Friday, May 7, 2021
Monday, May 3, 2021
Hi and welcome to part 3 of the series where Four on The Floor, Cruise Ship drummer and I all write about a given subject. This time we're talking about technique, specifically on how it relates to the drums.
What is technique? Well, one definition of technique I found states that it's a way of carrying out a particular task, especially the execution or performance of an artistic work or a scientific procedure.
I bring up this definition because often technique is equated with "velocity". I suppose speed is one tiny aspect of technique, but there's so much more to it than that. I'm now going to take us through all the things that, for me, define technique.
1. Time feel
I have never had a " you got it, or you don't" philosophy. To play good time at various tempos and styles, is challenging, and must be practiced! Sure, everyone has tempos and feels they gravitate towards, but to truly fill in the gaps, we have to work on this tempos that are challenging to us. Case in point, I am naturally a very ahead of the beat player, so to learn to lay back better, I had to practice playing behind the metronome, and play along with great back of the beat drumming, and to learn to place the feel where the drummer on the recording was. Like most aspects of music, time feel is something we work towards, and is a HUGELY important technique. I'm also including playing rubato in this! That's another technique that's frequently ignored.
This is ignored a ton by people. Playing the same things at different volume levels while maintaining time and groove is challenging, to say the least. Proud of your blisteringly fast single stroke roll? Let's hear it at ppp. If you can't do it, your technique is not what you thought it is.
Closely related to dynamics. Simply put, what do people hear when we play, and is it what we intended them to hear. Where are we striking the instruments? If I'm hitting rims constantly, it may be I have some sort of "concept", but it's more likely I have to refine my technique. This is part of the reason I don't put much stock in "pad practice", because it doesn't deal with sound at all, unless you're going to play a practice pad on the gig!
Another thing that gets better the more we pay attention to it. If we constantly try and find different avenues, sounds, and textures it tends to perpetuate itself! Don't be satisfied with doing the same things?having the same set up/checking out the same music all the time. That's bad technique, as far as I'm concerned!
I think because velocity can be easily measured ( they don't give out those pseudo wrestling belts for being able to play a really slow, sensuous Bossa!) it's often focused on at the expense of all the above considerations.
5. General Concept of the drums
There are a lot of different ways to approach playing this instrument. Over the course of my career, I realized I wanted to be working with the drums. I view my instrument as someone I am singing or dancing with. To be honest, I hear a lot of ham-fisted and stiff drumming out there. I think when one's first goal is to be impressive and fast, the drummer becomes more like someone colonizing and controlling the drums rather than someone engaged in a dialogue. The latter is what inspires me. Just a few of the drummers doing this ( and I'm bringing this group up because I've heard these players most recently ) would be people like Joe LaBarbara, Allison Miller, and a delightful young drummer I was just hipped to, J.D. Beck.
As people who read this blog know, I rarely "out" anyone, even when I don't like what they're doing. I will, however make an exception for the renowned ( for her racism rather than her drumming) individual Hillary Jones, who exemplifies the "colonial" style drumming of which I speak. This shows up as much in her drumming as her words.
I guess what I'm getting at the end here is, how are each of us going to approach technique, and I think deciding what's most important whether it be fast single strokes, grooving like Levon Helm, or Instagram-ready stick twirling is something we all have to figure out.
Okay, now go work on your technique.
Thursday, April 29, 2021
Monday, April 26, 2021
This is inspired by a recent Cruise Ship Drummer post. I'm always interested to hear what people are practicing. As I've mentioned before, I really enjoy practicing, even after playing for 45 years!
Maybe before I talk about what I'm practicing, I'll also talk about the why and how. :)
Obviously, people at different stages of their development practice different things. I used to practice sight reading music, every day, but it's been a long time since I've done that. At this point, my reading ( at least with non-pitched instruments) is either good enough to get through whatever's thrown at me, or if it's super challenging, I either get the music in advance or I practice super challenging in the short term to "ramp up". I'd say at this point, only about 1 in 6 gigs (when we were working) requires any reading beyond looking at a lead sheet and interpreting it.
- I tend not to practice pure technique. At this point, I want everything I look at to have some sort of application. If I am practicing single strokes, for example, I will practice moving round the drums, or playing something with my feet underneath. One thing I have been working on is "push/pull" things with my hands (either off the rim, the so-called "one hand roll", or just in the middle of the drum or cymbal.) I currently put them into beats at various tempos, and I do seem to be getting better control of them with either hand.
