Friday, March 30, 2012

Respect part 2

Recently a young band was featured in NOW magazine. I won't go into the details, you can find either online on their website or on Facebook as it generated a quite heated debate.
From my take on what they said, they were former college music majors who didn't relish their experience. They put out a video (filmed in the same college's practice room playing the school's gear, by the way) which got some hits on youtube. Good for them. What I find somewhat disturbing is how in the article they tend to dismiss the school, it's teachers, and the methods used to teach them. This is the sort of stuff journalists at independent weeklies love. "Young lions inject the staid conservative Jazz scene with new life, blah, blah, blah". Every year or so it comes along like clockwork.

The problem is:
A) They sound okay, but innovative? Hardly. Just because you've covered some current material?
That puts them squarely in a tradition that's gone on since musicians were trying to get gigs!

B) So they're young and cute and full of vinegar? They won't stay that way, and if they keep playing, how will they portray themselves as "innovative rebels" in 10 years?

and most importantly...

C) The music scene is very small. Cutting down people teaching at the schools just isn't smart. Those same teachers are active professionals that can help a lot if you treat them with respect.
I had teachers I didn't agree with. There's lots of music out there (some made by peers) that I don't care for and doesn't reach me, but in either case, I keep my mouth shut, particularly in a public forum.
We as musicians should be encouraging each other, not puffing ourselves up at the expense of people who have worked long and hard at this. It's a very poor long term plan.

...Then again, maybe if I wore a pig's head I'd get more gigs!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Lyricism and sentiment in music

A few weeks ago Jon McCaslin posted a mass email that Steve Wallace wrote about melody on his blog. Steve's musings really got me thinking about how many of the players I love to listen to and play with (regardless of what instrument they play) have a very singing quality. In other words they sound melodic because everything they play, no matter how abstract, sounds like a melody.

Steve Wallace is a good example of this himself. Mike Murley and the Detroit based trumpeter player Marcus Belgrave also come to mind.
Among drummers there are many examples of this. Max Roach and Ed Blackwell would be good examples of melodic, singing style players.

How do we work on this?

1) Try to play the melodies to tunes on the drums. Usually just on the snare drum at first.
Try to leave all the "timekeeping drummer type functions" out of this. In other words. don't play hi-hat on 2 & 4 while you do this, that's not the melody. If the tune has a lot of spaces in it, some much the better. Leave them. Get used to feeling like you're the Sax player or vocalist now, not the drummer. One of the big ways drummers tend to lose lyricism when they play is by rushing through ideas and not leaving space. Melodies breathe but we as drummers can play without needing to take a breath, so this is something we have to learn.

2) Now try to move the melody around the drums but try to:

a) Follow the contour of the melody. For instance the melody to "Sonnymoon for Two" tends to head down in pitch in each 4 bar section. Try to represent the on the drums even if you aren't playing the exact pitches.

b) Repeat pitch patterns. If we look at "SonnyMoon" again we realize that this is a riff blues, meaning the actual melodic material is only 4 bars long and is repeated 3 times over different chords of the blues progression. So try to play the same pitches on the drum set each time you play that 4 bar phrase. This will also help you remember pitch patterns when you improvise, which often helps with unity in drum solos.

Here's a video explanation of the same concept.

3) One thing that struck me a long time ago is Billy Hart saying in an interview that he was always singing. Not just tunes but scales and intervals. I try to do this as well. I think the more we can vocalize, the more we can translate that feeling to our instrument.

4) Finally learn as many melodies (and in the case of tin pan alley tunes lyrics) as you can. Try to use the storytelling aspects of these tunes in your own playing, rather than it being a storehouse of "hip drum things" to play.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Blog Roundup!

I remember Dennis Mackrel saying at a clinic quite a few years ago that he thought the future "hang' for musicians would be on the net.
How right he was!
I don't get into Toronto to see music as often as I like and I'm also busy with family, playing and teaching. So one of the main ways I exchange ideas is with my peers around the world online.

Here's a brief overview of what's been capturing my attention these days.

Here's Peter Hum's excellent interview with Katie Malloch. Oh Katie! How we'll miss you!

