Friday, December 21, 2018

Dan McCarthy Quartet

Just a quick post today of some video of a recent gig at the Homesmith Bar in Toronto with Dan McCarthy on vibes. Dan has been living in the states for some time now but is moving back to Toronto in the new year. It'll be great to have him back in the local music community! Joining him and I  that night were long time compatriots Ted Quinlan on guitar and Pat Collins on bass. Such a fun night! Here we are playing one of my favourite Pat Metheny tunes, " Midwestern Night's Dream". Enjoy!

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Inside the drummer's studio part 11 Will Birch

One thing that I consistently realize is music's incredible ability to transcend culture and geography. As a shy and awkward kid with no athletic ability growing up in Saskatchewan, music was my escape, and where all my heroes resided. Most of them also resided in great Britain! Sometime in the late 70s' I heard the following song, arguably one of the finest pop tunes ever written.

The band was The Records, with Will Birch providing drums and lyrics. 

Here's some biographical information on Mr. Birch, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Will Birch (born 12 September 1948) is an English music journalist, songwriter, record producer and drummer.
Birch was born in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, England. He played drums in various bands in the Southend area before helping to form The Kursaal Flyers in 1973. Featuring singer Paul Shuttleworth, the Flyers developed a strong live reputation on London's pub rock scene in the mid 1970s, and released several albums. Their biggest commercial success came with the uncharacteristic Mike Batt produced hit single, "Little Does She Know", in 1976, which Birch co-wrote.[1]
After The Kursaal Flyers disbanded in late 1977, Birch formed the power pop group, The Records. They released the minor hit "Starry Eyes" in 1978, again co-written by Birch, toured the United States and recorded three albums. The Records split up in 1982.[2]
Birch also co-wrote the song "A.1. on the Jukebox" with Dave Edmunds.
Meanwhile, Birch had already moved into production, working with the Liverpool based band, Yachts, plus Billy Bremner of Rockpile, Desmond Dekker, The Long Ryders, and later Dr. Feelgood. In the 1990s he moved into music journalism, writing many articles on the British music scene and, in 2000, writing an acclaimed[4] account of the 1970s pub rock scene, No Sleep Till Canvey Island. He published a well-reviewed[5] biography of Ian Dury, Ian Dury: The Definitive Biography in January 2010.[6]

Mr. Birch was kind enough to grant me an email interview.  His gift with words is self evident through his thoughtful yet witty answers, and, despite his very self-deprecating assessment of his drumming, I would urge anyone who wants to hear great song-oriented drumming, to check out his recordings.

On to the interview.......

1. How did you get started in music? 

I was given a plastic ukulele - ‘Elvis Presley Official’ - and I posed in front of the mirror.

2. Was there a particular live performance or recording that had a profound influence on you as a young player?

Actually, it was a recording OF a live performance - ‘Gamblin’ Man’ by Lonnie Donegan. The drummer drove the one-note guitar solo to a place that I now know had never previously been visited by a British musician. And when Lonnie’s vocal came in for the final raging choruses, well that was excitement right there.

3. You're a very prolific lyricist and author as well as a musician. Did your work with words influence your drumming or vice-versa?

I only became a drummer and not a particularly good one because I couldn’t get past three or four chords on the guitar. And I couldn’t really sing. But I badly needed to be in a beat group or ‘band’ as they say today. Fearing I would be fired for incompetence I turned my attention to becoming a kind of leader and eventually I found myself writing the words. I discovered I was quite good at lyrics and fortunately, years later, I hooked up with people who could write tunes so much better than my derivative efforts, hence teamwork became the thing.

4. You have written songs in collaboration with a variety of artists. Are the words usually written first and music is added to them, or is it the other way around? How do approach writing lyrics for people with such diverse musical styles?
If it starts with the words, then it generally makes for a better song although a cracking melody - a potential hit - doesn’t necessarily need good words. I can and have put words to existing tunes, but I prefer words first because then the song tends to ‘say something’. Luckily my various collaborators have been happy to work in that way.

5. Your most famous composition is, arguably, "Starry Eyes" by the Records. It's a rather unusual subject for a song. Could you elaborate on its meaning and creation?
That’s kind of you to say ‘famous’, but contrary to my previous answer ‘Starry Eyes’ was actually tune first. John and I initially had a dummy lyric for the purpose of working up the song in rehearsal, then we fell out with the Records’ first manager and his departure inspired new words. In short, at the very point we were due to be signed by a major label he took a vacation. When he returned we were gone.

6. Many have said that the late 70s-early 80s were a very fertile time in England, and there were a lot of chances for bands to play live. Was this your experience, and did it have an effect on bands like Kursaal Flyers and The Records?

The London pub rock scene of the 1970s definitely helped the Kursaals, and the Feelgoods and the Kilburns and the Ducks before us. Without pub rock most of us would not have got a look-in because up until that point the record companies, agents, and promoters held all the cards. Pub rock and the punk scene that followed changed the rules, for a while. But agents and promoters aside, it was a fertile time in England from about 1958 when the 2 I’s coffee bar in Soho was a sort of dry Hope & Anchor, and the fertility survived for over 30 years, roughly until the arrival of the Smiths, the La’s, and the Stone Roses, fine groups all. Then money reared its seductive head and became the driver, not that there wasn’t money involved before, but a lot of non-music people suddenly became attracted to rock and roll. Thus, today there is a hunger for instant fame which is based on superficial attributes – the X Factor syndrome - whereas up until about 1990 it was still about the song and if you’ll pardon the pun, ‘the voice’. But I do understand the importance of promotion, and I also believe that success in rock and roll is at least 50% about the visuals. But the thing is, if we’re discussing rock music per se, the best of it was written and recorded between roughly 1965 and 1975 and anyone who aspires to making good rock today is fundamentally drawing on the Beatles, the Stones, the Kinks, the Who, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell, because nobody did it better and probably never will. It’s futile to expect an upgrade.

