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roy haynes


Soloing Over A Vamp

Tension and release in a solo over a vamp
The easiest and most effective device that you have at your disposal when soloing over a vamp is choosing when to play with the band and when to play something against what the band is playing.  This may sound like an oversimplification, but this is basically how the tension and release work in this kind of a solo.  Essentially, playing against what the band is doing produces tension that is released when you finally play something in unison. 

In the clip above notice how I would periodically release in this fashion by playing the hits of the vamp with the band.  In my experience, doing this occasionally helps keep the band together as well as the audience engaged in the music. 

Two tips
He is actually this cool.
The most important skill to develop to solo over a vamp is to try to sing or hear the vamp throughout whatever you are playing.  This idea goes back to my general philosophy of the two songs of jazz, but it is even more important in this case than in an open solo, because in this case there are literally two songs going on at the same time (your solo + the vamp = two songs).  How well you are able to interact with the vamp is directly tied to how well you can hear it in your head while you are playing.  

To practice this, try something straightforward like improvising a vamp, and then trying to sing it while you play against/with it.  You will quickly discover that this seemingly simple exercise is actual fraught with difficulty, and is something you really need to work at to develop.  

The other thing I would recommend you do is to listen to some great players soloing over a vamp.  One of the drummers I always love to listen to and draw from for this type of playing is Roy Haynes.  Check him out here with his band: 



Trading In a Latin Tune

Four Pieces of Advice for Developing Your Latin Trading

1.  Study the greats
In order to build your vocabulary you need to spend a great deal of time listening to, absorbing, and trying to imitate some great players.  Two people that I referenced strongly in my trading in this case were Roy Haynes and Terreon Gulley.                                                                                            
In the trading on the bridge you can hear me play some very "Haynesy" ideas between my hands and my foot.  The basic idea I am using is playing groups of three eighth notes, two on the hands and one on the foot, and then orchestrating this around the drum set.  This is the famous diddit-n-diddit-n that Roy uses very frequently in his playing: 

The Terreon Gully reference comes in the last eight that I play when I keep the stick-shot going and improvise around it, something I first heard Terreon do:

Of course, when I am actually playing I am not making these references consciously, it is something that just comes naturally from doing a lot of listening.  If you try to self-consciously force references to other drummers into your playing it will generally come out as stilted and awkward.  

2.  Have a Musical Conversation
Successful trading solos between instruments is a really clear example of musical conversation. When each musician is listening to and responding to the others, a really exciting and vibrant dialogue can emerge.

Spoken conversation is a useful analogy here, since all the dynamics and etiquette of that type of  conversation apply to musical conversation as well.  The first and most important component of any conversation is of course listening.  I have emphasized the importance of listening over and over in this blog because of this.  If you have ever had a conversation with someone who clearly isn't listening to you, and just says what they are going to say regardless of your response, you understand how important listening really is.  Communication is just not possible without good listening.

In the video at the top you can hear how I am listening and responding to the other instruments.  One example of this is how I keep my soloing largely in regular time the first time around, and move to a more double-time feel in the second exchange based on what the other instruments are doing.   Another example of this is how I come way down dynamically in the last exchange, as well as keep the groove on the snare drum to match what the pianist (the great Bill Heid again) did in his solo. 

3.  Remember what song you are playing
In my earlier post about what I call the two songs of jazz I brought up the central importance of always hearing both the "song" of your collective improvisation, as well as the actual pre-composed song.  This plays a big role in successful trading, particularly in songs with somewhat unusual form like "Triste".  If you can't hear were you are in the form you won't know how to anticipate what is coming up next, and can lead to lots of stumbling and confusion on the bandstand.  Notice how we go back to the four bar tag before the bridge and at the end of the last A section in the video, and how I tried to set that section up to make the trading flow. 

4.  Two specifically latin techniques
In latin tunes two techniques that I use very frequently are timbale style sounds (lots of rim-shots on an open snare drum) and more straight eighth/sixteenth note ideas.  Using these techniques helps keep the vibe of the song alive, and provides some nice contrast from more straight-ahead jazz vocabulary.  That is not to say that you can't use your straight-ahead jazz vocabulary in a latin tune and vice-versa, but using these somewhat latin specific techniques is at least a good place to start learning to trade appropriately.

To develop some of this latin technique I use some exercises built on Ted Reed's "Syncopation", as well as some other exercises I have designed specifically for this purpose.  I will try to post some these some time in the near future.  