From Cruise Ship Drummer there's some great exercises involving putting the hi-hat on beats 2 and the + of 3. This is why it's important to get input from other folks. I've been playing for 37 years and this never occurred to me!

Jesse Cahill has some great advice on practicing at his Blog.
I also have learned a lot from the samples he posts from his extensive record collection.
Wow! Ron Jefferson! You know, when my ego starts to get the better of me, it's humbling to realize how many great musicians go virtually unknown, despite playing so well. I really have nothing to complain about folks!

It's amazing the era we live in and how much great information is at our fingertips. (I know Kate thinks everyone overuses the term "literally", but in this case I think it's appropriate.)

We live in a world where we can musically get out butt kicked without getting out of our pjs!
Now, there's a lot of info out there that isn't so hot, so I think I will do a post about sifting through and finding good quality stuff. In the meantime though, you can't go wrong with the trio of blogs I just mentioned.


Friday, March 23, 2012

Beginnings and encouragement

It was the recent passing of the great Regina -based Sax player Art Britton that got me thinking about this. I played with Art (as well as many other players in the local scene) when I was in my teens and early 20s. I was fortunate enough to be recommended for gigs from my former teacher Don Young (who is still teaching and playing great in Regina) and got to play regularly with Bob Moyer's big band with his wife, the wonderful Pat Steele, singing. Thanks to Vern and Carol Gay Bell, I also got invaluable experience playing with Saskatchewan Express, sort of a touring showband.

Now if middle aged Ted heard youthful Ted in any of these settings, I'm not sure he'd be all that impressed with what he would hear. I doubt the time was that strong, my taste was questionable at best, and I doubt I had any sort of concept of sound.

Perhaps what the people that were gracious enough to hire me did hear was a certain enthusiasm and love for the music that helped them ignore many of my rough edges and immaturity. When we're just starting, that initial spark is sort of all most of us have.

I guess what I'm attempting to remind myself of is that any fire we hear in young players should be encouraged and nurtured. Very few people play brilliantly when they first start, but if they have the drive and nerve to play in public, we need to help them along as much as I can. This is one of the great benefits of teaching, doing clinics, and adjudicating. (The last of which I will discuss further in a later post).

I would like to conclude with a big THANK YOU to the people I mentioned, as well as a bunch I've inadvertently forgotten briefly, and I will do my best to pay back the debt I owe you by helping young talent whenever possible!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

You can't keep a good nerd down!

This is another coordination thing. Three 8th note open/closed thing on h.h. w/ left hand. 7 beat figure in right hand. Tumbao bass drum pattern. A slight wrinkle in this is the right hand part always goes to the small tom in the middle of every 7 beat figure and also buzzes every
time I go to the small tom. I'm going to write an article about this shortly but what I'm getting at with this is that there are 4 different "levels" of drum set coordination.

1) Contrasting rhythms (i.e. 7 beat, 3 beat , and tumbao)
2) Moving from one surface of the drum set to another (i.e. floor tom to small tom)
3) Contrasting articulations (i.e. the buzzed note in the right hand)
4) Contrasting rhythmic groupings (str. 8th verses triplets, or quintuplets, septuplets etc. (There's no incidence of this in the following example. I'm only human, ya know!)

Anyway, I'll elaborate on this in the future.

Here's the vid.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The drummers of XTC Part 2!

Hey all,

In my ongoing series on the band XTC and the drummers that played with them, today we're featuring the great Prairie Prince.

Here's some info,

Prairie Prince was raised in Phoenix, Arizona, with two older sisters, who gave him a constant source of musical influences, including swing, jazz, blues, and early rock and roll. Both parents were music lovers and his father played drums. His mother was an artist and encouraged pursuing music and art during Prairie’s entire childhood, which he did and still does. During High School, Prairie started a band with his friend Roger Steen. The band was named “The Mouth”, later becoming “The Red, White and Blues Band”, which in turn, evolved into “The Tubes”.

