Friday, December 17, 2010


That's all I can say. I'll be posting some new high-hat stuff in the next couple of days.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

More Compelling Music

Hey everyone!
I thought I would post some Music I've found interesting lately. The now based in T.O. drummer, Morgan Childs, hipped me to this one. There's a couple of things about it I really dig. One, is that because so many of the songs are familiar, we can catch snippets of tunes we know through the "Dozen Billy Joels Arguing" sound. Also, it has a great shape because as more of the songs end, (most are around the 4 minute mark) the texture gradually thins out and we can discern more detail after that great sea of sound at the beginning. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I really like it.

Up next is Edgar Varese's "Ionisation", a great percussion ensemble piece that I actually played when I first went to university. I rediscovered the piece while reading Frank Zappa's autobiography. Again, this piece has a great shape and notice how many "melodies" in the piece are created by instruments of indeterminate pitch. Beautiful!

Finally, we have Steve Reich"s "Clapping Music". I love Reich's hypnotic/phasing type ideas.
So now I want to play 3 drum solos that sound like the music we just heard. That would be something!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Ralph Bowen and Michael Stuart at the Rex

Just showing at little footage from last night's gig at the Rex. It also featured Jim Vivian and Brian Dickenson. We had a great time and I think it shows on this excerpt from Ralph's tune "Soul Proprietor". Enjoy!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Proud Husband!

Hey everyone,
This is a little out of the realm of our usual discourse but I just wanted to let everyone know about my wife's patent. Kate works for RIM (they make BlackBerrys) and is, frankly, quite brilliant. Anyway, if you're curious you can view the patent here.
Way to go Kate. I don't think I'll be filing any patents soon.....unless I can invent brushes that dispense bacon!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Dynamics in action!

I'm always amazed how much dynamics give life to music of any style. In the following example a relatively simple tune (this isn't a bad thing, in fact it's one of things that makes it great) is given extra form and excitement through sheer dynamics. The "verse" basically starts when the singer holds up his hands and the band responds by coming way down. The "chorus" happens right after the vocalist's scream and the band plays very loud. We can hear this structure even though the band is basically playing the same parts over the same chord throughout. Notice the intensity of the time and the groove doesn't change at all through these dynamic shifts.
Okay, enough said. Here's one of the greatest artists the United States has ever produced, Mr. James Brown.

Now let's all get together, in any kind of weather, and do....the camel walk!

Monday, December 6, 2010

One more time ( X 5 ) and other points to ponder

Greetings everyone,
I thought today I would discuss some things. Let's face it. I'm a geezer, and geezers love to talk!

I'm practicing slightly differently starting the past week. Whenever I get a new lick, example etc. together I'm making sure I play it correctly at least 5 times before I go on to something else. I've mentioned this to people before but when I was younger I was notorious for ripping through new material quickly. The trouble with that was, I rarely retained the new stuff or found a musical context for it. What made me do that? MY GIGANTIC EGO! I had to somehow "prove" I was practicing and learning, rather than getting the most out of any small thing I worked on. I now spend much longer on very small ideas, lifts, licks, etc. I'm not wasting time when I practice now, but I sure did then. Why? Because I had a) a very limited musical context for things I'd learned and b) no way of performing the new material under less than ideal conditions.

Let's explore my last 2 points. I say I had a limited musical context for what I learned because I usually learned to play the idea in a limited way. A great piece of advice the great Joe LaBarbera gives his students is to practice everything they learn at 3 different tempos and 3 different volume levels. Now, that's an easy concept to remember, but it does take some time and patience to carry it out. The benefit is we end up learning the lick much better and it will become more natural and will probably even come out in our playing organically. I know if I only practice something loud, I will only be able to perform it loudly (if at all) on the gig. If I only practice something fast, that's the only way I will be able to play it.
Imagine being able to play some speed metal lick really quietly with a piano trio. That would be very cool and we'd be getting the most mileage out of the practicing that's been done.

The second point is being able to play new material under less than ideal conditions. What are less than ideal conditions? Every gig you play baby! Think about it. In your practice room, nobody is watching us so we're not likely to be nervous. We are used to the sound of the drums and the sound of the room. We can stop whenever we want. We haven't had to get our drums somewhere and all the stresses that go with that. We don't have jet lag etc., etc, etc.
I would even go so far as to say that if we play something correctly once in the practice room once that we got lucky and it doesn't even count.

I've had some interesting experiences in the past year playing in public on piano. I remember learning a tune and usually when I start a play the chords from the root (bottom note of the chord) and move up the harmony from there. Now, in any band that has a bass player, there's not much point in playing that bottom note because it's already covered. So I worked on piano chord voicings without the root for the gig. At the gig, however, we played the tune at a faster tempo and I couldn't play the rootless voicings. I had to spell every chord from the bottom up. Why did this happen? Because I didn't know the material well enough!
All of you who have been playing for any length of time will have things that you can play under any conditions. That's why we practice. To get more and more things we play past conscious thought. Then we can fully participate in the music.

