Thursday, June 23, 2011

Colours! I've spelled this word correctly (I'm Canadian!)

I would like to thank Mike Yates for the suggestion for this blog. He asked to explain about getting different sounds on the drums and incorporating them into one's playing. This is a subject near and dear to my heart! Ever since I started playing, I have always looked for alternate sounds on the instrument. Like a lot of things in music, I think the more time we spend looking for sounds, the more we'll find them and be able to integrate them into the things we do. I might be so bold as to say I feel it's a drummer's responsibility to keep searching for sounds the instrument will reveal. If we spend time with the instrument, it will start to show us it's secrets.
I'll now discuss some of the ways I think about colours on the drums.
The way I see it, we can create unorthodox sounds in 3 basic ways.

1. What we're hitting the drums (or any sound source) with.
2. Treating or preparing the drums (or sound source).
3. Using unusual sound sources that aren't normally associated with the drum set.

Here's a little solo I improvised today. Let's look at it and then I'll discuss the types of sounds and how I achieved them. Oh, before I forget, don't feel that all your sound source ideas have to be completely original. When I can remember who I got certain ideas from, I will give them credit.

Phew! Not a particularly flattering camera angle.
Anyway, I started off with a toy noisemaker form the dollar store. You can experiment with holding toys like this against the drums to make them resonate.
I then was flicking the drums with my fingertips and rubbing my nails against the head surface. I've never really used my nails so much (although I do a lot of b.s. hand drumming) and I got the concept from a Don Vickery clinic.
Next some playing around with a coat hanger on the cymbal ( Other things I've used would include chopsticks and plastic cutlery) while I use a brush container in the left hand. Then I join in with a tambouring played with my left foot. That's a case where I'm playing a very standard thing , but it sounds more exotic because it's a different sound source than hi-hat. It's important to rest your foot on the tambourine and strike it with the heel of your foot. I copped this from Jeff Ballard. On to brushes/hand. Also I like playing with the snare mechanism to create effects and there's my bike bell! I've always thought cymbal stands use up a lot of space and if you can find something to hang/attach on them, it's always a good thing. I like to try to hear what all the parts of the drums and cymbals sound like. We usually view hitting the wing nut of the cymbal stand as a mistake but it's a great sound! ( Thank you Guy Nadon!) Also different parts of the hi-hat stand have different pitches (Sherman Ferguson).
A simple way of "preparing" the drum set is to place something on the drum surface to limit it's resonance. In this case I've used some splash cymbals but blankets, towel etc. work well too.
Different left foot sound source (bike horn). Back to the toy noise maker. and ended with getting harmonics out of a cymbal (hold the stick like a pencil and rub the tip across the cymbal). The great Montreal drummer Pierre Tanguay taught me that trick.

So, there's lots of sounds. Get experimenting and try to surprise yourself.

Sunday, June 19, 2011


Hey all.
Many of the basic drum rudiments can be combined. If we analyze a paradiddle it is really just two single strokes and a double stroke, then repeated using the opposite hand. With that in mind, I have combined two of my favorite sounds on the drums., the buzz stroke and the flam. I call it the Blam. I have a pretty extensive article on this coming out in a drumming publication but for now I thought I'd film myself playing around with the concept. I've used the idea in 3 basic ways. Buzzing the main note of a flam, deadstroking either the main note or the grace note, and buzzing the grace note. Hopefully it will be clear in the next 3 examples.

...And speaking of Blams! Let's dig some Brothers Johnson! How can you argue with lyrics like "Got so much style in your strut, can't keep my eyes offa you know what"!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


I'd like to thank Jon Tuyp for the suggestion for this post. He was asking about the opening track on Ted's Warren Commission's 2nd recording, ("Songs For Doug") entitled "Haiku". He wanted me to explain a little about the rhythmic devices used in it. Before I do that, here's a live video of the band playing that tune in Markham in 2008.

Ah! You gotta love outdoor gigs!
Anyway, about the tune.

Monday, June 13, 2011

More Metronome Fun!

Very quick one today. Just another way to work on the metronome time stuff.
Lately I've been just playing the ride rhythm on the snare with brushes or on the cymbal with a stick. I've been setting the evil device to 58 or so ( this makes it a sort of medium up tempo) and using 1 click per bar, making the click beat 1 of every bar, the + of 1 of every bar, beat 2 of every bar, and so on until you've played the click on every possible part of the bar. You can also try playing halftime and keep where the click is straight in the original tempo, or try blowing over it, experiment. I've been finding it quiet tough but I think it's doing a lot for my accuracy, hopefully it will for you too!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Peter Hum interviews me.

Hey all,
Here's a quick interview I did with Peter Hum of the Ottawa Citizen regarding swing and younger players. I hope you dig it......

1) Drummer-wise, what are some of the big milestones in terms of the development of swinging?

I guess one of the main developments in swinging would be the transition drummers made from keeping time with drums (people like Baby Dodds) to using the cymbals more to keep time (Papa Jo Jones, Kenny Clarke). I think it's very important to check out the earlier pre-bebop style of playing, both in terms of listening and attempting to play that way. It's very challenging and some older players never made the transition to a more cymbal-based feel.

