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!
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….
So, I we look at a grid, everything is the same distance apart, and there are definite spots where the horizontal and vertical lines meet up. So, this pattern is great for making things more consistent. For example, matching sound to images exactly, or even more basically, creating consistent intonation on a guitar using frets. What grid patterns are not so good at, is leaving openness for expression, because anything outside the convergent points will seem "wrong". E.g. Playing quintuplets along with a metronome playing quarter notes.
Please keep in mind, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with developing the ability to play good solid time along with a machine. In fact, great Toronto bassist Rich Brown has an excellent series on how to do this effectively.
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!
In memory of Chick Corea, I improvised a short solo this morning. I tried to be as honest as I could in terms of what I was hearing and playing. I hope you enjoy it, and thanks Mr Corea for all the inspiration….
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! :)
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!