Prairie moved to San Francisco after acceptance to the San Francisco Art Institute on scholarship. There he received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in painting and conceived The Art Rock Group The Tubes with his friend and colleague, Michael Cotton. Prairie continues to share a partnership with Michael in a number of branches of art, including set and stage design for some of the world’s biggest touring acts: Michael Jackson, Shania Twain, Bonnie Raitt, Gloria Estefan, The Tubes, and Todd Rundgren.

Some of Prairie’s earliest drummer influences were Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich in swing jazz, Stevie Wonder and Clyde Stubblefield in funk and soul, Sandy Nelson and Dick Dale in Surf Music, and Ringo Starr, Charlie Watts, Mitch Mitchell, Keith Moon, Ginger Baker, and John Bonham in The British Invasion of Rock. Later John French, Billy Cobham, Lenny White, and Jack Dejohnette were inspirational in fusion and more avante gard styles of drumming.

During the course of the last 30 years, while continuing to record, perform and tour the world with The Tubes (15 Albums and world tours), Prairie also performed and recorded with many of his heroes and fellow artists alike. Prairie has fulfilled his desire to execute many various drum techniques in a wide variety of musical styles.

In the early 70’s Prairie worked with the legendary pianist, the late Nicky Hopkins, recording two albums with musicians such as George Harrison, Mick Taylor, Ron Wood, Ray Cooper, and Klas Voorman, among others. He started the band Journey with Neal Schon and Greg Rolly shortly after, recorded demos that got them their first contract, but Prairie opted for his dedication to The Tubes.

After session work with Tommy Bolin, Brewer and Shipley and others in the 70s, the 80s brought work with Chris Isaak and Prairie played drums on his first four albums. Prairie was honored to record with Brian Eno and David Byrne. With Todd Rundgren, he recorded 7 albums and toured the world several times.

He played drums on XTCs Skylarking LP in the mid 80s, then again on their latest 2 CDs Apple-Venus Vol 1; Waspstar Vol 2 in the Last Part of This Century. Also in the 80s, Prairie recorded with Glen Frey, David Pack, 3 albums for Richard Marx, and did a Showtime special with John Fogerty.

The 90s brought performances with Tom Waits, 3 CDs and classic resurface performances with the legendary “King of the Surf Guitar”, Dick Dale, and the reformed “Jefferson Starship”, with original members, Paul Kantner, Marty Balin, Jack Casady, and Papa John Creach. After 4 CDs and several world tours, Prairie continues as their drummer.

In the last several years, studio work with renowned producer Jerry Harrison of Talking Heads fame, brought records by Bizou Phillips and Noella Hutton, both young innovative female artists. Also performances and a double/live CD with Grateful Dead Bassist, Phil Lesh, and a CD with longtime friend and former Tubes and Grateful Dead member, Vince Welnick (Missing Man Formation), brought acclaim from a unique base of music fans.

The man's been busy, that's for sure. He was kind enough to answer my questions specifically about his involvement with XTC.

1. Do you know how you came to the attention of XTC? Did someone
recommend you?

Todd Rundgren brought me in as the Tubes had recently worked with him and
he had helped built the studio for us that XTC recorded the rest of the
album in.

2. Did the two songwriters, (Moulding and Partridge) have different
working methods in the studio? Did they have specific suggestions for
drum parts, or did they talk in metaphor and you jammed until you
found something that clicked?

each had their own ideas of course. Both very different in direction and
approach. Andy was very specific for most songs and had done demos with
basically what he wanted recreated. Colin was more general in his advice as
to the feel etc. Both were easily satisfied with the tracks I delivered..
on songs like man who sailed, It was suggested I played like a jazz drummer
on junk.. Not sure if I knew but made a guess and was handsomely rewarded
with applause.

3. Andy Partridge has mentioned in interviews that he and producer
Todd Rundgren butted heads a lot during the recording of
"Skylarking". Did you notice this and did it affect the way you
approached the recording?

I wasn't really aware of the stress in the relationship at first but as
the sessions wore on over the next few weeks it became apparent they had
their differences in opinions and attitudes began to heat up. I think things
got worse after I had finished my parts. Todd was hired to produce and
that's what he does in most cases.. Produces and makes the final
decisions..Andy just didn't want to give him that much authority with his
music. As far as affecting me .. I had worked with Todd before and new what
to expect.. The guys in XTC treated me with very much respect and seemed
glad to have me drumming on their songs.. I was in heaven being a big fan.

