Monday, December 19, 2011

3 Elvin Ideas

I just did my piano gig last night so I'm hoping I'll have a little more time to post. although this season is usually busy around our house.
I thought I'd post 3 Elvin ideas.
First here's the source. I love all of Wayne Shorter's music, but I have a particular fondness for his 60s era Blue Note albums and "Night Dreamer" displays Mr. Elvin Ray Jones at the top of his form. Here he is on "Oriental Folk Song":

While I was talking to somebody about the feel, I noticed some voicings on the drums I particularly liked. (They all occur on the in head.) Now, I could have picked any bar of this and they would have been just as great. That's the thing about someone of Elvin's greatness. There's always more!
Here are the 3 ideas:

Here's me loosely playing around with these ideas.

...And here's using this stuff with more of a 2 feel on the cymbal.....

If I don't post again in the next week, Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Gear and stuff

I was just looking at an article on Paul Motian's cymbals and it reminded of another way this particular artist went his own way. Mr. Motian played cymbals from a combination of companies.
I assume he found what he wanted, and then stuck with it. He probably would have been in more ads etc. if he would have been exclusive to one manufacturer, but that obviously wasn't very important to him. I mention this because I think I am guilty of getting overly concerned with endorsements and press. Now, I have worked with both Vic Firth and Zildjian for some time now, and both companies have been great to me and have given me a lot of support over the years, which I'm very grateful for. I do feel, however, especially in my pursuit of a drum deal, that I have lost focus on what's important occasionally. I have drums that sound good and work well. Some I've paid for and some I have not. I don't necessarily need any more gear, and I think some of this is in pursuit of getting my ego stroked, which has nothing to do with the music.

I also feel sometimes I have overly focused on the gear. Some years back, my 20" old K Zildjian started cracking. This caused me a huge amount of stress. I had been playing that cymbal since high school and assumed I would be playing it for the rest of my life. Before I decided what to do about it I continued playing with other various Zildjians I had owned, both old and new. Did I suddenly forget how to play? No. Did the quality of my playing go on a massive downward turn? I don't think so. Ultimately this was a good experience of teaching me regardless of the gear, I have a sound and a way of playing, and that's going to be there no matter what I play on. (P.S. Roger Flock drilled a couple of holes in the cymbal, and it's been fine for about 10 years now.)
I no longer face drums (or cymbals) that I've never played before with trepidation and trust in the fact that I can create something with whatever is there. Apparently artists such as Joey Baron and Billy Hart often don't even bring cymbals on the road with them anymore. Why should they? Their talent and musicality will transcend any gear their using. Get the sound you want in your head and heart and it can go with you anywhere!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Jazz Jobber

I just had a very positive experience playing what's known around these parts as a Jazz Jobber. A "Jobber' or "Jobbing Gig" would be defined as any engagement where you're playing ambient music for an event. Around Montreal they call these gigs "Club Dates".

As I mentioned, I has a great time at the gig last night. The clients (it was a wedding) did everything right. They were very relaxed, they trusted us to do our thing and let us do it, they fed us, etc. etc. They couldn't have been nicer or easier to deal with. Now certainly, every gig of this type isn't always this easy or fun, but there's also a lot we as musicians can do to make it go smoothly. I'm also going to point out some common errors I feel people make in this type of gig environment.

1. Remember your purpose for being there.
Pretty well everything else I mention could fit under this main category. Whatever the even you're playing, be it wedding, fashion show, etc. You are not the centre 0f attention. Just as whoever does the floral arrangement, makes the meal, etc. Keep this in mind and you'll be a lot less frustrated and better fulfill your job.

2. Make sure your payment is in line with the gig.
This is also a way to keep yourself from being frustrated. These sort of jobs where you're not being paid close attention to should pay more than when you're playing for a strictly listening crowd. As soon as I'm in a situation where I absolutely have to wear a suit and I'm playing an event hall or a synagogue rather than a club, I generally expect to be paid more.