7. The Records have a very identifiable sound and consistency in all their songs. Did you and John Wicks discuss the concept of the band prior to it forming or did this develop as you played with the other musicians? Were the tunes you and John Wicks basically complete when you presented them to the rest of the band?

Thank you for saying so. Yes, we did discuss our sound and we wanted to be Revolver. In fact, in retrospect that might not have been a bad name. Has anyone used it yet? The Beatles’ Revolver LP was, I think, the best ever made, as many others will attest. But we also listened to Badfinger, Big Star, Dwight Twilley, the power pop - horrible term – giants. We wanted to echo their promise. The other musicians who joined the Records were informed of the rules and parameters from the outset, not that we didn’t mind inserting the odd Spirit song into the set. Mostly they went along with it. John was very creative in the studio, especially vocally and I marvelled at the hours he was prepared to put in building the harmonies, and I respected our producer’s patience. When Jude Cole joined the Records, he too was a great singer and we had a magic, almost elusive blend. You can hear it on our second album Crashes, although I think it was a little under-realised. Unfortunately, we lived in London UK and Jude lived in the USA, so some inconvenient geography prevented us from consolidating our sound. And Virgin Records was starting to look the other way.

8. In the Records, were you ( according to your very amusing blog post. Available on the Will Birch blog ) the architect, the interior designer, the electrician, or the plumber?

Thanks for unearthing my thesis. John and I were co-architects. I erected a bare wall and John worked on the technical drawings. He knew Beatles harmonies and melodies backwards and could come up with great guitar lines that made you think you might have been listening to Revolver outtakes, on for example, ‘Up All Night’ or ‘I Don’t Remember Your Name’. I remember the Jam were working in the studio next door and Paul Weller popped in for a listen. When he heard our Revolver-like riff on ‘Spent A Week With You Last Night’ he said, ‘I don’t think you’ll get away with it.’ The next day we overheard the Jam recording ‘Start’! Which as you know is ‘Taxman’ backwards.

9. Your books ( including the forthcoming Nick Lowe biography ) seem to come out of your experience as a musician and performer. Did you journal events as they were happening on tour etc. or did you eventually realize you simply had too many good stories to keep them to yourself?

It’s what I know and as they say, ‘write what you know’. Actually, although I was quite confident of my lyric writing ability, on say ‘A1 On The Jukebox’ or ‘The Man Who Invented Jazz’, written with Dave Edmunds and Bobby Valentino respectively, I didn’t think I could write articles or books. I had done a few sleeve notes and bits for fanzines, but it wasn’t until Mojo approached me, in the shape of its then editor Paul du Noyer, that I thought seriously about ‘writing’. No Sleep Till Canvey Island – my pub rock book – seemed like an obvious starting point. I thought it was a story that needed to be told. Through researching the scene in depth, I came back into contact with the likes of Ian Dury, Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, Graham Parker, and the Feelgoods – my ‘local heroes’. Ian Dury was a golden subject, of course – he had just died, sadly, and his family wanted me to collaborate on something as I had interviewed Ian several times. The collaboration idea didn’t quite work out, but Ian’s daughter Jemima and widow Sophy were still very helpful and luckily, I had many additional contacts. I therefore commenced my research. It took eight or nine years to complete, just a bit longer than a Rolling Stones album these days, but you can’t knock these biographies out overnight. My ‘Nick Lowe book’, due out in 2019, has been more like seven years. But to answer your question, I don’t really ‘journal’ other than to keep a simple diary, but I do have good recall and those who agree to be interviewed are always entertaining and their contributions are of course indispensable.

10. What projects are you currently working on?
I’m not sure I have another book idea at the moment, other than to update ‘No Sleep’, but fortunately I’m getting back into writing lyrics having given that up about 20 years ago, along with the drumming. I also have aspirations to work on film projects. I have two music-related stories on someone or other’s slate, as they say, but as everyone knows, getting a movie made is beyond impossible. I’ve been watching Michael Douglas in ‘The Kominsky Method’, and I love the scene where Elliot Gould refers to ‘the elevator pitch’. I’m not very good at those so I’m probably deluded. Film is a dream, but I’m not losing sleep.

Thanks so much Will Birch, for the interview and all the music! I'm looking forward to reading the Nick Lowe book when it comes out!

P.S. Here's the aforementioned " I Spent a Week With You Last Night" and The Jam's "Start" so we can all compare and contrast their respective " Beatle-yness"

...I suppose it's all a matter of opinion, but if I were Sir Paul, I might have my attorney on speed-dial over the bassline in that Jam tune! :)

Saturday, December 1, 2018

A new discovery ( for me )

Hey all,
I was just strolling about on social media when I came across a post with a clip of a drummer a lot of people are making a big deal about.  WAIT!!!!!!!!

It was at this point I was going to embed a video of this young drummer, but I've realized I'm not going to post it because, as the saying goes, if you can't say anything nice, don'y say anything at all!!!
I will, however, speak to what I see as the problematic parts of this person's performance which sadly, are common to a lot of the drummer videos I see lately.

Actually, I will start with a handful of positive things I saw.

1. It's a young woman.
Great! We need a lot more female representation in music!

2. She's playing (well, along to ) her own composition
Original music! Yay! Very cool!

3. She obviously has worked hard at playing the drums and does it at a high level
Good!  Physical acumen with your instrument is always a good thing.


How come after I watched the video I sort of felt dead inside?


1. The "band".
As usual in these sort of situations. The drummer was playing along to a track. Why do all these "drum channels" always do this?  Too cheap to hire a whole band?  Worried about somebody making a "mistake" ? ( It's a chance you have to take with live music folks! ) I think this is one of the factors that create the feeling of coldness I always get from these drum videos. Another factor is.....