4. You have the distinct honour of being the most recorded drummer of
XTC's "studio" years. What do you attribute this quantity and
longevity to?

just a lucky guy

5. On albums like "Skylarking" and "Wasp Star" you're playing with
more conventional Rock band instrumentation whereas on "Apple Venus"
the textures are much more symphonic and light. Did making this
adjustment pose any particular challenges for you?

for example on "I like that" Andy wanted me to play the groove on my legs
slapping away the beats throughout. Being a hambone enthusiast , I had no
trouble handling the order. The more ethereal percussion parts such as
cymbal washes and snare rudiments were fairly common to me from sound track
work in the past

6. You've recorded as both as session player artists such as XTC and
as a longtime member of the tubes. Does the recording process differ
depending on how well you know the people you're working with?

It always helps to know well the other musicians your collaborating with
but not entirely essential. The Tubes have been friends and family so long
we can practically read each others minds. XTC and I became good friends
quickly and we worked well together from the get go. All the best to them
today, Prairie Prince

And here's some examples of some of the songs he mentioned. Here's "The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul" from the first recording Mr. Prince played with XTC "Skylarking". (Also dig the references to The Prisoner in the video. Hip!)

And here's "I'd Like That" from "Apple Venus"

Finally, here's some great playing from the last official XTC album "Wasp Star". The track is "Stupidly Happy".

Thanks so much Prairie and stay tuned for future installments!

Thursday, March 15, 2012


This fits in with what I've been talking about lately involving open form music.Here's the great Tony Oxley and Derek Bailey playing duo.

Check out all the sounds Mr. Oxley is getting. Brilliant!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Up tempo brushes

Here's 3 videos dealing with playing up tempos with brushes.
Sorry about the technical issues. Maybe I need to hire Jesse Cahill to be my videographer, he seems to be doing much better than me! By the way, check out his latest posting on ways to develop triplet-based comping stuff. Very cool!
Anyway, the gist of what I was saying is that sometimes we have to break the ride rhythm up between hands when playing brushes.
The 2nd video got pretty trashy sounding in the playing (even though you can hear what I'm saying, sigh!) So I did the 3rd video silent movie style and with the snares off again so the examples are a little easier to hear. (If a sequel to "The Artist" is being made, you can get a hold of me here!)


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

More on open form playing

In my recent post on rubato playing I mentioned my struggle with open forms (or the more fraught term "free" playing).

It's difficult to come to terms with a situation where you can play literally anything you want. What happened initially in my case is I played a lot of anything but not much something.
What helped me, ironically enough, was playing on forms and learning how to navigate them effectively. If I had a good idea of how to construct a performance on say, a blues, I could use those same principles toward something that was being formed in the moment.

As always, listening helped immeasurably.

Time has passed and I now find myself lucky enough to play in a few situations where nothing or very little is predetermined and lo and behold, it's helped me play on forms, find ways to stretch them, think in bigger arcs, etc.

As usual, I find that extreme views create traps.
If you want to play better bebop, work on playing free.
If you want to be a better player in an open situation, work on standards!

It was enlightening to see the footage of Han Bennink playing with Wes recently. He could definitely play straight ahead and used that knowledge and experience to inform the open music he's playing now.

A great Canadian example of this in Montreal's Guy Nadon.
I used to go see Guy play often when I lived in Quebec, and he was always very inspiring!
Locals tell me that Claude Ranger also used to go to see Guy, and I can definitely hear the influence.

I'm posting the 1991 film about Guy The Roi Du Drum (The King of the Drum).
it's all on French but even if you're uni-lingual you get to see some great footage of Guy doing his thing. Rumour has it that he might consider retiring. If that's so, thanks for all the great music Mr. Nadon!

Go Guy go!

