Monday, March 27, 2023


It seems like a lot of what I see online involves what someone is doing, (e.g. the fastest, the loudest, etc.) rather than the how or why. Cue my good friend and Pianist/Journalist Peter Hum, who alerted me to this wonderful Tommy Flanagan recording Sea Changes, apparently the last one he made. Here's a great tune from it, the wonderful "Eclypso".

Flanagan and bassist Peter Washington play so beautifully on this and Lewis Nash (as always) sounds creative while still swinging and always appropriate. Above is the beat he plays at the beginning of Flanagan's solo.

RH is playing the bell of the cymbal, the snares are off, and the bass drum is pretty quiet relative to everything else. It's not a super hard beat to play, but works great at a lot of tempos, including very bright. Try it with different BD/HH parts and orchestrating the LH around the drums. Voila! Instant new vocabulary for Calypso-style tunes! 

Monday, March 20, 2023

Don't let colours get in the way of content!

 This is another one of those "Cautionary Tale/ Don't Be Like I Was" posts. :) 

As most people who have heard me would surmise, I am fascinated with pulling as many colours out of the drum set as possible, and have devoted a fair amount of time to this. That's all well and good, but it's important to know when and where esoteric sounds fit the music. I remember one time a great trumpet player in Regina, Ron Brooks, telling me that I wasn't "minding the store". I'd like to say that I immediately took his comment to heart, and worked on being as solid, as I was being colourful, but I was young and foolish. (As a sidebar, let's all give thanks to the more experienced musicians in smaller communities all over the world that guide, encourage, and tolerate younger players!) It took me a long time to realize what he meant. Listening, as always, is key. Not only listening to great examples, of solid, groovy, and often deceptively simple playing, but also listening to the band that one is playing with. It's always good to ask yourself, "Is the band getting what it needs to do its job?" "Does the beat feel firm, or am I not giving the band confidence in the time?" I'm not suggesting anyone not to try to explore interesting sounds and shapes, but as with all things, balance and taste is the key.

Here's a great example of someone who really explored the drums, but never at the expense of groove and feel. Mr. Blakey! 

NOTE: The last couple of weeks have featured recordings with Wayne Shorter, yet these posts were written long before his passing. It just goes to show what a huge force in music he's been to all of us! 

Monday, March 13, 2023

More on playing to recordings

 As I've mentioned before, playing to recordings is the closest we can get to performing with actual live musicians. I make "playing along" a regular part of my practice, and I would like to share a few thoughts relating to that…...

1. Don't only play along to what you already do well.

This may seem obvious, but it's easy to get lured into exclusively playing with recordings with feels/tempos/forms that are comfortable. Stretch yourself! If speed is your thing, play along with slow tempos. If you usually play along with Country-Rock, learn a fusion tune etc. And more about forms….

2. Try to play with whole tunes rather than loops.

I've mentioned this before, and I don't want to step on anyone's toes around this, but I feel playing with loops never gives us the whole story. By loops I mean just taking a small section of an already existing tune and have it playing endlessly. When we do this we miss out on a lot of form. Not only the structure of the tune (AABA, 12 Bar Blues etc.) but the form of the whole performance. How do we differentiate between sections of the song like in head to solos, different solos, and last solo to out head? Does the tempo of the tune change from beginning to end? What about the relative volume of the drums at differing sections of the tune? These are important issues!

3. Try to play with contained passion.

By this I mean, always remember when you're playing with recordings your first job is to keep in sync. Your second job is to outline the shape of the tune ( see above ). It's very easy to play loud enough that you drown out the recording and get out of time. It's also easy to focus on the spectacular drumming of whoever is on the original recording and not pay attention to the form soloists etc. Additionally, getting the intensity required for the performance with less volume is a great thing to strive for.

4. Do not obsess about details

I mentioned this briefly in #3. Especially when playing with Jazz recordings, try to get the essence of the performance rather than the minutia. The feel, relative mix of your four limbs, and structural elements (see #2) are more important than playing EXACTLY what has been played. If you like, go ahead and learn exactly what was played, but realize that's a separate endeavour.

5. Play along to quantized and unquantized material.

Definitely work with material that was created with a click track, sequencers, or drum machines. In fact the art to playing loosely along with music that has some sort of machine keeping the tempo exactly the same is challenging indeed. Steve Jordan, Phil Collins, and JR Robinson are some of the players that have mastered this approach.

However, playing music that was recorded "without a net", which basically means any recordings before the 1970s, requires us to "ride the wave" of the time. When humans play music without an artificial timekeeper like a metronome, there are all sorts of little micro peaks and valleys in the time. There is nothing wrong with this, in fact this is what gives a lot of music its humanity. Even recordings that noticeably speed up or slow down are okay to play along with, as long as we're aware of this and it isn't the only way we work on keeping time.

In conclusion, let's listen to Elvin Jones on Wayne Shorter's Night Dreamer where Mr. Jones manages to keep his lovely laid back feel even though the tune also speeds up! It almost seems like he's defying gravity, but this is just one of the many things we love about Elvin! :) 

UPDATE: Todd Bishop at Cruise Ship Drummer wrote a very thoughtful post explaining his use of loops in his teaching method as well as his personal practice, and I agree with his points completely. He also mentions the limits of playing to recordings vs. live playing, which I will address as well in a future post. Thanks Todd, you rock (and swing!) 

Friday, March 10, 2023

Ted Warren interview - Avi Granite 6

 The Avi Granite 6 just completed a run of shows to support the newly released recording "Operator".

We had a great time and the band's sound continues to evolve.

Avi is great at finding interesting ways to promote his music, so here's a short interview with me discussing the project.

Special thanks to interviewer/videographer Jill Stella for setting me at ease. :) 

Monday, March 6, 2023

Swiss Army Knife Triplets

So, recently I heard a great Pipe and Drum band here in Guelph. I just loved how lightly and fleetly they played. Also what was interesting was that even though the instrumentation was only the pipes, bass, tenor and snare drum, it was a very full and complete sound. Even more interestingly, because all the tonality was over a drone (sounded like C to me) it almost sounded like the bass and tenor drums were tuned to that pitch. Any Pipe band people who can clarify this for me?

Anyway, this experience got me thinking of other drum systems "across the pond" and I started fooling around with Swiss Army Triplets (RRL or LLR with a flam at the beginning.) I combined this with a 3-5-7-9 grouping exercise I borrowed from guitar great Reg Schwager and came up with this….. 

Notice that once you get past the 3 subdivision the rudiment starts going over the barline which gives it an interesting sound. Here's me playing it. Sorry the click isn't louder. Believe me, it was blowing my head off when I was filming. :) 

So, for this hybrid rudiment, I came up with the very-not-gimmicky name Swiss Army Knife Triplets. I don't know if I can claim this exercise is as useful as a Swiss army knife, but it is excellent for timing and concentration. Have fun and be good to yourselves! 

Saturday, March 4, 2023

Thank you Wayne

 A creative life well lived. Thank you for fearlessly leading the way. There will never be anyone like you……