2. The " composition ". 
Almost  always the tunes these drummers play along to have no discernible melody, are in a relatively indecipherable time signature ( or have mucked around with a common time signature to make it sound that way), and have feel changes that don't make any sense. In other words, it's a showcase composition that only exists as a place to put a drum groove/solo and I'm afraid those types of tunes don't hold up to much scrutiny or repeated listenings. and finally....

3. The "playing"
Well, there's usually a display of lots of chops. You know, lots of fast singles, heavy backbeats etc. There's usually very little improvising ( this was borne out when I watched another video the drummer made of the same tune. ) There's also rarely any humour, romance, or sentimentality either. Just physical drumming as athletic event.

Anyway, it's not like the drummer in these videos is the only one guilty of these things or invented them. That's why I didn't want to "out" her. There would have been no point.

I am going to "out" my new discovery, however.
Later, on the same social media platform I was introduced to the great Jimmy Hopps! Here is playing with Roland Kirk on the 60s hit " Ode To Billie Joe".

Phew! Okay Why did I like this so much? Well, first of all, it was playful and fun, and despite the great playing, they didn't feel like they were taking themselves too seriously! Mr. Hopps had a lovely sense of dynamics and drama ( reminds me a little of Roy Haynes ) and was really going for it and improvising. I liked the way he orchestrated the snares on and off during the tune. He has a great buoyant time feel and I liked the way he interjected triplet ideas into a straight eighth groove. Wonderful, high level playing that also leaves you with a good feeling afterward!

Now, let's all go and check out some Jimmy Hopps!

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

2 rants in one!

I'm sure a lot of you reading feel like quoting The Rolling Stones " Mother's Little Helper" when referring to me. You know, what a drag it is getting old! Regardless, I have a few blog bones to pick with the drumming world. Here goes.....

I came across this on Scott K. Fish's blog. It's wonderful that he is posting his archive of interviews from his days at Modern Drummer. It's a lovely trip down memory lane for me as well as a reminder of what all the greats were saying back in the 70s and 80s.

 So, here's the thing ( and I mean no disrespect to him or Joe Morello, who I also admire greatly. )
At one point in the interview, Mr. Morello refers to Mel Lewis as a "service drummer", talks about his lack of "technique", and talks about how improved he would be if he had "chops". I would like to address these points one by one, and reiterate that I mean no disrespect to Mr. Morello, and I am aware he can't defend himself either. This is just my small opinion in my corner of the blogosphere !

1. The term "service drummer" makes it sound like drummers that were more interested in keeping time than soloing are making some sort of weird compromise.

Keeping time is probably 95% of our job folks, and if you don't get turned on by making the band sound and feel good, you should probably play a different instrument! Plus Mel Lewis was a MAJOR soloist. It's not like the fastest drummer always plays the best solo. Which brings us to.....

2. The terms "chops" and "technique" mean velocity now, and little else.

Mr. Morello talks about not overplaying etc. Is that not a technique? What about keeping good time, having a good sound and dynamic control? All techniques, all take a lot of effort and practice to do well, and all Mr. Lewis was great at all of them.

3. Mel Lewis was great as he was!

I was fortunate to see the Village Vanguard band,  led by Mel,  in the late 80s. The main thing I remember is how GOOD everything felt. He played a couple of short solos, and as always, they were creative, interesting, and appropriate. Maybe if he had overly concerned himself with velocity, we wouldn't have had that feeling......

Here's Mel playing a great solo on " Greetings and Salutations" with his big band with Thad Jones. I love this for several  reasons. I love to hear Mel playing a rock beat. I like how he and the conga player play together, and it takes some SERIOUS STONES to leave that much space in a drum solo!

Now, you would think after this Mel Lewis love-in that I would leave him out of rantville! I do, actually, at least indirectly.

A while ago Chris Smith posted on the Drum Hang  about a technique  of Mel's called "Rub-a-dub".
( You may have to scroll down to find it.)  It's a way of using stockings to play rhythmic figures
( amongst other things ) and keeping the ride cymbal involved. Well, there was a lot of response to this. I saw at least 3 other blogs then refer to it. It's a very cool technique to use in a big band, especially when dealing with section figures. ( Rhythmic figures written above or below the staff, usually meaning one keeps time on the cymbal while playing the rhythms with snare drum and/or bass drum. Section figures usually look like this. ( See Example 1. )

Ah the "natural font". BTW both examples are in 4. So, in the first example we can see that although there are figures written above the staff, in the middle of the measure are slashes indicating that we should keep the ride cymbal going throughout this. Rub-a-dub works very well in this environment and creates a sort of fun, loose groovy feel. because not all of the band is likely to be playing these figures, we don't need a huge amount of clarity. However, if we look at example 2, we see that the rhythmic figures are written in the middle of the measure, which generally means we need to play the figures with appropriate long and short sounds to match the duration of the horns notes. ( In this case, the measure could be thought of as short, short, long, long. ) So, if we need a lot of clarity in the figures. ( Say we're in a big band backing a singer with arrangements that are short and mainly about presenting the tune. ) We need to play the figures in the second half of the measure  with CRASHED cymbal and either snare drum or bass drum. I fear with the rub-a-du concept, a lot of young drummers are going to get obsessed with playing on the ride no matter what else is going on in the music because that's what they think is swinging and groovy, but this isn't always the case. ( A lot of the endless Ted Reed exercises do the same thing, and frankly, miss out on a lot of what interpreting a chart in a big band is about. )  When one has a long note figure, don't DING it, CRASH it! Sometimes in a big band setting I may go a bar or two without playing the cymbals in any sort  "ride" way. That's okay. I remember DeJohnette saying he looked at cymbals as like sustain pedals on a piano,. We'll still remember that sound and feeling if it isn't there for a second or two

Okay, I've ranted enough. As always, remember that there are many roads to Rome. See you soon. :) 

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Everything's coming up Nussbaum!

Hey all,
Just posting some links to some great stuff featuring Adam Nussbaum. First is this wonderful podcast from Drummer's Resource. Adam's intense passion, knowledge, and love for the music is is clearly evident, and there's much to learn from his insights.