Okay the geezer is finished! For now.............

Friday, December 3, 2010

Scott Marshall's band in Calgary

Top o' the season to everyone.
Today I'm posting 4 videos from a recent gig in Alberta. Scott hired a pro videographer to do this so it has some nice production values as well as sounding pretty good. I realise that posting all 4 seems a bit excessive but certain viewers (read my Mom) would like to see all of it.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Wear your (hi) hat proudly part 2

I was watching some of the drummers at Mohawk play in performance class today and that got me thinking of hi-hat "splashes" (playing the hi-hat with one's foot and releasing it quickly, creating a ringing tone.) One thing I think we want to do is be very aware of that sound and not to overuse it, or it will lose its effectiveness. Also, many players don't release the hi-hats all the way after the attack ( or sometimes the hi-hats are set too close together, see the earlier post on this.) and it creates a buzzing or sizzling sound between the hi-hat cymbals. This is a nice effect,. In fact, I'm working on this to give myself 2 kinds of hi-hat splash sounds. I think, however, many players haven't a) thought about the kind of splash sound they want or b) aren't listening to the sounds they're making. make sure whatever sounds are coming from the kit that they are the sounds you intend to make and not accidents. So all you hi-hat sizzlers, please work on sometimes getting a nice open sound from the hi-hats. To this end let's check the master at this, Mr. Jack DeJohnette:

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Inside the Drummer's Studio

Hey folks,
I'm starting a new feature at the blog today. Frequently I will talk to fellow musicians and ask them questions about things I'm curious about, and hopefully you will find the conversations edifying. I've got quite a few interesting guests lined up so I'm very excited about this. Maybe I can talk to some of them in person too, but that'd mean I'd have to clean the house!

Anyway our first guest is the wonderful Jon McCaslin. He looks like this:

Jon is a tremendous Drummer/Composer/ Bandleader/ Educator. He also hosts the great Four on the Floor blog that I have mentioned before in this space. Check it out for incredibly informative ideas and videos from the world of drumming. You can also see his detailed bio there. I asked Jon a few questions via email and was very pleased, though not surprised, by the eloquence and thoughtfulness of his responses.

1) As well as working frequently as a sideman, you also lead bands and compose for them. What do you think other instrumentalists can learn about these disciplines from drummers?

I feel very fortunate to find myself in so many different musical situations these days as both a leader and as a sideman and as a performer and a teacher. The reality of the music business as it is, you really have to wear a few different hats to make it work. As the old saying goes: “The more you can do, the more you can do!” But overall I think that having the ability to go many different musical directions makes for a very well-rounded musician/individual and just gives you that much more options to musically draw from. Ultimately, I think we are all trying to develop our own unique musical “voice” as a jazz artist and part of that process comes from playing other peoples music, checking out the history of music and studying the masters. However, at some point you really have to make the leap and seriously try to write/find your own music, make your own musical decisions, commit them to a page of paper and then organize musicians to get your music played. I think it’s all about the process of discovering who you really are as an artist.

2) Can you name a recording that was particularly influential to you?

Max Roach’s drumming on Clifford Brown’s “Study in Brown” and Klook on “Kenny Clarke Meets The Detroit Jazzmen” were both very special recordings to me during my younger years when I was first getting started around early high school. They both really inspired me to learn about the legacy of jazz drumming (keep in mind this was during the early 1990s when most of my peers were listening to Nirvana, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden!)

3) Can you name a profound live performance?

This is a tough question as there are many! I’ve been fortunate to have seen many of the masters play live over the years. Even just lately I heard Bela Fleck and the Flecktones perform here in Calgary and it was inspiring on so many levels. Jeff Coffin (saxophones) is a force!

But one performance that does really stand out for me was attending a drum clinic in 1993 at the IAJE conference in San Antonio, Texas. I was performing there with “The Classics” (drumming with my school’s vocal jazz ensemble) and I was fortunate to attend a drum clinic with none other than Tony Williams! It was just awesome. He played (on his drum set of yellow Gretsch drums with the big black dot drum heads and no less than three gigantic floor toms!) and he talked about his approach to drumming. About half way through his clinic in walked....Max Roach! Of course everyone gave Max a standing ovation and Tony introduced him appropriately (Max was, of course, was Tony’s hero). Tony proceeded to answer a few more questions from the audience in almost a witty/comical sort of manner (for example: when asked about his brush technique Tony replied that he really didn’t like the brushes (!), that he made a better spaghetti sauce than he played the brushes and that he thought that the brushes were invented by someone who didn’t like drummers very a club owner!) Then, Tony Williams invited Max Roach up on stage to play. And of course Max launches into “The Drum Also Waltzes” and from then on I was hooked and there was no looking back....

4) What are your current goals in drumming, teaching, and music?