-Speaking of the feet, I seem to have spent a lot of the pandemic working on foot ostinatos. A lot of the typical ones I've spent some time on, like left foot clave/salsa bass drums, but also have made up some of my own involving 3 and 5 beat patterns that go over the bar, or even odd groupings within the bar.
-Whenever I hear a feel on a recording that I like or seems unusual/challenging for me, I try and play along with it. I still think this is a huge challenge! If you can stay with the recording for it's whole length without ego-ing out on your own playing and losing where you are, you've probably really learned something!
-Working a lot on beats/ideas that utilize articulations such as buzzes or deadstrokes to create variety.
-I try to improvise short "pieces" often at the beginning of my practice.
-Trading, soloing and playing over vamps. Practicing playing rubato.
-I also try and review my last day's practice by either expanding on it or simply seeing if I can still play it a day later! This really helps with thematic thinking. In fact, at this stage, I'm just thinking about the whole time I've been playing as a 45 year long practice session, with some breaks! :)
-Also continuing to work on other instruments. One of the cool things about that I tend to work on really different things with each axe. If I'm practicing harmonica, I play 12Bar 3 chord blues. On piano it's mainly Great American Songbook and Jazz standards, learning to play the melodies and how to improvise on the chord changes. On ukulele, it's Pop songs I sing along to. Although I've mentioned this before, it bears repeating that these other instrumental perspectives have helped my drumming immensely!
So, this is what I'm doing. People will practice different things depending on their needs. Assess yours, either on your own or with a teacher, and then get cracking!
Thursday, April 22, 2021
Just a quick announcement that Cornerstone Records has digitally re-released the Mike Murley album Time and Tide. The album is sort of transitional and the handful tunes I'm on are only my 3rd recording, I think.
You can download it here.
…and from that album here's Jim Vivian's tune "Parabola"
Man, it's quite something to listen to something I recorded ALMOST 30 YEARS AGO! Jim, Murl, Dave, and I have all grown as musicians (and people) since then, yet at the same time there's an essence, a kernel of truth, that's been there the whole time. To observe this sort of growth in oneself and others is one of the great pleasures of being involved in music this long. I highly recommend it! :)
Monday, April 19, 2021
Friday, April 16, 2021
What's the first thing we hear when a drummer (or any musician) plays for us? We experience their sound, of course! Yet many teachers, myself included, do't talk about sound on the drum set very much. Why? Well, in a pedological environment, sound can be a tricky and subjective thing to evaluate. I also feel many people think that because sound production on a drum or cymbal is a relatively simple thing, (after, all, don't you just hit the thing?) that there's not much one can say about it. But say about it I will! Let's look at ways we as drummers can improve our sound.
This may seem pretty basic, but many drummers don't listen to the sounds they're making. That's why I don't recommend practice pads when an actual drum set is available and practical. It doesn't matter what fancy and impressive things are achieved on a pad because we don't play pads in performance! Also, only play the sounds you mean. Many "accidental" sounds on drum set can include:
- cymbals and/or drums hitting each other after we have played them.
-playing on an odd part of a cymbal or drum out of physical habit, rather than musical need or concept. This can include playing near the edge of the cymbal when riding it, playing toward the outer rim rather than the centre of a drum, hitting rims often, missing intended rimshots frequently, etc. Let me stress that ANY sound of a drum or cymbal is fair game and will be appropriate at times, it's just they have to be intentional!
Now, this will mean different things to different people. I would recommend listening to drums and cymbals of players you like and try to determine things you would want in your sound.. Does the player you like have theirs snares tight or loose? Do they tune high or low? What relationship between the top and bottom heads creates the sound you like? Do they even have bottom heads on their toms and bass drum? Are the drums muffled or ringy? Do you like the toms to dip in pitch? Cymbals bright or dark? Thin or thick? Do you like your drums sound with brushes but not with sticks and mallets? Some of these things will also depend on the type of music you're playing and the sonic environment the style tends to have. In all cases, don't be afraid to experiment with tuning, muffling, and cymbal choice, and if one plays a lot of different styles, they may need for more instruments to be purchased or compromises made. The more you listen and experiment, the more you will develop your personal appetites of what the drums should sound like.
3. Listen Part 2 (in context)
This is also style dependent. How loud of soft should you play with the band you're with? How does your sound mix with the rest of the ensemble? How does your sound change when you go from playing with a distorted guitar to a muted trumpet, for example?
In conclusion, developing own's sound is easily as important as anything else we practice on the instrument. We ignore it at our peril!