Next is this Before and After listening session from Jazz Times. Again, Mr. Nussbaum is incredibly eloquent and knowledgeable. It's interesting when he mentions Elvin Jones and how generous and helpful he was, which exactly explains my experience with Adam. Check it out folks and learn. :)

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Ben Dixon and Carlton Barrett

Sad news today, great organ trio ( amongst other things ) drummer Ben Dixon has passed away. RIP.

Here he is with Brother Jack McDuff. Now THAT'S a shuffle!!!!

Also, here's some great isolated drumming of Reggae great Carlton Barrett on Bob Marley's " Get Up, Stand Up ". Gorgeous!

Thanks to Dan Weiss for hipping me to this via social media. Talk soon.....

Monday, October 29, 2018

Avi Granite 6

Hello all, just posting a reminder that a great band I have a lot of fun with, the Avi Granite 6, is playing the Rex on Friday Nov. 9th.

                                                         And here's some video of us playing a  great graphic piece of Avi's , "Musically
 Your, Bob Barker" at Silence in Guelph.

Monday, October 22, 2018

2 brush patterns and....

....Yes, you guessed it, another rant.

Low volume cymbals? I don't get it. If you want the cymbal to be quieter, play it quieter! Develop your touch. In fact, it seems to me some of the newer Ks, and even some I have from a little before that, tend to "top out" at high volumes. In other words, they don't seem to give me all that I'm putting into them, and I'm not really into that. BTW, I'm not including flat rides in the category of low volume. Flat rides have specific sonic qualities that are very unique ( and hard to blend with other cymbals sometimes.

Okay, rant over. Two brush patterns, probably both mainly for ballads.

The first is Vibrato brush pattern, so called because each hand does a trill at the beginning of every downbeat while still making a circle.

Next is Orbits, both hands are circling the same direction, but either hand could go any direction. People who have heard me talk about brushes before have heard me mention that I think it's useful to be able to make circles with either hand clockwise or counter-clockwise.

Now play some ballads and let the dancers get romantic! 

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Charlie Watts' Hi-Hat story

Short post today. Here's a roundtable discussion regarding the entomology of Charlie Watts' "hi-hatless " approach to the backbeat.

Looks like a great series. I'll have to purchase it.

Here's a blog entry I did a few years ago on the same subject. There's an article I did on it in the March 2016 issue of Percussive Notes as well.

Thanks. :)

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Absolutes. A drag? Absolutely

Well, I have a brand new excuse not to blog as much as I would like. I'm currently enrolled as a grad student in community music at Laurier. To say it's a lot of work would be a massive understandment, and I've just begun!

Anyway, It looks like it's time for another rant. There is a LOT of information online about drumming that presents as having the only answer, THE way of doing thing things etc. The latest issue I've seen this come upon is the jazz ride cymbal beat.

Some say you MUST play it with 4 equal quarter notes to the measure, a la Jimmy Cobb.

There are others who say you must accent two and four on the ride cymbal.

Notice in the former you can even see Ben Riley's hand lifting higher to accent two and four on the ride.

Others insist Elvin's accenting of the skip beat is the way to go.

Who is right? ALL OF THEM!

I haven't even gotten into making the ride cymbal more clipped ( like Kenny Clarke ) or more straight 8th ( like Billy Higgins ).

In short, how many ways should you learn to play the ride cymbal? AS MANY AS YOU CAN! Especially if you're a developing player, learning to articulate the ride rhythm a bunch of different ways will help you find out which way works best for you , and is usually tempo and style dependent.

Don't limit yourself, and play your heart out!

Now, back to qualitative analysis! :)

Friday, September 7, 2018

The best drummer for the gig?

Perhaps, it's Griffin,  the main character in The Invisible Man.

                   Anybody seen my hi-hat, or for that matter, my face?

This might be the quirkiest intro to this blog ever, but bear with me.  My band is playing at the Brampton World of Jazz Festival this Saturday. Because there was a sub in the band, as well as that I had written some new tunes, I called the dreaded "R" word! ( Rehearsal, shudder! ). After much hemming and hawing about where to rehearse, because the band all live in different cities, it was decided that the bass player's abode was the most central. After we agreed to this location, he informed me he didn't own drums anymore, and I would need to bring my own. I told him I would conduct instead. He thought I was kidding, but I showed up at the appointed time with the charts of my tunes, and I stick bag that I didn't end up using! Now, because I'm the leader I was able to get away with this. What was I going to do? Fire me?!

 Now because everyone in the band had lots of experience I knew they weren't going to be thrown by playing with no drums. It was actually a great way to hear the tunes and imagine what the drums should do to support what I was already hearing. So, if you want to rehearse new music of yours, fire yourself and you'll be amazed at what you might hear!

My only concern is if the band will sound even half as good with me on Saturday night!

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Man of a Thousand Voices

Here's a great ( what's up ) doc on Mel Blanc. Why is this important to us? Because he painted in sound with his voice. Just as we paint in sound with our drums. Observe, and learn!

Monday, September 3, 2018

Gone Campin'!

Bonus points for the image looking like the cover of  And Then There Were Three !
Anyway, I'm off to teach at IMC near Parry Sound. I always have a great time. The food and accommodations are excellent, the young people are awesome to work with, and it's a wonderful chance to reconnect and perform with members of my extended musician family. I'm also going to be recording with Peter Hum's band near Ottawa after that, so the live-in cat sitters will be busy!

Here's an idea that has nothing to do with camping, except for the fact this hi-hat idea has been camped out in my playing and psyche since high school! This time I'm using the three four idea against a five BD/SNARE thing.

Have fun, and don't get too much sun!

Tuesday, August 21, 2018


I played a gig recently and two separate parties mentioned that I played with passion. i was extremely pleased with that assessment as this is what I'm hoping people will feel when i perform.

 What is passion?

Well, some of the elements for me personally are...

