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jeff hamilton

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Jeff Hamilton Style Brush Comping

Jeff's Brush Comping 

I am going to assume that if you are reading this blog you are already familiar with Jeff's incredible brush technique, as well as the video on the right where he describes his approach to brushes (and takes one of the best solos on a ballad that I have ever heard).  If you haven't yet had a chance to check out this video, I can summarize Jeff's approach as follows:

  • Strike the drum laterally instead of vertically 
  • Always keep one brush on the snare drum at all times
  • In addition to the two principles from Jeff above, I would add one more; try to keep your sweeping pattern mostly the same, don't change it to accommodate a particular rhythm.  Although Jeff doesn't talk about this in the video explicitly, I often see him model this behavior when he is playing.  

For me, this advice and Jeff's brush playing in general have been tremendously influential.  I particularly love the warm, legato sound he gets from the drum, and seek to emulate that sound in my own playing.


Andrew Hare, not an ambi-comper

Andrew Hare, not an ambi-comper

Brushes aren't sticks

In my last series of posts about brush comping, I started with the premise of getting my brushes to have more of the rhythmic freedom of my sticks.  In particular I noticed I was constrained by my comping only feeling good going in one direction (I'm not an ambi-turner!), and set about trying to change this.  Although I felt I was making some progress on my own, it wasn't until I had a lesson with my great teacher Chuck Redd that I had a real breakthrough.

Basically, brushes aren't sticks.  Specifically, trying to keep the right hand playing spang-a-lang while the left hand comps on the "+" of beats two and four sounds cluttered.  Why?  Because unlike with sticks, brushes are playing on one instrument.  When you comp on the "+" of beats two and four with sticks, it doesn't sound as redundant, because your right hand is getting a completely different sound on the cymbal than your left hand is getting on the snare drum.  With brushes you don't have this luxury, and so you have to make an adjustment to get a swinging and uncluttered sound.  

Chuck showed me a really simple solution to this problem.  Instead of playing spang-a-lang, sweep quarter notes with your right hand whenever you are comping on the "+" of beats two and four.  Playing this way you still get the sensation of continuity and swing from your right hand, and you can get a nice big hit with your left hand.  On the left is a video of me demonstrating some of this type of comping with "They Say It's Wonderful" from Chuck's terrific 2002 album "All This And Heaven Too".

 

Practical vs. Idealistic goals

Which leads me to a bigger point about setting musical goals.  For me, you always have to find a balance between what you would ideally like to achieve, and what you need to achieve in order to be a working musician.  The limiting factor of course, is time.  Especially as I get older, I find that more and more I am trying to set goals that will get me hired for gigs.  

That is not to say that setting super ambitious, really impractical goals is always a bad thing.  If Ari Hoenig had given up on playing bebop melodies on the drum set because people thought it was impractical, we never would have gotten to hear this.  And regardless of whether he is your favorite drummer, you have to admit that Ari's unique talent really opens up some new possibilities on the instrument.  

Of course, there are lots of examples like Ari's in the history of jazz.  Musicians who refused to accept what was possible or practical for whatever reason, and did things on their instrument that people had assumed was impossible.  The legend goes that when Loius Armstrong first went to Europe, other musicians kept on examining his trumpet, assuming that he was able to play so high because of some sort of trick instrument.  

That being said, you wouldn't know who Ari Hoenig, or Loius Armstrong for that matter, was if they weren't also able to do the things that got them hired for gigs in the first place!  In other words, Ari can't just play melodies on the drums all day, he also has to play good time, interact with the band, learn hits, read music, play with brushes, and do all the myriad other less glamorous things that make up a working jazz drummers stock in trade.  

So....

A practical exercise for developing Jeff's brush comping sound

This exercise was looking me right in the face from the beginning, but it took me a while to realize it.  Here is what you do:

Syncopation Pg. 33-45

  • Both hands sweep continuously back and forth in a kind of windshield wiper motion 
  • Both hands play the written line, right hand plays notes on the beat, left hand plays notes off
  • Whenever you have to play a rhythm from the written line, add a little pressure to your sweep with your fingers
  • Feet play regular jazz pattern, right foot lightly feathering on all four beats, left foot crisply closing the hihat on beats two and four

Aim for a relaxed, legato sound while still clearly delineating the written line.  As with all things brush related, this is much easier to see and hear than it is to read about, so here is a video of me playing the first four lines from pg. 34.  


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Create An Arrangement

Practice by creating an arrangement

I was feeling inspired by a fantastic solo by Jeff Hamilton where he plays a whole arrangement of "Caravan" (it seems to have disappeared from the internet) on the drums, so I thought I would record my own version of "St. Thomas" as well as share some thoughts on how to play an arrangement in this fashion.  Making an arrangement of a song is a great practice tool for internalizing whatever tunes you are working on, soloing more compositionally, and often inspiring some great ideas that you wouldn't have thought of otherwise.