Now go develop your sound! :)
Monday, April 12, 2021
Friday, April 9, 2021
Wednesday, April 7, 2021
Wednesday, March 31, 2021
Monday, March 29, 2021
Thursday, March 25, 2021
Monday, March 22, 2021
In the third instalment in my series on drummers that have worked with XTC, I spoke with Chuck Sabo. Mr. Sabo is especially significant in that he is the last drummer to record with the band, the fantastic results of which are documented on Wasp Star (Apple Venus Vol. 2). Before we get to the interview, here's some biographical information about this musician's long and varied career.
Chuck Sabo (Charles Edward Sabo Jr.) was born August 22, 1958, and grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in a family of non-musicians. His parents supported his interest in and aptitude for playing the drums, and he began his career playing in cover bands in the Allentown area.
Sabo moved to New York City in 1980 at age 21. While taking drum lessons with Sonny Igoe he worked moving furniture to subsidize his music career. In the early part of the decade he made his first significant industry connections, recording his first major label project (1982's The Eleventh Hour) with Tom Dickie and the Desires managed by Tommy Mottola.
He also played in the early 1980s in New York City with the Comateens, and his stint in NYC ended after he recorded their final album, Deal With It, in 1984. After touring Europe with the group to support the album, he decided to stay in London.
He began his UK career being offered gigs with two bands, Decadence, managed by Mick Rossey, who was also managing Flock of Seagulls, and Glasgow band Talking Drums, who were managed by Miles Copeland. He went with Talking Drums and moved to Glasgow for a short time, but soon returned to London, where he played with a number of bands and became further known on the music scene.
In 1988 he was the session drummer for Étienne Daho's album Pour Nos Vies Martiennes. The following year he toured Europe with Daho.
Sabo played on Martyn Ware's 1991 British Electric Foundation album Music of Quality and Distinction, Vol. 2, which included recordings with Tina Turner, Chaka Khan, Terence Trent D'Arby, Billy Preston, and others. In 1992 he played on Tashan's 1992 album For the Sake of Love, produced by Ware. He toured with Shakespears Sister and played on their album Hormonally Yours as well as Right Said Fred's album Up. In 1993 he was the session drummer on Take That's album Everything Changes. In 1994, while he was recording Marcella Detroit's album Jewel, its producer Chris Thomas arranged for Sabo to play on the last track ("Duets for One") on Elton John's Duets album. That led to sessions for The Lion King soundtrack, where Chuck played on "Circle of Life," "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," and "I Just Can't Wait to Be King." Sessions with Kiki Dee and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark followed.In 1997 Sabo played on Natalie Imbruglia's hit Grammy-winning RCA album Left of the Middle and toured with Imbruglia supporting it.
In 2000, Sabo played on XTC's final studio album, Wasp Star (Apple Venus Volume 2). His work the following year included Jimmy Nail's album Ten Great Songs and an OK Voice, and a return engagement with Imbruglia for her second album, White Lilies Island.
The success of the Natalie Imbruglia project and others enabled Sabo and his then-wife Jeanette Landry to set up a home studio, where among other projects they wrote and recorded with singer Sally Ann Marsh, who was later signed to Jive Records. Her success led them to a publishing deal with Dalmatian Songs in the U.K. and with BMG in the rest of the world.
In 2003, Sabo performed on three albums that Brian Eno produced, Roy Orbison - 'You May Feel Me Crying' On the Platinum Collection Album, The Pet Shop Boys, and 808 State 'Lopez'.
In 2007 he joined the drum faculty of the Institute of Contemporary Music Performance in London.In 2019 he released three singles, "This Cowboy Ain't Going Home," "The Politician," and "Keep Running Forever," in advance of his forthcoming debut album Running the Human Race[and a single ("Dark & Rainy Street") co-produced by Chris Thomas.
If you've heard any of Chuck's many great recorded performances, and would like him playing on your recording, he can record tracks and send them to you! How great is that?!!! You can contact him via his website.
Although there were many artists we could have discussed, Chuck graciously answered my XTC-centric questions. His replies, like his playing, were concise, yet thoughtful and illuminating.
How did XTC come to be aware of you?
Matthew Vaughn, the programmer, who had worked with the producer before, recommended me as I had just finished recording The Lion King with Elton John and Matt was on that project.
How did you learn the tunes? Did they send you the tracks beforehand?
No, I never get the tracks sent beforehand. I just listen to them, make a chart of the arrangement and how I'm going to approach it, and then just go in and play it.