I want to mean everything I play. I never want to phone it in. I never know when my last gig might be and I want everyone in the audience to feel, whether they like the music or not, that I'm giving it my all.

2. Craftsmanship
Although I'm sure this isn't a part of the textbook definition of passion, I feel that passion itself isn't enough. One has to be able to get a good sound with solid technique and swinging, grooving time feel, or the passion along won't get us very far.

3. Awareness
Just plain old listening, to ourselves and all the sounds around us. It's inescapable!

Okay, true confession time. About five years ago I was in a bad personal space and had lost my passion for music, and frankly, almost everything else. It was a struggle for me to do the very thing I had spent most of my life learning how to do. Fortunately, I was able to reignite my passion for drums and music once i got out of my negative situation. So, if you momentarily lose your passion, it's okay, you can get it back. Remember, music is a life-long pursuit and your relationship can ebb and flow like all relationships. If you truly love it, it will work out!

Now let's listen to ( appropriately enough ) McCoy Tyner's " Passion Dance " with one of Elvin's many great recorded performances!

Saturday, August 18, 2018


Something else has come up in the aftermath of Aretha Franklin's untimely passing. Namely, sloppy journalism. Some of it is major, and some of it relatively minor. In the major department, Fox news displayed a photograph of the very much alive Patti LaBelle in their tribute to Franklin. You can read the whole story here. This is simply unforgivable. To mess up on a tribute of a major star like this, not to mention all the racism it implies ( it's interesting to note it was Fox, and not, say, the BBC that made this error ) especially with all the racial tension currently going on in the states, is unacceptable.

The minor case of lack of due diligence comes up right here in the blogosphere. In course of discussing Franklin's career, a fellow blogger brought up Bernard Purdie. He's certainly a legendary drummer and an important musician in her musical life. Unfortunately, this blogger then brought up several hit songs as examples of Purdie's playing that he definitely did not play on! 
I see this as problematic in several ways. Firstly, in this day and age, in takes mere minutes to verify facts, as they are now at our fingertips. Secondly,  we are dealing with Purdie, whose talent for exaggeration and myth building is second only to his massive musical talent. ( Remember, this is the man who for decades has been claiming he played on over a dozen Beatles tracks without offering any proof, or even tune titles! ) So, when writing about and/or quoting Purdie, I'd say an extra amount of due diligence is required. Finally, I think there is a tendency through both hero worship as well as laziness to present the musical world as one in which a small number of players (e.g Gadd, Purdie, Porcaro ) did everything and no one else is worth talking about. I feel this approach leaves out many important but lesser known figures. ( Update: The blogger corrected the error, and was quite gracious about it. )

Okay, my latest rant is almost over, but I'd like to conclude by sa theying that large right-wing broadcasting conglomerates may be beyond reach as far as affecting change to responsible journalism, but for those of us mere mortals on the ground, we have a responsibility to get the facts as accurate as we can, and to acknowledge when we goof. ( To see an example of me eating crow around this, see my post on Paul Motian's death when I claimed he didn't play with many pianists after Bill Evans! Oops! )
Anyway, keep practicing, writing, and looking for the truth.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

RIP Aretha Franklin

Woke up today to the sad news of Ms. Franklin's passing. A true original and American treasure. There are so many great performances to post here but I thought I'd go with " Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You )" with Roger Hawkins playing that majestic shuffle in 3.

Rest peacefully Ms. Franklin, and thank you so much for the music.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Instagram Karma Gonna Get You

Hey all,
As a sort of response to a lot of the drumming dreck I see on Instagram, I've been posting little clips there of me working on ideas. Here are four of them. Please note that this blog is the best place to check out anything I post ( rather than social media or youtube ) because I provide the most explanation and context here! So, congratulations for being in the right spot!

Here's a short clip of me playing Swiss army deadstrokes. It's the normal lRRL ( or rLLR ) sticking but I'm making the flammed stroke ( the "little note " )  a deadstroke. As well as muffling the drum, it also raises the pitch, so it's a nice tonal variation.

Next is a RLR sticking with all the first Rs as deadstrokes and all Ls buzzed.

I can't remember if I've mentioned this before, but it's a bit of a pet peeve of mine that buzzes and deadstrokes are given so little attention in rudimental literature. I'm sure it's because most rudimental pedagogy comes from drum corps, and these types of strokes don't work very well when one has ten or more drummers playing in a field on drums that are tuned so they feel ( and sound ) like table tops.

See? I got yet ANOTHER rant in!

The next two clips are of brush patterns. The first is a 12/8 that makes use of pushing the lefthand brush across the drumhead.

Finally, here's an example of using brush flams ( both hands circle the same direction in circles and the left hand " runs over " the right )

So, have fun and be a great person!

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Electronic drums then and now

 I am a middle aged musician, so I came of age in the music scene of the 80s. It was, admittedly, a strange time of shoulder pads, MTV, and lots and lots of hair gel! It was also a time of electronic drums. In fact, Simmons ( along with a few others ) had a convincing argument that acoustic drums were going the way of the dodo. It certainly seemed like it with musicians like Bill Bruford embracing this new instrument.

Or Terry Bozzio using it in a somewhat more commercial setting.....

Fast forward to today. Most drummers have all but abandoned electronic drums ( except to enhance acoustic drum sets ). Electronic kits are mainly used for silent practice and a small amount of dance music type situations......

So, what happened?  

If I may relay a recent experience, I might have a partial answer.