Here are some basic techniques to use when playing an arrangement:

1.  Come up with an overall map of the arrangement

It is important to understand the over-arching structure of the arrangement you are going to play so that you can anticipate what is coming next.  The map of my very basic arrangement goes like this:

  • Brief rubato intro on the cymbals
  • Max Roach inspired latin groove taken from the original Sonny Rollin's recording
  • Melody twice- I tried to match the contour of the melody on the drums
  • Solo section
  • Melody twice again
  • Ending- I tagged the last four bars three times

 

2.  Stay in the character of the song

In order for this style of solo to come across to an audience you need to spend some time thinking about how to keep your solo in the character of the song.  To accomplish this, when I am soloing I am constantly thinking about the melody of the song (for more on this check out my

post

about the two songs of jazz).  If you listen carefully to my solo you will hear me referencing the melody, playing off of the call and response structure of the phrases, and also outlining the form of the song.  

This is the most important part of this exercise, and is also the most difficult.  Start with simple ideas that come to you from the melody or structure of the tune and then build off of them.  Often using the most basic call and response style phrases is a great place to start.  Don't worry about trying to play your fanciest, most technical ideas, this isn't really the place for that.  Just play what comes naturally and take your time.  

For more inspiration on how to keep a solo in the character of a song, I would check out Max Roach.  As a matter of fact, his classic solo on "St. Thomas" is a great place to start:

3.  Try to give your solo a shape

Once you start to hear the song in your solo and you are feeling more comfortable, you can begin adding a macro dimension to your solo, a shape.  In the most basic sense you can think of your solo as an arc.  It has to start low and build intensity to some sort of climax before coming back down.  There are different variations of this shape, starting high before coming down and building back up, multiple crests and troughs, ending at a high point, but they all work on the same basic principle of tension and release.  

This deceptively simple phrase basically describes why music works, it builds up tension and then it releases it.  The important thing to take away is that if the shape of your solo is too flat for too long, you will lose your audience.  

There are a number of elements you can manipulate to build tension in your solo including:

  • Dynamics- How loud or soft are you playing?
  • Texture/Orchestration- What parts of the drum set are you using?
  • Note density- How many notes are you playing or not playing?
  • Rhythmic phrasing- Call and response?  Reference to the melody?  A groove?  Rudimental ideas?  

Essentially, the degree to which you use your musicality to control these elements will determine how much tension and release there is in your solo.  This in turn will effect what impact your solo will have on an audience.  

More tension and release = Better solo.  

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Shout!



In today's post I wanted to talk about a part of the song that prominently features the drums, the aptly named shout section!  This is generally the climax of an arrangement, and is usually the spot where a drummer is given space to cut loose.  Although the conventions of the shout section were developed in big bands, the same ideas can apply to smaller ensembles.  The following are some good general strategies and ideas for playing a great shout.

1.  Study the greats
You may notice that I almost always bring this up whenever I am talking about learning the drums.  That is because not listening to the music you want to play and then expecting it to sound great is like expecting to be able to write poetry if you were raised by a pack of wolves.  How would you even know where to begin?  You have to have a frame of reference, a sound in your ear, before you can really aspire to produce anything great.

I mentioned this in an earlier post, but every great drummer in the history of the instrument has spent a considerable amount of time just trying to absorb what previous drummers have done.  If you still need convincing, here is how the great Tony Williams put it:

"You know the reason I play the way I do is because, when I first started playing, all I ever wanted to do was to sound like Max Roach, was to sound like Art Blakey, was to sound like Philly Joe Jones, was to sound like Louis Hayes, was to sound like Jimmy Cobb, was to sound like Roy Haynes. I really wanted to figure out why they sounded the way they did. I wasn’t interested in my own style. So I set about playing like these guys religiously, and playing their style because it was just such a wonderful, magical experience."

That being said, here is a classic example of some great drummers playing great shout sections to get you started:

-Mel Lewis on "The Groove Merchant" (starts around 7:26)




-Ed Thigpen on "Night Train" (starts around 3:42)



-Jeff Hamilton on "Squatty Roo"  (starts around 9:11)


Notice that even though each of these drummers is playing a shout section, they all approach it differently depending on the musical situation and their own personal musical voice.  One thing they have in common is that they all catch and set up the hits with the band, play great fills, all while swinging they're butts off!