When you were tracking with XTC was the whole rhythm section recording at the same time or were you by yourself?
I was by myself with the guys ( Andy Partridge & Colin Moulding ) and Steve, the producer in the booth. I was tracking along to the instruments that had already been recorded.
Were you aware of XTC before you played with them?
Oh yes, I was aware of their songs, particularly their hits, but I've become much more aware of them since, I have to say.
Did most of the direction regarding the song come from the writer , either Partridge or Moulding?
Did Partridge and Moulding differ in their methods of recording their songs?
No, but they were similar in that they made suggestions about the drum parts rather than demands.
Once I got set up and got the drum sounds, they were already pretty happy about things. Andy didn't suggest, but he did ask if I'd ever tuned the drums to any particular key, which isn't something I've done. I just tune it to my ear, and if there's any problem with the tuning in a song, I'll re-tune or mute the drums a little bit, so there's not so much ring.
Everything went really smoothly. There were very happy with the drum tracks. When we started, I think they only had 2 or 3 songs in mind for me to record, but we ended up doing 7. A couple of them had drum tracks already, which I replaced.
Were there any tracks that were more challenging or you had to think about more than others?
No. However, Maypole was different than most pop arrangements and my chart took slightly longer to write out before I played it.
You were one of the last people to record with them as a band. Did you get any sense that things were coming to an end or they were getting tired of working together?
I didn't feel that. In fact, we all went out for dinner on a couple of occasions. What I felt most, was their frustration with their record labels and how that had taken the wind out of their sails.
Was there anything in particular you learned from working with XTC?
Every session is different and enjoyable for different reasons, but no, nothing stuck out except that it was a great session, and I enjoyed working with the guys.
…..and for those of you who just can't get enough XTC, I'm posting interviews with Dave Gregory and Andy Partridge from Gregg Bendian's great series The Progcast. Enjoy!
Monday, March 15, 2021
Saturday, March 13, 2021
I don't care if it's an open air venue! The drums are STILL too loud!
I think with all the information on music we're flooded with these days (and I realize that I'm contributing to this as much as anyone) we're led to believe that there's certain books that we HAVE to go through…..
This really isn't the case, at least as far as I'm concerned, so today I'm going to look at what many people view as "standard" literature and talk about my relationship to it. Hopefully this will show that although some concepts may be very important, we can arrive at them in a variety of ways…
1. Stick Control
Monday, March 8, 2021
Thursday, March 4, 2021
Monday, March 1, 2021
In the second instalment of our Three Bloggers series, Cruise Ship Drummer , Four on the Floor , and I will be comparing notes on Miles Davis' classic 50s quintet album Milestones. I look forward to hearing my compatriot's insights on what was a very important recording in my development.
First of all, Milestones establishes Davis as a complete and utter badass. How? Let me count the ways…..
-Out of the seven tunes, four of them are 12 bar blues forms. (At least for the blowing. "Two Bass Hit"'s head form is a little different.) Miles, however achieves variety by varying the tempos and keys. He also plays piano on "Sid's Ahead" (apparently due to red Garland walking out after a disagreement) resulting in a largely cordless or minimal chording performance.
-Further variety is achieved on side two due to the modal nature of the title tune, and then the piano trio version of "Billy Boy". Yes, Miles is such a badass he doesn't even play on one of the tunes! Again, like all his albums, Miles understands how to structure a recording for maximum effect and drama. No wonder he started titling his work Directions in Music by Miles Davis. He played the whole band as well as the trumpet!
I will address some other general factors with the album before I get to Philly Joe's drumming on this.
Another way the solos are linked on this is how much trading there is. Not only between the horns and drums, but between the horns themselves. Stitching the whole tune together by use of the passing the baton idea of a soloist referencing the previous soloist's last idea is utilized throughout the recording, but particularly on the title track. Check it out…..
Also, for me, this very catchy tune reached me in a way that say, Parker's couldn't, with the level of knowledge I possessed when I heard it.
Okay, on to Philly.