Well, I’m currently researching and writing towards my DMA dissertation through the University of Toronto and hope to have that completed in the next year or so. I’m interested in how contemporary jazz drummers conceptualize and deal with melody in their playing (whether in the context of playing time, soloing or anything really...) My inclination is that traditional definitions of melody aren’t really broad enough to accommodate what we drummers can do in terms of creating melodies on non-pitched instruments or instruments of indeterminate pitch. There are many musical examples of drummers who do this so well (Max Roach, Roy Haynes, Ari Hoenig, Jeff Hamilton, Matt Wilson and yourself are great examples) and I’m also interviewing as many of the masters as I can to solicit their ideas. I’ll be giving you a call soon Ted!

I’m also working towards a major recording project next spring in Vancouver and plan to have another full-length album of my original music released later next year with a subsequent tour to follow. So I’m busy writing and editing my tunes for that and trying to figure out the logistics necessary for such a project. As you know, it’s a lot of work but a labor of love. I released my last album in 2003 so I’m due for my sequel! It’s going to be a good one.

In terms of the drums, above all else, I’m always trying to work on and deepen my sense of swing, time and groove at all tempos. I spend a lot of time playing with recordings (sometimes just with my ride cymbal) and with play-a-longs (like Allan Cox’s “Meet The Bass Player” - a great resource to practice wacky or oblique ideas without imposing them on other musicians on the bandstand!) Sometimes I’ll record myself playing time (with and without other musicians) and then go back, listen to the recording and try to make my comping figures more relevant and musical (I’ve got a lot out of Peter Erskine’s “Comping Game” exercise in that regards). Groove-wise I’m trying to expand my phrasing in 3/4 and playing really fast, break-neck swing tempos. I’m also big on snare drum technique and have been checking out Joe Morello’s and Tommy Igoe’s technique DVDs lately. I spend a good deal of time improvising on the drums using different set structures and have been exploring the use of space, melody, dynamics and different textures on the drums as well. I also spent some time with John Riley last summer and he gave me enough things to think about with regards to odd meters that will last me for a lifetime and then some...When I get bored on the drums (which doesn’t happen often!) I’ll pull out and work on some pages from Billy Martin’s coordination book “Riddim” or Bob McLaren’s hand written book and those always keeps me “out of the mall” (as Bob used to say). Oh yes, I always find time to work on my brush technique. You can’t forget that.

I’ve also been dedicating a significant amount of time to playing the vibraphone over the past few years. This has really forced me to apply my knowledge of jazz theory in a seriously different way. Before I really only applied my theory skills as a composer and arranger (on the piano) but dealing with jazz harmony as a real-time improviser on the vibes changes everything! I’m really digging the musical path this instrument has taken me over the past few years and I’m hoping to make the leap to another level on the vibes as well in the years to come. I even have my first gig booked on the vibraphone on April 30th of next year (yikes!) Thinking about melody and harmony from another perspective has also significantly changed the way I hear those aspects and relate to them when I’m sitting behind the drums. It’s interesting that more drummers don’t consider the vibraphone as a means to apply or learn about those elements of music.

As a teacher I’m doing a fair amount of private teaching these days and a great deal of clinics and workshops at various schools across Western Canada (and at all levels too from elementary and high schools to colleges and universities). I’m trying to develop myself as an effective communicator/motivator and hopefully inspire other drummers to learn about the great legacy of jazz drumming, percussion and the joys of improvised music on the drum set. I’m really big on fundamental technique and exploring the creative options that the drum set offers. I’ve had a great number of great teachers over the years and sincerely hope that I can continue that lineage and pass it on...

5) Has your blog changed your approach to playing or teaching?

I started blogging during the spring of 2009 as a means to share all the random tidbits of jazz drumming (and otherwise) that I came across on the web that I really enjoyed and found inspirational and thought the world needed to see and pay attention to.

How has this changed my approach to teaching? When I started posting my own thoughts and opinions on the internet (especially in the form of drum lessons) I sure had to think twice and make sure that I was clear, accurate and really believed in what it was I was writing about. Because once it’s out there on the web, it’s for the entire universe to see! Sometimes I’ll occasionally receive some flak from some anonymous internet troll but I’ve also received some great feedback from many high-profile jazz drummers so I think I’m on the right track.

How has my blog changed my approach to playing? Well, I post a lot of video clips of my favorite jazz drummers and I suspect that sometimes many aren’t even aware of the footage until it hits (whether the footage is homemade or otherwise). When one realizes that anyone with a camera on their cell phone or an iPhone can record your playing (even if you don’t know it!) it sure makes you aware that you never know who’s watching (or recording!) so it’s always best to be professional and play as though everyone is watching...(I know sort of “Big Brother’ish” isn’t it?)

6) Why is everyone from Regina, Saskatchewan obsessed with football and pizza?

Good question. I have no idea. Must be something in the water.

Go Riders!

Go Western!

(the sauce is the boss...)