Monday, March 12, 2012


Short post today.
Here's Canada's national treasure Glenn Gould playing the Alban Berg Piano Sonata in One Movement. Special thanks to other treasure Jeff Johnston for pointing this out to me.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


Despite my revelation the other day, I'm still up to my old tricks.
Here's a sort of a wacky thing. It's a Songo with 3 different hi-hat patterns.
1) Half notes
2) 3:2 Clave
3) Dotted Quarters

The warbling you hear in the background is me singing Joe Henderson's "Recordame". Each chorus I change the right hand pattern.
I put this up partially because I've been talking a lot about being able to hear whatever tune you're playing, regardless of what you are doing in terms of drumming.
In fact I sort of fluff some of the dotted quarter stuff in the third chorus.

Why did I leave it in?

1) I'm lazy and I didn't think my family was going to be happy with me exclusively shedding this all weekend. I'm kidding (sort of!)

2) You'll notice that even when the actual lick I'm playing might falter, I'm still solid with where I am in the tune.

So you don' t always have to sing the tune out loud. Singing creates yet another level of coordination because the voice is like a fifth limb. Good to work on yes, but I'm not sure how many people I play with would enjoy the sort of "drunken rugby chant" vibe I would give to standard tunes.

Who knows? Maybe you'll sound better. :)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Mike Downes q-tet

Here's a tune of Mike's entitled Gemini that we played at the Rex about 2 months back.
See? Another reason to memorize the music!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Power of the Backbeat!!!!

The other day I had an incredible experience. In fact, it's hard to describe so I hope I can do it justice.

As some of you can tell from the blog. Sometimes I work on rather "brainy" stuff at the drums.
There's nothing wrong with this necessarily but a lot of this material is long term. I can't use it tonight on a gig.
Also, I would never want anyone to think that I think this stuff is more important than some of the basic tenants of drumming. Dynamic control, good feel and tempo, pleasing sound, good balance of the limbs, appropriate stylistic choices are just a few of the immutable elements of playing that I try to work on continually and bring to any musical situation I'm in.

Anyway, when I'm feeling like my playing in general is sounding "brainy" I'll play along to recordings. This is always a good way to get me back focusing on what's really important.

I did this the other day. I played along with 3 tracks. Although I don't think it's all that important what they were, I'll mention them just the same.

1. Wah-Wah- George Harrison (Loose Classic Ringo.)

2. Lazy Susan- Sweet Thing (Tune by a current Canadian band. Drummer Tyler Kyte basically plays a Disco beat in the chorus that's tricky to get to sit exactly right, at least for me!)

3. I'm the Flyer- Saga (Canadian 80s art rock.)

When I was playing along to these recordings that I knew quite well, I just concentrated on keeping the groove as tight with the recordings as possible and playing with a very consistant sound. What's hard to describe is that because I was just concentrating on these elemental things rather than worrying about being more complex or the next difficult thing I was going to practice is that I could feel the drums getting more and more powerful. I felt like I was putting every bit of my soul into every back beat. Every time I had my heart broken, all joy, all sorrow, was being channeled into the drums. It was like playing those back beats was the reason I was put on this earth for.

I was playing the little drums I'm usually playing on the video but I swear they sounded like big huge Rock type drums from the amount of intent I was putting into it.
Definitely a mind over matter situation.

..and now my goal is to make everything feel that way and hopefully reach people the way I think it will.
Someone on CBC recently said something like "Music from the heart touches the heart."

Unfortunately for 37 some years now I have been playing a lot of music from the head, the ego the fear, and the jealousy, to name a few not so good places.

I'm attempting to leave that all from now on.

I don't think one can do this only with Pop or Rock Music. I certainly hear this whenever I hear Tony Williams, for example. In fact I noticed on the live Miles from '67 I've been checking out I swear I can hear Tony's later set-up with the black dot heads and the 24" bass drum. He was hearing that sound and was able to produce it almost 10 years before he used that gear!!!!

