Thursday, May 16, 2019

Stanton Moore sticking lesson

Hey folks,
Thanks to Mr. Stanton Moore and the good folks at DRUM! Magazine for this concise video on a LLRLRLRR sticking and some applications of it. Check it out.

I think it's important to note this post includes 2 things I usually find really annoying, mainly practice pads and a "novelty" location. But Moore gets such a beautiful, funky, and varied palate from the pads that I found myself grooving along to the sounds with him, and the presentation of this lesson on a  gondola is so endearingly goofy that it warmed even my cold, cynical heart! :)

Friday, May 10, 2019

This isn't about us: epilogue

Recently, a talented and beloved member of the Toronto Creative passed away tragically and suddenly. Justin Haynes' contribution to the Canadian music scene has been well documented elsewhere, so I'll just say that if you haven't checked out his music, you really owe it to yourself to do so.
The week of Justin's death, I had two gigs that weekend. Both had their issues. The first one was at an establishment that likes to think of itself as a dedicated music room, but really their main purpose is selling food. The second gig was in a listening situation but it was with a front person who seems to think the more instruments they play (including random percussion ) the better with no regard for the quality of said playing.
 As the gigs came up, I was feeling very sad about Justin's death, partially because I had a sister die some years ago for similar reasons. I decided to dedicate both evenings of music to them....

At gig one there was a table seated right next to the drums. They weren't only ignoring me, they were screaming over top of me! For 3 sets! I kept thinking they wouldn't want to hear me and either move to another table or leave entirely! Nope! They got up and left as we were playing the last note of the night! Funny part is, I barely noticed them! I was able to concentrate on the sounds the piano trio was making and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

At gig two, the front person behaved as usual, and again, it didn't bother me. I had a lovely time playing the drums and it felt meaningful to me.

What happened? I think a couple of things. I think Justin's death reminded me ( once again ) that we have a limited time here on earth and there's no time ( as my beloved Fabs would say ) for fussing and fighting my friend. I think the other thing is I believe Justin and my sister heard me and were helping me focus.

Anyway, be kind and gentle with yourselves, and I'll be back soon. :)

Friday, May 3, 2019

Brush Circles, the eternal conundrum

One question I get asked fairly frequently is " What direction do you make your circles in when playing brushes"?
Basically, one can circle in ( right hand counter clockwise, left hand clockwise ) or circle out ( direction of hands reversed ). I tend to find matched grip players tend to circle in more, because circling out seems a bit more awkward for non-traditional grip players.
I think if you're just starting on brushes, it's good to find one way that works the best, and stick with that as you develop your technique. However, if you're a true brush nerd like me ( I blame Dad and the Papa Jo record he gave me when I was in grade 9 ) I think you'll discover there are great advantages to being able to circle both directions with either hand. They feel different and I think they are both useful at different times. So, how to work on this? Well, figure 8s work really well in getting us comfortable with both directions and create a pattern that's great in it's own right.

Here's a couple of more videos of ways to get looser with the concept.

Also Philly Joe's great book " Brush Artistry" ( now out of print but can be found online ) can be very useful for inward circlers who want to work on their outward circling chops.
Please be reminded though, it's more important to be very comfortable with one direction of circles than to play both ways poorly. I well aware that many wonderful drummers are not nearly as obsessed about this stuff as I am. Good luck and have fun!

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Happy International Jazz Day!

Well, here we are with the 7th celebration of International Jazz Day. What better way to honour it than to check out this performance of Shelly Manne and his Men on Jazz Scene U.S.A. from 1962. It's great to see this footage of Shelly. he looks so relaxed and balanced, and man does it swing. I could watch his right hand forever! Enjoy.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Erroneous Impressions

 NOTE: I am aware that Scott K Fish posted the Kenny Clarke footage previously on his excellent blog.   I actually put this blog together a couple of weeks ago ( sure ,Ted, sure! )  and I realized that I'm putting in a slightly different context here so I'll go ahead with my original post....

Firstly, don't get the wrong impression about this post. It's not about this.....

Whew! I hadn't seen that in a while! Also, there's a great version of this tune on last year's "Both Directions At Once".

Now, on to my point.
I'm paraphrasing here, but Keith Jarrett said something to the effect of that if you haven't seen someone live, you don't really know their playing, and if you've seen them only once, that doesn't count. Now for a Canadian of my age, they are many great Jazz musicians I've never seen live. My knowledge of Charlie Parker, for example, was gathered only through recordings. I'm sure seeing Bird live was a whole other dimension!
Mentioning Mr. Parker is a good segue to a great drummer who played with Charlie Parker who I had an erroneous impression of, based on the recordings I'd heard. I was VERY aware of Kenny Clarke's importance in BeBop, Jazz, and drumming history in general. Unfortunately, most of the first recordings I heard were like this.....

Don't get me wrong. I love this record, and I bought in my first year of university and it made a great impression on me. It's just that a lot of the drums recorded on the Savoy label sound sort of dry and pinched, especially the snare drum and cymbals. Add to that a very obtrusive plate reverb on the horns and I find I like these recordings in spite of the sound rather than because of it. Kenny tends to play very sparsely on these recordings and doesn't use a lot of toms or velocity in his playing. It's beautiful and tasteful, but I did find myself thinking that his approach was rather cerebral and reserved. I eventually picked up the "Monk Plays Ellington" recording, which sounded a little more open to me, although he really sticks to playing the time, which sounded perfect to me for that situation.
Then one day piano great Dave Restivo hipped me to THIS recording.....