I went to a local fair in a park near where I live.. There were midway rides, games of chance, food that's terrible for you, you get the idea. Anyway. I heard some music coming from a tent in the distance. It was a selection of classic Rock and since it was obvious it wasn't the original vocals, I thought it might be some sort of karaoke contest. As I got closer, I realized i was hearing live guitar and bass but because the drums sounded so processed and distant I assumed they were playing along to a drum machine. Nope! There was a live drummer, and a decent one to boot. But he was playing an electronic kit so it had that weird combination of slick sounds but turned way down in the mix. I was trying to figure out why everything sounded so cold and sterile, and it wasn't just the studio-esque drum sounds. Then I finally realized that acoustic drums are omni-directional. The sound from them radiates out everywhere! In fact, I suspect this is the reason they were electronic drums in the first place. I get that electronic drums can go directly into the soundboard so they're easy to work with. The problem for the drummer is there's nothing coming back while one is playing. ( When i used to play Simmons drums on gigs, I had to have my monitor CRANKED, whereas with acoustic drums, I rarely need to hear any, other than what's coming off them naturally. ) The problem for the audience, is that it's boring!!!! Whether it's the likes of Mark Guiliana gently caressing at a low volume, or John Bonham slamming, the relationship between stick height and loud/soft is very exciting. Electronic drums tend to neuter that relationship, and it's a drag! Plus, electronic drums sound very cheesy when they're turned way down. My advice to people that are worried about the volume of a drummer would be to hire one that's dynamically sensitive.

Ha! I guess I just posted another rant! Anyway, until next time and acoustic drums rule! 

Sunday, August 5, 2018

One piece at a time Part 3 Toms

I once read a quote attributed to John Bonham that he thought drums sounded better than cymbals. I'm not sure I agree with that, but i would say, to my ears, I generally like the sound of toms more than snare drums or bass drums. There is a very "snare-y" component to a lot of the keeper of the flame type drummers I hear these days, and I  find it tiresome. ( That said, I am NOT referring to people like Buddy Rich,  Philly Joe Jones or especially Kenny Clarke who got so much mileage out of a snare he really didn't need toms! )

So let's hear some examples of great tom playing and sounds.

Here's a great example of some fine tom work from one of the original pioneers of the modern drum set, Baby Dodds. Note how he creates great melodies between the drums.

Of course, one can't talk about toms grooves and solos without mentioning Gene Krupa. Here he is later in his career playing his signature tune.

Here's Elvin Jones demonstrating the depth of Krupa's influence on his use of toms in his composition " 3 Card molly ".

There are so many great examples of tom use in Pop and Rock as well. Here's  Motown masters Pistol Allen and Uriel Jones on Marvin Gaye's " I Heard it Through the Grapevine " . Backbeats on a tom? Who needs a snare drum?!

Finally, here's Jack DeJohnette playing against type and keeping time with just toms, bass drum and hi-hat on Dave Holland's " African Lullaby ".

Now let's get out there and enjoy some tomfoolery! ( Ha! Dad jokes r' me ! )

Monday, July 23, 2018

The Death of Taste

Hey everyone! It's time for yet another rant. I apologize for being overly dramatic, but I wanted to get your attention!

I was recently at a spot practicing and a band came in to rehearse. They had it booked so I moved. No problem, fair is fair. After I had practiced some more, i went to leave, but listened outside the space for a while. It's hard to describe what I heard, but some sort of '70s Czechoslovakian Circus Wedding comes to mind!
Now,  I'm sure the leader of this band had some concept in mind, but I have my doubts how much experience that concept was based on.

Which brings me to my main point, the subject of taste. Generally, when we are younger, a lot of our musical ideas are not fully formed and are based on superficial concepts. Our musical values and aesthetic usually aren't fully formed at the beginning of our musical journey.

So, how do we develop theses musical values?


In some of the situations I meet younger players in,  I'm shocked at how little music they listen to. Not just various styles, not just players on their own instrument, but anything!!!!!
It takes a long time to develop ones musical appetites, and those will change over time as well.
Read any interviews or check out social media on any of your favourite players. Yes, they may had practiced a lot ( that's a given ) but most of them listen to TONS of music. And we're talking about concentrated listening here, not "hit shuffle and I'll let it wash over me".

So, really listen to some music today and your musicianship will improve almost minute by minute!

Here's an example of a great musician who always mixes all his influences in an interesting and creative way...Dan Weiss and his new band Starebaby.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Cymbal blow out! NEW NEW PRICES!

Sorry folks, this post is about commerce. Pure and cymbal! ( Ha! Typo, and I'm keeping it.) I currently own too much metal and have obtained enough old K. Zildjians to keep me happy for the rest of my existence! ( I currently do not endorse any brand of cymbals.) So I'm posting some video of the suspects in question, along with prices. ( In Canadian dollars). All reasonable offers will be considered. The videos are in the order that the cymbals are listed. If shipping is required, I'll look that up and add it to your total. Any questions? Put them in the comments section, email me at, or find me on Facebook or Twitter

For Sale: 20" Zildjian K. Constantinople Medium Thin ( High ) - $350 (Sold)

Murat Diril Renaissance 22" Prototype Ride- $250

Murat Diril 18" China Type Renaissance Light- $200 ( Sold)

Murat Diril 20" Renaissance Light Ride- $200

14" Murat Diril Renaissance Regular Hi-Hats- $200

14" Murat Diril Renaissance Dark Hi-Hats- $200

Also selling some Tamburo drums. Italian made. 10",12"14" toms. 18" bass drum. Black. $600

Here they are in action....

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Rick Allen

I don't think it even really matters if you're a Def Leppard fan or not. Just what Rick Allen went through ( which he speaks about very candidly here ) shows what can be achieved with hard work and a positive mindset. THERE ARE NO EXCUSES FOLKS! For the record, I'm saying that to myself just as much as to anyone else!

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Odd Time Stick Control

Hey all,
I'm just going to explain this without a video because I'm a bit pressed for time, my apologies.

First take George Lawrence Stone's venerable classic "Stick Control". The first page is as good a starting point as any...