2.  Learn the arrangement/song
Many times (although not always) playing situations that involve shout sections will also involve charts.  Your responsibility as a drummer is to get as confident with the arrangements as possible so that you can lead the band through the songs.  This inevitably means memorizing or learning the charts by ear as much as humanly possible.


This guy is about to learn a valuable lesson.
Reading a chart is just like reading a map when you are trying to drive somewhere.  They both can help you make important decisions at key moments, but you still have to keep your eyes on the road and your ears on the music.  If your head is buried in a map when you are trying to drive, you are going to die  Although you probably won't die from having your head buried in a chart, the music will certainly suffer.

Once you know how to get somewhere, you don't need a map anymore, and you can devote your concentration on just driving.  In the same way, the sooner you can get away from the chart and just focus on the music, the better the music will be.

I will post some more advice and exercises for developing shout playing skills in the near future. 

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Ballads: Grown Folks Music



Why don't we talk about ballad playing?
Ballad playing seems to be one of the most mysteriously under-discussed topics amongst drummers.  If you are going to be a professional musician in nearly any genre of music, you are going to have to learn how to play a ballad whether you want to or not.  So simply avoiding the topic is not an option. 

Perhaps the reason this topic is avoided is because the role of the drums in a ballad tends to be particularly understated/supportive.  You are not going to be the focus of attention when you are playing a ballad.  However, that in no way means that what you are playing (or not playing) isn't important.  On the contrary for a group to really pull off a ballad, what the drummer plays is key! 


Thoughts on how to approach a ballad

1.  Attitude
Don't be this guy
The first thing that matters when you are playing a ballad is your attitude.  You should never approach a piece of music as a chore.  Playing music as if you are being forced to is selfish and immature.  Here is a relevant quote from Art Blakey, "Music washes away the dust of every day life."  Music isn't just about you and your feelings, it is also always about your audience.

For me this is not an issue, because I really love playing ballads.  I am much to sentimental of a person not to get swept up in a beautiful ballad like "Sophisticated Lady" in the clip above.  I see playing a ballad as a unique opportunity to play the drums romantically.  You may be this kind of person as well, but regardless of your personal feelings, always remember to serve the music and the audience you are playing for. 

Do be this guy
2.  Play supportively
If you start with the attitude I described above, approaching a ballad as an opportunity to play romantically, then this step will follow naturally.  You should always strive to fit your playing to the mood of the song, so play as quietly, slowly, and in as legato a fashion as possible.  Don't try to fill every space, and only come up in volume or density of notes when the music calls for it.

This doesn't mean you that you should just play quietly and sparsely no matter what happens.  If you feel like the music is increasing in intensity, go for it!  Remember that loudness doesn't equal intensity.  In other words, you can play quietly and with real passion.  Listen to Chris Grasso's elegant piano intro, or Kriss Funn's beautiful bass solo starting around 2:03 for some examples of quiet but passionate playing. 

3.  Some specific ballad techniques
Nothing is more personal or subjective than brush technique, and this is particularly true in a ballad context.  That being said, here are some general pointers:

-You want a full sound that still accents the rhythm, so try to use the whole snare drum.  I use an outward motion almost like swimming breast stroke to accomplish this.  I will try to a video on this in the near future.

-Your bass drum and hi-hat need to come way down in a ballad.  Even though I normally play the hi-hat with my heel up to get a nice aggressive, "Blakey-esque" chick sound, on a ballad I almost always play with my heel down. 

-Speaking of the hi-hat, you should try to incorporate comping with the hi-hat and using the hi-hat splash.  The hi-hat splash is a great sound in general, but because of it's legato texture it works particularly well in a ballad.  You can hear me using these throughout the video. 

-Some soloists like to go to double time in their solos, some do not.  In the video, Kriss stays with the original feel, whereas Chris moves to double time.  I tend not to assume that a soloist wants to go to double time until I actually hear them playing some double time ideas.  Some drummers  launch into double time as soon as the solos start, but I have found that this can get you into trouble more often than it is worth.  This can be a delicate dance, so just rely on your ears and you will be ok.  You can even hear how we go briefly to a latin feel during Chris's solo at 4:43!  

-Endings on ballads tend to go to rubato, so listen carefully in the last A section.  The person playing the melody will generally cue the ending by slowing down.  In general you want to stop playing and give the melody time to wind down before playing a nice final swell, preferably with mallets.  You can watch this type of ending happen in the video for more clarity.