Anyway, Rock and Pop work really well because if we're confident that we can physically play the grooves we can concentrate on playing the drums like it's the only thing we've ever wanted to do in our life. Also the very elemental way of playing in Rock (sometimes) where details like how open the hi-hat is or trying to play the time on an almost microscopic level gets us to focus on just playing. I think it also helps us get there if it's music that we have an emotional connection to. You know, not just "I like this because it's complex and shows how smart I am". Stuff we REALLY DIG. THAT GIVES US GOOSEBUMPS. It doesn't matter what it is. Don't be ashamed.

There was a time when I was into flash and would mock players like Phil Rudd. It's now with a mix of wonder and horror that I can ever imagine thinking that way. He's a heavy as any of the "cats" because he plays perfectly for the music!

One more thing. (I can't remember if I've posted this before. Bear with me if I have.)
Some years back I was with a band that played in Vancouver at the Cellar and a great piano trio from Seattle (with special guest Joe LaBarbera) actually opened for us. Joe didn't want any hassles at the border so he brought his stick bag but used all my gear otherwise.

When Joe got up to play, he didn't move anything one INCH from where I had left it.
He sounded as if he had been playing those drums his whole life and played so musically and beautifully as always.

Then we went on and actually were recorded for the gig. I played okay but was having a lot of trouble focusing and certainly didn't play my best by any stretch of the imagination.
Afterwards the bassist came up to me and said. "Joe f*cked you up, didn't he?" I said something like "It was that obvious, huh?" and his reply was, "Oh yeah!"

Why did Joe mess me up? Which actually was me messing myself up.
Well besides making my drums and cymbals sound way better than whenever I played them, he also played just the music. No empty flash, no "Look at me". Everything he played (again, he always does this) was for the betterment of the music, not for his ego.

So when I go on my mind was filled with thoughts such as. "Man Ted you play a lot of B.S." or, "That thing you just did, how does that have ANYTHING to do with the tune we're just playing?"

It was sort of like seeing monster chops player at a drum festival, except in reverse!!!!

Obviously, this is a lesson I keep getting taught over and over. Hopefully I'm internalizing it more as I mature.
I think if I can get my intent/ears chops together I can start to become the player I've always wanted to be!!!!!



Oh, just for fun, here's the Saga tune.


Hey everyone.
Here's some great Wes Montgomery footage from the mid 60s in Holland. Check out Han Bennink playing straight ahead swing. Killing!

Also lately I have been listening to.....

You Know What I Mean?-Cannonball and Bill Evans


Seven Steps To Heaven- Miles (Alternate takes of "So Near, So Far" and "Summer Night' mainly)

Miles In Europe '67- Miles

Sound Travels- Jack DeJohnette

Dansere-Jan Garberek

Maggot Brain- Parliament

Various-The Meters

Evolution-Grachan Moncur III

True confessions time. I often will listen to these one at a time with my BlackBerry on random.

Bad, bad Ted!!!! :)

Monday, March 5, 2012

Don't authentic your way out of a job

Hey folks,
I've touched on this a bit before but it's recently come up again. A musician friend was talking about how when he works with a certain drummer, if a tune gets into a Brazilian or Cuban vein, that it's way too heavy for the ensemble.
Boy, do I know this one!!
I think no matter what music we're playing, we need to be considerate of the instruments around us. If we're playing with acoustic bass and piano, we have to play transparently enough so that they don't have to fight to be heard.

The problem is when we drummers are learning authentic, folkloric, type grooves they often are:

-Played in a large percussion section

-Played outside

-Sometimes played with electric instruments

We often don't have these conditions when we're playing so we need to not play them like we do.
Playing world grooves verbatim (on small group Jazz gigs especially) often results in too loud drums or too much drums verses cymbals in your "mix", pattern-y grooves where a looser approach may be more appropriate, etc.

I was terrible for doing this to people until eventually I realized why it was so important for me to play a Cascara pattern exactly the way I learned it and force it on people who said something innocent like "Let's play Green Dolphin St. but let's play it Latin all the way through."

I often was trying to prove to everyone I had learned the "correct" beat and justifying the time I spent working on it, whether it had anything to do with the music or not.

In other words, I was playing from my EGO, and whenever I do that, the music really suffers.

