I know that there are lots of people out there who struggle with playing uptempo jazz like I am.  So I am going to make these uptempo jazz posts a series to help everyone by showing my approach to learning this extremely challenging musical style. 

Staying Relaxed
For me the basic challenge with playing uptempo jazz is that the tempo puts such a strain on my technique that it causes me to tense up.  When I am tense, it is impossible for me to think creatively, and so my playing becomes stiff, unresponsive, and awkward.  In other words, instead of hearing and responding to the two songs of jazz, I get a kind of tunnel vision where all I can focus on is what I am playing. 

Developing uptempo vocabulary
In order to develop my technique to the point where I don't have to focus on what I am playing and can instead listen and be responsive, I have been working on emulating the comping of some of my favorite uptempo drummers.  As I mentioned in my earlier post on developing uptempo vocabulary, Kareem Riggins's playing on "Caravan" from the Ray Brown Trio's "Live at Starbucks" in one of my current favorite uptempo play along tracks. 

At (2:03) listen for Kareem's whip-crack response to Geoffrey Keezer's statement.  Here is a transcription of the comping pattern he uses:
Uptempo Karriem

There are four sections in this transcription, and I want to talk a little bit about each one.

1.  Isolated comping rhythm
The first section is an isolated, singular example of the comping rhythm.  This is where I will start my practicing.  The first thing I will do is play this comping rhythm at a range of tempos, for example starting at quarter note=85 bpm, then going to half note= 85 bpm, and then finally whole note=85 bpm, focusing on relaxation, control, and really hearing the rhythm.

Once I feel totally comfortable playing this rhythm through this range of tempos, I will try to play it while singing the melody of "Cherokee" (video coming).

2.  Musical context
This leads me to the second section which is a transcription of the rhythm of Geoff Keezer's solo.  Keezer himself has a remarkably deep rhythmic vocabulary which often shows up in his solos.  However, the main point here is to emphasize where in the form this comping rhythm shows up.  Since this rhythm is played towards the end of the form as a kind of climax/transition to the next chorus, when I am playing it while singing "Cherokee" I will put it into more accurate context by only playing it at the end of each 16 bar section (I will try to post videos of me doing both of these steps some time in the near future).

3.  Longer phrases
The next section shows Karriem's comping in rhythm in more context, and also shows how he links this rhythm together into a great over-the-barline pattern.  More specifically this is a six quarter note phrase operating in a 4/4 setting.  In order to get this physically comfortable I will practice this longer seven bar phrase the same way I practice the first section. 

4.  Musical dialogue
The final section shows how the rhythms of Keezer and Karriem intersect.  This is a fascinating study in and of itself.  It sounds to me like Karriem's over the bar line phrasing was inspired initially by what Keezer was starting to do, and then this in turn encouraged Keezer to take his own rhythms in an over-the-barline direction, but in the heat of the moment anything could have motivated them.  The important thing is that they are clearly listening to each other and the result is a gloriously intertwined rhythmic dialogue.  Notice for example how Keezer anticipates that Karriem will want to fill the last bar of the form to clearly mark the transition to the next chorus, and stays out of his way. 

Practice philosophy
In general when learning vocabulary at any tempo setting, I find it helpful to think about not only what a drummer played, but why and where they played it as well.  In other words, thinking about the broader musical context that stimulated the rhythmic response, not only the response itself.  I then try to get as close as possible to simulating this musical setting in my practicing to prepare myself to make good musical decisions when I get into a similar situation.