2) Surely drummers such as Elvin Jones, Tony Williams and Jack DeJohnette must have been pushed ride-cymbal playing forward in the 1960s and after.

Yes, I would mention Tony, Elvin, and Jack. I think what's happened since are minor movements forward but many great players.

3) From the mid-1980s on, how influential has Jeff “Tain” Watts been?

I think Jeff Watts has been very influential, but a lot of people don't focus on his great feel. For me, everything I've heard him play has swung hard, from Wynton's first album to now.

4) What do you think of the influence of other musical genres on swinging?

There are many contemporary influences, such as Drum n' Bass.

Regardless, if young players learn and respect the music with good taste and judgment they can add in any contemporary influence and it will sound great. A good example of a young player who has come up through the gospel thing and plays great is Larnell Lewis. He can do all the crazy stuff you want but also plays great grooves.

5) How would you describe the relationship that your students at University of Guelph and Mohawk College have with swinging? How does it compare with the take that you had with swinging when you were younger, the take that you have with it now?

As far as the students go, some of them have dedicated themselves to the swing feel and some haven't. Development of the swing beat takes a lot of effort and listening. The thing is that to play swing, you have to figure out how to play that ride cymbal in a way that's meaningful for you. You also have to love playing that rhythm. You have to be happy to play that rhythm on the cymbal alone, and have everyone that hears it (including the person playing it) believe in it as a world unto itself. I hear a lot of great players including some students, some of my contemporaries, as well as internationally renowned players, that don't convince me with their ride cymbal and in my opinion, don't swing.

6) Is Dwayne Burno right to say that the majority of today's young jazz musicians can barely swing?

I'm not sure about the majority of players. I certainly hear some young players that make me feel good when they play. On the other hand, it does feel like some of the aspects of some of the current jazz coming out of younger musicians (odd time signatures galore, mainly straight 8th grooves etc.) sometimes occur so much because maybe they can't make 4/4 swing work for them. As I said before, it takes a long time to be able to play it convincingly.

7) Here's something that Jeff Ballard, during a masterclass last year, told a group of students:

You guys have lost the opportunity to play with the guys who have invented this stuff. So if you're playing with us, we're an echo away, a generation after, you know? What's going to happen to swing, in a way? Seeing it being played by Art Blakey, seeing it played by Ed Blackwell, seeing Ray Brown play, seeing Max Roach play... We've had that, and not on YouTube. Being at the gig, playing with Stan Getz, playing with Ray Charles, playing with Dizzy Gillespie, playing with Lou Donaldson, playing with Buddy Montgomery, Wes Montgomery's brother. That's changed. These guys have gone.

To answer Jeff Ballard's question, what's going to happen to swing?

I think there will always be people swinging, even if there's not a huge amount of them. One of the coolest and great things about swing (especially from the drummer's perspective) is that it supports so many different ways of playing it. From Elvin's triplets to Billy Higgins "almost straight, but not quite" to Kenny Clarke's very clipped rhythm. I think players that are dedicated to swing will keep developing it.

8) Among drummers that are roughly our age or younger than us, who do like when it comes to swinging, and why? To throw a few names out for your consideration, what can you say about: Bill Stewart? Brian Blade? Jeff Ballard? Eric Harland? Antonio Sanchez? Ari Hoenig? Chris Dave? Who am I missing?

There are a lot of great players currently. I love Bill Stewart's assimilation of older players yet he's managed to create a very distinctive style and feel, especially with some of the "almost straight" feel I was mentioning earlier.

Brian Blade's also another great example. When I first heard him live some years back one of the things that occurred to me was that no matter how abstract or traditional someone played, they love to have him in their band. Basically because EVERYTHING he plays feels so great. This is something that Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan figured out as well as all the jazz players.

Antonio Sanchez is also I great example of a player that to me has researched jazz and swing playing very extensively. I've heard him play in reasonably traditional acoustic settings where, if you didn't know all the other things he's able to do, you'd think he was strictly into bebop, because he pllays the style so completely.

One current player I really love is Ferenc Nemeth, best known for his work with Lionel Loueke. Strangely enough, I haven't heard him play swing yet. He's such a great groovy player I would be very shocked if I didn't really dig it.

Interestingly enough, I also heard some great swing playing from some players that aren't associated with it. On CBC's "Tonic" last night I heard some GREAT guitar trio playing, although I didn't have a clue who it was. Turns out I was listening to Lenny Breau being accompanied by Rick Danko and Levon Helm (best known for their work with the band). Beautiful. Amazing feel. I would confess that moved me way more than a lot of musicians that the students are taking about or are in the Jazz magazines these days.

I was also thinking I'd love to hear Questlove play swing. I bet the feel would be dynamite because he (like Levon) has great respect for all the music he plays and isn't afraid to play simply.

Okay, there you have. I also recently came across this video of Mike Downes, Bernie Senensky, and myself backing up Charles McPherson in Toronto. Hopefully it swings!

Friday, June 10, 2011

HAPPY 100th!!!!