Play all Rs on hi-hat, all Ls on snare drum. Then pick a time signature you want to work in 5, 7 etc. and add in a fairly simple bass drum part to start with. For example, if you decide to play in 7, two half notes followed by two dotted quarter notes works well. Now the sort of tricky part ( for me at least ) is to keep the 4/4 sticking going while still playing the bass drum, and hearing the whole thing in 7. The sticking pattern will come back to the beginning of the bar after 4 bars of whatever time signature one is playing. It's interesting to note, that for me, I find it a lot easier to superimpose odd numbers notes in 4/4 rather than playing 4/4 rhythms that go over the bar in an odd time signature. This is also part of my ongoing work on trying to play more effectively in linear types of patterns. I hope some of you find this helpful.

Now, just because it's awesome, is Mark Guiliana talking about improvising. Lots of great stuff to chew on here.

Happy Trails.......

Friday, May 18, 2018

Digging Deeper

Hi all,
'The cymbals and drums are still for sale so check out the previous post if you're interested.

Okay, I wanted to hip you to a series of videos that have helped me a lot with filling in my harmonic knowledge. Drummers, especially formally educated ones, have a bit of a conundrum in regard to chords and scales. In my case, I have been given a TON of harmonic information but, without a place to use it in a practical way, it's remained pretty nebulous. My friend Jeff Antoniuk has a great series on Youtube entitled " Digging Deeper " that goes step-by-step through many concepts of playing on changes, scales, etc. This series has been invaluable as I'm slowly getting involved in the determinate pitch/harmonic universe. I've posted the first few videos in the series below...

As you can see, the information is well presented in bite-size chunks and delivered with the sort of self-effacing humour that could only come from a Canadian!

So, I highly recommend this series, especially to all drummers that are beginning to grapple with harmony in an active way. ( Please note, I am receiving  no kickback from Jeff from this post. Although, if he decided he wanted to send some AMERICAN greenbacks my way, I wouldn't be offended! )

Now work on your scales!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Ella Fitzgerald's Birthday

I had to post something for such an important musicial date, because like most performers of her stature, it's hard to pick one recording. I do, however have a soft spot for the "songbook" series, arranged by the great Nelson Riddle. It's most likely Alvin Stoller on drums. So, here's "All the Things You Are".

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The drummers of InstaHAM

Hello all,
I think it's time for another rant, don't you? ( Wait, don't answer that.)
Anyone who knows me or has followed the blog knows I have a rather complicated relationship with social media. This is especially true of Instagram. Yes, I know it's a lot of preening teens, bodybuilders, and the like.

But, you know what's the worst, by far?????

The drum videos!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The drum-related Instagram stuff seems to generally fall into 5 categories, they are.....

1. Chops Galore.....
This actually also contains two subheadings, velocity of hands, and velocity of feet. Sometimes they have both, but in any case the point is to show how fast one can play without and musical context or any real reason to be playing this way except that,'s fast!

2. I'm so cute!
A type of video where a young, good looking person ( of either sex. Believe me, I've seen some shirtless beefcake drummers on there! ) usually plays along to a track ( often categorized as a "drum cover" )  with super-exaggerated arm movements and a big smile. In essence,  it's long on show-biz, short on content.

3. The showcase play-along......
Arguably a subset of #2,  this features someone playing along to a piece of complicated music that exists only to show-off fancy drumming within it. You won't find any singable melodies, interesting chord changes, or thoughtful lyrics here, because the track is accompanying the drums, rather than the other way around.

4. Stick tricks, pads aplenty, and drum corps gone mad.....
In these type of videos, no one ever plays on a drum, but rather gives us the incredibly inspiring sound of wood striking plastic or rubber. It's really more the idea of being a majorette, but with sticks rather than a baton. Leaving the feet out helps the participants avoid any semblance of even trying to keep time, and again, show-biz reigns supreme!

5. Look everyone! I'm playing a Rock Beat on my drums in a really bizarre place!
What's way better than playing a beat everyone's heard a thousand times? Playing a beat everyone's heard a thousand times in a swimming pool, a snowy backyard, or in front of your favourite barbecue restaurant beside a major highway!!! I'm sure when space travel becomes even slightly more common, it'll be one small step for mankind, but one giant leap for stupid Instagram videos......

Okay, I guess I've been a grumpy old man enough for today, so I'm going to share two underrated drummers I've been checking out lately.  One is the great Bill Dowdy, who played on many recordings but is best known for his work with The 3 Sounds....

The other great drummer I'm listening to is Ben Dixon, particularly with organist Big John Patton. Enjoy!

Ahhhhh. That's much better. To be fair, there are some drummers I do follow on social media. Mark Guiliana, for example. But generally, it's vintage pics of my hometown and cute Boston Terrier videos!
Until next time......

Monday, March 19, 2018

It Ain't All Jazz

Here's a wonderful documentary about three Canadian treasures...musicians Wray Downes, Sonny Greenwich , and Archie Alleyne. Some great footage of them playing as well as discussions of their formative years, the changing face of the Jazz scene in Toronto, and the racism they faced. It's especially poignant as Archie is no longer with us. Enjoy.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A changed man

This is what I meant to talk about the other day before I went on my wristrenome rant.

 For a long time, I wanted to play at drum festivals, to be seen as "one of the cats", to have drum and cymbal companies vying for my attention.

There were a few problems with my little ego fantasy though. The first thing is, I don't have chops. Now, I certainly have amassed many skills and techniques in my 40+ years of playing the drums. I don't have, however, BLINDINGLY-FREAKISH-VELOCITY-BASED-SHOW-BIZ-CHOPS that make 14 year olds drool. I have also abilities that are not valued in these environments such as:
-reading ability
-brush vocabulary
-playing of styles such as Jazz and Big Band
-keen listening skills ( especially in a group situation )
-knowledge of many styles and players of the drum set in a historical context
-vast knowledge of standard song repertoire
-soloing over song forms


When I finally realized that the only reason I wanted to be a part of these things was my own ego, I let go of wanting to be in this particular club house.....

No Teds allowed!