Left handed brush to stick transition
One other really quick note, you may notice that in the very beginning of the video I play the ride cymbal briefly with my left hand while reaching for my sticks with my right.  I got the idea for this style of brush to stick transition from my great new teacher Chuck Redd.  In certain situations it can be very slick, try it for yourself!



Using Melody In A Solo

The melody as the basis for improvisation
In today's post I am going to use my own playing to demonstrate one of the themes of my blog, that is using the melody as the basis for improvising a drum solo.  One of my earliest inspirations for learning to solo using the melody was Roy Haynes' great solo on "In Walked Bud" (if you haven't checked it out already, I have a post about it here).  Some specific examples of how my playing in the video above is melodic are my imitation of the opening phrases of the melody, my use of repetition and space, and finally my adherence to the structure of the form.  If you want to read more about what I mean by melodic drumming, check out the post about Max Roach here.  

Two advantages to melodic soloing
There are a lot of things I love about this approach to soloing, but my favorite part is that it integrates the drum solo into the rest of the song.  From the audiences perspective, this unifying effect can be much more engaging and interesting than a pyrotechnical drum display.  To me, playing this way also makes improvisation flow more naturally, by allowing me to focus on hearing the melody and reacting as opposed to trying to arbitrarily conjure up a solo from scratch. 

Melodies with rhythmic character
Some songs lend themselves to this approach because of their rhythmic character.  Monk and Bird are two of the best composers for drummers because their melodies have such incredibly catchy and sophisticated rhythms.  In today's posts I am playing the great Kenny Barron original "Voyage", another melody that really lends itself well to drummers.  Notice how I use the descending and then ascending opening phrases of the melody throughout my solo.

A big part of what makes a drum solo effective is it's pacing, how it's intensity rises and falls.  In my solo I tried to take advantage of this by tying the pacing to the structure of the song.  Notice how I start off slowly and leave lots of space, only really starting to build up in the last A section of the first chorus.  I then build up through the second chorus before suddenly dropping down at the start of the third chorus.  On the bridge of the third chorus I start a big climactic swell that climaxes at the bridge of the fourth chorus. Starting from such a low spot in the third chorus means that I have lots of space to grow!  From there I bring the solo back down to segue into a brief vamp into the head out. 



Monk: The Melody Never Stops

Since I have referenced Thelonious Monk's music frequently in my blog, I thought it would be appropriate to do a post focusing on him. 

Monk's Melodies
Thelonious Monk is one of the best examples of a musician who erases the barrier between playing a melody and soloing.  If you listen to the "Evidence" above (sorry), you can hear the rhythmically angular melody running through everything that the band is playing.  This is what I mean when I talk about combining the two songs of jazz, it is as if the melody never stops.  Monk's melodies sound like his solos, and his solos sound like his melodies; they are always spontaneous, fresh, exciting, and so so so catchy!  

The Drummer's Perspective
Monk's melodies (like "Evidence") are some of the only ones that you can recognize just from clapping their rhythm.  Perhaps in part because of how catchy and rhythmically vital Monk's melodies are, drummers who play with him seemed compelled to interact with these melodies in really vivid ways.   You can see how beautifully Frankie Dunlop plays the melody on the head of "Evidence" in the video above.  Another one of my favorite examples of this is Roy Haynes solo on "In Walked Bud" which I posted about some time ago.  On almost any of Monk's recordings you will hear this type of interaction between the drummer and the melody, and if you have had the pleasure of playing any of Monk's music, you will feel the pull of the melody as well. 

Here is a clip of me playing a great arrangement of "Brake's Sake" by my good friend Caleb Curtis.



Roy Haynes: Using melody in a solo

This is one of my favorite examples of a drummer using the melody in a solo.  The song is "In Walked Bud" from the album "Misterioso" by Thelonious Monk.  Roy is a master of both expressing the melody literally on the drums, and also using the character of the melody as a starting point for improvisation.  Listen to how uses the first chorus to state the melody and the second chorus as a sort of response or continuation of the melody. 

I was first made aware of this example of melodic drumming by a great article by Drori Mondlak in the May 2002 edition of "Modern Drummer".  Sadly I know of no way of getting this article which has a great transcription, if anybody knows of a way of accessing old "Modern Drummer" articles online I would love to hear it.