All of " A Tribute To Cannonball"  is killing" and the drums sound nice and open. The drums are very exciting on this! There is also a lot more "chops" displayed on this recording from Clarke. When I first heard it the difference was so dramatic from the Savoy recordings I thought he'd just played a week opposite Buddy Rich's band or something! Definitely sounds more like someone who is going for it!

Then, just today, I stumbled upon this.....

Wow! Nice aggressive jazz drumming! Lots of single stroke language, toms, and Kenny Clarke sounds as modern as any current drummer! I think this gives a much more accurate view of what Kenny Clarke was playing like on gigs!

I guess the lesson for me is to keep searching out different sources of the great players. Also Clarke's playing, like all of the greats is complex, nuanced, and situational.
If anyone builds a time machine I'd go to 52nd St. in New York in the '40s. I'm sure Kenny Clarke would consistently blow my mind! :)

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The rise and fall of the studio musician

This post of was inspired by thoughts I had upon hearing of the passing of drumming great Hal Blaine. Mr. Blaine was part of a unique group of musicians that played on many of the hits of the '60s and '70s. They were almost always uncredited for their work. Hal Blaine's group ( dubbed the Wrecking Crew ) was located in California, but there have many examples of similar situations in various locales and eras, wherever commercial recordings are made. It is interesting to note, this sort of exclusive society of people who played on the vast majority of recordings hasn't ever really existed beyond the movies/television and the Pop?rock area. For instance, there was no "ghost' piano player on the Goldberg Variations  and then Glenn Gould was hired to be it's good looking, eccentric face. As well, there doesn't seem to be any incidence of say, Johnny Griffin going in to record at Blue Note and his work being substituted for a tenor player with more "studio chops".

Let me be clear, I think it's great that, eventually, the great Mr. Blaine and his cohorts, along with the people who played for Motown, etc. got their due. The other side of this, however, is the recognition of the studio musician also led to its fetishization. AS well, music magazines and bands like Steely Dan's tendency to use a different band for every tune furthered this attitude among musos. I think the feeling in the recording industry ( at least the commercial side of it ) was that if you didn't have one of the "cats", you weren't going to have a good recording at all. This led to a lot of musicians               ( especially the drummers ) in bands being replaced on recordings. Check out the documentary on Chicago ( Now More Than Ever ) and hear the frankly heartbreaking story about how Danny Seraphine was replaced on some tracks without being informed! What makes this particularly bizarre is that, at the time, Chicago was signed to Warner Bros., a label with considerably big pockets. So, if producer David Foster wasn't satisfied with Seraphine's playing, he could have told the rest of the band to chill for a couple of days and worked with Chicago's actual drummer on the intricacies of the click track etc. It's interesting to note that when Bob Ezrin worked with Kiss, he did pretty much what I've just described. He has more patience, I guess.

I believe this whole worshipping of one way to play, sound, etc. or that there's one absolute way to play a tune led to recordings eventually sounding more generic. If a limited amount of people play on all the hits, aren't the hits all going to sound the same after awhile?                                                

Another issue is that bands have alchemy, and as soon as one person is removed, that alchemy is destroyed. I don't think it's a coincidence that the Beatles' recordings didn't truly capture the imagination of the listening public until Ringo Starr was established as their recording drummer. Ringo was of a similar age and had the same influences as the rest of the band, but Andy White, although a very capable drummer, did not. This is borne out on the out takes that White plays on. Lightning will probably strike me for this, but I've always felt that Steely's Dan's best drummer was Jim Hodder, the one who played all their original gigs. Which leads me to......

Another aspect of this is loyalty. A recording is a reward for doing all the crummy gigs at county fairs where the drums get covered in dirt and horse manure. It's a payback for all the low pay, tough load-ins, and lack of sleep. There's no better way for a young player to get experience recording than actually doing it. Imagine how the world would have been different if Miles Davis hadn't used Tony Williams in the studio because he thought he should have someone more experienced!

Let me make this abundantly clear. I have nothing but love and admiration for all the studio greats that have made such great music, I'm just suggesting that at times, there may be other options.


Monday, April 8, 2019

How flexible are your ears?

PLEASE NOTE: This is not a post about learning how to wiggle your ears. ( Although I've always been jealous of people who can do that. )

                            Potentially an ear wiggler!

No, today I was going to talk about how we all tend to listen to all music in the same way, despite it's differences and the variety of things we can learn from it.

Example A
My theory teacher when I was an undergrad at McGill introduced me to this piece and I've loved it ever since. Check it out....

Now, what do I love about  the Hadyn Variations? Well, the orchestration is beautiful, it's a great way to learn about taking a musical theme and varying it, and the melody is very pretty. If I was listening for a deep funky groove, or lopsided rhythms, or electric instruments, I would be very disappointed.

Example B
This artist actually performed in my hometown of Regina, Saskatchewan when I was a teen and this represents a very compelling era of his music for me.

In this case, I really like the poetry of the lyrics, the groovy clavichord and percussion, and even the relative lo-fi of the recording. Super exotic instruments? Wild orchestrations? Nope. I actually know a couple of Jazz musicians I know and admire a lot who reject Reggae completely because it doesn't have many chord changes! Huh? And one of these people EVEN DOUBLES ON DRUMS!!! If you can't appreciate Sly Dunbar's fantastic drumming on this, I don't really know how to respond!

Finally, this is an artist I've listened to a lot, although I slept on this particular recording until recently

No, Paul Motian's music does not have blazing displays of technique, and in this case, much Bebop language or much of a tight groove. But, I'm not listening for those things so I can enjoy the deep improvisatory vibe, the beautiful instrumental colouring etc.

The point is, there's tons of great music to listen to, enjoy, and learn from as long as we don't view it all with the same expectations!!! Enjoy!