’s road drummer and played on a few tracks on her No Secrets album, however I wasn’t cutting it when we recorded You’re So Vain. So Richard Perry, the producer of that album brought in the heavyweights. Jim Gordon, Klaus Voorman, and Nicky Hopkins to record You’re So Vain. Carly’s road band, which included me, was sidelined for half the tracks on that album, except for Jimmy Ryan who played on everything and played that great guitar solo on “You’re So Vain”. Anyhow, I was totally cool with Richard Perry’s decision to bring Jim Gordon in. I was in London for the duration of that album, as road bands often were back then, on call at any time. I saw this as an opportunity to watch Jim up close. I had been listening to Jim Gordon and Jim Keltner ever since Mad Dogs and Englishmen. I asked Jim if he would mind if I sat in the drum booth and watched him play. He was totally cool with that. So I watched Jim do 40 takes (Richard Perry was famous for doing a lot of takes) of You’re So Vain. You see, back then the live performance in the studio had to contain all the magic in the basic backing track. There was no fixing it or replacing parts after the track was recorded. You could repair little things but the vibe and groove had to be all there in the performance. Perry pushed players right to their limit. I liked his style. He had a vision and wasn’t going to stop till he got it out of the musicians. He made great bloody records that all stand up today under scrutiny. He always used the best players on his records. As a player, working for Richard Perry was a step up the ladder in session world. It meant something. Anyhow, I watched Jim like a hawk for 4 or 5 hours, playing that song over and over again. It’s one thing to hear a player on a recording but to see a player playing live is a whole different ball game. Body language reveals so much about where a drummer is coming from. Seeing Jim play up that close, and fine tuning his drum part, was like getting intra veinous Jim Gordon…his DNA being injected into mine. And I got it, big time. I saw what he had and what I didn’t have. But not for long. I really understood where his notes were coming from and went away from that session knowing what I had to do to improve my act. Jim never played a rim shot on 40 takes of You’re So Vain. He hit the middle of the snare drum so hard that the head was completely caved in, in the middle. It was a 6 inch crater in a perfect circle. He hit the exact same spot every time he hit the snare drum. That means all his backbeats sounded as identical as humanly possible. Engineers love consistency from players. I was suffering from total rim shot dependency, playing tight, funky and snappy, New York style, like Bernard Purdie. I am a New Yorker. Jim had that West Coast lazy thing going on. His notes seem to have length. They breathed. Legato drumming I call it. There was all this air around each of his notes. And his groove was so relaxed and secure and comfortable. It was like sitting in a giant arm chair that fit perfect. He made all the other players sound amazing right from Take One. And he made the recording sound like a real hit record right from Take One. I was blown away. The tom tom fills were like thunder. I still copy him doing that today and think about him in that room every time I do it. I put my left hand on the high tom and my right hand on the floor tom and play straight 8th notes (both hands in unison) that crescendo into a chorus. Just like You’re So Vain. His drumming was intelligent and impeccable on that record. There was no click track either and Richard Perry was very demanding when it came to tempo. (By the way, click tracks have ruined pop music today). Don’t get me started. That’s something else I had to improve on. Playing time. I’m still working on that. Jim nailed that track at least 40 times and every take on the drums was brilliant and useable as a final drum track. However Richard Perry wanted to hand pick where Jim played certain fills and all the other cats too. So that’s where a studio musician’s discipline comes into play. You have to play the same track for hours and maintain the feeling and learn every note in your part till it’s written in your DNA. Then on top of that, you have to take instructions after each take from the Producer telling you exactly what to amend or delete in your part. It’s a lot of mental work going on. Not all players are cut out for this kind of disciplined playing, and designing a part. That’s what great records are. Great parts. Jim was like a computer. He did everything Richard Perry asked of him and still kept all the other stuff going in his part, take after take after take. And he hit the drums so damn hard. His snare drum was monstrous and it wasn’t even a rim shot. I was stunned at the power in all his notes. He saw that whole drum part in his head as if it was written on paper and handed to him. And take after take, for maybe 4 or 5 hours with breaks, he played it spot on every time. I got it…big time. Thank God I was replaced by Jim that day. What I got from that experience took my playing to another level completely. I put funky drumming on the back burner after watching Jim and started trying to make my notes real long, relaxed, with lots of air around them, giving each note it’s full sustain value, and even tuning my drums so that the notes would sustain for their full value. And every note was thought out. That’s what Jim did. He didn’t play any throw away notes. Not one!! Not even an unintended grace note on the snare drum. That’s what making records is all about. You have to own and believe in every note you play. Every 8th note on your high hat has meaning and character and tells a story. You can’t just be playing mindless time with a back beat. Drummers who do that sound bored and uninvolved. A drummer has to be involved in every note and put life into each one. This is what Jim did. I know this for sure. It’s a subtle thing but it makes all the difference in a player. Discipline, restraint, and conviction in every note. That’s when real music starts to happen.”

