Monday, January 25, 2021

Interview This Tuesday with Jon McCaslin on Instagram Live

 Please join Jon McCaslin and myself for an interview this Tuesday Jan. 26th. We'll talk about the Riders, pizza, and maybe even music! :) 


Saturday, January 23, 2021

Impressions of the L80 Low Volume Cymbals from Zildjian

 Those of you outside central Canada may not be aware of this, but Ontario is now in total lockdown until at least mid-February. For me, this means the only place I can practice drums is in a small 2-bedroom apartment I share with my wife, who works from home. There are also 2 other units in the building, and the walls are rather thin. So, as well as ordering some mesh drumheads from Attack, that are still on their way, I bought a pack of 3 of Zildjian's low volume cymbals. and I thought I would tell you what I think….

First of all, Zildjian claims they feel very much like regular cymbals, and I think this is totally accurate. The rebound, etc. is exactly the same and therefore they are very comfortable to play. The pack I bought included a sat of "14 hi-hats, an 18" crash/ride, and a 14" crash. 

The pros

-All the cymbals simply couldn't go beyond a very low volume, no matter how hard I struck them.

-Although there were certain sounds that normal cymbals had that weren't available (more on that in the cons section), I found some sounds were easier to get. Harmonics (scraping the drumstick tip across the diameter of the cymbal.), for example. 

- All the cymbals had lots of stick definition, because there was very little ring. 

-I found the 18" particularly charming. It almost behaved like a flat ride, including it's fast crash and prominent attack. 

-The hats also were quite interesting. There was a bright but sort of airy sound when played with the foot  that would be fun to play in conjunction with a more conventional hi-hat sound.

-It was reasonably priced. 3 cymbals for just a little over $300.

The cons

-I mentioned that the 18" behaved like a flat ride. This includes it not having any discernible bell sound, even though it has a standard cymbal profile. (This is true of all the cymbals)

-I don't know about you, but I have rarely ever used any 14" as a crash, let alone a low volume one. The cymbal pack really includes 3 hi-hat cymbals, one of which you can use as a crash. I get it. A small cymbal keeps costs down (and the package was was inexpensive, see above), it's easier to package etc. The "14" just didn't have much going on by itself.

Overall, I'm very pleased. Watch out for my review of Attack's mesh low volume drumheads when I receive them. :) 


Wednesday, January 20, 2021

My upcoming solo gig : Some considerations

 Since I have an upcoming online solo gig, (don't worry, I will be posting LOTS of information about the details) I thought I would go over some of my thought processes prior to doing any solo work.

…With the current proliferation of online concerts, and most of these being individual rather than group affairs, I think it's important to note that all instruments are not created equally. A singer/songwriter might have very few adjustments needed to their repertoire. The sound of playing guitar and singing, for example, is a very satisfying and complete sound. Drumming and singing? To many ears, it sounds like the rest of the band is missing! As well, drums are mainly an accompanying instrument, so I can't simple just do what i do normally in a band and expect to hold an audience's attention. So, just like a classical trombone player cannot simply play excepts from the last movement of symphonies where the brass comes in, I need to consider my material carefully.

Of course, the problem I outlined above can also be an opportunity. Solo drums are an opportunity for the drummer to be in the foreground, to explore unusual forms and textures with the instrument. The drummer can perform in ways (e.g. extreme dynamic range) that may often not be suitable with an ensemble. 

In the reasonably large amount of solo drum gigs I have done, I have experimented with the balance of improvised verses written material I've performed:from drum compositions that I have written and played basically the same way every time, to completely open improvised concerts. As a Jazz musician, I tend to do at least some improvising every time I play, and I imagine this upcoming concert won't be any different.

Perhaps a subset to the balance of composed to improvised pieces, is the source material for whatever I'm playing. Is it a beat? A great American Standard? Just letting the tones of the drums and cymbals suggest melodies? Am I playing in time? Rubato? Perhaps somewhere in between? Again, I think it's important to use this opportunity to go outside what I normally do when I'm with a band! I remember a friend remarking that in a certain Max Roach solo, he played mainly drum textures and it occurred to me maybe he was playing more on the drums because we'd already heard him playing a lot of cymbals while he was playing time for all the other soloists! 

I also usually involve some textures that aren't strictly drums. I have sang and played piano as well as harmonica. I certainly don't even remotely claim any mastery over these instruments, but I do think they help keep the musical journey interesting and the audience (hopefully) motivated. it is also a fun chance to present myself as a musician outside the drums.

Finally, I like the opportunity of playing solo because it helps develop creating inspiration internally rather than relying on others to help me be creative. For sure, I love accompanying and helping whatever ensemble I'm playing in be the best it can be. However, I know that as I long as I'm open to higher creative spirit and don't get in my own way, I can take an open minded audience to interesting places. 