3. Leave your new symphonic work at home.
Okay, I'm being a bit facetious, but it's unbelievable how many times I've played an event and someone wants to play all original music. This is not why you're there! In the case of a "Jazz Jobber" this is a chance to polish up your "Great American Songbook" repertoire. By that I mean, tunes by Gershwin, Cole Porter, and the like and they should be memorized! I sometimes play with someone who has a book of original tunes and we played an event where the power stayed on but the lights went out. Since this person didn't know any standard tunes, we were stuck until we had light again. In a more experienced band the conversation might have went something like, "Do you know It had to be you?" " Sure, what key?" " I dunno, F?" "Sure". I often tell bands I coach that a lot of what I call "Broadway Standards" can function on Jazz gigs and Jobbers.

4. You will be ignored. Revel in it!
I also was in a situation where the bandleader was miffed that people at the wedding weren't clapping for our solos! This floored me! At a lot of these events people are experiencing life changing events and are seeing friends and family that they may have not seen in years. It doesn't matter if you're playing bass or we had a seance and brought back Paul Chambers. They have other concerns besides your hot solo!!! I've mentioned this before but the "flying under the radar" quality of these gigs actually offers a lot of freedom in a way. As long as you're playing standards you can can go for it within those confines as long as you.....

5. Don't play too loud.
This is essential. if people can't visit while you're playing, they won't be happy and you won't get hired again. For us drummers this is great for working on brushes or playing delicately with sticks. View it as a fun challenge and get your low volume chops together!

Alright, now put on your suit, be prepared to eat some good food, play soft, hang with your musician friends and play some standards. Not a bad way to make some $, is it?

Thursday, December 1, 2011


Greetings earthlings!

Today I'd like to chat a little about taste in music. Taste is something that takes a while to develop but like everything else, there are ways to work on it and hasten it's progress.
I like to think of taste as a combination of maturity, experience, and good judgement. Now some may ask, how do I work on experience if I've hardly played any gigs yet? Good question. Getting experience working professionally is invaluable , and there's no substitute for that. Experience listening, however, is something we can all work on every day, regardless of where we are in our professional drumming lives. When you listen to something, try to figure out why the drummer (or whatever instrument you're concentrating on) played what he/she played rather than worrying so much about what they played. What is the context in which they're performing. A lot of things people play in the moment don't look like much outside the context they were played in. That's why sometimes a transcription of a drum part alone doesn't really tell the whole story. That's also why there are a lot of great drum soloists that don't necessarily sound good with a band. If you hear stuff that sounds to your ears as inappropriate, try to figure out the why of that as well.

I recently had a young player express frustration to me because a bass player and I told him two completely opposite things when critiquing a performance of his. I remember experiencing the same thing myself when in school. The thing is, I'm sure we both had a point. The problem is often less experienced players only do certain things halfway, or think they're doing something when they aren't. (I remember one time Dave Holland quite severely taking me to task on the later point, and he was absolutely right.) As a young musician try to avoid rigid thinking such as "A ballad always has to go to double X feel in the solos." or "You should always switch to brushes for a bass solo." Both statements are good general concepts that will work well a lot of the time, but they're not absolutes. Nothing in music is. Also, strong, mature playing will sustain many different concepts. That's why 2 great players can play completely opposite things on a performance and they both will work. In fact, in the hands of a very strong player, they convince you that their way is the only way to play it! When I heard Victor Lewis play recently, he played things that were almost audacious, (and I mean that in a very positive way, the man is fearless!) yet they always worked and sounded beautiful. In less mature and experienced hands the same material would have been a disaster!

Try to think of listening as a flight simulator for your ears. Your not actually flying the plane, but you're getting valuable information for when you do actually take the controls. Playing along with recordings would also fit in with this concept.

Finally, keep in mind taste is something that you can work on, but you will also acquire with time, just from living your life and learning more about the world. When I was younger, I wouldn't say I played with bad taste as much as no taste. I would play things for the wrong reason, trying to justify things I had worked on rather than focusing on dynamic range and groove, for example. In fact, if there was some sort of award for "most inappropriate drumming in a show band context", my work with Saskatchewan Express in the early 80s would certainly be a contender. I apologize Vern and Carol, I was young and stupid!

Here's some great and tasteful drumming from Nashville great Buddy Harman. Check out how he maneuvers that little four stroke ruff throughout the bar. Very thematic. Mr. Harman also created other iconic drum parts on tunes such as Roy Orbison's "Pretty Woman" as well.