The title track is also interesting because Philly Joe doesn't treat it as a typical Jazz Drum performance in that he mainly sticks to his click on 4 pattern throughout. I've never heard him discuss of how he conceived his playing on this tune, but I'm wondering if the slower harmonic rhythm and singable melody caused him to take this static, hypnotic approach more akin to Pop and Funk drumming than anything he had done previously. Regardless of source of inspiration, Philly's concept differentiates "Milestones" from the rest of the tracks on the album…
Also worth noting is that Philly only has one tom on this recording, most likely his mounted tom. For someone of his brilliance this isn't even remotely an issue, for he always gets the most out of what he's playing and orchestrating. I actually learned his trades on "Dr. Jeckyll". Despite the tempo, there's a lot of great Philly language that isn't super difficult. The trades on "Sid's Ahead" are also great for working on one's slow tempo trading language. In general, I find Philly's playing a little less slick than other recordings of his, and I actually prefer it. It's also easier to figure out what he's doing when he only has one tom, although I find the splashy cymbal sound can create the opposite effect when attempting to check out his ride patterns.
Finally, if you want to learn to play brushes, you need to check Philly's work on "Billy Boy".
All in all, Milestones is an important and innovative, yet listener-friendly Jazz album that contains all the elements of great music. A timeless classic, and everyone serious about this music should spend time with it. :)
Monday, February 22, 2021
I have (nearly) just achieved another year circling the sun and am very glad of it!
On a completely unrelated note, I was recently thinking about cymbals and my relationship to them. I recently read online about a drummer's quest for the "perfect' cymbal. In my opinion, there are no perfect cymbals just like there are no perfect people, and I'm grateful for that in both cases! I'm actually of the opinion when most drummers don't like the sound of a cymbal, they switch them rather than learning how to play to get their conception out of said instrument. I'd like to offer a simple exercise regarding this, but first a little personal history….
I'm not crazy about a lot of the ride cymbals I hear. ( Keep in mind that even designating cymbals "ride' and "crash" has only been a thing for about half as long as the modern drum set.) On the other hand, I rarely hear a "crash" cymbal that I don't like immediately. I blame Ringo and Art Blakey. Ringo for that great sssshhhhh/white noise/no stick sound on the early Beatles records, and Blakey for that great Pwoosh that swells slightly after the impact of his Ks. (Speaking of Ks, I associate the sound of Ks more with Blakey than even Tony or Elvin and if there was such a thing as a "perfect" cymbal, Blakey's in the 50s and 60s would be it for me!) Anyway, I have found a great exercise to work on our Jazz ride rhythm articulation is to practice on thin/crash/small cymbals and still get the attack of the ride without it washing out. Don't use any Earth, DeJohnette, or flat cymbals for this, you have to work for that ride rhythm! :) Keep any decent cymbal a chance, and a good player will teach it how to work for them! :)
And here's Art Blakey playing that cymbal sound that's been in my head since I was in high school! Enjoy!
Thursday, February 18, 2021
Lately, there has been a great deal of convergence for me, as happens so often in the world of Music.
Firstly, we lost great musical artist and visionary Milford Graves, just after the loss of Chick Corea. I certainly don't know all of Chick's recorded work, not by a long shit, but Mr. Graves' work has been seriously under appreciated by me, so I set out to work on learning all I could about him. A great place to start is "The Full Mantis", a documentary about him released a few years back. Here's a preview, and I'll talk more about the film later.
Another great work of his is the collaborative drumming recording "Pieces of Time" with Kenny Clarke, Andrew Cyrille, and Famoudou Don Moye. There are so many great things about this recording (it's not on youtube, but you should buy it anyway!). Some of the great things are, hearing Kenny Clarke playing in such an abstract setting, and trying to pick out all the drummers individually ( I do better with Clarke and Don Moye than with Graves and Cyrille, so I obviously have a lot more listening to do! ). What's also wonderful is the amount of pure music being made! This is no mere drum wank!
Another converging piece of information for me was something the great Dave O'Neill said to me in a recent phone conversation. I was talking about how a lot of times when playing with a drum machine or metronome, the interpretation of the time doesn't get to be as loose (in a good way) and free as it is when people are just playing in the air, without a net. Dave then said " That's because, in the case of working with a machine, the time is seen as a grid". Bingo!!! That's it. Let's even look at this concept visually….
Obviously, this is something that every musician in this day and age needs to do effectively, but I feel we need to look at the time in other ways as well, otherwise we will be severely limited. What if sometimes we conceive of the time as waves, or the wind, or stars etc. The natural world has much to teach us about how to feel time and pulse (or no time and no pulse) in an organic way. Getting back to the Graves' doc, he describes (and plays) this so well. Interestingly enough, a lot of his ideas echo things that with Jim Keltner expresses in an interview I posted awhile back.