Let me be clear, I would recommend anyone to learn as many World Music styles as thoroughly and authentically as they can. It's important, however, to know when to let go of that and just listen.

Here's a Hybrid Songo/Swing thing that I came up with today.

And here's the video

I may never use this beat, especially on a Country gig!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Rubato drumming

Hey people,
I struggled with playing rubato (playing without a steady pulse in the music) for many years.
I think my experience was typical because so much of the playing drummers usually do is about maintaining a pulse (sometimes against all odds!)
So just like soloing, I think we need to work on playing without a strict tempo on our own, because we often don't get a chance on gigs.

Here's a few things I've learned.

1) Don't abandon musicality just because you've abandoned tempo

I really used to not listen and just play a bunch of nonsense in rubato situations. Often there's no tempo in "free" or as I would prefer, "open form" music.
However all the normal principles apply. Be very aware of dynamics, thickness or thinness of sonic textures, who is in the foreground of the music at any given point, the shape of the piece (does it have a beginning, middle, and end?) What is the overall mood (joyous, angry, sad, humourous?) and what can we do to represent that mood etc.
Now sometimes people will play rubato on a standard tune. In that case much of the work is done for us in terms of the melody and phrases but another point about that is.....

2) Be willing to take charge sometimes

Often with rubato playing (especially with a preexisting tune) it can sound like everyone's waiting for everyone else, and nothing kills it quicker than that.
You want to be sensitive, and not just mow your way over everything, but you also want to realize that not all the beginnings and endings of phrases will line up with the rest of the band, and that actually is part of what makes it sound cool sometimes.
Listen to Paul Motian's trio with Frisell and Lovano to hear how great they are at keeping things moving.

3) Sometimes the effect comes from several pulses at once, rather than no pulse

Again, Motian's band is brilliant at this. I'll have some recommendations and examples at the end.

4) Learn from other styles and instruments

Classical players are taught to use the pulse as a means of expression rather something to be strictly adhered to. (A way of learning that can often cause problems for them when they do play a music with a strict pulse.)
Again, drummers aren't naturally very good at this.
I have a sad confession to make. Until I was in University I didn't understand that most Classical music was played in tempo. I didn't really hear it that way because I wasn't used to the looser way they play the pulse.
Yes, you can say something like, "That's not swinging", but that's missing the point. It grooves in a different sort of way and we can learn from musics that are looser with the pulse rather than being slaves to it.

5) Play textures of different drum grooves, just not always at the same speed

If we play gentle, sweeping sounds with brushes, it's still going to sound like a ballad even though it's not a steady tempo.
Try this with all sorts of grooves Rock, Samba, Cascara, Swing, etc. Also try to use the amount of space in the groove to suggest a tempo, even though you're not playing one strictly. (The great Rashied Ali was brilliant at this. Andrew Cyrille too!)

6) Work on loosening up your strict pulse playing too

The looser you can play in time, the more it will help you see possibilities even when you're not playing in tempo. It's funny, sometimes it's hard to tell at the beginning's of paul Motian trios recordings whether they're playing in time or not because their time playing is so loose and their rubato playing is so logical, yet groovy.

7) As always, listen to infinity... and beyond!

Listen and watch examples of great drummers doing this to help you with the concept.

Speaking of examples , here's Coltrane and Rashied Ali from "Interstellar Space'. The composition is "Jupiter".

Most of the Coltrane rubato stuff (even when it's duo) is very thick, texture wise. it sort of feels like waves of sound that crest, crash against the shore, and then build up again. When I'm attempting to play music like this, one of the main things I'm trying to do is create variety within these thick textures. Other good Coltrane examples are, "Expression", "Ascension", and "Meditations".

Here's the aforementioned Paul Motian Trio

Notice in this case, even though it's an agressive tune as well, there is more space in it than the Coltrane example, and how Motian keeps a texture of timekeeping even though he isn't playing a strict pulse. Also, he often limits the sonic palette (notice he's generally right hand on cym. left hand on snare) to give everything a context.

And here's a gentler tune with Motian playing brushes (and sort of playing a tempo at one point)

I would also recommend the great recording "Time and Time Again" for more great examples for this trio's out of time playing.

