Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Short Post

I ran across this the other day. This is a trio performance with Brad Turner and Mike Downes. We're playing the standard "Golden Earrings".

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Introducing your children to the band

.....And by children, in this case I mean your compositions.
Drummers often get intimidated presenting tunes to a band so I thought I'd share a few thoughts to help make it go smoothly.

1) Pick your opportunities carefully:
If you're a sideman, there might not be that many chances to get your originals played.
If it's a cooperative band and you're asked to submit tunes, by all means. Don't, however, thrust your compositions on a band where they might not fit, or you would be seen as being overly pushy.

2) Have a way of communicating your tune to the others:
You either have to be able to play your compositions on piano/guitar or write out a chart for the band to read off of. I don't have enough piano chops to play both melodies and chords at the same time, so I usually write out a "lead sheet" with the necessary information on it. (I'll post an example of one of my lead sheets at the end.)

3) Learn everything about harmony you can.
Writing tunes is a chance for us to use all the information we've learned in theory classes etc. Pay attention and you'll be more likely to write something people can solo on ( in the case of Jazz compositions).

4) Go over the tunes before the rehearsal with someone you trust
In the early stages of my writing, I would often get together with the great bassist Mike Downes to get his take on my tunes. He would suggest ways of writing the chords so they would be easier to solo over, calligraphy problems etc. This helped me avoid a lot of confusion when I presented songs to the whole band. ...and with that in mind.....

5) Accept criticism with grace
If someone in the band suggests "this needs a bridge", or "this part of the progression doesn't make sense" or " this sounds A LOT like a Lady Gaga tune", they are trying to help you. You their advice (if you agree with it) to make your tunes better.

6) Make your written parts look as good as you can
A piano player I worked with years ago told me something to the effect that the better the music looks on paper (clear, isn't sloopy etc.) the more the players will treat it like important music and play their best. I think we've all experienced trying to read badly written music and how difficult it is to play it well, especially the first few times through.

and finally...

7) If you want to play a lot of your own music, it's time to be a bandleader
This way, if someone really doesn't like your tunes, they don't have to be in your band!

As promised here's a lead sheet and audio example of one of my tunes.

Drummers offer a lot in compositional terms. Their rhythmic acumen, their sensitivity to feels, tempo, and mood all can lead to excellent variety in the writing department. Now let's all get writing!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Recordings and Fluxible footage

Recently I had the unique opportunity to play 5 minutes of solo snare drum at the Fluxible User Experience Event. The idea was to have short musical interludes between speakers and it was recorded.
I'm posting this because it helps further the idea that although the drum set in a single instrument and should be thought of as such, (this is part of the reason I detest the term "kick drum") all of it's component parts can be thought of as stand alone instruments as well.

Here's the solo:

I also thought I'd mention I'm listening a lot to Ella Fitzgerald Sings the George and Ira Gershwin Songbook. All the drummers sound great on this recording, but particularly Alvin Stoller.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Dream

On the 50th anniversary on Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I have a Dream" speech, I'm posting Max Roach's piece "The Dream".
Just a couple of notes. I just found out today that King's speech was improvised after he was encouraged to deviate from his prepared notes. He had used these ideas before, but never put them in quite this combination before. (Much like Jazz musicians.)
Max matches the contour of the speech's excerpt perfectly. Enjoy.

Finally, this anniversary reminds us how much further the world has to go to achieve equality and how we all need to work towards this goal.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

RIP Alan Myers

Just got word that Devo's original drummer, Alan Myers, passed away due to cancer. Myers was an important early influence on me and many drummers of my generation. He was one of the first live drummers to play like a drum machine and put it in an American popular music context. Players as diverse as Questlove and Jojo Mayer owe him a debt.

Monday, June 17, 2013


Long, time, no blog. I never call, I never excuses, I'll just get on with it.

Here's some great footage of one of Art Blakey's greatest versions of the Messengers from the early 60s. As always, Art demonstrates his creativity and fierce commitment to the groove. Enjoy!

Also, I transcribed Mr. Blakey's simple, yet elegant ballad brush pattern he plays on Wayne Shorter's feature, "I Didn't Know What Time It Was".

Here's the pattern:

Thanks for your patience and see you soon.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

12/8 Orchestrations

Hi all,
For the past while I have been working through some 12/8 exercises  I found on Cruise Ship Drummer as well as the foot and left hand patterns to go with it. I recorded some possible ways of orchestrating these left hand patterns around the kit. Nothing revolutionary here, just exploring some tonal possibilities while working the coordination of moving my hand around.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Barry Altschul

Not much to say here. Here's some fairly recent footage of the great Barry Altschul. I'm a big fan of his work with Paul Bley and Chick Corea. As you can see here, he's playing better than ever. Enjoy!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Buddy: Last interview

Here's Buddy Rich's last interview. Enjoy!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Changing Implements

Hi all,
Today I want to talk about changing the implements we use to play the drums, specifically in the course of a tune in progress. The most common "switch" is from brushes to sticks, although there are many more possibilities.
This is the sort of thing that a lot of drummers just assume it will "come together" somehow. I know in my case it was something I had to think about and work on a lot.
An interesting aspect of changing implements is it's something that a lot of non-drummers notice. They are particularly aware of it when it doesn't go well, perhaps due to the sudden (and noisy, usually) change of texture that isn't smooth. I'm going to discuss some ways of working on this in today's blog.

1. As always, listen!
There are many examples of great drummers switching from brushes to sticks. Check out players such as Philly Joe Jones, Jimmy Cobb, and Tony Williams, to name a few. Also notice when the greats make the transition less than smoothly. Did you hear any extra stick clicks etc.? One thing you'll notice about implement transitions is that no one's record is spotless. Our goal is to make the majority of our switches smooth.

