|He is actually this cool.|
Notice how I picked up on the rhythmic phrase that the pianist played at the end of his solo and used it as the basis for mine (listen around :17)? Passing ideas between soloists like this weaves the music into a more cohesive whole. This technique is a great one because strengthening the connection between solos benefits both the musicians on the bandstand and the audience.
You see? They love it!
Musicians will feel that you are listening and responding to what they are actually doing, not just operating in your own mental space. This in turn will give them the confidence to take more chances with the music and generate lots of positive energy.
In my experience, audiences also love this kind of interaction on the bandstand. Jazz is not popular music anymore, and often times audiences will not have a lot of experience listening to it, especially not live. Passing ideas like this is a way of bringing your audience into the performance by making the connection between solos as clear as possible.
Dont Forget About "Yes, And"
For this kind of interaction to work you need to remember the principle of
discussed in an earlier post. The basic gist is, when you are passing ideas don't just parrot back whatever the last person played, add something of your own to it. In the clip above I did this by adding my own idea at the end of my phrase.
|The Lumberjack, Sam Woodyard|
Ballads and calligraphy
|This exercise was swiped!|
The result is below, and I am happy to report that based on my time with it so far it is a great way to both work on your single strokes, and to get your hands feeling more comfortable in 5!
The Dawson Single-Stroke Exercise In 5/4
For those of you not familiar with the Dawson Single-Stroke exercise, the premise is really simple. Using the first column of "Stick Control" alternate between playing a line and playing two measures of eighth notes in groups of four to a hand. Always start the groups of four on the opposite hand of the one that played last on the line. The result is a great exercise for developing your single strokes, as well as your ability to move seamlessly between rudiments.
Here is that same exercise translated into 5/4 ala Todd Bishop:
|If you don't have this already, get it!|
Food For Thought
This series of posts is all about trying to approach music in a new way. In my last post in Food for Thought, I discussed some alternate possibilities to always playing head-solo-head. In today's post I am going try to get some inspiration from a source entirely outside of the world of music.
The Rules of Improvisation
My wife (an improv enthusiast and the source of the link to the left) and I sometimes have conversations about the similarities between improv comedy and improvised music. So today's ideas come from these conversations as well as a somewhat unexpected source, Tina Fey's new book
The entire book is hilarious, but the thing that really caught my attention were her "rules of improvisation". I will share these rules with you and try to highlight how these same rules apply to jazz drumming.
1. Always Agree
The underlying idea to this rule is that in order for improv to work, you have to "respect what your partner has created". This builds up a foundation of trust so that a group can work together and create something.
Our man Higgins
I think the wisdom of this rule is immediately clear to any jazz musician. If you don't listen to and respect what your band-mates are doing, the atmosphere on the bandstand will become poisonous. I think "respecting what your partner has created" is especially the case for drummers. We are primarily accompanists; our job is to make a soloist sound as good as we possibly can. A great drummer can lift the music of an entire band if they respect what the band is doing and work with it. Conversely, a drummer with a dismissive or contrary attitude who refuses to acknowledge what is going on around them can sabotage even the best of bands.
When I think of drummers who could "always agree" and uplift a band with their beautiful attitude, Billy Higgins springs to mind. This man was a living example of "always agreeing", and this ability of his allowed him to play a stunning range of music, from straight-ahead to avant-garde and everything in between.
2. Not Only Say "Yes", But "Yes, And"
The principle here is essentially, "don't be afraid to contribute". To "respect what your partner has created", doesn't mean that you slavishly parrot everything that they do. The beauty of improv comes from the interaction of contributing members, so if you aren't adding anything you are a burden on the process.
For some jazz drummers, there is a real temptation to just follow somebody else's lead and not take the risk of contributing something of their own. The problem with playing it safe like this is that you place all the burden of creativity on one person, thereby drastically limiting the creative potential of the group. All great jazz groups have members with the ability to not only feed off of each other, but to respond with unique contributions of their own.
If you think of jazz as a conversation, just imagine a conversation where one person says something and then the other person just repeats it back to them. Is this even really a conversation at all? If you don't have the confidence to speak with your unique voice, you won't ever get the real pleasure of conversation which comes from a balance of listening and speaking.
3. Make Statements
This rule is related to the last in the sense that it about confidence and being willing to make a unique contribution. In the world of improv it is important to not just ask questions, but to actually say something. As Tina puts it, "Instead of saying "Where are we?" make a statement like "Here we are in Spain, Dracula." Being willing to make statements is a risk, but it is part of the responsibility of creating something as a group.