Now, fast forward to today where I was listening to a modern R n' B recording, and I couldn't help but notice how the guitar strumming along with the backbeat on 2 & 4, was a little behind. Now, this is the type of thing that's often great but, to my ears, it was the same amount of behind every time which means either, a) The guitarist was playing it along to a click, and was trying to be super consciously "expressive' or b) even worse, the guitar comp was "moved" to the same spot of the grid in the post-production process. I think in this sort of environment, the click has become the source of all the time and groove rather than a tool to be used (or not used) and the music suffers as a result.
Stevie didn't use any artificial time keepers on this. Does the time "wave" slightly at times? Yes. Is it unbelievably great in every way? YES!!!!!!!
In conclusion, don't just work on the grid of time; dive into the ocean of time as well!
Friday, February 12, 2021
Monday, February 8, 2021
Hey everybody! We're doing something very special this week.. I have combined forces with fellow bloggers Cruise Ship Drummer and Four on the Floor to bring 3 different views of a topic. Jon McCaslin from "4" suggested we discuss concepts involving hi-hat with our foot, so here's my contribution!
First, at little background to my exercises. I have thought about the hi-hat a lot in recent years. It is the newest permanent member of the drum set family, and arguably it's most complex instrument. It can be a short sound, long sound, can be played with either the hands or the foot, or both together. This last idea brings me to these exercises. At some point, I discovered if I viewed what the hands (most of the time the RH ) and left foot were doing as separate entities, I came up with open/closed combinations I wouldn't have though of otherwise. So here are the exercises….
The first one is the most obvious. If we play a standard Rock beat, we get Disco if we play our LF in quarter notes, and if we play our left foot on upbeat 8ths, it gives us a sort of Tony Thompson Power Station thing…..
Note on most of these I begin by playing the RH part on the rim of a tom so we can hear the two parts separately.
The second one is a standard rock beat, but the left foot is playing dotted quarters so it creates a nice over the bar line thing with the open and closed hi-hat sound….
The next three examples use the Jazz Ride Rhythm in the RH, and quarter notes, up beat 8ths, or quarter note triplets in the LF. Note I usually also present the pattern with the LF as splashed notes……
Now, let's try some ideas with the cascara rhythm in the RH. It's presented with LF on 1&3, 2&4, and all 4 beats respectively….
Finally, the last two examples employ either quarter note or displaced quarter note triplets in the LF while playing a standard Rock beat with the hands. The extra wrinkle in these is the "grind" the str. 8ths creates against the triplets….
Obviously, these last two aren't going to win you any friends if you play them on a Country gig! ( Nor would I ever suggest you utilize them this way.) All I'm attempting to demonstrate is some of the cool textures you can create using any of your favourite RH and LF patterns together on the hi-hat. Experiment with it, and see what you come up with that you like. This is a way we can all come up with our personal vocabulary, and have fun and challenge ourselves while we do it!
I wrote this before I saw Jon's excellent post this morning and wanted to say I completely concur with all of Jon's conceptual Hi-Hat information. Be willing to play hi-hat on 2 & 4, because that will work great a lot of the time, but also be willing to be adventurous and let go of it, if need be. Also, if you are an ambitious hi-hat person like myself, don't "lean" on your left foot as a way to make you're playing self-consciously hip! Quick story, I was playing at a band festival in Brandon Manitoba over a series of days, and luckily enough, the great Matt Wilson was there with his group as well. At the end of the festival, there was a big hang with the guest artists, adjudicators, and students. Some students were the house band, they sounded great. Matt got up and played, he sounded great. I got up and played, I sounded, well, like someone who had just noticed there was no hi-hat, and was messed up by this! I hadn't noticed this before, because the other drummers sounded so comfortable. The lesson here? Keep redefining your approaches to organizing/orchestrating your instrument, and keep your humility at close range! :)
Thursday, February 4, 2021
I'm pleased to let everyone know I have just joined the Attack Drumheads Canada Artist family! I love the product and am looking forward to a long and mutually beneficial relationship! Thanks so much Tim Harquail! I used Attack on my recent solo concert and reviewed them recently as well. Stay tuned here for more updates and videos of me demonstrating these great heads!
Saturday, January 30, 2021
Today's the day! Please join me if you can. You can tip me through my address firstname.lastname@example.org to either PayPal or Interac E-transfer.
Here's an interview I did on JazzFM91.1 on Friday to publicize the project….