-Try incorporating brush "rolls" where you sweep the brush rapidly from side to side.  You can hear me play a brush roll going into the bass solo at 1:59.  This is a useful technique for a ballad because it can make a dramatic statement without being too loud.  Check out Jeff Hamilton doing this in his brush solo at 2:28:




4.  Get some ballad vocabulary
This should go without saying, but if you haven't checked some great masters of ballad playing, now is the time.  Here are some recommendations to get you started:



-Bill Charlap trio with Kenny Washington

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Uptempo Jazz 7: Fast Brushes Continued


Just a quick observation
I had to share today's video because you get to see one of my favorite contemporary drummers Greg Hutchinson playing some uptempo brushes with one of my all-time favorite versions of the Ray Brown trio featuring Benny Green.  If you go to around 1:23 you can see his pattern really clearly, and he seems to be following the Kenny Washington/Papa Jo style described in previous posts on the topic. Greg gets a really beautiful, clean, and swinging brush sound at this tempo.  Also check out the great drum breaks starting around 1:50, the slick stick-to-brush transition at 5:26,  as well as the superb dynamic sensitivity throughout.  Enjoy!

If you want to hear more of this amazing band check out the album "Live At Scullers".  Here is one more blazing version of the tune "Tanga" from the video above, this time with Jeff Hamilton on drums:














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Playing the Melody: More than a Gimmick



A musical transition using the melody
Just a quick post today to illustrate a point I was making in an excellent conversation on the AllAboutJazz forum.  The conversation was focused on whether a drummer playing the melody was really musically relevant, or just a gimmick.  My contention (predictably) is that there are a lot of ways in which a drummer can use the melody in a musically compelling fashion.  If you go to 5:40 in the video above you can see one example of how a drummer can use the melody effectively.  

In this clip Jeff Hamilton plays the melody at the end of his solo to transition seamlessly back to the head.  To my ears this is not just a drumistic gimmick.  Using the melody this way ties the drum solo to the rest of the song, something that an audience would really appreciate and relate to. 

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The Moeller Stroke: Jeff Hamilton style



The original inspiration for this technique comes from a fantastic Ray Brown trio album called "Black Orpheus" featuring Jeff Hamilton and Gene Harris.  On the the opening track "The Days of Wine and Roses", Jeff plays some phenomenal rolls around the drum set.  There is a similar sort of roll at around 1:50 in the video above.  The following exercises will help you work your way towards this technique using a variation of the Moeller stroke. 

Jefff Hamilton Around the Set  

Step 1: Basic Moeller Stroke
If you haven't already acquainted yourself with the basics of the Moeller stroke, now is the time to start.  I would recommend checking out the Jojo Mayer DVD to get oriented.  Once you have the basic technique somewhat comfortable, try my "Caravan Warmup" to get it to really soak in.  I would not recommend going on to step 2 of this exercise until you have a basic grasp of the Moeller stroke. Here is a video of me playing the first step of the "Caravan Warmup":


Step 2: Isolating the Moeller motions around the drums and practicing them slowly
In this step, focus on getting the Moeller stroke motion feeling comfortable in both directions (clockwise and counterclockwise) around the drums.  Use lines #2 and #3 above to help guide you.  Start slowly enough that you can use nice big Moeller motions and feel the bounce moving between the different drums.

Line #2 example


Line #3 example


Step 3: One motion into the other motion slowly
Use line #1, but don't try to play this fast yet.  Take this step at the same tempo you were doing step #2, and just focus on getting a good comfortable feeling around the drums.

Line #1 slow example


Step 4: One motion into the other motion with a pause more quickly 
In this step you will accelerate the tempo without stringing the two motions together.  Instead, leave a small space between the two motions by playing this step in 3/4 time.  Use line #4 to guide you.

Line #4 example


Step 5: Whole thing
Finally, try both motions consecutively at a faster tempo.  This is Moeller stroke around the drums Jeff Hamilton style.  

Line #1 fast example


Playing Tips
The key to making this technique sound good is keeping the relaxed, flowing feeling of the Moeller as you move around the drums.  Focus on the accents and maintaining the bounce of the stick between the various drums.

Because this is a really dense, aggressive drum fill, it is crucial to use it tastefully.  If you don't use your musicality to dictate when this fill will be appropriate, and instead just try to superimpose it in different musical situations, the result will be overplaying.  Jeff Hamilton only used this fill at the very climax of a song.  So, BE SENSITIVE!  When you do hear the right spot for this fill, go for it.

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Jeff Hamilton: Using melody in a solo


Here are a couple beautiful example of Jeff incorporating melodies into his soloing.  Notice how Jeff is phrasing these blues melodies like a melody instrument player, not just playing them note for note out of the real book.  There are actually two melodies tucked into this solo, can you name them?




 

One more.  Check out how his solo stays in the character of the song ("A Night In Tunisia").




Finally, "Sing, Sing, Sing" where Jeff not only plays the famous Krupa introduction but the melody as well. 

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