Of course in jazz the same dynamic applies. If you are always waiting for someone else to take a risk or move in a particular direction by making a clear statement, you are not only reducing your own role, but also forcing other people to pick up your slack. Have you ever played with someone who didn't seem to have anything to say and relied on you to do everything? In my experience, playing with someone like this makes for some truly horrible music, it can feel like biking uphill. Again, making a statement is about contributing your own voice not only because you have something to say, but because this takes some of the pressure off of everyone else. Remember,
jazz is a group endeavor
One of my favorite risk takers in action, check out Tony Williams moving to double time unexpectedly around :50!
4. There Are No Mistakes, Only Opportunities
This is a really powerful and liberating idea in both improv and jazz. The key here is not that you will never play something that you didn't intend, in fact the more risks you take the more likely it is that something like this will happen. The key is how you deal with this unintended thing. As Tina says, "In improv there are no mistakes, only beautiful happy accidents. And many of the world's greatest discoveries have been by accident."
Wisdom from Miles
This rule reminds me strongly of something Miles Davis said about jazz, "It's not the note you play that's the wrong note - it's the note you play afterwards that makes it right or wrong." The idea here is that how you frame a mistake is what makes it a mistake or not. It is like a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you treat the wrong note as a mistake, it will become a mistake. If you treat it as an unexpected surprise with actual musical potential, that is what it will be.
There are some great examples of how this attitude towards mistakes can sound in Miles' recordings, perhaps most famously his intro to
from the "Miles Davis In Concert" recording. In the first couple of minutes there are some perilously flubbed notes, exactly the kinds of mistakes that would paralyze a lesser musician. Rather than back off, Miles digs in and produces one of the most beautiful intros in the history of jazz.
|Wisdom from Monk|
|The Speed Master!|
|Try to feel happier than this|
- This is hands down the most responsive pedal I have ever played on. Every subtle foot motion translated into a reaction from the pedal that made intuitive sense. On my current pedal (a Tama "Iron Cobra) I always feel like I am fighting extraneous motion, whereas with the Speed Master there was no fighting. The mechanism is incredibly simple, but so well balanced and designed that there is no need for bells and whistles.
- This is also probably the lightest bass drum pedal I have ever run into. This makes it really nice for packing up and taking to gigs. More on this later.
- The fact that the base of the pedal is bright red made me feel like I was playing on a Radio Flyer.
- Those of you who know me would be able to anticipate how much I would love something just for being called a "Speed Master". I am a big time sucker for classic modern gee-whizzery of any sort. If your product sounds like an exhibit at the Chicago Worlds Fair, I am in.
|Speed King VS Iron Cobra|
|This guy will cut you with brushes!|
|Birds 1, Fish 0|
|But who is the best?|
- Listen to how "Edmund" explains (around :42) his approach as trying to find ways to express himself "not only rhythmically, but musically"
- He goes on to say that he is experimenting with ways of getting "tonal quality" from the drums and cymbals
- During the head in (around 2:00), Ed has a couple exchanges with the pianist Billy Taylor where the drums seem to complete or extend a line that the piano starts.
- In Ed's solo you can hear some clear Papa Jo influence, particularly the way he plays the drums with his hands.
- You can also hear how Ed uses the sound of the vamp as an inspiration for the beginning of his solo (especially around 2:25!).
- As I explained in an earlier post, a melodic approach to drumming is not the same as literally quoting the melody. Ed's drumming is melodic not only because of his incorporation of the vamp and the "tonal quality" of his playing, but because of the way he phrases and structures his solo with repetition and call and response.
- Listen to that bass drum starting at 3:34, YIKES!
- One of my favorite moments happens at the end of the solo when the piano comes back in. Listen to how Ed moves his roll from the snare drum to the hi tom to match the pianists expanded chord, so musical!
I would also recommend recording yourself playing the gig if you can. Although this may not help you learn the music this time around, it will help you see what worked and what didn't work for the next time you have to learn something new.
|A relentless experimenter|
|Winard at work|
- Starting around 4:33, Winard talks about the importance of learning melodies
- More specifically (around 5:30) Winard talks about how all the great jazz drummers were "hearing melodies" when they were playing, even if they weren't producing specific pitches.
- Winard connects this idea of "hearing melodies" with the even more fundamental idea of "playing musically"
- As an example of this he talks about Max Roach's playing and how he incorporates Max's ideas into his playing
- At 6:40, Winard points out that all the great jazz drummers would even sing melody when they were playing, using the examples of Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, and Billy Higgins
- He goes on to talk about giving the "idea of what the melody is", and shows some great examples of how to do this by singing the melody and playing around it (starts around 7:30, uses "Now's The Time" and "All The Things You Are")
Building Momentum Throughout a Solo Section
Here is the recording mentioned in the exercise above.