Strangely enough, around the time I was realizing that I probably wasn't " Drum Festival Material " 
( at least in the way most festivals are conducted ) I started realizing I  had reached a kind of wall in terms of the progress I was making in playing Jazz. As well, an ensemble I was teaching needed a chordal player, and I didn't have a pianist or guitar player. I then took this opportunity to dust off the year's experience I had playing piano when I was 9, and jump into the world of harmony with both feet! 
To say my comping and soloing was horrendous at the beginning would be unfair ( to horrendous ) but I kept at it. I've spent the last 6 or so years rehearsing, jamming, and practicing piano, while still doing all my regular teaching and playing on drums. Do I sound brilliant at a keyboard? Not by a long shot, but let's look at just a few of the things I've learned.....

1. Playing another instrument basically from scratch is good for keeping your ego in check.
I've played the drums for decades. It's a part of me. I can be away from the drums for long periods of time and function very well at the next gig. I can learn things on the drums quickly, and often don't even need to do it at the instrument. I never fall below a certain standard of playing, and never 
"choke " on gigs anymore. In a nutshell, I never sound "bad" on the drums now, unless I'm learning something new. None of the above is true when I'm playing piano! This all has been great for my humility.

2. I have a whole new appreciation for the parts of the band that are dealing with the harmony.
Drummers are affected by the harmony too, but it's in more of an indirect way. Conversely, it's been interesting to deal with the students in my ensembles because I now know that yes, playing a beautiful solo on chord changes that tells a story, creates a beautiful melody over the form etc. is very challenging. On a garden variety standard tune though ( " All The Things You Are" , for example ) playing a solo using the chord tones isn't that hard. One just has to know what makes up the chords in each piece, and what does that take? Like everything else, practice! It's not a gift from on high or anything. It's a skill!

3. Conversely, I have a whole new appreciation for drummers who really support the soloists.
I remember being at a jam session on piano a while ago, and when I played a great drummer from the area ( Sam Cino ) played drums. He listened so carefully,  played so sensitively ( even to the point where I told him not to be afraid to play more aggressively behind me! ) and really made a lot more of my half-baked efforts than was originally there. Now, I always new he was great from a drummer's standpoint, but now I knew he was great from a musician's  perspective! 

4. My knowledge of all the levels of the music seems to eliminate the "bs" from my drumming.
Now, this is a pretty subtle thing to verbalize, but I do feel differently now when I'm accompanying someone on drums. I feel I hear more, play better dynamics, have a better sense of the flow of a solo etc. A great pianist recently told me that the way I play now makes it a lot easier for him to get his point across when he solos. I can tell you, that means a lot more to me than 100s of drum festivals!

In conclusion, I now feel that I've become a different sort of player. You know, a lot of drummer's pay lip service to the idea of "playing for the song" but I think that becomes a lot more difficult if you don't understand what the song is made up of besides the drum parts! For me personally,  I get more from learning what makes a good bass line as opposed to the same amount of time trying to make my single strokes faster ( although I will keep working on that as well! ).

And finally, let's hear some transcendent drumming AND piano playing from Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette for Valentine's Day.......

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

First Rant of 2018

Hi all,
I was going to write about something else today but something on social media got my dander up so, as a person well and officially in middle age, I decided to go full "outraged Grandpa Simpson" and address it.....

                              Dagnabbit! There outta be a law.....

Anyway, there's this sort of wristwatch/metronome thing that's being advertised a lot online lately. Now, as regular readers will know, I have no problem with metronomes, drum machines, sequencers etc. They are a part of any current musician's life, and one must learn to work with them. What I have a big problem with, however, is the fetishization and worship of such devices, as if they were the music itself. in the online ad, a great drummer, whose work I admire greatly says.... " No human has perfect time " and ( referring to the wristwatch ) " this is such a beautiful instrument...".
Okay, I'll deal with what I feel to be problematic with these statements one at a time.

I if he means that no human has perfectly mechanical metronomic time, I totally agree with him. Make no mistake, I have listened to this person play so beautifully on numerous recordings. He's making the music, not a machine! In fact, he's one of those great players ( I would count the great Steve Jordan in this group as well ) who can make the machinery sound like it's PLAYING TO HIM, rather than the other way around. The gear isn't where it's at, the humans are, you dig?

Now if he calls this wristrenome ( I just made that up ) a beautiful instrument, what does that make the drums he's playing? It's not an instrument. It's a tool, a device, a utensil. Steinway makes instruments. Seiko does not.

People may feel I'm nitpicking over language but I think it's important to realize (yet again ) that the human element is what makes great music great.

And now ( just by coincidence, mind you ) let's listen to the great JR Robinson propel Steve Winwood's  beautiful " Back In The High Life Again" and shows those little knobs and wires who's boss...... :)

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Duo Percussion

One of the great perks ( percs? Ha! ) of teaching at University of Guelph every Thursday is that at noon, an hour before I teach,  the music department hosts a free concert. It's a great chance for me to check out music that i haven't heard before, and this week's concert was truly exceptional. The featured ensemble was Duo Percussion, a ( you guessed it ) percussion duo featuring Brennan Connolly and Dave Robilliard. Both are musicians from Ontario. They played beautifully and had a wonderfully varied program, mainly moving from non-pitched percussion and vibraphone/marimba pieces.

Here they are playing " Conversation For Two Tambourines " by Bobby Lopez

Wow! So much music in those little instruments.
Anyway, if you ever get a chance to see these guys play, definitely do it. As a purely " drum set guy" I have no limit of respect for percussionists. Maybe I can do a " inside the drummer's studio " post with them sometime and I can find out how one simultaneously keeps one's chops up on instruments as completely different as marimba and tambourine.

Btw, I am getting no kickback from featuring these great musicians, although if they ever wanted to give me a tambourine lesson sometime, I wouldn't refuse!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Quality Tea Room

Now for something completely different....

Here's a short film by filmmaker ( and musician ) Brett Bell about the demise of a local Regina landmark. Enjoy!

QTR from Brett Bell on Vimeo.