Inspired by Jeff Hamilton's remarkable version of "Caravan", as well as Ari Hoenig's melodic approach, I wanted to challenge myself to create a solo arrangement that clearly conveyed the melody while keeping a strong groove going. I have had the opportunity to play my arrangement for an audience a number of times now, and whenever I ask people if they could hear the melody, they say yes. Success!
I mentioned in a previous post that one of the benefits of creating an explicitly melodic solo arrangement was that it can, "inspire some really fascinating musical directions in your drumming". While that is certainly true, having now had some experience performing this piece I can be more specific about the benefit of this kind of playing. By framing a solo arrangement with a melody, the more rhythmic aspects of the solo become a refreshing contrast, as opposed to the only focus of the piece. While it is true that there are other ways to contrast with a rhythmic focus (like texture, dynamics, or orchestration just for example), so far in my experience, melody is the most effective.
strategy for developing this arrangement
As I worked on this arrangement, I tried very hard to follow my own advice from the first post in this series, namely to come up with an overall map, stay in the character of the song, and to give the solo a shape. In addition I really took advantage of being able to easily record and critique my own playing. Once I came up with an idea for the arrangement, I would try playing through the arrangement with that idea and then listen back to try to honestly assess it's effectiveness. This editing process meant that I left a lot of good ideas behind if they didn't seem to fit with the overall shape of the arrangement. Eventually I was left with the following:
- Dramatic rubato melody and rolls
- Cymbal crescendo into time feel/foot ostinato with rhythmic ideas on the bell of the cymbal
- Melody over bass foot ostinato (bridge stolen from Jeff Hamilton more or less)
- Cymbal crescendo into solo section
Solo Section- 1st chorus
- Reference to earlier bell ideas
- Sudden removal of feet on the bridge, bringing them back for the last A section
- Mostly played on cymbals
- Hi hat shenanigans in last A section
- Mostly played on the drums, motivic ideas with building intensity
- Bringing cymbals back in for even more energy towards the end
- Played with the back of the mallets, more aggressive
- Big latin groove on the bridge
- Last A section is all rolls building to climax before settling back down for the melody
- Same as head in
- Last A without foot ostinato as quietly as possibly
- Sudden break into tagged ending with ritardando
- Super quiet last note
The process of weeding out bad ideas can be quite painful. One good tip for listening to yourself and striking the right balance between criticism and encouragement is to think of yourself as your own parent. Ask yourself what kind of feedback you would give your child to encourage and motivate them. Treat yourself with this same kind of care and consideration. Nobody likes the way they sound at first, but the goal is to make progress not to be perfect.
Planning isn't bad
To clarify one common misconception about this process, coming up with an overall map means that I do play particular guideposts that I planned ahead of time. How I transition from one guidepost to the next, and indeed sometimes the guideposts themselves are flexible and respond to the needs of the moment. There is nothing wrong with planning things ahead of time. The problem comes from being inflexibly, stubbornly attached to that plan instead of just using your ears/instinct to play in the moment.
One very famous example of a planned and perfectly executed drum fill is Shadow Wilson's infamous break on "Queer Street". This fill is justifiably one of the high-water marks of big band drumming, but there is an alternate take of this tune where Wilson plays the exact same fill (h/t to Loren Schoenberg). Does the fact that Wilson planned the fill out ahead of time make it any less fascinating or beautiful?
Don't be afraid to compose!
More practical application
It isn't realistic to think that you will have a lot of opportunities to play an unaccompanied drum arrangement, but if you go through this process you will find that it helps you develop vocabulary that you can then easily apply to other more practical situations. For a perfect example of this type of application of Caravan, check out my introduction from a recent recording session:
More on this to come.