Welcome to my 100th posting. I don't feel like a day over 80!
A couple of videos. Just working with a bit of poly metric stuff. What's a little different for me is I'm using 5/4 as the home time signature. I tend to find these things give me a lot more difficulty when I'm not in 4/4 and I have to work hard to "hear' the 5. For the bass drum ostinato I stole the Max Roach "leave out beat three" one. I like the way it divides the bar in half. The first video is a bit of dotted quarter nonsense and then in the second one I'm doing a 9 beat stick against the 5.

I'd also like to share some music I've been enjoying. Go pick them up, you won't regret it.

Richie Beirach- Trust
Trio session from the mid-90s with Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette. Stunning!

Herb Geller- Gypsy. One of the few recordings of Scott LaFaro and Elvin together and a nice chance to learn some Sondheim tunes.

See you at 101!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Faking it (even if you're not making it!)

Today I'd like to discuss the subject of preparation. Obviously, the more time we devote to learning the music, our instruments, etc, the better we can perform on the gig or recording we're doing. In the world of professional music (especially improvised music) however, sometimes we have to do the best we can with the limited time and resources we have. Let me provide an example.
This tune is from a great Freddie Hubbard recording entitled "Here To Stay". The tune is called "Nostrand and Fulton", named after an intersection in Brooklyn near where Freddie lived. The tune has a very odd form. 4 bars of 4/4, 9 bars of 3/4, 4 bars of 4/4, 12 bars of 3/4. Philly Joe Jones is the drummer. Let's listen to him navigate this tricky tune.

Now, I don't think it's unreasonable to suggest Philly got a bit off the rails at times on this one. The hi-hat placement at times really suggests he doesn't always know where he is. He doesn't let this deter him though. He plays with his usual great feel and panache. In other words, even though he's a bit messed up, he's still going for it and playing it like he means it. The Blue Note recordings had a days paid rehearsal the day before the recording but maybe Philly couldn't make it, or they didn't have time to rehearse all the tunes, or maybe when the red light went on, he occasionally lost his focus (been there, done that!)
This is not meant in any way to denigrate Philly Joe Jones. He was an artist of the highest order. In fact it's great to hear someone of his calibre struggling a bit with the material. We're all human, you know? Also, I like the loose phrasing that's created by him searching for the form sometimes, although part of the reason this works is because Cedar Walton and Reggie Workman are laying it down so strongly. I hope Philly bought them a beer (or something) for their efforts after the session was over. Did Philly Joe never record again after this session? Of course not. I think this recording is a great example of how Jazz music is about the journey as much as the destination. So if you're traveling somewhere with Philly Joe Jones, no matter what happens on the way, you're going to have an adventure!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Left foot clave (Not just for Cuban music!)

Hey toute le monde!
I had a great time playing last weekend. Getting to create music with people who perform at such a high level certainly has inspired me to keep practicing and trying to improve, as I hope to for the rest of my life!
Here's a little thing I started fooling around with today. I've been working on including left foot clave (2:3, in this case) into time playing in a swing context. Here's some footage of me playing clave, four on the bass drum, standard jazz ride and the melody to "Cubano Chant" (RIP Ray Bryant). Thanks to Jon McCaslin for the tune idea.

I've been also trying this with different things on the bass drum. Splashing the hi-hat on some of the clave, and moving the left hand around. I haven't filmed any of this stuff (C'mon, why should I do all of the work?) but you get the idea.
Best of luck with this. Have fun.

Friday, June 3, 2011


Had a lot of fun playing my piano gig and thanks to the patience of Brent and Jessie, I am slowly improving.
I thought I'd talk about some things in context of some gigs I'm doing this weekend. On Saturday I'm playing at the Rex with Mike Murley's septet and on Sunday I'm at the Glen Gould studio with Seamus Blake.
Now the gig with Murley will be very fun and I'm very used to the material and in fact, a lot of it has mainly been performed/recorded with only me as the drummer. As a result of this I have no possible "bandstand ghosts" to compare myself to.
The gig with Seamus (which will be just as much fun, mind you) will be a little different. I haven't played with him for a while, and as usual, he's been playing with the cream of the crop of the New York scene. Here's a great example of him playing a tune we'll probably do on Sunday with the incredible Bill Stewart on drums:

Now, there would be a time not so long ago when my thinking after viewing the clip above would go something like this:

-"Bill sounds great with Seamus."

-"Bill Stewart can do a lot of things I can't on the instrument."

- "Therefore, I must SUCK!!!!!!"

I think one of the benefits of being a little older ( and not necessarily being concerned with becoming a star or anything like that) is I've come to accept my playing: all of it, with all it's strengths and weaknesses. I can't play like Bill Stewart, but I can contribute to the music in my own way, and that's all I can do. Also, trying to play like some lame half-baked version of Mr. Stewart would be the worst thing I can do, and would be insulting to both of us.

I guess what I'm getting at is that we work, practice, and listen etc, and then when it's time to play (or record) we need to accept what we can contribute and do that to the best of our ability.

Keep on working on being the best you you can!