Also check out Bartok's string quartets (and play along with them)
Keith Jarrett's American and European 70s bands (they also both play a mean tempo groove as well). Anything with Han Bennink is great too as well as any of the Albert Ayler stuff with Sunny Murray. Try "Unit Structures" by Cecil Taylor to hear Andrew Cyrille play beautiful textures.

I remember seeing a Joey Baron clinic where I asked him a very convoluted question about playing out of tempo (as he is also an expert at this) and his response was simply "Play the music.". Sage advice.
So remember not to get hung up about rubato playing and just think about it as another way of expression yourself musically.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Short drum song

Hey people,
This a little thing that was inspired by one of Bob Seger's early hits. Hope it gets you dancing!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Smatter? Dontcha like Jazz?

Today we're going to look at 2 performances of Kenny Wheeler's "Smatter".
The first is from his great album Gnu High which features Dave Holland, DeJohnette and in his last appearance as a sideman, Keith Jarrett.

There have been some very good posts lately, particularly on Cruise Ship Drummer about the so called ECM feel. I will add a couple of elements of this type of playing as my 2 cents on the subject as they come up in this post.

One of the elements of "modern" time keeping is the concept that we're using the whole drum kit.
Notice how even during the head of this tune, Jack switches cymbals or gets off the metal completely sometimes and just focuses on drum sounds yet this never sounds arbitrary.
One of the ways Jack creates variety in this situation is the amount of space he leaves.
Notice how after the in head (played 2Xs after the rubato intro without the bass and drums) he starts playing more half notes and letting the cymbals ring more rather than playing every quarter note on them. This is a great way of signaling that the melody is over and the trumpet solo has started. Jack has been quoted as saying that he feels the cymbals are like the sustain pedals on a piano, and that we don't necessarily have to play every quarter note on the cymbal to feel the pulse. This performance certainly demonstrates that. He also uses the splashed hi-hat sound to allow him to explore lots of drum textures in his time keeping.
After leaving the space at the end of chorus 2, (This is also a great example of using figures from the head to delineate the solo form as well.) Jack and Dave start some serious 4, thus increasing the energy and excitement. ( Although this could be typically called a "broken swing" type of tune, the swing feel is played pretty straight 8th, and lends itself to broken phrasing on any sort of 8th note ideas on the cymbal.) They keep this up for all of chorus 3 and 4, then start "gearing down" by breaking up the feel again in chorus 5 tapering off Kenny's solo beautifully and leaving lots of space and a lower volume to start Jarrett's solo.
Notice how during the 1st chorus of piano, Jack pretty well keeps time on every one of his cymbals at some point.
By the 3rd chorus, Jack is sort of playing in 4 while Dave Holland still is playing of a more broken 2, then on the next chorus they play in 4 together. When we get to chorus 5 Dave Holland is clearly still in 4 while Jack opens up the feel more by leaving more spaces and getting off of the cymbals more. By the end of the chorus both bass and drums are playing more open.

I think this also demonstrates that in this style it isn't always as simple as both bass and drums play in 2, and then both go to 4. Notice how the rhythm section as a unit creates these peaks and valleys in the music but aren't always necessarily doing the same thing at the same time.
When I was at Banff for the Jazz program, Dave Holland use to talk a lot about how the rhythm section could create "counterpoint' by playing like this.

Okay, here's another great version of this tune with a completely different band...

Now I won't do a play by play like I did with the first version but I encourage you to check out both versions and note how they're different. Do you like one more than the other? Why?
How are the arrangements different?
I will say I love Erskine's recovery when he thinks the out head is going to be rubato and it turns out it's not.

One of the great things about Kenny Wheeler's music is how many different visions of it it can sustain.
I remember when Erskine started appearing on his recordings I found it a real departure from DeJohnette's approach and found it quite shocking at first. Same when he made some recordings with Joe LaBarbera. I love all these drummer's approach equally now (as well as the not nearly well known enough Bill Elgart on "Flutter by, Butterfly"). It just proves again that all great drummers carry a whole universe with them!

Beware the ides of March!!!!!