2. Where are you going to put your stuff?
An important factor is where you're going to put the implements you aren't using to make them easy to get at. All have advantages and drawbacks.

Shell of the bass drum? It's close, but can be hard to navigate on a 5-piece drum set. Also, bass drums vibrate a lot, and vibration causes movement. Your stick or brushes can go somewhere unreachable if you're not careful.

Music stand? Also close by, but can be noisy. Also if you are reading a chart that's more than 2 pages long they will be in the way of your music.

Floor tom? Close by and relatively stable but as long as something's on the drum, you can't use that sound.

Stick bag? Close by, but putting open brushes into it will ruin them.

Under your arms or legs? Again, it's close by but there's a possibility of inflicting great pain on yourself!

Again, you need to experiment in the practice room to find which methods work best for you.

3. You don't have to switch both hands at the same time.
Keep in mind, especially if you're playing swing, once the ride cymbal is going (in the case of a brushes to sticks switch) you don't have to comp on the snare immediately. The cymbal alone will sound full enough while you grab the other stick. And also......

4. It's unlikely your feet are switching.
I often like to think of the feet in an implement switch like so:


pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, he's just trying to get his sticks out!

..Like a simple card trick,  often when we're switching implements we're trying to take the viewer/listener's attention from what our hands our doing by creating a diversion, usually with out feet.

5. Give yourself time to make the switch.
If you haven't started to make a move at least a bar before it's supposed to happen, it probably won't end well. Get used to anticipating when your going to transition implements so you can get to the next section smoothly.

To conclude, here's a short example of me trading phrases between brushes and sticks. Trading (and actually soloing rather than keeping time) is a great way to practice our juggling act. It's much more challenging than the usual "one switch a tune' routine and gets us thinking about how to make the trades musical. A couple of notes. I start off trading 8s for a couple of choruses of "Think of One" by Monk, go to fours for a half chorus and finish off back to 8s. Notice sometimes I overlap the phrases a bit. This is okay as long as you keep the 4 or 8 bar structure. Also notice that some of my trades are noisier than others/ Remember, it's a favourable law of averages we're going for rather than perfection. Have fun!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Wise words from Dave Grohl

I just thought I'd post these comments on American Idol by Dave Grohl. Although the language is strong, it pretty much sums up how I feel about the "world of music as talent contest" mentality that these shows represent......

    “I think people should feel encouraged to be themselves. That’s what bums me out about those shows where people are judged so harshly by fucking musicians that hardly even play an instrument on their own fucking albums. It makes me really mad.”

    He added: “I swear to God, if my daughter walked up onstage and sang her heart out and some fucking billionaire looked at her and said, ‘No, I’m sorry you’re not any good,’ I’d fucking throttle that person, I swear to God. Who the fuck are you to say what’s good or bad?”

    Grohl also reckons the shows homogenise music so that “everyone sounds like fucking Christina Aguilera.” The Foo Fighters singer added: “The next time someone says you’re not a good singer say: ‘Fuck You’. I interviewed Neil Young and he said in his band someone said to him: ‘The band’s really great, but honestly you shouldn’t be the singer.’ If Neil Young had listened to that person then we wouldn’t have had any Neil Young.” (NME)

Thank you Mr. Grohl!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Simon Phillips

Here's a short couple of exercises from drumming great Simon Phillips.
Even though they are designed for 2 bass drums you can easily try the examples with the left foot on H.H.

I love Phillips' post-Cobham very muscular style of playing although it often makes me feel like my drumming is the equivalent of a 5 year old girl at a tea party!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Heel/toe stuff.

Hey all,
Just a quick post about what I've been working on lately.
I've been checking out doing sort of a rocking motion with each foot. In the right foot it creates either a muffled pitch bend sound on my relatively open bass drum (heel up, keeping beater in the head) or an open sound (heel down, rebound off the bass drum head). In the left foot it creates either a closed sound (heel up) or a hi-hat splash (heel down). Here's just a quick example. Sorry for the darkness of the video.

One of the issues when using this technique is having the feet moving the opposite direction from each other.   It's challenging! I'm also working at being able to throw this in in triplets etc.
Like any new idea (and different set of movements) it's a bit awkward and doesn't sound that great. Even when it's working better it might be a while before I can use these in a musical context, if ever.
I'm committed to letting this come out in an organic way and not forcing it on the music.

Try it if you feel like it.


Friday, February 1, 2013

Art Tatum

Here's a great documentary of Art Tatum. Watch, listen, and learn. I certainly did!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Modern Drummer Article

Hey everyone,
Just a short post to let you know my latest Modern Drummer article will be in the March 2013 issue.

Here's some demos of the subject matter, "The Blam"


Monday, January 7, 2013

Happy New Year

Hello all,
Just a quick post to say Happy New Year!
I recently was at Humber studios recording with John MacLeod's Rex Hotel Orchestra and Al Kay managed to capture a little bit on video.

Yeah! Dig the trombone-cam!
The tune we recording was the closing theme to the Wayne and Shuster Show (Canadian comedy show from the '70s that the band's spiritual guide, Rick Wilkins, recorded, wrote, and arranged as well as sang with us on the session.)

Finally, sad news from the nation's captial as word spreads of the passing of Jacques Emond, the former programming manager of the Ottawa Jazz Festival.
Jacques was a great guy and as many Jazz festivals became corporate machines, he was always very personally involved and genuinely loved the music. He will be missed.

See you soon, I hope!