Andy Newmark, November 9th, 2013.

I had never seen this before and was blown away by Andy's candour and humility. What I also appreciated was the description of Gordon at the height of his powers, doing what he did so well. Often, because of his history, Jim Gordon is only seen as a tragic figure,  so I appreciated Andy's writing featuring Mr Gordon's  contribution to music and drums.

I contacted Andy to tell him how much I appreciated this, and he was kind enough to get back to me. We discussed many things, most of it personal so I wouldn't get into it here, but most importantly, he sent me a link to a youtube video of a tune he recently recorded. Here's Side Trip - Featuring Andy Newmark, Philip Lassiter, Andrew Ford, Troy Dexter and Mario Rossi. Check it out!

Ah, it's wonderful to hear a nice spacious groove like that. Not only that, but to hear a drummer in a Smooth Jazz/Backbeat situation where they aren't playing rimshots or have the snare cranked to infinity is extremely refreshing! Anyway, lovely music.

I think it's also important to note that some of the great studio drummers like Newmark, Jim Keltner, Bernard Purdie , are playing better than they ever did. If they aren't as visible, that says way more about the music industry and it's youth obsession rather than any of the great playing they did, and still do! 

Finally, here's a great interview that John DeChristopher  did with Andy recently as part of his "Live From My Drum Room" series. Unsurprisingly, Mr. Newmark tells it like it is. Enjoy! 

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Toronto Jazz Festival: Stories From Home

 I've just been featured on the Toronto Jazz Festival's "Stories From Home" series….

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

The Saskatchewan Suite

Thank goodness for Chronograph Records! In addition to the new Al Muirhead album I mentioned a couple of posts ago, they have also just released a recording of the premier performance of "The Saskatchewan Suite". The Suite was written by Fred Stride and beautifully recorded by Miles Hill. who also played bass on the project. We only had a few days to get A LOT of music together, but I think it turned out really well. There is a great deal of musical talent hailing from Saskatchewan, and I was honoured to be involved in the project. The package from Chronograph also includes a DVD of the concert, some excerpts of which can be found below…….

Monday, March 29, 2021

Yet more Cannonball! (Cannonball Adderley Quintet feat. Joe Zawinul (Oslo, 1969) NRK (c)

Once again we have Europeans to thank!  Here's some great footage of Cannonball's band playing in Sweden in 1969. There's a weird edit at the end, and there seem to be more footage that I hope to find in the future!

Man, check out how beautifully Roy McCurdy handles all the different tunes with so much taste, style, and economy. Also, you can bet you won't be allowed to have an ashtray beside your large tom at a gig anytime soon, unless you're using it purely as a sound source! :) 

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Al Muirhead Quintet - Album release-Live from Frankie's and The Yarbird

The accompanying 3 videos are from the Al Muirhead Quintet sound checking at The Yardbird Suite in Edmonton doing a tour several years ago, some of which will be documented on the album released tomorrow. As I look at these, it's hard to figure out what I miss most, my bandmates, the great people at the Suite, touring, problem solving on the bandstand etc. I hope someday to be doing this again, in the meantime, it's nice to have reminders like this. The album will be available through Chronograph Records.