In the Tony Williams post yesterday I touched on the idea of the historical evolution of the drum set.  Here is a longer explanation of that concept from the introduction to my forthcoming book "Melodic Syncopation":


In addition to being designed around melodies, the exercises in this book are further categorized into seven sections, each devoted to an important drummer.  These drummers represent the evolution of jazz drumming and are all worthy of study and emulation. The exercises in each drummer’s section develop an ability that corresponds to a significant element of that drummer’s sound.

The drummers are arranged chronologically by date of birth, and as you proceed through the book you will see how each one both explores new ideas and techniques on the drums and also refers back to earlier drumming styles.  In general, the trend in jazz drumming moves from a relatively strict supporting function, with a limited focus on specific parts of the drum set (Papa Jo), all the way to an almost continuously improvised leading function, with a nearly equal treatment of all parts of the drum set (Tony Williams). 

This evolution is not simply an “improvement” of the role of the drummer.  It is a much more complex process, with some things gained and some things lost along the way.  For example, if Tony Williams was better able to play explosive figures with his left foot, Papa Jo could play circles around him with brushes.  One thing is certain, at every point in the history of jazz, drummers are key to both developing new styles and to linking those new styles to the tradition.  In other words, every drummer in this historical evolution both contributes something new of his own and also refers back to what has been done before.

The exercises in each drummer’s section are in no way intended to be comprehensive studies of that drummer; rather, using the drummers to organize the exercises is a way of putting the exercises into a more musical and historical context.  For further study of these drummers, there is a brief biography and discography at the beginning of each section, but these are limited and highly subjective.   To really learn about them, serious study, transcription, emulation, and years of experience with their playing are necessary.  The truth is, learning to play like one of the great drummers of jazz is an aural tradition, not something you can learn only from a book. 

It is also important to understand that each of these great drummers developed the four elements of drumming to levels that were previously assumed impossible, and that they all have in common a focus on the melodic content of the music they played that allowed them to reach those levels.  None of them relied on an exclusively rhythmic, technical approach to the drums.  On the contrary, if there is anything to be learned from looking at these drummers collectively as a general historical standard of jazz drumming, it is that they always prioritized their role as a musician above that of a drummer.  In other words, they were more focused on what was going on in the music around them than on their own isolated, technical contributions. 

There are then two reasons to organize the book into sections devoted to the great drummers of jazz.  One is to provide more musical and historical context for the exercises, and the other is to serve as an inspiration to you to develop your own musicianship to the highest level, and to contribute your own voice to the ongoing evolution of jazz.

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