I was just thinking about some of the beliefs I held about music as a younger man. I often got so into a certain drummer that when they moved on and someone different took their place, I would often compare the 2 players. Now sometimes it's great to "compare and contrast", as my English teacher used to say, (e.g. Miles' music) but I often defaulted to a this person is better than the other person. Not very helpful, really.
Here are a few examples….
I loved Kenny Clarke as soon as I heard him. One of the many great things he did was all his great work with the Modern Jazz Quartet. Here's a classic, swinging, example.
I actually first heard the MJQ with Connie Kay, who replaced Clarke after his departure. I must admit, the later MJQ didn't kill me, and when I later heard Clarke with them, I just decided he was "better" than Kay. , and didn't explore it any further. Fortunately for the young doofus I was, I later heard this……
Wow, he plays so beautifully and very differently than Clarke, and thank goodness for that!
I did this with other artists too. I used to think, why would Coltrane play with Rashied Ali when he could play with Elvin? I'm quite ashamed of my limited thinking back then. I think sometimes when we're young and trying to figure things out, we need to find winners and losers. This is super limited thinking! I remember reading Shelley Manne saying something to the effect of "Why compare artists? They're all in the museum together!" Wise words! :)
So, in conclusion, let's enjoy it all, the apples and oranges! :)
Thursday, January 28, 2021
Monday, January 25, 2021
Please join Jon McCaslin and myself for an interview this Tuesday Jan. 26th. We'll talk about the Riders, pizza, and maybe even music! :)
Saturday, January 23, 2021
Those of you outside central Canada may not be aware of this, but Ontario is now in total lockdown until at least mid-February. For me, this means the only place I can practice drums is in a small 2-bedroom apartment I share with my wife, who works from home. There are also 2 other units in the building, and the walls are rather thin. So, as well as ordering some mesh drumheads from Attack, that are still on their way, I bought a pack of 3 of Zildjian's low volume cymbals. and I thought I would tell you what I think….
First of all, Zildjian claims they feel very much like regular cymbals, and I think this is totally accurate. The rebound, etc. is exactly the same and therefore they are very comfortable to play. The pack I bought included a sat of "14 hi-hats, an 18" crash/ride, and a 14" crash.
-All the cymbals simply couldn't go beyond a very low volume, no matter how hard I struck them.
-Although there were certain sounds that normal cymbals had that weren't available (more on that in the cons section), I found some sounds were easier to get. Harmonics (scraping the drumstick tip across the diameter of the cymbal.), for example.
- All the cymbals had lots of stick definition, because there was very little ring.
-I found the 18" particularly charming. It almost behaved like a flat ride, including it's fast crash and prominent attack.
-The hats also were quite interesting. There was a bright but sort of airy sound when played with the foot that would be fun to play in conjunction with a more conventional hi-hat sound.
-It was reasonably priced. 3 cymbals for just a little over $300.
-I mentioned that the 18" behaved like a flat ride. This includes it not having any discernible bell sound, even though it has a standard cymbal profile. (This is true of all the cymbals)
-I don't know about you, but I have rarely ever used any 14" as a crash, let alone a low volume one. The cymbal pack really includes 3 hi-hat cymbals, one of which you can use as a crash. I get it. A small cymbal keeps costs down (and the package was was inexpensive, see above), it's easier to package etc. The "14" just didn't have much going on by itself.
Overall, I'm very pleased. Watch out for my review of Attack's mesh low volume drumheads when I receive them. :)
Wednesday, January 20, 2021
Since I have an upcoming online solo gig, (don't worry, I will be posting LOTS of information about the details) I thought I would go over some of my thought processes prior to doing any solo work.
…With the current proliferation of online concerts, and most of these being individual rather than group affairs, I think it's important to note that all instruments are not created equally. A singer/songwriter might have very few adjustments needed to their repertoire. The sound of playing guitar and singing, for example, is a very satisfying and complete sound. Drumming and singing? To many ears, it sounds like the rest of the band is missing! As well, drums are mainly an accompanying instrument, so I can't simple just do what i do normally in a band and expect to hold an audience's attention. So, just like a classical trombone player cannot simply play excepts from the last movement of symphonies where the brass comes in, I need to consider my material carefully.
Of course, the problem I outlined above can also be an opportunity. Solo drums are an opportunity for the drummer to be in the foreground, to explore unusual forms and textures with the instrument. The drummer can perform in ways (e.g. extreme dynamic range) that may often not be suitable with an ensemble.
In the reasonably large amount of solo drum gigs I have done, I have experimented with the balance of improvised verses written material I've performed:from drum compositions that I have written and played basically the same way every time, to completely open improvised concerts. As a Jazz musician, I tend to do at least some improvising every time I play, and I imagine this upcoming concert won't be any different.