I hope you'll join me. :) 


Finally here's a short solo I did in the summer to give you an example ….


Monday, January 18, 2021

Join me on Facebook Live Sunday Jan. 31 4PM EST

 


Hi all, I'm doing an online solo gig at 4PM on Jan. 31. I'd love it if you could join me. Accessible via Facebook Live

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Battling the either/ors & Love the Music, hate the Business

 I recently got a chance to read 2 excellent books. One was the recent Jeff Porcaro biography, It's About Time , by Robyn Flans and Life, Billy, and the Pursuit of Happiness by Liberty DeVitto. In both reads, it reaffirmed my recent tweet that went " Most musician's experience in the business are a lot closer to Pete Best's than Ringo Starr's". Being in music can be heartbreaking at times. Being treated unfairly, the toll on personal relationships, losing gigs, etc. are all a part of the deal we make, so it's good to hear from others who experienced the same thing and came through it. A lot of what I just mentioned here applies to the Devitto book more than the Porcaro one, but even in the latter's case there is a description of Rickie Lee Jones' behaviour towards him that is relatively staggering in it's level of mind games and disrespect. It can happen to anyone, even someone with a career and resume such as Porcaro's.

The other thing both books got me thinking about is how drummer tend into 2 camps. One is the " I have incredible technique and can do circus tricks on the drum set, and can't really function with a band." The other is " drum solos suck and performance on the drums really doesn't exist UNLESS the drummer is accompanying someone." To be sure, I align with the latter more than the former, but they both feel like traps to me. (Pun unintended.)  I feel that as a drummer, it's a fun challenge to take listeners on a journey that's musical and interesting, without necessarily using  chord changes or determinate pitch. I'm also aware that on a MASSIVE number of gigs drummers play, there is little need to desire for  them to be a soloist, or even to be a functional soloist at all. HOWEVER, a lot of the greatest players of our instrument can do both. I feel that accompanying and soloing teach us different things, yet also inform each other. So, don't be afraid to work on both. :) 


Finally, let's leave the last word to Tony Williams. A drummer who was so visionary as an accompanist AND a soloist I can't really separate the two. Enjoy! 




Monday, January 11, 2021

"Bemsha Swing" . Melody on only Cymbal

Hey everyone, Happy New Year. Yes, these are challenging times, but thankfully there are creative people like Dan Weiss around who posted a great idea on Instagram that I'm ripping off here! :) 
(NOTE: if you haven't followed Dan on IG and Patreon, you really owe it to yourself. He's always posting great stuff!) 

It's a fairly simple concept. Play a melody to a tune on ride cymbal only. See what sort of different sounds you can get out of the instrument and how they can represent that melody. Here's "Bemsha Swing".

                                                   

I could lie and say in the last chorus that I was purposefully leaving out certain notes of the melody, but we've all been fed enough untruths lately to last a lifetime! In the context of my experimenting with the sounds, I missed a note here and there but even then, I think we get the general shape of the tune!

Now I'm not sure if Dan does this as well but I continued this idea by playing the same melody on the drum set, one piece at a time, until I had covered all the components of the instrument. I also did all the melodies "one limbed" at first. ( I later used two hands on the hi-hat for more options). I think this is a good way of concentrating on the composition and finding colours on each instrument without trying to get slick or busy.

So, that's it. I have  already found this helpful in my never-ending quest to play more melodically. Have fun and stay tuned for some collaborative blogging in the near future!                                                      

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Practicing on a (Time) Budget

 Happy New Year! 

Hop everyone is staying safe and keeping positive.

Although Ontario is currently in lockdown again, I am able to keep using my practice space because it's attached to a recording studio, and they have special dispensation. The down side is, when there's recording going on, I can't make much sound in my room.

So, even though it might be a bit of a review, I thought I would discuss elements that will make a short period of practice time much more effective.

1. Review what you worked on from your last practice session.

It's good to try and remember the last thing you worked on so you can build on it. Write it down if you need to, but even being able to recall things you're practicing is good for your memory.

2. Don't try and do too much

Just pick a couple of things and you can alternate them if you get bored. For extra fun and challenge, try and integrate the 2 ideas. This is great for thematic thinking and playing.

3.  Any amount of time spent with your instrument is valuable.

Play along with a recording one time through. See how long you can play a groove without wavering. Solo on a Jazz standard. Play single strokes at a challenging tempo and work on staying relaxed. I can't tell you how many times I've gotten something great out of a 5 or 10 minute practice session.

There is a lot of mythology around players that practiced for hours and hours, and I'm not knocking anyone with the opportunity ( and more importantly the patience and mental capacity ) to do this. I'm just saying, if you only have an hour, there's a lot you can do with that. :) 


Enjoy yourselves and here's to an improved 2021!