Perhaps a subset to the balance of composed to improvised pieces, is the source material for whatever I'm playing. Is it a beat? A great American Standard? Just letting the tones of the drums and cymbals suggest melodies? Am I playing in time? Rubato? Perhaps somewhere in between? Again, I think it's important to use this opportunity to go outside what I normally do when I'm with a band! I remember a friend remarking that in a certain Max Roach solo, he played mainly drum textures and it occurred to me maybe he was playing more on the drums because we'd already heard him playing a lot of cymbals while he was playing time for all the other soloists!
I also usually involve some textures that aren't strictly drums. I have sang and played piano as well as harmonica. I certainly don't even remotely claim any mastery over these instruments, but I do think they help keep the musical journey interesting and the audience (hopefully) motivated. it is also a fun chance to present myself as a musician outside the drums.
Finally, I like the opportunity of playing solo because it helps develop creating inspiration internally rather than relying on others to help me be creative. For sure, I love accompanying and helping whatever ensemble I'm playing in be the best it can be. However, I know that as I long as I'm open to higher creative spirit and don't get in my own way, I can take an open minded audience to interesting places.
I hope you'll join me. :)
Finally here's a short solo I did in the summer to give you an example ….
Saturday, January 16, 2021
I recently got a chance to read 2 excellent books. One was the recent Jeff Porcaro biography, It's About Time , by Robyn Flans and Life, Billy, and the Pursuit of Happiness by Liberty DeVitto. In both reads, it reaffirmed my recent tweet that went " Most musician's experience in the business are a lot closer to Pete Best's than Ringo Starr's". Being in music can be heartbreaking at times. Being treated unfairly, the toll on personal relationships, losing gigs, etc. are all a part of the deal we make, so it's good to hear from others who experienced the same thing and came through it. A lot of what I just mentioned here applies to the Devitto book more than the Porcaro one, but even in the latter's case there is a description of Rickie Lee Jones' behaviour towards him that is relatively staggering in it's level of mind games and disrespect. It can happen to anyone, even someone with a career and resume such as Porcaro's.
The other thing both books got me thinking about is how drummer tend into 2 camps. One is the " I have incredible technique and can do circus tricks on the drum set, and can't really function with a band." The other is " drum solos suck and performance on the drums really doesn't exist UNLESS the drummer is accompanying someone." To be sure, I align with the latter more than the former, but they both feel like traps to me. (Pun unintended.) I feel that as a drummer, it's a fun challenge to take listeners on a journey that's musical and interesting, without necessarily using chord changes or determinate pitch. I'm also aware that on a MASSIVE number of gigs drummers play, there is little need to desire for them to be a soloist, or even to be a functional soloist at all. HOWEVER, a lot of the greatest players of our instrument can do both. I feel that accompanying and soloing teach us different things, yet also inform each other. So, don't be afraid to work on both. :)
Finally, let's leave the last word to Tony Williams. A drummer who was so visionary as an accompanist AND a soloist I can't really separate the two. Enjoy!
Monday, January 11, 2021
Sunday, January 3, 2021
Happy New Year!
Hop everyone is staying safe and keeping positive.
Although Ontario is currently in lockdown again, I am able to keep using my practice space because it's attached to a recording studio, and they have special dispensation. The down side is, when there's recording going on, I can't make much sound in my room.
So, even though it might be a bit of a review, I thought I would discuss elements that will make a short period of practice time much more effective.
1. Review what you worked on from your last practice session.
It's good to try and remember the last thing you worked on so you can build on it. Write it down if you need to, but even being able to recall things you're practicing is good for your memory.
2. Don't try and do too much
Just pick a couple of things and you can alternate them if you get bored. For extra fun and challenge, try and integrate the 2 ideas. This is great for thematic thinking and playing.
3. Any amount of time spent with your instrument is valuable.
Play along with a recording one time through. See how long you can play a groove without wavering. Solo on a Jazz standard. Play single strokes at a challenging tempo and work on staying relaxed. I can't tell you how many times I've gotten something great out of a 5 or 10 minute practice session.
There is a lot of mythology around players that practiced for hours and hours, and I'm not knocking anyone with the opportunity ( and more importantly the patience and mental capacity ) to do this. I'm just saying, if you only have an hour, there's a lot you can do with that. :)
Enjoy yourselves and here's to an improved 2021!